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Category: Foreign Relations

Posts about Hungary’s relations with other countries, or non-domestic institutions and organizations.

Orbán Speech Opens CPAC in Dallas

Viktor Orbán opened the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with a speech in Dallas, Texas on Thursday. CPAC has been a major gathering for U.S. right-wing conservatives since 1974.

The main purpose of the Prime Minister’s half-hour-long English-language speech was to introduce himself and his policies to the American conservative audience, which may sympathize with him but does not know much about Hungary and its government.

Orbán touched on his well-worn themes: Christian values, migration, gender, and the importance of the fight against liberalism, but also didn’t leave out Barack Obama or George Soros.

He compared Hungary to Texas, the Lone Star State, where independence, freedom, and sovereignty are the three most important values in both places.

The Hungarian government made great efforts to get the Prime Minister a speaking slot at the conservative convention. The taxpayer-funded Center for Fundamental Rights, which also organized CPAC Hungary earlier this year, is one of the event’s sponsors.

As for how he felt about speaking at CPAC, Viktor Orbán said it was a dream come true. [444]

DK: European Commission Investigating Whether Highway Concession Violates EU Law

The European Commission is investigating whether the Orbán regime’s highway concession violates EU law, announced Sándor Rónai, DK’s representative in the European Parliament, on social media on Thursday. As he wrote:

We learned in May that groups associated with Orbán’s oligarchs, [Lőrinc] Mészáros and László Szíjj, were awarded the right to operate Hungarian highways for 35 years. However, we have not been able to find out since then what calculations the government used to justify the several trillion-forint business, whether it was a good deal for Hungarians, or if it was just another theft. It stinks from afar, which is why I have brought the issue to the attention of the European Commission. And Ursula von der Leyen has just informed me that the Commission is investigating the deal, specifically, whether the 35-year motorway concession violates EU law.

[Magyar Hang]

Viktor Orbán Meets With Donald Trump in New Jersey

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with Donald Trump at the former President’s estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, the Prime Minister’s press chief Bertalan Havasi told news agency MTI.

The Prime Minister posted a picture of himself together with Trump on social media, overlaid with text reading “In an Alliance for Peace!” Underneath the photo, a short statement read, “Meeting with American President Donald J. Trump.”

picture of Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán
(photo: Viktor Orbán / Facebook)

Accompanying the Prime Minister at the meeting were Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Balázs Orbán, the Prime Minister’s Political Director, and Zsolt Németh, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. Also present were Susie Wiles, CEO of the Save America Leadership PAC, consultant Brian Jack, and Taylor Budowich, Director of Communications for Save America.

As previously reported, Viktor Orbán left for the U.S. yesterday to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event in Dallas this week. The Prime Minister has no plans to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden. [444]

David Pressman Hasn’t Even Arrived in Hungary, But Zsolt Bayer Has Already Told the New U.S. Ambassador to Leave

After the United States Senate confirmed David Pressman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary last Thursday, pro-government pundit Zsolt Bayer expressed his extreme displeasure with the choice over the weekend in a blog post entitled, “Get the Hell Home!

Bayer, a staff writer for pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, does not exactly indicate in his post the nature of his problem with David Pressman, writes 444, apart from the fact that the 45-year-old human rights lawyer and diplomat is not a conservative right-winger. However, this did not stop him from being foul-mouthed and insulting:

“Mr.” Ambassador should go home and consult with the dog-f***ing “Mr.” secretary for nuclear energy on the big questions of democracy and freedom. We are doing great here without guidance from idiots like you. Is that clear?

-wrote Bayer.

The reference to the “secretary for nuclear energy” likely refers to Sam Brinton, an assistant secretary for nuclear waste at the Department of Energy. The Hungarian right-wing press kicked up a big fuss about him a few weeks ago, since, in addition to being a qualified nuclear engineer, he reportedly spends his free time as a drag queen. But how this relates to Bayer’s ugly slur, or how Brinton is connected with the new ambassador, is not entirely clear.

At the end of his post, Bayer offers a bit more of an explanation as to why he has a problem with another country having the audacity to send an ambassador to Hungary:

For forty years, sausage-fingered, smelly-mouthed Soviet comrades wanted to tell us what the only path to salvation was. Now they have transformed into “woke,” cancel culture-loving neo-Marxist d**ckheads, and they continue where the Soviet comrades left off.

David Pressman previously represented the U.S. at the United Nations at an ambassadorial level between 2014 and 2017 under the presidency of Barack Obama, and also ran George and Amal Clooney’s foundation as executive director. According to HVG, Pressman spoke about the decline of democracy in Hungary at his Senate hearing, although he believes this phrasing obscures the intent behind the decline of democratic processes in the country. [444]

“Very High” Likelihood of Orbán-Trump Meeting at Dallas CPAC, Says Kovács

The Prime Minister has not gone on vacation. That’s fake news. Viktor Orbán is traveling to the United States, where he will give a speech at the opening of CPAC. There has been no change in this.

-said Bertalan Havasi, the prime minister’s press chief, to atv.hu about Viktor Orbán’s plans.

The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) website clearly shows that the Prime Minister will be a guest speaker at the event, Zoltán Kovács, State Secretary for International Communications and Relations, informed the news channel.

There had been speculation last week that the Prime Minister’s invitation to Dallas for CPAC might be in doubt over the controversy surrounding his use of the phrase “mixed race” while speaking at the Tusványos event in Băile Tușnad, Romania the previous weekend. News had also begun circulating that the Prime Minister would be going on vacation from today, but Bertalan Havasi has now denied this.

At a press conference last week, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó clarified to ATV that Viktor Orbán’s invitation was still valid. Szijjártó said that he had visited Washington two weeks ago and met with Congressional Republicans on tax and economic matters, but that they have a wide-ranging and intensive politicial cooperation with the U.S. political party.

The Minister told the news outlet he would be traveling to New York at the beginning of the week, and “of course will participate” in part of the Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

ATV asked Zoltán Kovács whether there might be a meeting between Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump in Dallas, since the former US president will also be a keynote speaker at CPAC.

The State Secretary responded that “the probability of this is quite high,” giving it a “10” when asked to rank the likelihood of such a meeting on a 10-point scale. [atv.hu]

Von Der Leyen Also Criticizes Orbán’s “Mixed Race” Comments

Ursula von der Leyen has also expressed her thoughts on Viktor Orbán’s speech at Tusványos about “mixed races.”

According to the President of the European Commission, discrimination on the basis of race tramples on the values ​​that are enshrined in international treaties, including the UN Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

As reported by Népszava, the European politician told Slovak news outlet Aktuality.sk that these values were universal and not subject to debate. “We have all undertaken to maintain and protect them,” she said, adding that the European Union is built upon equality, tolerance, fairness, and justice.

In the interview, von der Leyen also spoke about how she was optimistic about the future of democracy and Europe, asserting that “the covid crisis, and now our response to the Russian war of aggression, demonstrated a very important thing: democracies and Europe are performing well.”

While speaking in Băile Tușnad, Romania, during the Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp (informally known as Tusványos) last weekend, Viktor Orbán stated that he didn’t want Hungary to “become a mixed race.”

Since then, the Prime Minister has faced widespead criticism over the comments, such as from the U.S. Embassy in Hungary and in the Romanian media. The speech also prompted a longtime Orbán advisor to tender her resignation.

On Thursday, 67 members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) protested the speech in an online petition. As they wrote, “the idea of human races and their mixing is biologically flawed,” and therefore the academics “find it unacceptable that the Prime Minister associates the future of the Hungarian people with such a scientifically untenable doctrine and dangerous ideology.” [Magyar Hang]

Morawiecki: Poland and Hungary Have Parted Ways

“I confirm Prime Minister Orbán’s words that Poland and Hungary have parted ways,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, when asked if he could identify with a comment made by Viktor Orbán in Băile Tușnad, Romania last Saturday on the deteriorating relationship between the two erstwhile allies.

Orbán stated that the war in Ukraine had jolted Polish-Hungarian relations, as Hungary sees the conflict as a war between two Slavic nations while the Poles have taken up the fight for themselves.

In response, Morawiecki said at a rural meeting on Friday that contrary to what Viktor Orbán had claimed, Poland is not taking part in the war in Ukraine. “The war is being fought by the Ukrainians,” he confirmed.

However, his country is trying to help the Ukrainians “survive the brutal Russian attack” and “preserve their territorial integrity,” said the Polish Prime Minister, as reported by Polsat News and tvn24.pl. [Magyar Hang]

David Pressman Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary

The United States Senate voted 61-30 on Thursday to confirm David Pressman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Only Republican senators voted against confirming the diplomat and civil rights lawyer, although Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in favor of him. Nine senators did not cast a vote.

The 45-year-old was nominated for the post by President Joe Biden in May. A Democrat, Pressman is the former director of George and Amal Clooney’s foundation, and worked as a human rights lawyer and aide to recently-deceased former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Between 2014-2017, under President Barack Obama, Pressman served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs. He is currently a partner at the New York office of law firm Jenner & Block. Pressman is still awaiting the swearing-in for his ambassadorial post in Budapest.

The Hungarian press has commented on David Pressman’s advocacy work for LGBTQ rights and on the fact that he also led a working group that fought for the recognition of this community in U.S. foreign affairs. But HVG notes that he his area of competence extends far beyond this field.

The news outlet suggests that Pressman’s nomination by President Biden may be more related to the Russian-Ukrainian war than to the Hungarian government’s position on the LGBTQ movement. The newly-confirmed ambassador not only has expertise in minority rights, but also in the area of national security. Under two U.S. presidents, he worked directly for three cabinet members in positions connected to national security and law enforcement.

At his Senate hearing, the diplomat stated that current assessments of Hungary show a decline of democracy in the country, but that this decline is a euphemism, as it conceals the intentions behind the erosion of press freedom and the influence of the judiciary. This topic needs to be discussed with government officials, but civil organizations also have to be supported as much as possible so that they can take part in democratic processes. [HVG]

U.S. Embassy Responds to Orbán’s Tusványos Speech

In a short statement, the United States Embassy in Hungary issued a short statement that appeared to be a response to Viktor Orbán’s comments at Tusványos on “mixed races” a few days ago:

The U.S. Embassy condemns all ideologies, policies, and rhetoric that give oxygen to the doctrines of hate and division. We must never forget that what began as racist and xenophobic rhetoric by 20th century leaders escalated, ultimately ending in the genocide of millions. Human dignity and equality know no national boundaries and we affirm that the diversity of our human family is one of its greatest strengths.

In his speech on Saturday, the Hungarian Prime Minister said, “We are willing to mix with each other, but we do not want to become a mixed race.”

Since then, the speech has been subject to criticism from many areas within Hungary and abroad. One of Orbán’s chief advisers, Zsuzsa Hegedüs, tendered her resignation on Tuesday over the matter, describing the Prime Minister’s words as an “openly racist speech… which even [Nazi propagandist] Goebbels would have liked. [Magyar Hang]

Slovak Foreign Minister Concerned Over Hungary’s Behavior

At a press conference in Bratislava, Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok expressed his concern over repeated comments by Hungarian representatives on joint EU sanctions against Russia, reports Bloomberg.

“I understand Hungary’s comments less and less, and we are not the only ones,” Korčok said, rejecting certain “claims that Slovakia supports Ukraine just to get in good favor with Brussels.”

“The opposite is true,” claimed Ivan Korčok. “I feel that Budapest wants to exploit every opportunity to oppose joint EU decisions.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó was the only “no” vote on a plan by the EU to conserve energy, as the ministers of every other EU Member State supported the idea of consuming less natural gas. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated that through the plan, Brussels had taken another step in the direction of a “war economy.”

Orbán also said at the Tusványos gathering that sanctions were not having an effect on Moscow, and he doubted that Ukraine would be able to defeat the Russian army in the conflict. [444]

Only Hungary Voted Against EU Plan to Reduce Gas Consumption

With the exception of Hungary’s Péter Szijjártó, the energy ministers of EU Member States unanimously approved the European Commission’s emergency plan to reduce gas consumption by 15%, reports Die Welt.

The emergency plan aims to ease Russia’s dependence on gas and make preparations if the Kremlin decides to stop exporting to the European Union. Sven Giegold, the German State Secretary for Economic Affairs, tweeted that the emegency plan was adopted by a huge majority, with only Hungary opposing it.

The European Commission came up with the plan on July 20, asking the 27 member countries in the EU to reduce their consumption for the eight months between August 2022 and March 2023 compared to their average consumption over the last five years. Compliance will be on a voluntary basis for now, but could become mandatory if the situation becomes dire. [Népszava]

Gov’t English-Language Summary of Orbán Speech Omits Mention of “Mixed Races”

“OOPS! What a surprise that in the English summary of the Fidesz Prime Minister’s speech in Tusványos, only the parts that could cause the most controversy and resentment in Europe and internationally were omitted,” posted Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi on social media on Sunday.

Ujhelyi wrote that Tamás Deutsch, as the head of the Fidesz delegation in the European Parliament, circulated a letter to all Members of the European Parliament and their assistants that included a link to a written summary of the Prime Minister’s speech in Tusványos, which has provoked strong negative reactions from both Ukrainian and Romanian officials.

However, in the summary written by Zoltán Kovács, one looked in vain for sentences that have caused legitimate and actual outrage, such as those on ‘mixed-race’ Europeans and ‘non-mixed-race’ Hungarians, or about Germans with serious ‘know-how’ in reducing their gas consumption, as these parts were left out, as was the part that Hungary will be a net contributor to the European Union by 2030, and then ‘we’ll be calling the shots.’ According to the summary that was officially distributed and recommended for reading, it’s as if these statements had never been made.

-the opposition MEP wrote. [Magyar Hang]

Orbán Speech Facing Blowback from Romanian Media and Politicians

“Viktor Orbán made racist statements in Tusványos,” read the chyron on Romanian television news channel Digi 24 about Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the Tusványos summer gathering in Băile Tușnad, Romania, where the Prime Minister made the statement that “we in the Carpathian Basin are not mixed race,” reports Transtelex.

“We (Hungarians) are not a mixed race… and we don’t want to become a mixed race,” Orbán said on Saturday. He added that countries where Europeans and non-Europeans mix “are no longer nations.”

Orbán has been making similar statements for years, but these comments were clearly formulated in extreme terms, Digi 24 told Romanian viewers. The news station also informed them that it was in Tusványos in 2014 when Viktor Orbán first said that he wanted to construct an “illiberal democracy” in Hungary.

Transtelex‘s summary notes that Romanian political parties and various political actors in the country have protested against the content of the speech delivered at Tusványos, the informal name for the “Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp” held every year in the Transylvanian region of Romania.

In addition to the social democrats and liberals, Romanian MEP Alin Mituță reacted angrily to Orbán’s comments. “Speaking about racial or ethnic ‘purity,’ especially in such a mixed region as Central and Eastern Europe, is purely delusional and dangerous. And so is Mr. Orbán,” the European representative wrote on Twitter.

Romania’s foreign minister was also outraged by the Hungarian Prime Minister’s speech, saying that such talk about “races” was unacceptable. [Magyar Hang]

Orbán’s Speech a Classic Example of Russian Propaganda, Says Ukraine Spox

Viktor Orbán’s claims that the sanctions against Russia are bad and have not shaken the country is a classic example of Russian propaganda, writes Ukrainian foreign affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko on his Facebook page.

The Hungarian Prime Minister spoke at the annual summer gathering at Tusványos, Romania on Saturday about a wide range of topics, including how he thinks the West has miscalculated, that the sanctions and the arming of Ukraine are bad policies, and that Ukraine will not be able to defeat the Russians.

But Nikolenko counters that:

The sanctions are effective, and have significantly reduced the ability of the Russian military to wage war against Ukraine. Providing arms to Ukraine saves Ukrainian lives. If sanctions and weapons were ineffective, the Kremlin would not have invested such huge resources into discrediting them, and would not have tried to stop them.

He also argued that Europe is not experiencing an economic crisis because of the sanctions, but because Russia is waging a hybrid war:

The Russian Federation attacks Ukraine with cruise missiles and Europe with high natural gas prices. These are all elements of a single Russian plan to undermine peace and prosperity in the countries of Europe.

Turning a blind eye to Russia’s crimes in Ukraine will not restore peace, believes the Ukrainian spokesperson:

Without peace and stability in Ukraine, there will be no peace and stability in Hungary either, or in Europe in general. Europe’s strategy must be based on decisive joint action and unity to help end the war and hold Russia accountable for its crimes. We are grateful to our European partners for standing steadfast. Together we will surely defeat Russia, despite the Hungarian Prime Minister’s fears of the ‘asymmetrical advantage’ of the Russian army.

-he wrote. [444]

Sanctions Aren’t Working and Are Only Weakening the EU, Says Finance Minister

“The European Union’s own sanctions are essentially weakening it. The question is whether it can survive the punitive measures it has placed on Russia,” said Finance Minister Mihály Varga on Thursday at the annual summer gathering in Tusnádfürdő, Romania, as reported by MTI.

In a panel discussion entitled “Before the storm, after the storm? Inflation, energy prices, recession,” Varga stated that Europe needs Russian energy for the time being, and any transition will require funds and take time.

The sanctions aren’t working, claimed Varga, who doesn’t see any international cooperation in this area either. Moreover, the exchange rate fluctuations between the dollar and the euro are also causing problems for the EU, and because of this, he believes that Europe is “deeply among the losers.”

The Finance Minister said that the Hungarian government continued to support peace and security, and it strives to use all available resources to maintain the socio-economic results it has achieved so far. [Magyar Hang]

Szijjártó Travels to Moscow to Negotiate Natural Gas Purchase

Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian officials, including Alexander Novak, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs, Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister for Industry and Trade, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Upon arrival, the Hungarian Foreign Minister posted on social media:

We have two tasks: to ensure that there will be natural gas for the Hungarian people, and emphasize that we want peace as soon as possible.

He later shared a smiling photo with Minister Lavrov.

The government wants to buy an additional 700 million cubic meters of natural gas, which is necessary because, according to Szijjártó, “we are not living in normal times,” and the storage tanks need to be filled higher than usual. Lavrov said they would look into the request.

Szijjártó also spoke about the war in Ukraine, saying several times that Hungary wants to see a peace agreement. “War is very bad… Let there be peace again so that there will finally be an end to people’s suffering.”

In accordance with the Russian narrative, Lavrov did not talk about war, but of Russia’s “special operation.” When asked by a Russian journalist, he admitted that many people were indeed dying in Ukraine, but that it was coming from Ukrainian weaponry.

Paks II is a High-Priority Strategic Project for the Russians

Lavrov said that the Russians would like to continue their involvement in the construction of new nuclear power units in Paks, which they view as a high-priority strategic project. However, the Russian Foreign Minister also mentioned that “Washington’s Russophobic policy” and the sanctions are highly damaging to cooperation between the two countries.

Szijjártó previously called Lavrov his friend, and also received Russia’s Order of Friendship award from him at the end of last year. The Order of Friendship is the highest level of recognition that the Russian government can bestow on a non-Russian citizen.

Since his country attacked Ukraine in February, Sergey Lavrov has been the most visible member of the Russian government to consistently defend Russia’s role in the Ukrainian war in international venues. [444, 444]

Gov’t Expecting Agreement with European Commission on Recovery Plan by August

The government is hoping to reach an agreement with the European Commission by the end of August, said János Bóka, the State Secretary for European Union issues in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, to Reuters on Tuesday.

The European Commission has still not given the nod to Hungary’s recovery plan, preventing €5.8 billion (US $5.9 billion) from being allocated to the government from the EU recovery fund.

Hungary is the only country in the 27-member bloc that has not had its recovery plan accepted by the Commission. The Brussels-based body expects the Hungarian government to take more concrete steps regarding media diversity, judicial independence, and corruption.

Bóka stated that negotiations with the Commission had entered a new phase, and that Hungary aimed to wrap up all outstanding issues by the end of August. If these talks are successful, they expect to be able to reach agreement on the details of the funds.

The Hungarian government has also agreed to reduce the proportion of single-bidder public procurement tenders to under 15%. Bóka claimed that this wouldn’t be easy, as there are certain areas where only one serious bidder exists, so they will need to define those areas where reducing to 15% is truly feasible.

He also said that there weren’t any areas where they wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement, and he was not able to name any areas of dispute.

The European Commission did not comment on the statement. [Magyar Narancs]

Hungary Announces Energy Supply Emergency, But Didn’t Tell the EU About It

The European Commission was completely surprised by Hungary’s announcement on Wednesday of an energy supply emergency. The Commission received no prior notification, even though there could be serious consequences because of it.

Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy in the European Commission, released a statement on the issue on Thursday:

Yesterday, Hungary announced the intention to introduce an energy emergency plan that would apparently include measures restricting the cross-border flows of gas and other energy carriers in the Single Market. Hungary has not notified the Commission of these planned measures. The Commission is in contact with the Hungarian authorities to better understand the emergency plan and to assess its implications for the neighboring Member States.

Simson’s statement also appeared to contain a rebuke of the Hungarian government’s announcement of the emergency and the resulting restrictions:

[A] declaration of a state of emergency and its resulting measures must be taken in the presence of a clear threat of supply interruptions and notified to the Commission under the Security of Supply regulation, to allow for proper information and coordination with neighbouring countries. Individual national restrictions affecting gas cross-border flows are unwarranted and can only exacerbate problems in the current gas market situation.

The statement additionally points out that EU Member States have solidarity obligations in such circumstances, meaning they are obliged to guarantee the security of supply for their neighbors.

444 notes that while the announcement of a new state of emergency undoubtedly sounds good for the government from a messaging perspective, the Government Information briefing held on Wednesday did not make the problem out to be that serious. [444]

EU Report Shows No Progress on Rule of Law in Hungary

The European Commission’s latest report on the rule of law states that there has been no significant progress on the fight against corruption in Hungary, reports Euronews.

According to the report published on Wednesday:

  • On the courts, “the public still rates the independence of the judiciary as average, while companies rate it low.”
  • On corruption, experts and company directors believe that the level of corruption in the public sector is still high. There is a continued lack of investigations, prosecutions, and final judgments in high-level corruption cases. Serious deficiencies in the financing of political parties and campaigns was also noted.
  • On the media situation, the report states that the channeling of major state resources into pro-government media continues to create unequal conditions, while the Hungarian authorities do not even plan to introduce legislation aimed at increasing the transparency of media ownership.
  • On the functioning of democratic institutions, the reported drew attention to the fact that “the lack of public consultation and an accelerated legislative process further weakened the quality of the regulatory environment.”

[444]

Viktor Orbán to Open August CPAC Conference in Dallas

Viktor Orbán will open the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on August 4 in Dallas, Texas, the Prime Minister’s press chief told state news agency MTI.

CPAC events have brought together leading U.S. right-wing conservatives since 1974, but the first CPAC in Europe was only held this past May in Budapest. The taxpayer-funded Center for Fundamental Rights organized the event in the Bálna, calling it a “conservative political jamboree.”

Prime Minister Orbán was a keynote speaker for the event in May, which also featured video messages from former President Donald Trump and television personality Tucker Carlson. [HVG]