- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

The wrong image

Viktor Orban, the conservative former prime minister of Hungary, has an image problem he blames on left-wing politicians in his country and a liberal foreign media.

He is in Washington this week for a meeting of the conservative International Democratic Union (IDU) and is hoping to correct some misconceptions.

"My goal is to have the facts handled in a fair way," he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

"We governed for four years. We made decisions. We should be judged on that record."

Mr. Orban's Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party narrowly lost the April parliamentary election, but he was re-elected to his seat. The new governing coalition of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats won by less than 2 percent of the vote. The one extreme-right party, Hungarian Justice and Life Party, lost all of its seats.

Mr. Orban said the results showed voters rejected the far right and were almost evenly divided between his mainstream conservative party and the socialists.

Yet the foreign media continue to portray him as a Hungarian version of France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. The New York Times made the comparison in an article last month, and The Washington Post called him a "far-right" politician yesterday.

"It's harmful to classify half of Hungarian voters as right-wing extremists," Mr. Orban said, referring to his supporters.

The State Department says his government "generally respected" the human rights of its citizens. The department's human-rights report criticizes local government discrimination against some minorities and cites some abusive practices by local police.

It notes that his government greatly improved the economy, lowering inflation and increasing the income of the average Hungarian. Mr. Orban inherited an inflation rate of more than 18 percent and lowered it to about 4. He also attracted high levels of foreign investment and encouraged the development of small business.

Mr. Orban said he opposes cultural nationalism and promotes the cultural heritage of all Hungarians, regardless of their ethnic background. He also dedicated a Holocaust museum during his term.

He said the accusations against him have had no effect domestically.

"To play that game at home has no relevance, but outside the country is where it is effective," he said.

Mr. Orban expressed his frustration about a story that won't go away. The Post earlier this year reported that President Bush refused to see him when Mr. Orban visited Tufts University in Massachusetts to receive an honorary degree. The Post repeated the story yesterday in a report on the IDU conference.

Mr. Orban said he never requested a meeting and Mr. Bush, whom he has met previously, called to congratulate him when he returned to Budapest. The call came during the election campaign.

Hungarian Ambassador Geza Jeszenszky said the White House, which expected Mr. Orban to be re-elected prime minister, was planning for a future meeting with Mr. Bush.


German cooperation

The German Embassy yesterday insisted it is cooperating fully with the U.S. investigation into terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, despite press reports that it is withholding evidence that could lead to his execution.

"Germany is not reluctant to aid the prosecution of Mr. Moussaoui," the embassy said in a statement. "German commitment to the fight against terrorism remains as strong as ever.

"Germany opposes capital punishment for ethical reasons, as do many other countries, including all members of the European Union," the embassy added.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported this week that German authorities are refusing to hand over evidence that Moussaoui was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks because he faces the death penalty in the United States. The German Constitution prohibits capital punishment.

The embassy said German authorities "are engaged in talks with their American counterparts who have asked for German assistance" in the case. It would not comment on the specifics of the U.S. request.

The United States is seeking the original receipts for money transfers it says Moussaoui received from a suspected terrorist cell in Hamburg.


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