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FM Szijjártó to Blinken: US Should Not Worry about Democracy and Freedom in Hungary

Tamás Vaski 2021.04.30.

Hungary lacks a democratic level of media freedom and is at risk of being heavily influenced by Moscow and Beijing, according to Secretary of State for the United States Anthony Blinken. In an online roundtable discussion with journalists from countries considered to have insufficient levels of media freedom, Blinken believes that Hungary needs a greater diversity of independent voices and opinions. The Biden Administration has made clear its intention of wanting positive relations with Hungary but standing by its commitment to support media freedom and the rule of law. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said that the United States should not worry about democracy and freedom in Hungary.

Independent news portal Telex was present for the online roundtable discussion organized by Blinken’s team prior to World Press Freedom Day (May 3). The purpose of the discussion was to speak to journalists from countries where press freedom is considered to be under attack in some way.

CoE Commissioner Calls on Hungary to 'Restore' Press Freedom
CoE Commissioner Calls on Hungary to 'Restore' Press Freedom

Dunja Mijatovic, human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, said in a memorandum on Tuesday that it was “high time for Hungary to restore journalistic and media freedoms”. In reaction, representatives of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office, the justice ministry, and media authority NMHH called the memorandum “biased,” based on “assumption rather than facts.” […]Continue reading

Journalists taking part in the discussion next to Telex came from seven other countries: Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Turkey, China, Egypt, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan. This was the first interview between Anthony Blinken and a Hungarian media outlet since his appointment as state secretary in January.

Telex’s editor-in-chief Veronika Munk asked Blinken about how the Biden administration approaches the US-Hungarian relationship and how he evaluates recent developments in Hungary regarding Russian and Chinese intervention, rule of law, and media freedom.

US Concerned About Hungarian Media Freedom

Anthony Blinken emphasized the concern the United States has over the continuously declining state of media freedom in Hungary. He had already accused the Orbán government of damaging media pluralism back in February when it took the last government-critical radio, Klubrádió, off air.

We have real concern that is shared by international press freedom advocates and many Hungarians over the decline of media pluralism in Hungary. A diversity of independent voices, a diversity of independent opinions, that is the fabric of democracy.”

Blinken said that Moscow and Beijing are considered threats to democracy and sovereignty to many central and southern European countries, and have been noticeably extending their influence over the region.

Gov't-Critical Klubrádió Goes Off Air from Sunday Midnight
Gov't-Critical Klubrádió Goes Off Air from Sunday Midnight

The last government-critical radio station, Klubrádió, switched off analog broadcasting at Sunday midnight and continues airing online. The Media Authority’s decision, followed by a court ruling, generated uproar and debates, and will probably remain on the agenda for a long time.  Klubrádió signed off by replaying part of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the […]Continue reading

The secretary of state believes collective interests between the United States and the European Union “are best served by trying to cement democratic norms, rule of law cooperation based on common values, based on a shared future,” which he says must include freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

He described it as ironic for lack of a better word that Hungary suffered through so much suppression of its freedom during the decades of Soviet domination in the second half of the 20th century, only to emerge out of that era to further suppression and control.

State Sec Dismisses Reporters Without Borders' Criticism of Hungary’s Media Freedom
State Sec Dismisses Reporters Without Borders' Criticism of Hungary’s Media Freedom

Reporters Without Borders has updated its World Press Freedom Index, ranking Hungary three places lower than last year, and describing the state of Hungary’s media freedom as the EU’s “alternative, repressive model.” Government official Zoltán Kovács reacted to the ranking on Twitter, describing the NGO as a “Soros-funded group” that makes “false, idiotic claims.” The […]Continue reading

The state secretary voiced the Biden administration is committed to strengthening relations with Hungary and strengthening democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law.

Hungarian FM: the United States Should Not Worry about Democracy and Freedom in Hungary

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó responded to Blinken’s comments on media pluralism in Hungary, telling RTL News that the United States should not worry about democracy and freedom in Hungary.

FM Szijjártó: Hungary Open to Cooperation with Biden, Demands Respect
FM Szijjártó: Hungary Open to Cooperation with Biden, Demands Respect

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told EuroNews that Hungary is open to cooperation with the United States if Joe Biden is willing to show more respect towards the Hungarian government. The Hungarian government openly supported Donald Trump during the last election. Their intentions behind this are sound, since they had much better relations with the US […]Continue reading

Szijjártó reasoned that Viktor Orbán, a “fighter for democracy,” was the first party leader to call for Soviet forces to leave Hungary. Blinken has not interacted directly with Szijjártó, and the only time the two diplomats are known to have spoken was in March at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

We are proud of the fact that Hungarian history is filled with battles fought for freedom, for independence, and for sovereignty. The Hungarian nation fought for its own freedom and its own sovereignty.”

China Spreading Its Influence Through Fudan?

In response to government-critical conservative weekly Magyar Hang’s questions, the US foreign ministry said that Fudan University provides China with a foothold to spread its influence in Europe and suppress intellectual freedom in higher education.

The foreign ministry emphasized that it values the bilateral ties between the US and Hungary as NATO allies, which has allowed Hungary to develop its economy since it does not need to worry about foreign interference.

Government Signs Strategic Deal with Chinese Fudan University
Government Signs Strategic Deal with Chinese Fudan University

According to the statement, Fudan could "contribute to improving Hungarian higher education through a healthy competition between universities and involving renowned foreign professors".Continue reading

At this point, however, this alleged intervention from China is imminent, since the Hungarian government officially signed its agreement with Beijing regarding Budapest’s Fudan University on Tuesday.

According to Hungary’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM), the university provides Hungarian, Chinese, and students of other nationalities to acquire diplomas, complete specializations, and deepen their knowledge.

Hungary-US Ties Dependent on Hungarian Gov’t Action

Hungary has also been a topic in the United States senate, where people such as Ben Cardin, member of the American Helsinki Commission and the senate’s foreign affairs committee, said that at this point relations between the United States and Hungary depend on the approach that Hungarian government wants to take.

Bob Menendez, head of the senate’s foreign affairs committee, went even further by listing Hungary as an autocratic state, adding that it is infected by corruption. Menendez believes the Hungarian government sped up its power grab during the pandemic and increasingly suppresses independent media.

The Future of US-Hungary Relations Under the Biden Administration
The Future of US-Hungary Relations Under the Biden Administration

The Orbán government has a rocky relationship with Democratic U.S. leaderships. How might U.S.-Hungarian relations progress under the Biden Administration, and how will changes in the attitude of the White House to the international scene affect Hungary? A Rocky Relationship Orbán and his government made it abundantly clear that they supported Donald Trump in the […]Continue reading

The US embassy to Hungary has stated its adherence to the Biden Administration’s commitment to human rights, rule of law, and the fight against corruption, saying that it will continue to use every tool at its disposal to reach these goals.

Featured photo by Mátyás Borsos/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade