Yet again, there is an obscene amount of time and space spent in the Hungarian press on a famous Fidesz politician’s own obscene communications. That the vulgarities targeted a high-ranking US diplomat, who just one day ago “dared” criticize legislation passed by the Fidesz government during a hearing of a US House of Representatives committee is merely cream on the cake (though last time I checked these committee members were supposed to be working on raising the debt ceiling – so what are they doing hearing grave concerns about the state of Hungarian democracy?).
There is of course nothing like the scandal of a dirty-mouthed politician to divert attention to what are substantial criticisms of the Fidesz government’s recent actions. There is of course nothing classier than calling an Assistant Deputy Secretary of the US a prick and insinuating that his concerns should be dismissed by “ear-boxing.”
On Tuesday, Hungarian newspapers and online portals reported that Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State depicted Hungary in a very unfavorable light to the House Foreign Affairs European and Eurasian Committee.
Mr. Melia gave his testimony on the Hill “on the state of human rights and democracy.” He had this to say on how Hungary fares in these areas:
Several recent events are cause for significant concern about Hungary‘s democratic trajectory. Hungary is an important EU and NATO member. At the same time, we have seen the current one-party government use its unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority to lock in changes to the Constitution that could solidify its power, limit checks and balances, and unduly hamstring future democratic governments in effectively addressing new political, economic and social challenges. The government replaced members of a media oversight board, for example, with candidates aligned with the ruling party. More disconcerting, the board has been given the power to issue decrees and impose heavy fines – up to $950,000 – for news coverage it considers “unbalanced” or offensive to “human dignity.”
Mr. Melia’s report would merit lengthier analysis – perhaps in another blog entry. One thing about it, however, requires stressing: Hungary is the only EU country mentioned in the report. No other member of the European Union from the Eastern European region made it to this list of countries deemed to be causes of “concern” for the US Department of State.
In the meantime, the Hungarian reception of the document has taken a sharp shift of emphasis. Originally, the government’s position was that ‘nobody can question the will of the Hungarian people. ” But then, in less than 24 hours after the publication of Mr. Melia’s specific and focused criticism of the Hungarian government’s actions, Tamás Deutsch, Fidesz member of the European Parliament, hurried to the rescue and sent out the following vulgarity-filled ad hominem attack of Mr. Melia in his Twitter feed:
Ki a fasz az a Thomas Melia? Minek kell naponta adnunk a szarnak egy pofont?
Or, in a literal translation (trying to preserve all of the curse words in their original):
Who the di*k is Thomas Melia? Why do we have to box the sh*t on the ear every single day?
Which, taking into consideration the idioms used amounts to:
Who the f*ck is Thomas Melia? Why do people keep stirring the same old shit day after day?
[Thanks to one of my readers for this translation, who also writes that this last sentence is to be interpreted as “why do have to keep going round and round without getting anywhere.” This idiom seems to refer to the futility of trying to shape up shit by slapping it.]
Mr. Deutsch is well-known for his inappropriate Twitter remarks. He has claimed before that there is nothing wrong with informally phrased communications on Twitter – that sharing tweets in everyday language might even make a politician sound more authentic.
The point here, however, is that the Fidesz government has managed to transform any public debate that may have ensued in light of Mr. Melia’s testimony on Capitol Hill into tabloid-style reporting on yet another disgraceful (and aggressive) communication from one of Fidesz’ oldest party cadres (see this blog entry on another example from the end of June by Viktor Orbán). Deutsch could have tweeted “ki az a thomas melia” instead of “ki a fasz az a thomas melia”. The question asked in these two sentences is virtually identical. It is completely unnecessary to add the “a fasz” part (the part that makes the sentence “who the “f*ck is” instead of “who is”) unless you want to express your condescension, and/or if you want to attract media attention to exactly the wrong angle on this affair.
After all, one could discuss the country’s constitution, its media law, the forced labor camps in making, or the hatred-filled far-right movements that thrive in the Hungarian political climate. Or, we could keep it to debasing tweets, to attacking our critics in their person rather than by engaging their ideas, and we could do so by an entertaining sprinkling of sallers (head-bops), kokis (slaps) and, this time, a pofon (ear-boxing).
Dear Mr. Deutsch (or dajcstomi, if you like): since you wonder, Mr. Melia, is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State and, in his private life, an authority on human rights and international relations. He has studied the democratic transformations of Eastern Europe since 1988 and taught both at Georgetown University and at John Hopkins University (by the way, talking about the academic world, do I remember correctly that you on the other hand failed to finish law school on your own – that you would have had to drop out had Viktor Orbán not demanded a degree conferred upon you by the faculty of law before your ministerial appointment? Sorry if the question feels a bit too personal – that would be the feeling of being attacked in person) Mr. Melia, by the way, is deputy to Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner, who heads the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. This is the branch of the US Department of State directly concerned with human rights (among them, freedom of speech and freedom of religion). Your country is on the radar of this organizational unit of what amounts to the US’ “foreign ministry,” if this way of putting the matter helps to put things in context for you, because both the constitution and several of the legislation pushed through by your party’s two-third majority in the Hungarian parliament appear to deny fundamental human rights to the citizens of your country. I hope you kapish.
A more appropriate question, however, is this: just who the hell do you think you are? For those who have never heard about Mr. Deutsch, here’ s a short bio. Tamás Deutsch was one of the founders of Fidesz, and one of the “triumvirate” in the center of Fidesz’ first electoral campaign (the other two men were Viktor Orbán and Gábor Fodor – the latter left the party in 1993, when Fidesz abandoned its radical liberal agenda and turned to right-wing conservativism instead). Mr. Deutsch became famous in Hungary due to his arrest in 1989 on Prague’s Wenceslaw Square. During a mass protest held in remembrance of the Soviet Union’s crashing of the Czech spring of 1968, Deutsch made an impromptu speech in which he apologized for Hungary’s involvement, on the orders of the Soviets, in the military action. He was held in jail by the Czechoslovakian police for seven days before he was extradited to Hungary.
A member of the Hungarian Parliament since 1990, Mr. Deutsch remained one of the leading politicians in Fidesz, though more and more of his public statements indicated that he is a loose cannon. As such, in Mr. Orbán’s first government, formed in 1998, he occupied the strategically important ministry of youth and sports affairs. During the 2000s, he had become known for his sordid sexual affairs – thanks to his frequent appearance in the tabloids, there is all too much we know about how many children he fathered, with whom and in what manner. Mr. Deutsch finally obtained a seat in the European Parliament in 2009 and was shipped off to Brussels. Besides sharing crass messages about American diplomats on social media, Mr. Deutsch also enjoys soccer, and is currently the president of the Hungarian soccer team MTK.
07/28/2011 – UPDATE: According to the news portal origo.hu, it is nearly impossible that Tamás Deutsch does not know Thomas Malia. Mr. Melia visited Hungary during in the 1980s, while working for the National Democratic Institute. Among other things, he gave training sessions to the founding members of Fidesz on the working of democratic institutions and on running an electoral campaign. Another founding member of Fidesz, Zsolt Németh, who is currently the Deputy Secretary to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also acknowledged the help his party received from Mr. Melia during this period.