Katrina Lantos Swett, 60, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the mother of seven children. She is also the daughter of the late California Congressman Tom Lantos, a Hungarian native, who was the only Holocaust survivor to be elected to the US Congress. She also served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Her husband is Dick Swett, former New Hampshire congressman and ambassador to Denmark.
Recently Ms. Lantos Swett decided to return an award she received from the Hungarian government. She was outraged because the same award was given to Mr. Zsolt Bayer a 53 year-old journalist long criticized for being anti-Semitic and racist. “He’s really a pretty despicable human being,” she noted. Mr. Bayer is a close friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán; his government is rewriting World War II history, praising one-time Hungarian fascists and giving awards to racist writers like Mr. Bayer.
More than one hundred prominent Hungarians have also returned their awards. Yet I was surprised to learn that almost all other Hungarian Americans have neither returned their awards nor condemned Mr. Bayer’s rhetoric.
Ms. Edith Lauer, 74, Chair Emeritus of the Hungarian American Coalition, received her Order of Merit from disgraced former Hungarian President, Mr. Pál Schmitt. The Coalition never spoke out against Mr. Bayer or his award. On the contrary, Ms. Lauer supports Mr. Orbán’s policies. Here is a paragraph from her letter published by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland: (Read Ms. Lauer’s entire letter here.)
“Hungary is anything but a dictatorship. It is, as the recent election by an unprecedented number of contesting parties and a second super-majority for Mr. Orbán indicate, a healthy democracy with one of Europe’s most stable governments. In the free and democratic elections on April 6, Hungarian voters gave a resounding vote of confidence to Mr. Orbán. They also rejected the destructive record of a Socialist Coalition which proved itself corrupt and inept at governing and incompetent in providing an alternative. Indeed, Mr. Orbán is a shield from worse things in Hungary, including the radical right Jobbik and ex-Communist party apparatchiks and failed Socialist prime ministers whose true place is on the ash heap of history.”
Speaking of ex-Communist party apparatchiks, Ms. Lauer is a close friend of Mr. János Martonyi, Hungary’s ex-foreign minister, who was not only a Communist party apparatchik but willingly wrote reports about his comrades to the Communist Secret Service.
In the past, Frank Koszorus, 68, of the American Hungarian Federation also maintained friendly relations with the Lantos family. Now he is quiet; there is no sign that he will follow Ms. Lantos Swett’s example and return the Cross of the Order of Merit he received from the Orbán government in 2014.
Recently questions were raised about the murky finances of the Hungarian-American organizations and a Budapest based anti-corruption site, atlatszo.hu raised a red flag. They claim that the “independent” Hungarian American Coalition has received a whopping $ 900,000 from the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation which was financed by the Orbán government. It seems that the Coalition maintains uncomfortably close ties with the Budapest regime. I have a feeling that they act as a lobby organization for the Orbán government. (Anti-corruption site article here.)
English language media in the Western world has reported extensively about Ms. Lantos Swett’s protest but the official Hungarian Government media and MTI, the Hungarian News Agency, were quiet. They hid the unpleasant news from the public.