US government-owned institute refuses to host 1956 commemorative event

August 17, 2016

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama pose with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York Palace Hotel on September 28, 2015. Photo: MTI

In what can only be interpreted as a slap in the face for Viktor Orbán and his government, the Woodrow Wilson International Research Center for Scholars has declined to host an international conference marking the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising, reports print daily Népszabadság.

The 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising was widely commemorated in the United States, where a number of high-profile events honored the memory of the brave Hungarians who took to the streets of Budapest to battle Soviet tanks.  The State Department hosted a memorial service presided over by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  President George W. Bush even paid an official state visit to Hungary, delivering a speech at the top of Gellért Hill.

Ten years on, the relationship between the Hungarian government and the United States is but a pale shadow of its former self.

Orbán’s chickens are coming home to roost

According to the left-wing daily, the refusal by the Woodrow Wilson International Research Center for Scholars to host a conference on the 60th anniversary is indicative of just how bad relations between the two countries have become under the second and third Orbán governments. Since the event was initially proposed by the Hungarian embassy in Washington, the decision of the prestigious research center can only be seen as a “total failure of Hungarian diplomacy”, writes the paper.

The article claims that the refusal took the Hungarian government by surprise, having already proposed the program and a list of speakers. The Hungarians had hoped to designate a “high-profile person” to attend.  In a recent interview given to Hungarian news website, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó hinted that Orbán might visit the United States around October 23, the date Hungarians commemorate the failed uprising.

It is possible that the Hungarian embassy will find a new venue for celebrating the event.  But with only two months to go, it is highly unlikely.

Strained relations

Népszabadság also quotes unknown sources saying that repeated requests by Szijjártó to meet one on one with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have been rebuffed.  Szijjártó himself admits that the cooperation between Budapest and Washington leaves much to be desired. The Hungarian Foreign Minister even asked Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland not to meet him again because that “would only make matters worse”.

As for Orbán, his remarks endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump surely haven’t improved his standing in Washington. Although the Hungarian Prime Minister has had a couple of photo ops with President Barack Obama, including one at the White House on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit and one at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, even Szijjártó acknowledges that a bilateral meeting between the two leaders is simply out of the question.