Former US Ambassador to Hungary says Orbán is a xenophobe

Eleni Kounalakis, who was the US ambassador to Hungary from 2010 to 2013, recently published a memoir about her service entitled – Madam Ambassador, Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties and Democracy in Budapest. The book contains critical remarks of the Orbán government.

Now Ambassador Kounalakis has written an opinion piece in The New York Times calling Mr. Orbán a xenophobe. She is deeply troubled by Mr. Orbán’s method of dealing with Europe’s refugee crisis. “Recently, Austrian authorities found a freight truck abandoned by human traffickers along the highway from Budapest to Vienna, in which 71 refugees died of asphyxiation. When I saw the images, I couldn’t help thinking of the cattle cars used to deport 440,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps in World War II” – she writes. (NYT article here.)

In May 2015 Ambassador Kounalakis had a book-signing at the Hungarian Heritage Festival at Twin Pines Park, Belmont, California. (Photo with Neumann Society volunteers).

In May 2015 Ambassador Kounalakis had a book-signing at the Hungarian Heritage Festival at Twin Pines Park, Belmont, California. (Photo with Neumann Society volunteers).

These are harsh words from someone well-connected in US politics. California Governor Jerry Brown last year appointed Ms. Kounalakis as head of his advisory council on international trade, an important position in California which has the fifth largest economy in the world. She is a fundraiser in the Democratic Party with close ties to powerful mentors ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Ms. Kounalakis also works closely with Tamás Fellegi, who heads the controversial The Hungary Initiatives Foundation and is considered a close confidant of Mr. Orbán. Last March Fellegi’s foundation financed and Ms. Kounalakis helped to stage the Neumann Society’s conference called “Hunnovators” in San Francisco, California.

Mr. Fellegi and Ms. Kounalakis at the Hunnovators Conference in March 2015.

Mr. Fellegi and Ms. Kounalakis at the Hunnovators Conference in March 2015.

Why would Mr. Fellegi pay Hungarian taxpayer money for a conference where the ex-Ambassador is the star? And why would he back the Neumann Society which is popularizing Kounalakis’s book that criticizes Orbán? (Amb. Kounalakis’s video advertising the conference.)

It seems that Mr. Fellegi and his friends have concluded that Mr. Orbán’s days are numbered; his corrupt and authoritarian regime is getting closer to an eventual fall. Mr. Fellegi is aware of the fact that the US has already blacklisted several senior Orbán-government officials, barring them from the US for alleged corruption. This was an unusual move against a NATO ally and an EU state.

Mr. Fellegi and Ms. Kounalakis are coordinating strategy.

Mr. Fellegi and Ms. Kounalakis are coordinating strategy.

So Mr. Fellegi is building alliances with Orbán’s US critics. He is a smart political survivor who thinks it’s time to start planning for the times after Orbán. He knows that Orbán’s Hungarian-American “supporters” are engaged in double talk; they declare loyalty to Budapest in Hungarian, while distancing themselves from Orbán in English. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day in the future Mr. Fellegi would triumphantly claim the he cleverly supported (and even financed!) Mr. Orbán’s opposition in the United States.

Orbán has bigger problems than being called a xenophobe in the NYT, he needs to watch his back. He has tamed his political opposition at home, but some of his “friends” overseas are sharpening their knives.

György Lázár

10 Comments

  1. Hmm…..

    Wishful thinking, György.

    ‘External’ has always been out of sync with ‘Internal’.

  2. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Mr. Fellegi’s capacity to locate himself in the right place at the right time is legendary. He already left the “liberal side” years ago to join the xenophobic bandwagon – he may well be trying to circle back, having seen the writing on the wall. Fellegi’s private company – Euro-Atlantic Consultants Ltd – is a massive beneficiary of taxpayers’ moneys via FIDESZ. He, along with his partners, have amassed a personal fortune from non-tendered contracts shuffled their way by their superiors. Fellegi and his partners are sitting pretty in cushy, government paid overseas jobs in Washington, London, Bucharest, Vienna- while their company is rolling in untendered government grants. He and his partners are one of the many cogs in Orbán’s maffia state. This is the blurb from the company website: “EuroAtlantic Solutions was originally incorporated in Hungary in 1995 under the name of EuroAtlantic Consulting Ltd. Now, it has close to 20 years of experience in advising international clients on managing risks, utilizing opportunities and damage control in the European political, legal, and regulatory scene. The company was rechartered in Austria in 2012 with headquarters in Vienna and presence in Budapest, Bucharest, and Washington D.C.. Through partnerships with US-based consultancies in investment, communications, and public affairs, EuroAtlantic has a well-established North American outreach. Our extended network ensures that we can offer effective solutions to our clients in any part of the world” Right….Mr Lázár could serve us well with a follow up about EuroAtlantic’s dubious relationship to Hungary’s public purse – perhaps that may facilitate a closer examination by the State Department of how the Hungarian maffia State is extending its tentacles into the USA.

  3. Kounalakis (never a luminous thinker nor an efficacious doer) does not keep savoury company. Fellegi seems to be an opportunist cut from the same cloth as his mentor, Orban (but perhaps without the megalomania that is in the process of sealing Oban’s fate).

  4. Yes Professor Gollner, again very informative and sharp. It should be very important and interesting to persue that trace..
    Professor Hernad, I beg to differ with your comparison of these 2 figures. They have a very different background, mental, psychological make up, but yes they benefited from each other a lot and as it has been pointed out, Fellegi seems to have a neck to survive anything.

  5. Fellegi is an Orban patriot. He was appointed secretary
    of the largest government department in 2010. Got contracts for his firms, high positions for his relatives and when “finished” took a $ 150,000/year + expenses job for Orban in NY.
    In 2012 declared himself a Jew during a congressional hearing while in Budapest he is a Christian as is his family.

  6. Just a brief comment to clarify some grave misunderstandings. Neumann Society as an organization is apolitical and supra-political. I am pretty sure that our members and supporters have political views on a pretty broad range of the spectrum, but as an organization, we are not political at all, but strictly a charitable community of Hungarian innovators aka Hunnovators: the nextgen diaspora of global Hungarian innovators. Fortunately, nobody ever tried to force political agenda on us and we will resist always resist such an attempt…and we will to prove that there is life outside the realm of the political. I am convinced that those who support us do that because they see the value of such a stance. Thank you.

  7. Who needs to buy time, Orban or those sharpening their knives?

  8. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Nice to hear from my good friend Mr. Tilesch and to learn of the Neumann Society’s apolitical stance. I don’t think the article’s criticism was directed at the Society – but at the behavior of Mr Fellegi, who is as far away from being apolitical as the town of Makó is from the City of Jerusalem. He is an active player and beneficiary of Orbán’s Mafia State and will have to answer one day for the manner in which he helped to funnel billions of HUFs of public money into his personal empire and to a cause that is dedicated to the destruction of Constitutional democracy in Hungary. He belongs at the table of the Kazakh dictator rather than that of the politically correct Neumann Society. While the Neumann Society’s merits of promoting young Hungarian innovators in the USA is highly meritorious, it’s promotion of Orbán’s chief American lobbyist is not. In the world of politics, appearances do matter. People are judged by the company they keep.

  9. Avatar György Lázár says:

    Mr. Göllner is correct. I appreciate the initiatives of the Neumann Society and would encourage Mr. Tilesch to publish an article about their ongoing work. (I’m sure that HFP editor would welcome that.) In the past, there were several attempts to create a similar group here in Silicon Valley, and now Mr. Tilesch was able to assemble the “critical mass” of California based Hungarian brainpower to sustain an organization. Personally, I was impressed that the Society was able to present “big name” Prof. Zimbardo with his strong message against prejudice and discrimination. The financial and other involvements of the Orbán Government are a bit worrisome; they may want to use the Society as a PR tool to promote their political message.

  10. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    I second Mr Lázár’s invitation to Mr Tilesch. We all would like to hear more about the good work of the Neuman Society and to have an opportunity to cheer a worthy cause. Our only objection is to the unworthy cause – the destruction of democratic values and the construction of a Mafia State – that Mr Fellegi is promoting in North America.

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