Hun­gary is thumb­ing its nose at the US, by fol­low­ing Trump’s cues

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION - By ANNE APPLEBAUM

Dur­ing his first NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­fused to state his sup­port for NATO’s most im­por­tant treaty obli­ga­tion. Dur­ing his first British visit, the pres­i­dent man­aged to of­fend ev­ery­body, from tabloid jour­nal­ists to the queen. But although there are many in­ci­dents and re­la­tion­ships to choose from, the most em­bar­rass­ing Euro­pean for­eign pol­icy fail­ure of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is not un­fold­ing in Lon­don or Brus­sels, but in Bu­dapest.

Why? Be­cause in Bu­dapest, the Hun­gar­i­ans are un­der­min­ing the poli­cies of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion by fol­low­ing its lead. In a re­cent speech, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo de­clared that “our mis­sion is to re­assert our sovereignty.” In ad­di­tion, he said, “we want our friends to help us and to ex­ert their sovereignty as well.”

But “ex­ert­ing sovereignty,” by un­der­min­ing NATO and other in­ter­na­tional norms and agree­ments, per­fectly de­scribes what Hun­gary is now do­ing – at the ex­pense of the United States.

For those who – un­der­stand­ably – don’t fol­low Hun­gar­ian pol­i­tics, let me pref­ace this by ex­plain­ing that Hun­gary is a de facto one-party state, led by a prime min­is­ter, Vik­tor Or­ban, who has stayed in power by ex­ert­ing to­tal con­trol over all broad­cast and print me­dia in the coun­try; by ma­nip­u­lat­ing and ger­ry­man­der­ing elec­tions; and by cre­at­ing a net­work of cor­rupt oli­garchs who fi­nance him and his party. One of the rea­sons Or­ban gets away with all of this is be­cause he has suc­cess­fully changed the sub­ject in or­der to at­tract for­eign sup­port: Although Hun­gary has few im­mi­grants of any kind, Or­ban runs a chau­vin­is­tic anti-im­mi­gra­tion cam­paign, de­liber- ately de­signed to ap­peal to the Euro­pean and Amer­i­can far right. Stephen Ban­non is an avid fan.

But de­spite Or­ban’s de­clared affin­ity for Trump’s ver­sions of “sovereignty” and “na­tion­al­ism” – or, per­haps more ac­cu­rately, be­cause of it – Hun­gary goes out of its way to un­der­mine U.S.-led in­sti­tu­tions. This Last week, the Hun­gar­ian govern­ment once again blocked the meet­ing of the Ukraine-NATO Com­mis­sion, in de­fi­ance of U.S. re­quests. Hun­gary’s pref­er­ence for its re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, over and above its for­mal treaties with the United States, also man­i­fested it­self in a re­cent re­fusal to ex­tra­dite two Rus­sian arms deal­ers sought by the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In­stead of co­op­er­at­ing with a U.S. re­quest, Hun­gary handed the two men over to Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties.

These de­fi­ant ges­tures come di­rectly on the heels of an­other one: Last month, de­spite its prej­u­dice against or­di­nary asy­lum-seek­ers, the Hun­gar­ian govern­ment wel­comed the rogue for­mer prime min­is­ter of Mace­do­nia to ap­ply, in or­der to evade cor­rup­tion charges at home. Nikola Gruevski had been con­victed of abuse of power by the of­fice of the spe­cial prose­cu­tor in Mace­do­nia, an in­sti­tu­tion that was set up with the help of the U.S. govern­ment; the State De­part­ment has de­scribed Gruevski’s trial as a “thor­ough and trans­par­ent le­gal process.” But the Hun­gar­ian govern­ment, un­like the U.S. govern­ment, is not in­ter­ested in the rule of law, ei­ther do­mes­ti­cally or in­ter­na­tion­ally, and doesn’t pre­tend other­wise.

Fi­nally, and more fa­mously, Hun­gary re­ceived in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion this last week for forc­ing the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity – a U.S.-reg­is­tered and -ac­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tion, and one of the strong­est uni­ver­si­ties in the re­gion – to leave the coun­try. Michael Ig­nati­eff, the univer­sity pres­i­dent, de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as “un­prece­dented. ...A U.S. in­sti­tu­tion has been driven out of a coun­try that is a NATO ally.” The de­ci­sion was made after the govern­ment cre­ated le­gal prob­lems for the univer­sity and ran an­other de­struc­tive poster cam­paign against the univer­sity’s orig­i­nal founder, fi­nancier Ge­orge Soros, who does not have a role in its cur­rent man­age­ment. Talk of Soros was, once again, a fig leaf, a nar­ra­tive de­signed to ap­peal to Hun­gar­ian anti-Semitism and the Amer­i­can right.

In prac­tice, of course, the ex­pul­sion of the univer­sity is also a di­rect in­sult to the U.S. Em­bassy, whose suc­ces­sive em­ploy­ees and am­bas­sadors fought for the CEU to stay. It’s a stain on the long tra­di­tion of in­de­pen­dent and in­ter­na­tional Amer­i­can aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions – think of the U.S. uni­ver­si­ties in Beirut and Cairo. And, of course, it’s a blow to Hun­gar­ian aca­demic free­dom. Hun­gar­ian teach­ers and schol­ars across the coun­try, most of whom work for Hun­gar­ian state in­sti­tu­tions, al­ready fear they will pay a price for say­ing or writ­ing some­thing that the govern­ment doesn’t like. I am told that po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists study­ing Or­ban’s elec­tion vi­o­la­tions have be­come re­luc­tant to present their ev­i­dence in pub­lic.

To all of this, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has no re­sponse. Trump’s am­bas­sador bur­bled some­thing about his “friend” Or­ban; the State De­part­ment was re­duced to con­demn­ing Hun­gar­ian be­hav­ior as “not con­sis­tent with our law en­force­ment part­ner­ship.” The truth is that even though this kind of “sovereignty” – tough talk­ing that hides law-break­ing – weak­ens the United States, it’s hard for Pom­peo, Ban­non or Trump to ob­ject. They’ve opened a Pan­dora’s box, and now it won’t close.

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