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Weeklies on US-Hungary relations

August 7th, 2023

Although the new restrictions on visa-free travel imposed by the United States on Hungarian citizens will not create problems for most visitors, the weeklies see them as a serious development, a litmus test of the deterioration of Hungary’s ties with its main ally.

In an unsigned analysis, Heti Világgazdaság points out that relations between the two governments sank to record lows after Donald Trump was voted out of the White House in 2020. Disagreements over LGBTQ issues and relations with Russia have led to frequent public argument between the two sides. According to unofficial reports, Prime Minister Orbán even referred to the Biden administration among the political opponents of his government at a meeting with his Parliamentary group behind closed doors. As Heti Világgazdaság sees it, the latest visa-free travel restrictions may well be a sign of further deteriorating bilateral relations. (For the details of the tightening of visa-free travel for Hungarians to the United States see BudaPost, August 3, 4, and 5.)

In its customary first page editorial, Magyar Narancs also believes that although Hungary naturalised a million people living in neighbouring countries, and some of these people received their Hungarian passports through dubious procedures, that was not the real reason for the travel restrictions enacted by the United States. In fact, the editors continue, because of those problems the United States had already excluded all Hungarian citizens born abroad from the visa waiver programme. The editors suggest that the Hungarian government is no longer considered a reliable ally in the Atlantic alliance, to the extent that, as the liberal weekly claims, the United States and the West in general no longer share sensitive information with the Hungarian authorities.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető only had time to mention the announcement of the restrictions before his paper went to print, inserting it into a narrative on critical voices within Fidesz. While the government is increasingly isolated within the Western alliance, he writes, the few remaining Atlanticists in Fidesz manage to make themselves heard from time to time. Szerető highlights a remark by Zsolt Németh, the chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, at the annual Fidesz festival in Transylvania. Németh called on the government to make clear in every public statement that it considers Russia the aggressor in Ukraine and recognises the right of the Ukrainians to self defence.

Three weeklies went to print before the announcement of the new rules on visa-free travel from Hungary to the United States was made but carry remarks on Hungary’s posture in international politics. In Jelen, Zoltán Lakner claims that there is not a single leader among Hungary’s allies who would be keen to meet Prime Minister Orbán. Nevertheless, the Hungarian leader tries to cure that problem by ‘weaving an alternative reality around it’ rather than changing course, he adds. Lakner’s main complaint, however, is that there is no alternative community to challenge Mr Orbán and his followers, nor is there an alternative interpretation of world events and Hungary’s role in them.

In Demokrata, Gábor Bencsik admits that the divergences between Hungary and the United States as well as other Western allies on gender issues and the rule of law are unpleasant. Nevertheless, he believes that they all pale into insignificance beside the problem of mass uncontrolled immigration whereby people with an immigrant background represent 28% of the German population, making it more than possible that they will account for over half of German citizens by 2050.

In Mandiner, Márton Ugrósdy, an international relations analyst and assistant state secretary within the Prime Minister’s office, argues for a bold expansion of the European Union. If Ukraine were to be relatively swiftly admitted, he argues, the countries of the West Balkans who have been on the waiting list for over a decade, as well as Turkey, would also have strong arguments to be allowed to join. In that case, Ugrósdy maintains, the European Union would be compelled to cut back its ambition to impose its current preferences on gender issues or the rule of law. As for Hungary, such an enlargement of the European Union would come with the additional advantage of being surrounded by EU member countries on all sides, he concludes.

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