The case of Attila Danku – diplomats shadow and attack Orbán critics in the US

In the last couple of years the Hungarian government has built a network of diplomats, loyalists and sympathizers in the United States to watch, follow and verbally attack critics of the Orbán regime.  This is not a secret operation, it is the official policy of the Orbán government that Hungarian diplomats (and loyal friends) “respond” to those who dare to criticize Mr. Orbán’s policies anywhere, anytime (Read more here)

Here is how it works.

In September 2017, Mr. Bálint Magyar gave a presentation at the University of California at Berkeley entitled; Parallel System Narratives: Polish and Hungarian Regime Formations Compared. Mr. Magyar is a noted sociologist and former Hungarian Minister of Education; he was invited by John Connelly, Professor of History at UC Berkeley.

The event took place at a smaller room in the Wildavsky Center.  The place was packed, standing room only and I was lucky to get a seat.  The moderator of the event was Jason Wittenberg, political science Professor.

During the Q&A a young man stood up and delivered a lengthy personal attack against Mr. Magyar.

He called him unpatriotic because SZDSZ (Mr. Magyar’s old party) did not support Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. He also called Mr. Magyar a socialist who represents a “corrupt SZDSZ” and an overall liar.  The lengthy tirade against Mr. Magyar had little to do with the presentation and it seemed that he was reading it from his smartphone.

Prof. Wittenberg stopped the tirade and asked him to get to his question.  When the tirade continued Wittenberg took away the microphone from the young man.  The audience was stunned.  It turned out that the man was a diplomat of the Orbán Government named Mr. Attila Danku, Investment and Trade Commissioner, who travelled over 400 miles from the Hungarian Consulate Los Angeles to deliver the verbal attack.  According to his CV his job is to create and explore “various business related opportunities and directly connecting various US and Hungarian business entities.”


I visited Debrecen, Hungary, in the following year and by chance in the city paper I read about the unexpected death of a local politician.  Attila Danku was a member of the City Council and supporter of the Orbán government who died prematurely in 2017 at the age of 61.  The name sounded familiar and it turned out that he was the father of our attacking diplomat in California, who bears the junior version of his name, Attila Danku Jr.   His brother, Peter Danku is also a Hungarian diplomat in Brussels.

Mr. Danku (right), Consul General Tamás Széles (middle) and staffer

Now things started to fall in place.  The Consul General in Los Angeles is Mr. Tamás Széles, also from Debrecen where he used to run the local television network.  Debrecen’s ex-mayor, Lajos Kósa and Fidesz MP, János Halász both visited the LA Consulate.  This is a closely knit circle of trusted loyalists from the eastern-Hungarian town.

I also asked around about Danku in California.   To my surprise he was well-known as he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for years as a Hungarian Government employee, although nobody exactly knew what he was doing.  He and his wife, Krisztina Danku-Molnár were active members of the Free Magyar Reformed Church in Redwood City, California, many people knew them there.

Attila Danku and his wife, Krisztina

The pastor of the Free Magyar Reformed Church was Gábor Magyari-Köpe, who hails from Transylvania, Romania.  A pleasant young man with a Stanford-University-researcher wife.  They arrived to California from Sweden where he served at a local Hungarian Church.  He has never lived in Hungary, yet he supported enthusiastically the far-right Orbán regime and frequently hosted Hungarian government politicians. Consul András Doncsev spoke at the Church and in 2018 even the President of Hungary, János Áder visited the Church on an unofficial tour!

I asked Pastor Magyari-Köpe about his relations with Hungarian government politicians and the fact that many suspect that a member of his congregation is spying on behalf of the Orbán government.  He did not respond and later I learned that he transferred to Florida, to the Miami Hungarian Church.

The 2017 Berkeley University incident was widely publicized.  I expected that at least someone from the Hungarian American community would respond to Danku’s verbal attack.   But no, there was not one critical note.  The Diaspora Council, the Friends of Hungary organization, the Honorary Consuls and the Hungarian Churches all remained quiet.

The lone response came from the Hungarian Parliament.  Mr. Szilárd Németh, Vice-Chairman of the ruling FIDESZ party in a Parliament speech complimented (!) Mr. Danku’s action and declared that this was the proper way “to defend Hungary” against a “Berkeley liberal” attack.  (Watch the attached video. Mr. Németh’s speech in Hungarian.)

Beyond the potential legal, political and other implications, I find it disturbing that Hungarian diplomats shadow and attack Orbán’s critics in the US.  This is happening with the quiet support of some Hungarian American organizations.  It seems that newly arrived (and somewhat naïve) Hungarian immigrants are targeted and successfully recruited to promote Orbán’s nationalist agenda and attack US critics who are often labelled as “anti-Hungarian” or simply “Soros agents.”  Many of the new immigrants are from Transylvania, not even familiar with the situation in Hungary and willing to serve as patsies in this endeavor.   Some receive financial funding via the Bethlen Alap, a mechanism which was set up to support “Hungarian national unity” in the US.

We asked the Hungarian Consulate in Los Angeles to explain Attila Danku’s activities.  No response from them either.

György Lázár

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