America’s Hungary-Bashing Has Consequences

If the U.S. treated NATO members like it does Hungary, then its influence would decrease in Europe.

LGBT activists deploy a 30-meter-long rainbow-colored flag in front of the Hungarian Parliament building on January 21, 2022. Photo by ATTILA KISENDEK / AFP

Despite the claim by President Joe Biden that the United States will lead a global alliance to respond to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a glance at the map showing the countries which have sanctioned Russia shows the United States is not supported outside NATO or our Asian allies. Turkey, which has not sanctioned Russia within NATO, isn’t the only country to have placed sanctions against Russia. While many Americans blame the countries’ lack of support for Russia and China, America is actually the main culprit.

A lot of countries choose Russia and China over America as investors or patrons because they don’t participate in the judging or determining domestic policies of other nations. However, the United States actively seeks influence over the domestic politics of the countries within its influence sphere. The most delicate domestic issues are those that the United States officials debate the most, including LGBTQ+ acceptance, promotion and promotion. This is one of most controversial and highly contested topics in the world. This attitude is more apparent than anywhere in America’s relationship with Hungary. In particular, the recent Senate confirmation hearing of the nominated ambassador to Hungary on June 23 put on full display the fervor with which the United States seeks to pressure its allies into accepting progressive ideology, and the bitterness of the establishment when that pressure is rejected. Despite James Pressmen, nominee, acknowledging that Hungary is an important NATO ally and supporting key sanctions against Russia’s invasion, he treated Hungary in his rest of the testimony as if it were a child who deserved severe punishment.

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Pressmen devoted most of his testimony to sharply criticizing and condemning Hungary. His testimony was lacking in actual evidence, except for the highly suspect democratic rankings by Freedom House. Pressmen criticized Hungary for “democratic backsliding”, being influenced and particularly for not supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The presiding senator, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, even called Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and effectively Hungary itself, a “foe of democratic institutions and human rights.” Committee member Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey questioned Hungary’s loyalty as an ally in the context of the Ukraine war, despite admitting the country accepted over 700,000 refugees. In the eyes of the Senate committee, Hungary’s greatest sin was its perceived erosion in LGBTQ+ rights. The committee never mentioned non-traditional sexual education in schools, which was one of few instances when it did mention a specific policy by the Hungarian government. Even though this was the policy of most American schools until 10 years ago, including my own in the now-notorious Loudoun County public schools, the committee framed this policy as the center of Hungary’s “democratic erosion.” Pressmen argued that this specific law was part of a larger campaign of the government to “exclude vulnerable populations from the democratic process.”

Another worrying aspect of the testimony and the hearing more broadly was Pressmen and the committee members’ apparent ignorance and lack of knowledge about Hungary. Pressmen went on about the alleged growth of anti-Semitism and anti-Roma (gypsy) activity in Hungary; his testimony totally ignored the fact that Hungary was recently ranked as one of the safest places for Jews in Europe by the European Jewish Association, and Hungary’s Roma population strongly voted for Orban in the recent election.

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Both the Senators and the Pressmen made it clear what they would do to address these perceived violations. The Pressmen pledged to confront Hungary’s government openly and to support Hungary’s civil Society (code for left-leaning NGO and opposition parties in democratic processes). Even further, the Pressmen and committee mentioned directly working with E.U. Hungary was to be punished for the alleged offenses. Although not directly stated, what these statements amount to is a plan to directly challenge the Hungarian government, which won the last Hungarian elections with a decisive 54 percent mandate, and to support their opponents in the electoral system. This is a gentle attempt to change the regime.

Many things could be said about the hypocrisy displayed by the committee in denouncing Russia’s actions against Ukraine and trying to overthrow Hungary’s government. The greatest threat to the United States’ allies is the possibility that they will become enemies of their partners and friends. Although one might believe Hungary is a country of authoritarianism and eroding democracy today, the reality is that there are far bigger dragons in the world.

As you read this, the United States Embassy is one of Budapest’s few buildings that flies the Pride flag. This is what happens when the U.S. puts pressure on countries. It only makes them more vulnerable to rival global power. Our officials need to respect the domestic politics of our allies if the United States is going to make sure that their integral allies like Hungary don’t become pawns or partners in countries like Russia and China.

If they don’t, and the Pressmen seems to not have much to no respect for Hungary’s democratically elected government, they risk creating disloyalty. Non-aligned countries will examine the United States’ treatment of Hungary as a loyal ally and decide that being within America’s reach will mean being talked down to and pressured.

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While Hungary may not be the most significant or important ally of the United States in Europe, it is possible that other countries could also benefit from this strategy. The US has been criticised in the same way as Hungary for its fanatical support of Ukraine. However, the United States may continue to be antagonistic with other countries in the future.

There is also the possibility that larger European nations might take Hungary’s path. It is possible that Spain or Italy will elect conservative governments within the next few years. France was close to electing an independent president in recent times. We could see a decrease in American influence on Europe if the United States’ foreign policy establishment engaged with NATO members like it did with Hungary.

Stephen Sholl is a visiting fellow with the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a leading talent promotion institution located in Budapest, Hungary.

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