NATO, Hungary, Antisemitism

Scripps-Howard News Service 11.26.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Even before President Bush attended the NATO conference, questions about the future of the alliance had prompted a major article in the influential "Foreign Affairs." Celeste Wallander (Center for Strategic and International Studies) wrote "Shape Up or Ship Out," a warning to new members, advice to the original ones.

Ms. Wallander proposes if new NATO members prove unable to conform to the indispensable political cohesion, or to military requirements, they ought to go. To that end, she writes, "NATO members must...agree to amend the North Atlantic Treaty to allow for sanction, suspension, or even expulsion."


With all due respect to Ms. Wallander - who kindly spent half an hour on the phone with me - that is language one might countenance from a Margaret Thatcher who, unlike Ms. Wallander, would never offer a mechanism that enables members to vote the United States right out of the alliance.

But the problems lie much deeper. The success of NATO was undergirded by the very political cohesion which had come naturally to the original members, except West Germany, where a combination of Western military occupation and Soviet threat proved sufficiently persuasive. To assume political cohesion between 9-year-old Slovakia and, say, the Netherlands where a nation-state to amaze the world blossomed around the year 1600 is worse than naivety.

Then there is the matter of military expectations. Does anyone seriously think that the addition of countries, struggling to survive from day to day, adds to NATO's military teeth? The Czechs, bless them, fought Soviet power with signatures and appeals for help. Not a single bullet was fired in their quest for liberty. All the plastic explosives they manufactured killed people on our side. They never used a package against the Russians.

But Ms. Wallander singles out Hungary. Well, if the purpose of expansion was to secure a larger area of influence, increased "friendly" territory, that purpose was met. For those who believed that more than an auxiliary, logistical role can be played by the new members, I have some oceanfront property in Indiana for sale.

Disappointment in meeting military obligations is not Ms. Wallander's only concern with Hungary. She devotes a sizable chunk of her article to what she calls "the previous Hungarian government's antisemitism, extraterritorial claims against its neighbors, and failure to play a constructive role in Balkan security." Although she claims to quote a "senior figure in European security," her sources - whom she cannot name - appear to be dark shadows, desperately afraid to step out into the daylight.

The charges are nothing short of ludicrous, as became apparent when I asked what she actually meant by them. Her answer would have qualified as an opening sketch for "Saturday Night Live," but not in a serious discussion about a country with an 1100-year history. She had to rely upon her sources, she explained, because she knows nothing about Hungary. (Then why write about it?)

I may appear unduly concerned with Hungary because I grew up there. In truth, I am concerned about some fellow-Americans. In raising the issue, I rely on my pedigree - the only kind that renders people unassailable on matters Hungarian: a family and personal history of equal persecution under the Nazis and the Communists.

An "invisible hand" seems to be operating within the safety of America, using every opportunity to beat up on Hungary, usually applying antisemitism and irredentism as the "charge." As we know, there is antisemitism everywhere (apparently now even in Israel?), and Hungary is no different. But that's a far cry from accusing the government of practicing it - especially with zero, zilch, nada, where evidence ought to be.

Ms. Wallander then proceeds, unwittingly, to reveal the politics of her sources by suggesting that some historic tragedy was averted when Victor Orban's government was voted out of office last Spring.


The invisible hand operating in our midst is happy only with communists or former communists in power. Hungarians are free to elect whomever they wish, and some Hungarian communists became famous by voting themselves out of power. But why should Americans prefer communists?

Who are these Americans? Would they please step out of the shadows and explain why they like communists to be in charge of a NATO member state? And where is the voice of Representative Tom Lantos of California, the only Hungarian in Congress? Why is the otherwise exceptionally vocal politician silent? Americans like to rely on those of their countrymen who have expertise in a certain area. Is Mr. Lantos with the "invisible hand" or will he join a demand for going the American way?

Those in the shadow are well organized. For example, they have the Washington Post on tap. Last March, Jackson Diehl published an anti-Hungarian article based on - as he told me - "reliable information from his unnamed sources." After Ms. Wallander's offering, Keith Richburg (quoting a "Western diplomat") headlined that "Hungary hasn't won a battle since 1456." One has come to expect better of Mr. Richburg. Should one simply laugh off the negligence of all these writers?

This is not the place for a history lesson. But here are two events that matter. In October-November 1956 teenagers attacked tanks exposing Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V.I.Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Josef Stalin, and Soviet bestiality to all with eyes and ears. In October-November 1989 Hungarians - some former communists among them - finished Ronald Reagan's work by punching the lethal hole into the Berlin Wall it survived only by a few days.

I would like to confront members of the "invisible hand" in public - Ms. Wallander is considering whether to help - to find out whether they pursue Hungary for having hurt their secret political idols, or because they are so ignorant of history as to have missed what communists have done against the Jews?