Washington Post op-ed suggests how U.S. could intervene in Hungary

History

When Donald Trump became President of the United States, there was genuine optimism that there would be an intensified relationship between America and Hungary. But not everyone in the States thinks that would be a good idea, as a May 3 op-ed in The Washington Post indicates.

On May 3, The Washington Post, a newspaper that has a difficult relationship with the U.S. President (when he was still just the presumptive Republican nominee, he banned it from attending his campaign events), published an opinion piece headlined “How the United States can stop Hungary’s descent into authoritarianism.” The authors, Dalibor Rohac and Mate Hajba, claim Hungary is moving “away from Western democratic values,” and lists five ways in which the United States could intervene in Hungarian political affairs to ensure it moves in a more democratic direction. 

The first point that the Post piece makes concerns the importance of having an experienced American ambassador to Hungary. Previously this position was held by Colleen Bell, who was, first and foremost, a television producer, known for her work on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Bell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, was relieved of her position in January and the space has not been filled since. Without a strong individual filling this vacancy, the Unites States is lacking the ability to play a direct role in Hungary’s social affairs, the newspaper article says.

Secondly, the article urges the White House to show no amiability towards Hungary’s government. “After his phone call with the then president-elect, Orbán claimed that Trump had invited him on an official visit to Washington. The invitation likely existed only in the Hungarian prime minister’s imagination,” the opinion piece claims, adding that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the United States to dismiss or accept Orbán’s claim. 

Furthermore, military cooperation between Hungary and the United States should be temporarily suspended, creating a moratorium that would pause joint military exercises between the two countries, putting Hungary into a weakened position. 

The fourth point is that the United States should impose direct visa bans on any government officials responsible for the passing of “lex CEU” or anti-NGO legislation. The piece says this may seem harsh, but recalls that six such travel bans were imposed against Hungarian officials by the States in 2014 over a case of alleged VAT fraud. 

Lastly, the article says the administration “can urge its European partners to stop being mere bystanders. In addition to the rule of law procedure, the European Commission can turn off the inflow of structural funds into Hungary.”

The Hungarian government has yet to make any official public statement on the article; when contacted by the Budapest Business Journal via e-mail, the response from the International Communications Office of the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister was scathing: “Why shall we reply to an opinion/op-ed — just take a look who wrote it.” 

The authors Rohac and Hajba are, respectively, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington D.C., and the director of the Free Market Foundation in Budapest.

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