Like hippos in a china store

The government of Hungary is considering kicking U.S. chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend out of the country. It is of the view that the American diplomat is poking his nose into matters that are none of his business.

The country’s State Attorney has asked the foreign ministry to initiate stripping Goodfriend of diplomatic immunity so this office can prosecute him based on a legal action started by Hungary’s taxation administration chief, Ildikó Vida.

The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said he’s sending an official request to the State Department. Whether he’ll succeed is more than questionable: the stuffed shirts at Foggy Bottom would go through the roof and describe Hungary’s request impertinent to nth degree, while President Barack Hussein Obama is expected to go ballistic.

Except: if the Americans, as is expected, tell the Hungarians to go and fly a kite, Goodfriend will be flying first: he Hungarian government will designate him as persona non grata, and if they are kind and generous, Goodfriend will have 48 hours to pack up and leave. If not, he’ll have to leave forthwith.

First, a bit of a definition: a chargé d’affaires represents his or her nation in the country she or he is accredited to. That means, this diplomat has to receive le agrément from the host government (for whatever reason, French is still the language of diplomacy). This means that the host government can always withdraw its agreement with the diplomat’s continued stay.

The chargé d’affaires enjoys the same privileges and immunities as a regular ambassador. In most cases, the chargé d’affaires only serves on a temporary basis, while the ambassador is away. Still, these diplomats can be appointed for longer periods of time, something that seems to have happened in Goodfriend’s case. As diplomatic protocol rules, a chargé d’affaires could be appointed also when the two countries disagree on something and they prefer to be represented by lower-ranked diplomats, basically in order to save face.

Now that we have the niceties behind us, here’s the scoop: several governments’ diplomatic representatives (including Canada’s) went public with their masters’ displeasure about what they described as corruption running amok in the countries where they are stationed. Not that it had the desired effect. General populations in these (mostly post-communist) countries are perfectly aware that their governments’ standards of honesty and decency are nothing to write home about. Still, they detest it when foreigners wag their fingers and tell them this isn’t cricket.

In the Hungarian case, the country’s chief taxation official, Ms. Vida, and five of her subordinate officers were denied entry visas into the U.S. this past November, based directly on accusations of corruption as expressed by none other than Goodfriend himself. Ms. Vida described his statements as slanderous and defamatory and libellous drivel, but her prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said this wouldn’t be enough. Sue the bloody Yankee, he told Ms. Vida, or I’ll fire you.

Wonderful. Except you can’t sue a diplomat who’s protected by immunity. You can only ask her or his government for permission to strip her or him of that immunity, and if no agreement is forthcoming, you can kick her or him out.

And this is where it seems to be headed.

President Obama, whom most of the post-communist countries’ citizenry detest about the same they used to detest their communist leaders, didn’t help matters when he announced that in Hungary, in his esteemed opinion, the something he calls “civic society” is in danger. What he had in mind precisely remains unclear, but Hungarian officials figured out that the U.S. commander-in-chief was unhappy because they refused to blindly follow his lead and call Russia and Russian president Vladimir Putin all kinds of names.

That the Hungarians might have a reason for a more nuanced view is something Obama has never considered. In fact, he seems to be frightfully unaware of this.

On the other hand, post-communist countries have been up in arms lately. They have detected that U.S. embassies in their countries have been interfering with their internal affairs. They are quite sensitive about these things: they’ve had their share of being ordered about by the communist leadership in Moscow. Bad enough that the European Union bureaucracy has been trying to replace the communist economic community system with a similar structure of their own. Post-communist countries, one and all, view this kind of behaviour askance.

For example, the Czech Republic is livid because the U.S. embassy has been supporting (financially) a movement to teach Islam in Czech schools.

Now, Canada’s ambassador Otto Jelínek has joined forces with his U.S. and Norwegian colleagues, trying to tell the Czechs that corruption is bad. The Czechs are perfectly aware of what kind of swindlers and fraudsters they have in their government. But they still feel that young Jelínek would do better tending to his knitting or, even better, to his family business that produces the finest plum brandy (slivovice) in the world.

What angers them even more is the gall with which the Americans and Canadians invited the Norwegians to join them in the chorus of anti-corruption condemnation. The Czechs and the Norwegians have been at swords drawn lately. A Norwegian social worker has taken away children from a Czech family that was in the northern country, citing abuse, without providing single proof. The Czech government has been trying to reason with its Norwegian counterpart, to no avail, thus far. And these busy beavers are going to tell us how to behave? is the tenor of the Czech public reaction.

That the Americans didn’t notice they were entering a minefield is behaviour typical for this administration. That ambassador Jelínek, who speaks and reads and writes Czech, was not aware of the backlash this step would create in his parents’ homeland is beyond shameful.

And most of the post-communist countries’ public opinion agrees: the Americans don’t like Putin. Not that we love him. In fact, not that we love the Russian bear, period. But, they say, nobody, and least of all Obama, is going to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to act.

They’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirts.

To heck with the Americans. Let them eat cake. But Canada’s government – of all governments in the world – should know better.

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