A letter to Ambassador David B. Cornstein from Professor János Kertész

Mr. David B. Cornstein, the new US Ambassador to Budapest, recently gave a lengthy interview to the Hungarian magazine Szombat. Amb. Cornstein discussed his mother’s Hungarian family roots, his career goals and several issues of US-Hungary relations.

In general, Cornstein does not see problems with Hungary’s Human Rights record, press freedom or separation of powers. In fact, he insists that he has only had positive experiences thus far. None of his negotiating partners, including Jewish leaders and NGOs, have expressed concerns and he hasn’t heard any complaints of corruption either at meetings held with business leaders.

The Ambassador is 80 years old, a lifelong Republican who never held a diplomatic post before. He is a New Yorker, retired from a successful jewelry business and an old friend of Donald Trump. He does not speak Hungarian. You may read the Ambassador’s Hungarian language interview by clicking here.

Professor János Kertész of the Central European University (CEU) wrote a letter to the Ambassador after reading the interview and we decided to publish it with his permission.

György Lázár

Amb. Cornstein (second from left) with previous Ambassador Ms. Colleen Bell (second from right) with their spouses.


To His Excellency, Mr. David B. Cornstein
Ambassador to the United States of America in Budapest

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

I have read with great interest the interview with you in the magazine Szombat. As a professor at CEU, I was pleased to see that the fate of our university is close to your heart, and you consider it as one of your main tasks to contribute to the elimination of the untenable situation caused by the Hungarian Government.

However, I was surprised to read that you did not find anything to criticize concerning the state of democracy in Hungary, the erosion of system of checks and balances, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, corruption and the independence of the judiciary. This is stark contrast with the position of your predecessors, who had a chance to study the Hungarian conditions for longer time.

You argue that you believe only what you experience directly, and that you do not rely on information from the press. This can only be welcomed, as most of the Hungarian media is essentially controlled by
the government and its affiliates. Consequently, it is biased, as it has been demonstrated in a number of cases. Public-service media (a European institution with the task of impartial information financed
from public funds) have been incorporated into the government’s propaganda machine and serve the interests of the government and its constituent parties, even by spreading lies.

As a citizen of the United States, you surely appreciate the importance of the checks and balances, since, as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said, “the system of checks and balances is an American invention.” True, he also added that Europe adapted it “due to intellectual mediocrity”. I do not think you would share that opinion.

There remain citizens in Hungary who consider the system of checks and balances as an indispensable component of democracy and are saddened to see how it has been dismantled systematically. From the prosecutor’s office to the tax office, from the Court of Auditors to the National Bank, important and supposedly independent institutions have been put into the service of the central power. As a result, corruption has grown to previously unknown dimensions, and the miraculous speed and extent of the enrichment of persons close to the power is shocking. The government has taken drastic measures against small churches and the civil sphere, and NGOs are intended to be intimidated even by police harassment. While the elections are seemingly free, the principle of equal opportunities is seriously compromised, and public and party funds get mixed in the campaign of the governing parties.

Dear Mr. Ambassador, such a letter is not a suitable vehicle for conveying detailed information. I took to writing to you because in your interview you said “nobody told me that this or that is bad.” Now I am telling you. Your country expects credible information from you about the conditions here. For this, you will surely need to collect more widespread information.

Yours sincerely,

János Kertész

Prof. János Kertész.


János Kertész (born 1950) obtained his PhD in Physics 1980 from the Eötvös University. He worked at the Research Institute of Technical Physics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, at the Cologne University and at Technical University Munich and has been professor since 1992 at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and since 2012 at the Department of Network and Data Science of the Central European University. He received numerous awards, among them the Hungarian Academy Award, the Szent-Györgyi Award of the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Széchenyi Prize and the title of Finland Distinguished Professor.

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