Ever since the Democrats took the White House, Washington and Budapest have been drifting ever further apart. But Biden needs to accept that just because Orban disagrees with him doesn’t mean he’s ‘undemocratic’.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has expressed concerns that the United States will attempt to interfere in next year’s general election. The purpose of the underhand interference, Szijjarto believes, is to have sitting Hungarian PM Viktor Orban replaced by the United Opposition candidate Peter Marki-Zay, who is more ideologically aligned with the Biden administration.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Szijjarto said, “We don’t live on the Moon. We live in central Europe. Of course, there will be attempts … we have already detected preparations.” He also stated, “I want to reassure the Hungarians that all the institutions concerned are doing their job to push back the attempts of external interference in the elections.”
This is not the first time the Hungarian government has suggested America will intervene in next year’s election. Back in August, Orban told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that US interference “will happen,” but “we are not worried about it, we are prepared for it.”
In one sense, the Biden administration’s dislike of Hungary seems odd. After all, Hungary is NATO partner and Orban has been a vocal supporter of Israel. Nevertheless, Hungary is the only EU nation that has not been invited to Biden’s Summit for Democracy, which takes place from December 9 to 10.
The virtual summit, in which 110 countries will take part, is for “leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.”
However, one has to laugh when one sees on the list of invitees such bastions of democracy as Pakistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, all of which come way below Hungary on the Democracy Matrix league table.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from the precluding of Hungary is that, as far as the Biden administration is concerned, democracy is only democracy if you are ideologically aligned with the Democrats.
However, as a lower-case-‘d’ democrat myself, I would argue that the mere fact Orban’s government is not Biden’s ideological bedfellow does not make it any less democratic. Moreover, if Hungary were not a democracy, it would not be allowed to be a member of the European Union, because, under the provisions of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria, all member states must be functioning democracies.
So, what lies at the centre of the Biden administration’s beef with Hungary?
First, it is ideological. The Hungarian government is unashamedly anti-globalist and believes in the sanctity of the sovereign nation. It is also very pro-family and a champion of Christian values. This is anathema to Biden, Brussels and the liberal press, which regularly, and lazily, label Orban “far-right”.
Second, unlike Biden, Orban believes in strong borders, and, to this end, has built a wall to secure his country from another migrant crisis. In contrast, one of Biden’s first acts as president was to put a halt to the building of Donald Trump’s wall on the US’ southern border. The result has been a catastrophe. Orban is also a thorn in the side of the EU, and is opposed to further integration. This also runs contrary to the Biden administration, which generally supports all things Brussels, including an EU army.
Third, there is the fact that Orban was close to Trump and made it clear he was rooting for his ally to win another term last year. Orban said, “What the president represents is good for Central Europe, which is why we are rooting – at least me, personally – for him to win the election.”
The feelings of warmth are mutual, and Trump recently wrote a letter to Orban thanking him for “your continued friendship and enduring commitment to fighting for the ideals you and I cherish – freedom, patriotic pride, and liberty”.
Fourth, the Hungarian government’s friendly relationship with both Russia and China also irks Biden. Orban has said of Russia, “Hungary is a NATO and EU member, and will stay so, but that does not exclude that, in certain questions, we engage in cooperation with Russia.”
In contrast, opposition leader Marki-Zay has said he will reverse his country’s cordial relations with Russia and instead face westward. To this end, he accused Orban of “betraying Europe … betraying NATO … and betraying the United States”.
Next year’s Hungarian general election, to take place in either April or May, will determine the direction the nation will take over the next decade. At the moment, it looks like it will be a close-run affair, with the polls suggesting the Országház is very much up for grabs. Moreover, there is a lot riding on the outcome in Moscow, Brussels, Beijing and Washington too, so Orban is right to be concerned about dastardly outside interference.