Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog is wrapping up a four-day trip to Washington. According to MTI, Hungary’s state-run news service, Balog’s only official meeting at the White House will take place Friday with Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney.
What Balog did in Washington
Balog attended the National Prayer Breakfast as the head of a delegation of Hungarian politicians that included Gábor Staudt (Jobbik), Gergely Bárándy and László Teleki (MSZP), and Imre Vejkey (KDNP). At the prayer breakfast, Balog met US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
According to Balog: “I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with Secretary of State Tillerson regarding Hungary-America relations. [Tillerson] told me that we are on track and that the new appointments in the State Department signal a change in [the US’] attitude toward Hungary.”
(In the absence of media reports corroborating Balog’s account, we will simply just have to take his word for it for now, although Hungary’s Minister of Human Resources has been known to tell some whoppers-ed.)
While in Washington, MTI reports Balog also met with
- USAID agency executive Mark Green (Balog told MTI Green requested the meeting),
- US congressmen who oppose the State Department grant for supporting free media in Hungary, and
- Sam Brownback (the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom).
On Thursday night, Balog opened a two-part exhibition at the Hungarian embassy, where he said: “We are together as a delegation here in Washington DC to the National Prayer Breakfast. And it is a very unique thing from Hungary to come together from every faction in the parliament, opposition and government parties. So I am very, very happy to welcome my friends. Not to speak about it at home in the press! From every faction. From Jobbik, the national radical party, Gábor is here. Gergely is here from the Socialist Party [MSZP]. And Imre from the Christian Democratic Party [KDNP]. He’s the leader of the prayer group in our parliament. And we had our first national prayer breakfast last year in October, supported by the American prayer group. So we are so very thankful for that. And I don’t see László, László Teleki, is the co-president of the prayer group, also from the Socialist Party, from the Socialist faction. He also represents the Roma minority, the largest minority in Europe and in Hungary, in this real fight for his own community and also for Hungary.”
Evangelicals pave the way to the White House
It appears Hungary’s ruling party is trying to access the American political establishment through the evangelical movement, which is ironic considering that Fidesz stripped a number of Christian churches of their official status with the adoption of the Church Law in 2011. A similar delegation of Hungarian politicians visited Washington back in 2015 as part of a trip organized by an obscure lobbying firm with strong ties to the Church of Latter Day Saints called the Hungarian American Institute.
Furthermore, Sándor Szenczy, president of Hungarian Baptist Aid, appears to have embedded himself with a group of American evangelicals: We’ve written about Szenczy in the past, like when he claimed most refugees don’t need help, or when the organization he leads was under investigation for financial fraud. Szenczy has since moved to the United States. In 2016, it was reported that he and his deputy were perhaps the only non-official Hungarians to receive an invitation to President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Notwithstanding Balog’s presiding at the opening of an exhibit on the persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East at Hungary’s new Washington embassy, the evangelical angle is ironic considering that according to the US Congress and Department of State, Hungary’s governing party stripped certain Christian churches of their official recognized status (and the funding that goes with it) with the adoption of the Church Law.