USA and Hungary: Strained Relations

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Many people In Hungary dislike the United States. They claim America is meddlesome, they identify it with George Soros, with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some even go as far as to firmly believe that the USA instigated the immigration crisis to weaken Europe. There is also a worrisome trend in the Hungarian politics: constantly seeking for new enemies. Nevertheless, it is the hatred towards those enemies that easily unites the voters. Whoever dares to criticize Hungary is against the state, according to many. At the same time they tend to forget that the USA is an important ally to Hungary. Fortunately, despite some reactions America is a loyal friend who never shies away from voicing its concerns.

On October 28, Colleen Bell, American ambassador to Hungary, pointed out the dire political and social problems Hungary faces today – problems it must solve. The speech, delivered at a university in Budapest, is not the first criticism Hungary received from its Western ally. A year ago several Hungarian officials were banned from entering the US because they were facing corruption charges.

One of those officials was in fact the head of the National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary – her office seemed to have turned a blind eye on the corruption and tax fraud of certain companies (which hurt American interests, as the US is one of the largest foreign investors in the country). At that time, there were no US ambassador to Hungary – the situation had to be handled by the Chargé D’affaires.

Anybody who badmouths the current governing party will by default become an enemy, which helps the party rally its voters. Years ago the enemy were the Russians, now it is the USA, the EU, NGOs, which the Prime Minister collectively branded as foreign agents. Most recently, the immigrants are the designated enemy.

Also a year ago President Obama mentioned Hungary (amongst nations like Egypt, Azerbaijan, Russia and China) as one of the countries where NGOs are being harassed, because the Hungarian government started implementing regulations due to which it was able to investigate them on bogus charges by the corrupt Tax Administration.

This, however, was not the first instance when Hungary was mentioned alongside with Russia and China. Last year, Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, clearly stated in a public speech that he wants to implement an illiberal system in Hungary, based upon the political models of Russia and China. And he worked very hard to achieve his goal.

As a result, as the Ambassador Colleen Bell in her recent speech the power of the Constitutional Court has direly curtailed, the freedom of the Hungarian press has suffered, for the media tend to be concentrated in the hands of cronies, who are given aid from the state to purchase them. Moreover, punitive taxation befalls the major independent media.

When Colleen Bell was appointed to her position, Senator McCain raised concerns, that she got her job only because she is a friend of President Obama, and a country like Hungary needs a more experienced ambassador, for PM Orbán is a “neo-fascist dictator”. It seems however, that his concerns regarding Colleen Bell were unfounded as she appears to be capable of stepping up and firmly but diplomatically pointing out mistakes that Hungary is making.

In her speech, she was also keen to emphasize the tight relations between the two countries and the merits of Hungary. It would be wiser for the Hungarian government to heed the criticism and accept the USA as a friend who is close enough to see our errors, rather than alienate him and treat as an enemy. Yes, problems are dire in the country, but friends can only do so much as to nudge it back to the right path. It is ultimately up to the Hungarian society to change the current situation. But first, people have to stop searching for enemies and start recognising their own mistakes.

Mate Hajba