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U.S.-Hungary Relations

The United States and Hungary share a defense and security partnership through NATO and the OSCE, as well as the American-sponsored International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest. Since 1989, over $9 billion worth of U.S. investment has come to Hungary. The U.S. provides Hungary with just slightly over 2% of its imports; likewise, Hungary only sends about 2% of its exports to the United States. The biggest misconception is that the Hungarian constitutional prohibition on genetically modified organisms would somehow be affected. This has never been on the U.S. agenda. The United States and Hungary may have different views about GMOs, but the US respects that Hungary has written GMO language into its constitution. Relations between the United States and Hungary immediately following World War II were affected by the Soviet armed forces' occupation of Hungary. Full diplomatic relations were established at the legation level on October 12, 1945, before the signing of the Hungarian peace treaty on February 10, 1947. After the communist takeover in 1947-48, relations with Hungary became increasingly strained by the nationalization of U.S.-owned property, unacceptable treatment of U.S. citizens and personnel, and restrictions on the operations of the American legation. Relations deteriorated further after the suppression of the Hungarian national uprising in 1956.

On November 4, 1956, a Marine Corporal and Master Sergeant, and the Air Attache, Colonel Welwyn Dallam, were standing on the stairs at the entrance to the Chancery. Cardinal Mindszenty and a Monsignor walked up to the Chancery door. Through the Monsignor, who acted as the Cardinal's interpreter, they asked to come into the U.S. Embassy. Cardinal Mindszenty who stayed for fifteen years, between November 4, 1956 - September 28, 1971. During his time in the Embassy, the Cardinal took up residence in the office suite now used by the US Ambassador. He used what is now the Ambassador's office as his salon or sitting room, and he slept in the other, smaller room to the side.

An exchange of ambassadors in 1966 inaugurated an era of improving relations. In 1972, a consular convention was concluded to provide consular protection to U.S. citizens in Hungary. In 1973, a bilateral agreement was reached under which Hungary settled the nationalization claims of American citizens. In January 1978, the United States returned to the people of Hungary the historic Crown of Saint Stephen, which had been safeguarded by the United States since the end of World War II. Symbolically and literally, this event marked the beginning of improved relations between the two countries.

When Stephen became King of Hungary on Christmas Day in the year 1000, Pope Sylvester II made him the gift of a crown. Stephen had resolved to raise Hungary to the status of a Christian kingdom, placing it on an equal footing with other European states. He had shrewdly requested his crown from the Pope, the spiritual leader of Western Europe, rather than from the Holy Roman Emperor. This crown became one of the most powerful symbols of Hungarian nationhood.

During World War II, the crown was spirited out of Hungary to protect it from the Germans and the Soviets. On May 2, 1945, the Holy Crown and other jewels were handed over by a Hungarian Army General to a U.S. Army Colonel near Egglesberg, Austria. The Crown had been packed in a large black satchel. It was initially sheltered in Wiesbaden, in the American Zone, but was later transferred to the United States Gold Reserve at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. It was not considered as spoils of war; rather, the U.S. Government stored it in hopes of returning it to the Hungarian people one day.

The decision by President Jimmy Carter to return the Crown in 1978 was a controversial one, and one which took political courage. President Carter made his decision based on the evidence that Hungary's record on human rights - its tolerance of religious expression, its facilitating of travel and communication - while not perfect, deserved recognition as an example to other Soviet-bloc countries. Many people on both sides of the Atlantic adamantly opposed the return of the Crown at a time when Hungary was still under Communist rule.

A 1978 bilateral trade agreement included extension of most-favored-nation status to Hungary. Cultural and scientific exchanges were expanded. As Hungary began to pull away from the Soviet orbit, the United States offered assistance and expertise to help establish a constitution, a democratic political system, and a plan for a free market economy.

Between 1989 and 1993, the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act provided more than $136 million for economic restructuring and private sector development. The Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund offered loans, equity capital, and technical assistance to promote private-sector development. The U.S. Government has provided expert and financial assistance for the development of modern and Western institutions in many policy areas, including national security, law enforcement, free media, environmental regulations, education, and health care. American direct investment has had a direct, positive impact on the Hungarian economy and on continued good bilateral relations. When Hungary acceded to NATO in April 1999, it became a formal ally of the United States. This move has been consistently supported by the 1.5 million-strong Hungarian-American community. The U.S. Government supported Hungarian European Union accession in 2004, and continues to work with Hungary as a valued partner in the transatlantic relationship. Hungary joined the Visa Waiver Program on November 17, 2008.

On O4 December 2014 US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) released the following statement expressing concern about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary: “Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, antidemocratic constitutional changes have been enacted, the independence of Hungary’s courts have been restricted, nongovernmental organizations raided and civil society prosecuted, the freedom of the press curtailed, and much more. These actions threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance and have left me deeply concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in Hungary.

“These concerns are shared by many. A ruling by the Venice Commission in 2013 found that Prime Minister Orban’s constitutional changes threaten democracy and rule of law in Hungary, stating that the amendments ‘contradict principles of the Fundamental Law and European standards,’ and ‘leads to a risk that it may negatively affect all three pillars of the Council of Europe: the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.’

“The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hungary’s media laws, saying that they create a climate of fear and media self-censorship, even after critical changes were made to account for previous complaints from the European Commission. ‘The changes to the Hungarian media law only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media.

“The European Central Bank has repeatedly warned that Prime Minister Orban’s government is encroaching on the independence of its central bank, calling for him to respect the independence of monetary policymakers and condemning attempts by the government to threaten central bankers with dismissal if they oppose government policy.

“Democracy without respect for rule of law, separation of powers, and the protection of economic, civil, and religious liberties is not only inadequate, it is dangerous. It brings with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and economic restrictions – all of which we have witnessed in Hungary since Prime Minister Orban took power. Prime Minister Orban has justified his actions by calling for a new state model based on ‘illiberal democracy,’ but his vision defies the core values of the European Union and NATO. These alliances are founded not only on the principle of democracy, but also rule of law and the protection of individual liberty and fundamental freedoms. All members must remain committed to these values.”

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s maverick PM, said 10 NOvember 2016 that Donald Trump’s US election victory marked an end of a two-decade period of “liberal non-democracy” in the West. “This is the second day of a historic event, in which Western civilization appears to successfully break free from the confines of an ideology,” Orban told a conference organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. “We are living in the days where what we call liberal non-democracy – in which we lived for the past 20 years – ends, and we can return to real democracy,” said Orban. Orban, a billionaire investor turned politician, is not unlike Trump. He is conservative, often criticized for choosing pragmatic solutions over those based on values, and skeptical over globalization and the dangers it poses to his home country.

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Page last modified: 11-11-2016 19:28:39 ZULU