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Hungarian legislator criticizes new US ambassador

January 22, 2014

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian lawmaker from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s governing Fidesz party sharply criticized the incoming U.S. ambassador Wednesday, accusing her of being ignorant of local politics and having biased views, like some of her predecessors.

During her confirmation hearing last week in the U.S. Senate, Colleen Bell, a producer of the soap opera “The Bold And The Beautiful,” repeated concerns from the U.S. government, the European Union and others about the “state of checks and balances in Hungary and the independence of some key institutions.”

In an open letter published in the daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, lawmaker Gergely Gulyas said Hungarians were fed up with “the double standard applied to the center-right government” and urged Bell to get informed before talking about democracy in Hungary.

“We are always ready to talk about democracy with our American friends,” Gulyas wrote. “For this, however, the due knowledge, understanding and objective assessment of the facts is an indispensable condition.”

Gulyas also said the positions of some of the U.S. ambassadors in Hungary had made them seem more like “Hungary’s post-communist, liberal politicians” than diplomats representing “the world’s greatest power committed to the ideals of freedom.”

On Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi was less blunt but asked that Bell work not “from scripts written in advance by others but to from her own judgment.”

Bell said that once in Budapest she would address Hungary’s “governance issues.”

“This is not always an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one,” Bell told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “I will continue to participate in a constructive and effective dialogue with our Hungarian partners about the values necessary to maintain and build a robust democracy.”

The Orban government, which is hoping to win another four-year term in April, has used its two-thirds majority in parliament to adopt a new constitution, increase executive power, override numerous rulings of the Constitutional Court, nationalize the assets of the private pension funds, and centralize the education system and public media.

Orban says the drastic changes have been needed to wipe away the remnants of the communist system which ended in 1990, and to rescue Hungary from the brink of economic disaster after the mismanagement of eight years of government by the Socialist Party, now the main opposition group.

During a visit to Budapest in 2011, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed worries about threats to the independence of the judiciary, free press and governmental transparency.

Last year, the government modified the new constitution for the fifth time, in part to allay criticism from the EU. However, the essence of many of the discredited policies, including a ban on paid political campaign advertisements on commercial TV and radio and a church law which limits the rights of many religious groups, remained unchanged.

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