Not everyone, it seems, is dewy-eyed and utopia-bound in the post-Communist era of former Soviet Bloc countries. Some hard-edged score-settling seems to be going on. So, is it idealism, nationalism or opportunism? Or, to put it simply, is it about who is in or out?
When Hungary's ambassador to the United States, Geza Jeszenszky, wrote a letter last summer to Pal Fabry, a fellow historian and an American of Hungarian origin, he had no inkling the letter would be leaked to the press and create a furor back home. In the personal letter to Fabry, the ambassador listed the names of 13 journalists whose work he described as "repulsive." They were among recipients of the Hungarian Pulitzer Prize, named after Joseph Pulitzer, who was of Hungarian origin.
Jeszenszky was foreign minister under prime minister Jozsef Antall, a conservative, following free elections in 1990. Antall was replaced as prime minister by Gyula Horn in 1994, after which Jeszenszky became a member of the opposition in parliament until his appointment as ambassador here this year. In the letter, Jeszenszky tells Fabry that the Antall government, by dismantling the "red system," was "confronted with the mindless hatred of those who, based on conviction or opportunism, were part and parcel, and beneficiaries of, the communist system, and in 1989, based on conviction or opportunism, have turned against that system, and they could not forgive us for never becoming party members, informers and careerists. . . . They slandered us using the method of Goebbels."
He went on: "The workings of these [journalists] are repulsive not in the eyes of Csurka's supporters, but also of decent Hungarian citizens." Istvan Csurka is the leading legislator of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, which is described as xenophobic and antisemitic. The reference to him in the letter provoked an uproar in Hungary, with some journalists charging that Jeszenszky was embracing Csurka's views.
In an interview Wednesday, the ambassador distanced himself from the Justice and Life Party, describing it as "strange." He said what he found objectionable in the writings of the Hungarian journalists he listed had "nothing to do with the views of that party, which does not understand the outside world or the Hungarian world, but with the manipulation of the population against the government, which was trying to do the right thing by enforcing hard and painful measures."
He accused the journalists of waging a "smear campaign" against the government in which he participated rather than trying to explain its policies, saying he was awarded more time on Japanese television as foreign minister than on Hungarian TV.
"It is the role of those in undermining the credibility of the government in which I served. If I have strong views on them, it is solely on that account," the ambassador explained.
Jeszenszky, recipient of a Fulbright grant and a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, was a founding member of the Hungarian Democratic Forum and a professor of economics and dean of the School of Social and Political Science at the Budapest University of Economics.
He said what was in his letter was "a thought crime" that he "would not offer to the public or write about," and the fact that journalists obtained his letter was "a disgrace."
"I have nothing against fair writing, but I dislike unfair methods," he protested.
Fabry participated in the Hungarian resistance movement in 1944, became a prominent postwar opponent of the Communist takeover and went into exile in 1947. After becoming a successful businessman in the United States, he established a foundation to support independent, quality journalism. The Associated Press first obtained a copy of the letter after Fabry deposited it with his foundation in Hungary. An English translation was obtained from Charles Gati, a former State Department official of Hungarian descent.
Gypsies Speak Up
Europe's Gypsies, or Roma, a nation without boundaries, are slowly learning how to speak up for their forgotten rights. Last month Roma figures from the Czech Republic came to Washington, both to take part in talks sponsored by the United States and Germany aimed at recovering compensation for the many Gypsies taken to Nazi Germany for slave labor, and to lobby on Capitol Hill for their rights and for recognition of problems of coexistence in Eastern and Central Europe. There are all kinds of interesting proposals on the agenda. Will they be recognized as a European nation without territories like the Knights of Malta? In Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meetings during a summit conference last week in Istanbul, participants recognized the Roma problem as a serious one deserving the attention of its High Commissioner for Minorities Max van der Stoehl.