The Hungarian Prime Minister has been to Washington to meet President Trump. The negotiations were said to occur in a cordial tone and the face-to-face talks were followed by an extended meeting with ministers and experts from both sides.
Trump and Orbán share views on several issues and disagree over some others. If we presume that political philosophy is an element of ethos that considerably shapes society and hasn’t lost its function even in our post-modern world, we can conclude that the two agree at a base level. The common ground is conservativism, including the support of Christianity, tradition, and patriotism. Or as Trump put it, ’America first.’ It’s reflected in their economic policy with a focus on the defense of home enterprise. Consequently, they oppose the preference of globalization processes to national sovereignty, a sort of ultraliberal internationalist credo, which is mainly the fashion in Europe and, understandably, the UN. Logically, when a decision has to be made between bilateralism and multilateralism, they opt for the former. The most obvious manifestation of this has been migration as both adamantly oppose its legalization and want to essentially restrict it. They emphasize the importance of border defense, and there’s no doubt that Trump would be happy with a wall similar to the one Hungary had built to the south. Saving traditional values is on their agenda as well, as demonstrated by Trump’s choice for Supreme Court Justice. As far as gay marriage is concerned, Trump is more lenient, even softly supportive, but his stance is likely influenced by the shifting position of the American public.
When analyzing their disagreements, paradoxically enough, we find that they mostly result from the commonly shared notion of putting the national interest first. There’s no evidence or serious sign that suggests Orbán has ever questioned his country’s commitment to NATO or its alliance with the USA. At the same time, in his foreign policy, a clear ambition to increase Hungary’s manoeuvering capacity can be traced throughout his career. It perhaps explains diplomacy that may seem unusually active and even bold for a country the size of Hungary. A typical example of this is his very intensive participation in the Central European cooperation in order to deepen economic ties with China. Perhaps even more striking are his relations with Putin’s Russia. It’s true that he inherited Hungary’s dependence on Russia – even the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. However, critics are worried that an extension of the plant with Russia’s help, or the movement of a Russia-influenced development bank to Budapest (rumored to be an outstretched arm of Moscow’s secret service), might prolong unwanted Russian influence in Hungary.
From an American perspective, both directions are risky. After decades of fattening its own potential rival with technology and outsourcing, the American elite has suddenly realized that a challenger may put an end to its time as the number one economic power. The recognition is painful and makes America sensitive to any danger it perceives. In fact, this is exactly how the New Silk Road is interpreted in Washington. Similar irritation is also felt by America when it observes Russia’s renewed European and global ambitions.
We don’t know how successful Orbán was in Washington at convincing the President that his diplomatic dance steps don’t do any harm to basic American interest. We also don’t know whether or not he managed to articulate why Hungary, and the whole of Central Europe, deserves more attention from the West, especially the USA. The meeting may suggest that after several standoffish years, the US-Hungary relations may finally be entering a more promising phase.
Featured photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI