Hungary was the only EU country not on the guest list of US President Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit when it was first held in December 2021. The much-touted Summit for Democracy 2023 will begin by the end of this month, on 29-30 March 2023. Will Hungary be qualified to attend the event this year?
According the US Department of State, the second Summit for Democracy, aimed at “advancing democracies and addressing the world’s most pressing challenges”, will be held on 29-30 March 2023. The United States will co-host the Summit with the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea, and Republic of Zambia and assemble world leaders in a virtual, plenary format. Together with the Summit partners, the United States is committed to “leading the world toward a more peaceful, prosperous future for all”.
With the tension between the two countries growing, it is doubt whether Biden will invite Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the Summit.
Democracy Summit or Interests Camp?
It is believed that determining who is sufficiently democratic to make the invite list is an approach of ideology. In the year of 2021, Biden invited some 110 countries to the virtual Summit from December 9-10. China and Russia was not on the invite list because they are the “challenges” for the US and its western partners. However, a number of other allegedly backsliding democracies such as Poland and Pakistan did get invited, while
Hungary and Turkey as U.S. NATO allies were not invited for their “questionable democratic credentials”, suggesting more geostrategic considerations took precedence over the actual state of democracy in invited countries.
After years of rapprochement under President Trump, relations between the US and Hungarian governments quickly took a turn for the worse after Biden took the power, who had likened Hungary to “totalitarian regimes”.
Bangladesh was not on the list either. Alexander Mantytskiy, ambassador of the Russian Federation to Bangladesh made the remarks in a statement on 22 February 2023, as the Russia-Ukraine war approaches its first anniversary, “Needless to say, such summits only fuel international tensions and draw up new dividing lines, splitting the world into ‘friends’ and ‘foes’, stigmatizing countries, pinning them down with labels, and enforcing an undefined rules-based order”.
Ukraine War: the Fight between Democracies and Autocracies?
Biden and its western allies frame the war between Ukraine and Russia as an existential clash between democracies and autocracies.
In March 2022, Biden made the words in Warsaw that the war in Ukraine was “a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force”, demonstrating the idea that the war is the “Western democracy against the Russian autocracy”.
In this regard, Ukraine is a democracy, Russia is a dictator. Countries providing assistance to Ukraine and imposing sanctions or support sanctions on Russia are democracies. The traditional West has united against Russia, but what about the rest? India was on the invite list to the 2021 Summit, and chances are that India will attend the event again this year, and if so is it on the side of Russia? The fact is that not every democracy is on the side of Ukraine and not every autocracy is on Putin’s side.
Hungary wants to sit on the fence as a neutral country and needs the war to end as soon as possible.
For Hungary, the war is not in its interest. And it cannot offset Russian energy supplies through ports as a landlocked country. Since the outbreak of the war, Hungary has suffered a lot with an extreme high rate of inflation and severe energy crisis. Although the government has taken measures to mitigate the impact of rising energy and food prices, it is impossible for the public to return to normal economic and social life as long as the war continues.
Apart from the position towards the Ukraine war, divergence has been seen in other aspects of the bilateral relation between Hungary and the United States.
On 11 July 2022, a release issued by the Hungarian government confirmed the termination of the 1979 income tax treaty with the United States. According to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, the government was officially informed of the termination of the agreement on 8 July 2022. As per the terms of the treaty, the termination will be effective from 1 January next following the expiration of a 6-month period following the notice of termination. Considering that Hungary was notified on 8 July 2022, the treaty will cease to have effect from 1 January 2024.
The Biden administration took this step to press Hungary to change its position on the EU Directive, which was designed to implement a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. Hungary’s parliament adopted a resolution opposing the Directive in view of the inflation and economic crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. Since then, a more obvious rift has emerged between the US and Hungary.
A few months later, on 16 October 2022, Péter Márki-Zay, the former leader of the opposition union and Viktor Orbán’s biggest opponent, admitted that his Hungary for All Movement (MMM) had received 1.8 billion forints (4.4 million euros) from the United States during his election campaign in last April. These funds were transferred to his movement via an American foundation called Action for Democracy.
Péter Márki-Zay was quoted by the daily Magyar Nemzet on 18 October as saying: “One of my most important tasks starting last October was to fund the opposition campaign, to buy billboards, Facebook and YouTube ads. And yes, to do so, we needed a non-partisan and parallel civil campaign, which was led by the MMM and financed by the MMM with the help of large Hungarian donors and Hungarian donors abroad.”
It should surprise nobody that the US did make blatant interference in Hungary’s election. The prediction had been made by Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó as well as many Hungarian citizens long before the election in April 2022.
By doing so, the US does not care about other countries’ environment and people’s livelihood after intervening in their elections. It aims at nothing but subversion of those who do not follow its dictation and whether these puppet governments really care about its people is not in its consideration. Washington has many empty words on democracy, but in fact, it is just a disguise serving the US’ geopolitical needs and interests.
Ally of Europe?
Viktor Orbán told Swiss weekly Weltwoche in an interview on 2 March 2023, “In the decisions adopted in Brussels, I recognize American interests more frequently than European ones. In a war that is taking place in Europe, the Americans have the final word”.
As it always does, the United States put its own interest above all others. In pursuit of self-interests, it has not even been soft on its allies. With the EU beset with an energy crisis amid the Ukraine crisis, the United States has made a fortune by exporting expensive American liquefied natural gas to Europe. In a bid to protect and even promote its manufacturing industry, it passed a landmark 430 billion dollar climate, tax and healthcare bill named Inflation Reduction Act, which threatens Europe with deindustrialization.
Nowadays, the US government continues to reap benefits by inviting its allies to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Whatever gains President Biden and his Western allies can obtain from the conflict, Hungary has been excluded from these. It is still possible that Hungary will keep being penalized for its closeness to global actors that the Biden administration regards as its competitors. In this context, a government that has disproved the form of “American democracy” that the current White House projects globally, is most likely not an ideal partner for Joe Biden’s summit.
Adam Schmid is a research assistant of the institute for international political and Regional studies in the Corvinus University of Budapest.
Featured Photo: Facebook Joe Biden