Independence of Body and Soul
The Budapest Business Journal is now entirely owned by its Hungarian management. I, for my sins, which must surely be many, am a British citizen. Yet the BBJ started life 28 years ago as an American-style business publication, founded and at least partially staffed by U.S. expats. That inheritance helps explain our continued use of American English, for example, but we also share our founders’ belief in a free press and the vital importance of timely, accurate business information. And so today, July 3, 2020, a U.S. national holiday, we are very pleased to wish America a happy 244th birthday as an independent nation.
The timing is clearly apposite for our now annual U.S. Country Focus, a special report looking at the significance of American foreign direct investment in Hungary. To that end we have interviews with the U.S. Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires Marc Dillard, AmCham Hungary, and the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, but we also look at Stylers Group, an IT company founded by three Hungarians who met at university, and now boasts Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra Among its U.S. clients.
It’s no secret that the political bilateral relationship between Hungary and the United States is particularly strong right now. It undoubtedly helps that the current U.S. Ambassador, David Cornstein, is a friend of President Donald Trump, and has on several occasions said that he regards Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a friend, too. Such close personal connections still matter, even in today’s ever more digital society. But the governments themselves are also ideologically close. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó has often said that Hungary admires Trump’s “America First” philosophy, that it pursues its own “Hungary First” agenda and believes that should be the starting point for all national governments. Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, a recent visitor to the White House and a political ally of Orbán, clearly takes a similar view.
It is not just about the rhetoric, however; it is also matters how the message is delivered. Now former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States László Szabó told an AmCham meeting in 2019 that the previous administration of Barack Obama has told the former Eastern Bloc countries how they should think and behave, and chastised them whenever they dared to veer away from that in pursuit of their own agenda.
All relationships have their ups and downs, of course; just think of Hungary and Germany, whose governments are far from ideological soul mates right now, despite the strength of business connections (we will look into this in more detail in a Germany Country Focus in the fall). But Hungary’s friendship with America goes back a long way. After the defeat of the 1848 Revolution and War of Independence, Lajos Kossuth was invited to the United States on a talking tour in 1852. Kossuth County in Iowa was named for him. A bronze bust of the statesman can be found in the United States Capitol, describing him as the “Father of Hungarian Democracy.” Other so-called 48ers stayed on in the United States and fought in the American Civil War (mostly on the Union side, perhaps most famously the cavalry officer Major Károly Zágonyi, but a few fought for the Confederacy, the best known being another cavalry officer, one Colonel Béla Estván).
Wherever and however you celebrate it, Happy Fourth of July.
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