The United States government is about to step up its criticism of the Hungarian government, reports pro-government daily Magyar Idők. Citing an American source “independent of both governments but with insight into [US-Hungary] relations”, Magyar Idők writes that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland is not satisfied with US Ambassador Colleen Bell’s “soft” diplomacy.
The staggering announcement comes exactly one week after Bell angered Hungarian officials by delivering a speech at Budapest’s Corvinus University roundly criticizing Hungary for democratic backsliding.
The Magyar Idők article goes on to inform its readers that Bell will ramp up criticism of Hungary in a manner similar to that of former chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend, who, according to the pro-government daily, “openly accused Hungarian public officials of corruption, and paraded the visa ban list around like a blood-drenched sword”.
(The visa ban was made public last year when the print version of Hungarian daily Napi Gazdaság, a newspaper that was recently rebranded as Magyar Idők (!), reported that the United States had imposed visa bans allegedly in order to prevent Hungarian tax inspectors from conducting audits of US companies doing business in Hungary. It was in response to this erroneous article that Goodfriend explained that the visa ban applied to Hungarian officials and individuals believed to be actively involved in corruption or benefiting from corruption-ed.)
When Ambassador Colleen Bell arrived in Hungary earlier this year, it became clear that the Hungarian government was looking for every opportunity to repair US-Hungary relations. Shortly after Bell’s arrival – and following Goodfriend’s abrupt departure – both the US embassy and the Hungarian government were eager to show signs of improved bilateral relations.
By October, Bell shifted away from her earlier attempts at soft diplomacy and began to openly express the US government’s concerns about democratic backsliding in Hungary. Many of these concerns raised by the United States are related to Hungary’s membership in the European Union and NATO. Both are communities of shared values strained by geopolitical turmoil such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the civil war in Syria, and the refugee crisis.
Regretfully, prospects for improved US-Hungary relations do not look good at this time.