A Hungarian official is complaining about U.S. criticism of his government’s presentation of an award to a journalist accused of anti-Semitic rants, this just weeks after the State Department nearly gave a human rights prize to an Egyptian activist who denounced Jews and praised Islamic terrorists.Zoltan Balog, the minister for human resources, posted an open letter to U.S. Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis questioning her “double standards” - the latest effort in the conservative government’s campaign to counter criticism of its efforts to adopt constitutional reforms.
In a U.S. Embassy statement last week, Mrs. Kounalakis denounced Hungary’s decision to present its highest journalism award to Ferenc Szaniszlo, a TV reporter accused of broadcasting anti-Israel remarks and calling Gypsies “human monkeys.”
Mr. Balog noted that the State Department nominated Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim for an International Women of Courage Award. After conservative media revealed Ms. Ibrahim’s anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist Internet comments, the State Department hastily withdrew the nomination the day before the awards ceremony earlier this month.
The U.S. and Hungarian governments both claimed ignorance of the offensive comments by their nominees before they were named for the awards.
Mr. Balog, who approved the recipient of the journalism award, said he was unaware of Mr. Szaniszlo’s remarks until after the TV anchorman received the prize on March 15. He lamented his “bad decision” and asked Mr. Szaniszlo to return the award, which he did last week.
In her remarks on the U.S. Embassy website, Mrs. Kounalakis called the presentation of the prize to Mr. Szaniszlo “deeply disappointing,” adding that it “casts a shadow over positive steps the government has taken to combat racism and hate speech.”
Mr. Balog’s open letter follows other efforts this year by Hungarian officials who countered claims that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government developed a new constitution to censor the media, restrict religious freedom and weaken the courts.
On March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Hungarian government posted a manifesto against hate.
“Since taking office in 2010, the Hungarian government has been taking action against all forms of hate speech and racist behavior that discriminates or stigmatizes groups of people based on race or nationality,” said Zoltan Kovacs, the minister for social inclusion.
On March 19, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament told a congressional human rights panel in Washington that Hungary’s constitution “respects and promotes the value of democracy and the rule of law.” Jozsef Szajer, a member of Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party, said the constitution tries to balance press freedom against measures outlawing hate speech. It promotes religious liberty but limits the types of religious institutions eligible for government financial aid. It also recognizes marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and guarantees the right to life of unborn children, although abortion remains legal.
“Our new constitution aims also to restore 1,000 years of historic constitutional continuity that was lost in 1944 as a consequence of the Nazi and the subsequent Soviet occupation of my country,” he told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and commission co-chairman, defended Hungary at that hearing: “Having reviewed material on both sides, I must say that I believe the Orban government is right when it says that many of the criticisms are unfair, involving double standards, misrepresentations and inaccurate information.”Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email email@example.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.