Exploiting the naiveté of Hans Klemm, the US ambassador to Romania

The U.S. ambassador to Romania, Hans Klemm, recently visited the Romanian town of Sfântu Gheorghe (in Hungarian Sepsiszentgyörgy), which has a majority ethnic-Hungarian population. Mayor Árpád Antal, an ethnic Hungarian himself, asked him to stand behind a flag to make a photo.

The flag is the so-called Szekler flag which is controversial in Romania; it is illegal to fly on public buildings. Romania’s law allows public buildings to fly only the Romanian flag, the European Union flag or a flag representing the public institute where it is displayed.

 Mayor Antal (far left) and US Ambassador Klemm (next to him) are posing with the Szekler Flag.

Mayor Antal (far left) and US Ambassador Klemm (next to him) are posing with the Szekler Flag.

Szeklers are a Hungarian-speaking minority living in the Transylvania region of Romania; it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. There are about 1.2 million ethnic-Hungarians living in Romania and some Hungarians seek to increase their autonomy.

The Hungarian-speaking minority and the Szeklers have legitimate issues and grievances concerning language and other minority rights. Ethnic-Hungarian leaders are not satisfied with the response they get from the Romanian government.

But like it or not, the Szekler Flag has also become a favorite symbol of the Far-Right movement. Hungary’s Jobbik Party often uses it and Hungarian neo-Nazis also march under this flag. Ambassador Klemm’s hosts should have never asked him to pose with it.

Far Right Jobbik Party MPs are demonstrating with the Szekler Flag in the Hungarian Parliament during session.

Far Right Jobbik Party MPs are demonstrating with the Szekler Flag in the Hungarian Parliament during session.

Neo-Nazi Hungarian Guard march with the Szekler flag.

Neo-Nazi Hungarian Guard march with the Szekler flag.

Let’s face it, the Ambassador was tricked. The mayor knew that he was stirring up controversy; this is not a polite way to treat an American guest. Ambassador Klemm also made a faux pas; he should have known about the symbolism of this flag.

Just imagine the uproar if U.S. President Obama would be photographed with the Confederate Flag.

A small U.S.-based right-wing organization, The American Hungarian Federation, immediately seized the opportunity. “We write to congratulate you for your moral and political courage in being photographed with the Szekler flag,” Mr. Koszorus wrote. (Read here.)

The Romanian Foreign Ministry informed the U.S. Embassy about “the necessity to understand and take into consideration … certain sensibilities” and Ambassador Klemm stated that he “regularly travels throughout the country, meeting with diverse groups from all parts of Romanian society.” He also praised Romania’s commitment to democracy.

Moral of the story: U.S. ambassadors in the region should be very careful when photographed. They should be aware that various groups and individuals will try to trick them and shamelessly exploit staged photos for their own political propaganda purposes.

György Lázár

8 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    Is it possible that Ambassador Klemm knew exactly what he was doing?

    Have we had his side of the story?

    Some American-Hungarians want to show extreme loyalty to Orban and other causes.

    I’d like to hear his justification – or admission of naïvity!

  2. György Lázár says:

    Thanks Charlie,

    We asked the Ambassador and hope he will respond.

  3. “Moral of the story: U.S. ambassadors in the region should be very careful when photographed. They should be aware that various groups and individuals will try to trick them and shamelessly exploit staged photos for their own political propaganda purposes.”

    As if Americans (abroad) are demure like a demoiselle… Now that Trump will be their next president they will be even more demure… LOL.
    Moreover, the ambassador in question is a senior career diplomat. He must have known very well the significance of his gestures. Maybe it is in the context of the Romanians’ reaction to the statement of the USA ambassador to Moldova that “Moldova is not Romania”. Not demureness, the opposite rather…

  4. Child of survivors says:

    Bunch of two faced evil players.
    They all know exactly what they are hoping for- I, personally hope that hell has a social place for them.

  5. György Lázár

    The ambassador’s response will be revealing. Waiting for it.

  6. “symbolism of this flag”

    It symbolizes “Szekler freedom”, it has nothing to do with “fascism” even if those Budapestian far-right idiots also like this flag.

    You are the one who tries to misuse the symbolism of this flag. Go and visit Szeklerland

  7. Dr. Habil Fodor András says:

    Dear Mr. Lázár: You have forgotten to publish in the FHP the reply of Mr. FERENC KOSZORÚS Jr. reflecting to yours disguisting Anti-Hungarian post. Let me do it now instead of yourself:

    “Mr. György Lázár:

    Normally we at the American Hungarian Federation would not respond to the kind of posting you made on September 22, “Exploiting the naiveté of Hans Klemm, the US ambassador to Romania,” but we are making an exception in this case since you have gratuitously defamed not only an outstanding career American diplomat but our organization as well.

    The tactics you employed reflect neither a responsible use of logic nor a fair understanding of the issues involved.

    Any display of the Szekler flag by radical groups no more vitiates its symbolic legitimacy than that of the American flag when it is displayed by extremist groups.

    This is a form of guilt by association which is a thoroughly discredited polemical tactic and never used by respected interlocutors.

    Your painting of Ambassador Klemm as naïve for posing with Mayor Árpád Antal of Sepsiszentgyörgy with the flag in the Hungarian speaking region of Romania is as absurd as it is ill informed. American career diplomats are highly trained experts charged with carrying out U.S. policy abroad, and it is an established feature of American interests and values to promote diversity and minority human rights around the world.

    Ambassador Klemm was doing nothing other than what American diplomats do elsewhere in similar circumstances.

    Finally your ad hominem depiction of the American Hungarian Federation as a “right-wing organization,” is as ludicrous as it is preposterous. Our hundred year old mission in preserving Hungarians’ cultural and historical heritage and promoting minority rights has drawn popular support across the political spectrum and faith community as well as across the professions, including medicine, history, science, diplomacy, and the law. For your information, our governing board currently includes professionals with differing political views, reflecting its nature as a federation.

    Since you say you enjoy spending time in Hungary, we wish you would also find it enjoyable backing our worthy mission, including our efforts to combat the discrimination confronting Hungarian minorities in their ancient homeland, instead of trying to tear it down. We would welcome your support.

    Sincerely,
    The American Hungarian Federation

  8. Pingback: In defence of Transylvania’s Szekler flag – A letter to the editor from the American Hungarian Federation

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