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Weeklies on US – Hungary relations

April 24th, 2023

Opposition-leaning authors vituperate against the government, which they see as an outlier in both NATO and the European Union. Pro-government commentators praise Hungary’s leaders for defending the country’s sovereignty.

Jelen devotes four articles to the issue. Ákos Tóth finds it tasteless for Foreign Minister Péter Szíjjártó to criticise the US ambassador to Budapest, by asking foreign actors not to consider Hungary as a colony. (For Ambassador David Pressman’s press conference, in which he criticised Hungarys intensive economic cooperation with Russia, see BudaPost April 14.) Tóth accuses PM Orbán of serving Russian interests with his position on the war in Ukraine and of using anti-American rhetoric to please his domestic fans. In a long article following his opinion column, Tóth quotes the Prime Minister as having told his party’s MPs in February that the Biden administration was one of the pro-war international interest groups and as such, an opponent of Hungary. In the same left-wing weekly, András Simonyi, Hungary’s former ambassador to Washington, dismisses Mr Orbán’s support for Donald Trump’s efforts to return to the White House next year as a vain hope. He doesn’t exclude a Trump victory, but adds that a potential Republican administration would not appreciate it if Hungary were to become too friendly towards China and Russia. Jelen’s other interviewee, Hungarian-American Washington Professor Charles Gáti predicts that Trump will not be the winner of next year’s election, but even if he does win, Prime Minister Orbán has nothing to hope for from him, because Donald Trump changes his opinions from one day to the next.

In Élet és Irodalom, Zoltán Kovács criticises the Prime Minister’s puns about the name of US ambassador David Pressman – whom he described as Pressure-man, before wishing that the next US ambassador will not be called Puccini – an obvious hint at the word ‘putsch’ i.e. coup d’état. The liberal editor describes Hungary’s foreign policymakers as ‘permitting themselves unacceptable manners’ in conducting ‘anti-EU and anti-NATO policies’. He also writes that Hungary is a lone outlier in both the European Union and NATO with its policies on the war in Ukraine.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető doesn’t believe that the Prime Minister struck a more friendly tone after the US ambassador’s press conference because he was frightened. He believes neither Washington nor Budapest want a fatal deterioration in relations between the two countries. By calling the United States an ally and a friend, and saying that as a member of the Western alliance Hungary is on the side of the victim of Russian aggression, Prime Minister Orbán wanted to prevent a rapid escalation of the controversy between the United States and Hungary, Szerető writes. At the same time, he believes, the Hungarian government is not prepared to make gestures to revive good relations with the US.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta welcomes the warnings the US ambassador expressed during his press conference and believes that the threat of the sanctions to be imposed on Hungarian officials might have forced the Hungarian side to backtrack. He invites the European Union to do likewise. Europe should not be America’s vassal, he writes, quoting President Macron of France, but not without adding that it might well learn something from the United States.

In Magyar Demokrata, Professor Tamás Magyarics, a renowned analyst of international relations, thinks that the United States does want to make an example of Hungary, but that the message was directed to Europe in general. The State Department chose a relatively easy target by letting Hungary know that too autonomous foreign policies come with a heavy price tag. He describes such warnings as mere alarm shots for the moment, but remarks that the American side has innumerable tools in its arsenal to cause trouble to Hungary, mainly in financial terms.

In his Mandiner editorial, Milán Constantinovits dismisses left-wing interpretations whereby even a mild warning from the United States forced the Hungarian government to backtrack. On the contrary, he believes that the US ambassador’s warning was mild because Mr Pressman and the Biden administration realise that Hungary cannot be treated as a puppet state. Hungary is not a docile colony, nor is it an obedient subsidiary of the World Bank, Constantinovits continues. Hungary, he writes, realises that ‘our Europe finds itself in an identity crisis’ and that we have to live in a world that is dominated not only by the United States but by Russia and China as well.

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