Commentators across the political spectrum agree that the United States wants Hungary to reverse the political course it has been following for the past few years. All place the recent American entry ban imposed on six Hungarian personalities suspected of corruption in this context. But they disagree on who is right and who is wrong in this dispute.
In its weekend front page editorial, Népszabadság remarks how uncommon it is for a leading diplomat to meet the press for the third time within seven days, as the Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Budapest has just done. Mr Andre Goodfriend was reported by Népszabadság as saying that “the trend is a negative one” as far as corruption is concerned. He also expressed concern about the rule of law, the plight of NGOs and the freedom of the press.“We don’t want this disappointing trend to continue,” he told reporters on Friday in Budapest. The left-wing daily describes as ‘unfruitful’ the communications game underway between the US Embassy and the Hungarian government, because the Americans cannot reveal the names of the six Hungarians banned from the United States under the Privacy Act, while the Hungarians are demanding information and evidence in order to investigate the alleged cases of corruption. Népszabadság suggests that rather than continuing the communications game, the government should swiftly establish the groundwork for an anti-corruption agency “that might silence even the Budapest representative of US diplomacy.”
In its weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs (print edition) believes Prime Minister Orbán has been told clearly that the United States is not going to tolerate his policies any longer. Pondering the possible outcomes of the dispute, Magyar Narancs outlines several alternatives: the affair may be glossed over, the accusations may be rejected in a nationalistic tone, or a few public officials may be indicated as culprits. In what they call the least probable option, the government would order a full-scale investigation into the suspected bribery cases. They believe the Prime Minister is acting “against the (western) Alliance despite being a member”, and this is what will not be tolerated ”by the US or apparently by the EU (Germany in particular)”. Magyar Narancs warns however that the current regime will not be overthrown either by the US or by Germany.
In HVG, István Riba criticises Hungary’s Foreign Ministry for having spectacularly misunderstood earlier American signals of discontent, in part because of a large-scale reshuffle underway in its apparatus. János Lázár, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s office, acknowledged that Hungarian diplomats have made mistakes, and said that “the statements of (Bill) Clinton and (President) Obama should not have been commented on in a haughty manner,” and that “communication was inadequate” about Hungarian Russian relations. Riba believes however that the new leadership of Hungarian diplomacy might also underestimate the problems which have arisen, since Péter Szíjjártó, the new Foreign Minister has concentrated his efforts on promoting Hungary’s economic interests abroad, while the ongoing loss of confidence may cause bigger harm to the Hungarian economy than the potential advantages of the new policy of “opening to the East.”
In Demokrata, Gábor Bencsik thinks America has realised that its Hungarian supporters can only be brought back to power if they get help from abroad. The US has also understood that Fidesz is not willing to act according to American interests. It decided to buy non-American fighter planes, for instance. More recently it has chosen a Russian supplier to build its new nuclear power plant. Meanwhile it has imposed heavy taxes on large western banks and has stood up against the “the whole global political-economic system led by America,” and started a dialogue with powers that are considered by the USA as competitors. As seen from Washington, Bencsik continues, all this amounts to a revolt on the part of an ally, which has sparked a serious warning, as a first step. That warning must be taken seriously, he suggests and then outlines two possible responses. On the one hand Hungary could cool its relations with Russia and China and could buy American military technology, for instance a dozen outdated combat helicopters. Alternatively Hungary could ally itself to those whose interest can be harmonised with its own. The United States is the leading world power today, Bencsik admits, therefore Hungary must have good relations with Washington. But that cannot only be achieved through humility, the right-wing analyst concludes.
In his weekly Heti Válasz editorial, Gábor Borókai thinks that once we accept that the United States is a friend, we should let its government know that we are ready to clarify what needs to be clarified, which should include an investigation into the cases of corruption identified by Washington. He thinks that the spectacular entry ban imposed on Hungarian officials and businessmen signals a sudden negative turn in the already cool relations between the two countries, and since no such rapid change has occurred in Hungary’s corruption record, the reason must be political. Borókai believes Hungarian-American relations have cooled over the past years because Hungary felt compelled to adopt unorthodox policies towards which America has shown no understanding. “Our government became suspect over there”. Hungary’s criticism of domestic liberal democracy and the welfare state was understood as criticism of Western liberal democracy, he continues. Meanwhile Hungary has strengthened its ties with Russia at the wrong moment, when the Ukraine crisis shed a different light on such moves. “People who don’t recognise the novelty of the situation may easily find themselves outside the circle,” he warns. The first Hungarian reactions to the American moves suggest to Borókai that “we have not got the message.” What is needed now, he concludes is a cool head and a readiness to negotiate. “It is pointless to provoke an open duel,” Borókai concludes.