What went wrong in US-Hungarian relations?

In a report on Friday, Foreign Policy analysed “what went wrong” in US-Hungarian relations, which were expected to improve with Donald Trump’s election.

Foreign Policy’s article recalls that “in July 2016, when many leaders offered support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, then widely expected to be the next U.S. president, Orban hailed Trump as an “upstanding American presidential candidate.” He said of Trump’s foreign-policy platform, “I myself could not have drawn up better what Europe needs.” “Donald Trump has made it clear that he regards Hungary highly,” Orban said later, after a phone call with the president-elect.

“Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, the two have little to show for it”, the article notes. There has been no White House visit for Orban, nor has Trump visited Budapest, and the State Department criticised Hungary’s government for a number of issues, including the amendment of the higher education law, which is said to be targeting George Soros’s Central European University. In addition, US Chargé d’affaires David Kostelancik openly criticised Hungary’s media scene.

According to the article US-Hungarian relations aren’t only determined by “who sits in the Oval Office”. David Koranyi, the Atlantic Council’s analyst said that expectations were always very elevated, “Orban put himself into this mindset that he was an early trailblazer of sort of nationalistic populism that Trump is also representative of”. Freedom House’s Zselyke Csaky stressed that Hungarians “misunderstood American institutions, thinking that a change in the White House would automatically translate into a change in U.S. policies throughout the entire civil service”. “This partly shows a misunderstanding of how the U.S. government and administration works—an assumption that similar to Hungary and the region, long-term policies are easy to change because for example there is no independent civil service—and partly was a potentially risky but high-reward bet when the Trump administration came into power,” she said.

Asked for comment, the State Department offered, “Hungary is a NATO Ally, and we work together closely to confront the serious challenges that face both of our nations. As in any new administration, we have undertaken a careful review of our policy toward individual countries, including Hungary, and toward Europe overall.”

Hungary Journal
Photo: Reuters

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