Since taking office last year the government has come under fire from human rights organisations, civil groups and opposition and EU politicians. Key concerns were a new media law that many saw as an attempt to stifle press criticism and a reduction of the purview of the Constitutional Court, which lost its power to rule over budget-related legislation. Orbán’s Fidesz party enjoys a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which allowed it to re-write the Constitution without the need for cross-party consensus. The United States’ chief foreign policy representative was in Hungary for the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute, a pro-democracy and human rights think-tank named after the Hungarian-American congressman. Lantos, a Democratic Party member who died in 2008 after serving 28 years in the US Congress, survived the Holocaust in Hungary and found himself marooned in America after the post-war communist takeover. He became an outspoken advocate of human rights and democratic freedoms.
Before her visit, Clinton received an open letter from several Hungarian intellectuals, including the writer György Konrád, former mayor of Budapest Gábor Demszky and the former Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) high representative for press freedom Miklós Haraszti – the latter two being key figures in Hungary’s democratic opposition in the final decade of communist dictatorship. They urged Clinton to address their concerns over Hungarian democracy during her visit, and were, presumably, not disappointed.
“We talked very openly about preserving the democratic institutions of Hungary and making sure that they continue to grow and strengthen, including providing essential checks and balances,” Clinton said. She spoke of the importance for Hungary as well as the US to demonstrate a commitment to Western values of government, “first and foremost” for their own citizens but also to send a message to others. “We must (also) exemplify democratic freedoms... as examples for those who are struggling to define their own democracies now in the Middle East and North Africa,” she said.
The Secretary of State was also asked about closer ties between Hungary and other European countries and China, following last week’s visit by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. Clinton welcomed the signing of trade deals between Europe and China, of which Hungary alone signed a dozen, and expressed the hope that such rapprochement would lead China to adopt a more Western approach to government. “As China plays a greater role on the world stage we also hope that it will learn more about our Western values... democracy, rule of law, freedom, protection of minorities, independent judiciary, a free press,” she said. “Increasing ties between the European Union and China is one more way to (influence China) and how it thinks about its future.”
Hungary received praise for its recent achievements as European Union president, however. Clinton recognised the EU strategy on Roma integration that Hungary had made a key item on the agenda of its six-month term. She “deeply appreciated” the “decisive steps” Hungary had taken to combat hate crime, a reference to the banning of uniformed far-right vigilante groups that staged patrols of Roma neighbourhoods in rural villages this year. Furthermore, the “wide-ranging and productive” talks had also covered their two countries’ mutual commitment to Afghanistan.
Hungary’s economic policy received a ringing endorsement. “We are strongly supportive of the prime minister’s commitment to build and strengthen Hungary’s economy,” Clinton said. “We think that the steps that are being taken to open the economy and to rely more on trade and investment as major economic drivers are absolutely right.” She applauded Hungary’s efforts to combat the corruption that “discourages” foreign investment.
After meeting Orbán, Clinton left the parliament building to hold talks with representatives of Hungarian civil society before flying on to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where she was scheduled to take part in a Community of Democracies meeting. “Democracy is struggling to be born around the world today,” Clinton said on Thursday morning as she spoke of Tom Lantos’ commitment to freedom and human rights.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11