The Democratic Charter addresses Hungarian Ambassador Bálint Ódor

Dear Dr. Ódor,

The Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter has read with interest your address to Hungarian Canadians, published on the website of Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As you may know, we are a civil rights group comprised of academics from both Canada and the United States who have been critical of the decline of democratic checks and balances in Hungary under the current government. We are deeply concerned by the Orbán government’s concerted departure from the liberal democratic values that have since 1945 helped to unite the Transatlantic community. These values allowed for the reconstruction of western Europe following the Second World War and, especially, led to the creation of an economically successful model democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1989/90, and through much of the nineties, Hungary was at the vanguard of the economic and political liberalization and democratization of former Soviet-dominated governments. Hungary led the way with the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and made positive headlines with the pan-European picnic. As in 1956, Hungary was seen as being at the forefront of progress in the region. We have been astonished and deeply disappointed to see how far Hungary has strayed from this course since 2010.

As you may also be aware, your predecessor – László Pordány – departed from normal ambassadorial and diplomatic practice by engaging in overt, partisan ultra-right-wing political activity in Canada, fomenting enmity within the Hungarian Canadian community toward those who held dissenting opinions on politics in Hungary. Your predecessor went on record in 2012, exhorting Canadian Hungarians to wage war against “anti-national forces” in Canadian cities (Dr. Pordány went so far as to name those cities). The ambassador, in a Sun TV interview, also defended and whitewashed Jobbik, claiming that it was not a far-right party, but merely a little radical at times.

Whereas we do appreciate the more temperate tone of your address to Hungarian Canadians, we had been hoping for a clear indication of whether the embassy, under your leadership, will now return to a state of normalcy, no longer promoting partisan politics in the diaspora community or attempting to stamp out critical views and voices. You implicitly mention that under your watch, you and your diplomats will not divide Hungarian Canadians into preferred or loyal camps on the one hand, and enemy camps on the other. That is extremely welcome. It is not yet clear, however, whether we are to read this as merely a message to those engaged in constant in-fighting between the two rival pro-government groups in the Hungarian community (one of which was established with the active assistance of your predecessor), or if this message of peace and inclusion also extends to those who are trying to defend democracy in Hungary. You note that your interest is to cooperate with Hungarian Canadians who helped “build Hungary’s good name and reputation.” We would suggest that one way to build the good name and reputation of Hungarian society (both in Hungary and in the diaspora) is to show that the diplomatic mission is mature enough to stand in defence of those who seek to defend civil rights and freedoms, where those are under threat, even when it is in Hungary.

Since the statements and activities of your embassy have strayed so very far away from normal diplomatic discourse and behaviour since 2010, we hope that you will communicate more explicitly whether this unprecedented and destructive period in the history of the Hungarian mission in Canada (the mission was last politicized to this extent in the 1970’s) has now come to an end. It would be ever so important for all representatives of the Hungarian Canadian community to hear this from you directly, and unequivocally in light of what transpired under Dr. Pordány.

Your address places significant emphasis on building economic ties between Canada and Hungary. But you also state that Hungary was under “constant attack” because of the way Mr. Orbán’s government chose to address the economic crisis. Some of Mr. Orbán’s “unorthodox” initiatives (such as the many special taxes, the controversial and socially unjust flat tax and the corrupt distribution of tobacco concessions to party supporters) have met with very wide criticism, from Hungarians and non-Hungarians. Your government was not being condemned for its economic policies, however, but rather for its rule-of-law violations, the growing lack of transparency and the dismantling of key checks and balances. Hungary has been singled out internationally for Mr. Orbán’s announced plans to build an “illiberal” state and for the sweeping steps that have already been taken along this path. To build a narrative in which Hungary was “attacked” for its unusual, but ultimately “successful” economic policies and not because of its insidious and concerted rule of law violations is not in keeping with the facts.

Dr. Ódor, the proponents of democracy in Hungary (and the rest of the world) will need to continue to speak out against the dismantling of checks and balances in Hungary and against your government’s efforts to stamp out alternative viewpoints and to exclude those who dissent in the diaspora until there are genuine signs of progress. We very much hope you will give us a clear indication of whether or not you will, like your predecessor, continue to treat those who seek to promote democracy as enemies of Hungary.


Dr. András B. Göllner. Founder and International Spokesperson
Emeritus Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal, Que.

Dr. Christopher Adam. Co-Founder and Spokesperson
Sessional Lecturer, Department of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ont.

Dr. Éva Balogh. Co-Founder and Spokesperson
Former Professor of History and Dean of Morse College at Yale University (Retired) New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Stevan Harnad. Co-fondateur et porte-parole, langue française
Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science, Université du Québec à Montréal and External Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Imre Szeman. Co-Founder and Spokesperson
Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies, and Sociology, University of Alberta.

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