Hungary PM cancels DC leg of US visit

July 26, 2014


The government has denied reports that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán cancelled a fall visit to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, because it had “unacceptedly” insisted he participate in open debate after delivering a speech.

Orbán’s personal spokesman Bertalan Havasi said no decisions had been made regarding an October visit to the US, adding that everybody will be informed about all foreign visits planned for cabinet members “in due course”. The premier will reportedly visit New York and Los Angeles in October regardless.

Another reason for the alleged change of plan was a failure to secure an official reception at the White House. Citing undisclosed US sources, reported that Orbán had only been offered a meeting with a deputy secretary of state. According to the online publication’s information, the lecture has been planned to take place on 20 October, and was organized by former US ambassador to Hungary April Foley and Orbán’s Washington lobbyist Tamás Fellegi.

Orbán has a long history of attempting to secure a presidential meeting without success.  Having had a somewhat stormy relationship with Bill Clinton’s Democrats, the second Orbán government attempted to win favor with the Grand Old Party – the Republicans – with its anti-communist rhetoric, erecting a statue of former US President Ronald Reagan in Szabadság square, Budapest, and by openly supporting Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s bid for the US presidency in 2012.

George W. Bush was the last US President to pay an official visit to Hungary, in 2007. With a few outspoken exceptions, Republicans and Democrats alike remain highly critical of Orbán’s domestic policies.  And while insulting Hungary’s Jewish community and defaming the memory of Holocaust victims may prove politically popular at home, it has not made Orbán any friends on Capitol Hill or in the White House.  Nor has his refusal to distance himself from Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in the wake of Russia’s interference in Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.

Orbán, who reportedly held a childhood ambition to become US President, only to ruefully learn from a university lecturer that to do so you must be born in America, has been keen to rebuild bridges with the US.

Since the US openly criticized the Fidesz media laws and its systematic dismantling of Hungary’s system of checks and balances, the second Orbán administration has resorted to political lobbying, setting up the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation, run by former national development minister Tamás Fellegi, to recruit prominent Jewish American Hungarians and oversee funding activities and projects with a view to promoting the government in US-Hungarian communities.  Even contributing over a quarter of a million dollars to the Hungarian-American Coalition’s congressional internship program has failed to raise Orbán’s stature (let alone any statues) in the US capital.

Referenced in this article: