By David A. Lehrer
Further to my blog of yesterday. William Galston, a columnist in The Wall Street Journal and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, writes a piece today echoing my sentiments that Trump's meeting with Hungary's Viktor Orban was a "disgrace."
It's worth a read.
Trump's Dubious Hungarian Friend
'Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job,' the president says. What a disgrace.
William A. Galston
"Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways," said President Trump as he received Hungary's prime minister in the Oval Office Monday. "Respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's OK." With these remarks, the U.S. president gave his seal of approval to Europe's leading illiberal politician less than two weeks before elections for the European Parliament.
David Cornstein, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary and a personal friend of Mr. Trump, remarked in a recent interview: "I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has."
This is easy to believe. The 2019 Freedom House survey demoted Hungary's status from "free" to "partly free." The report shows that Mr. Orbán and his Fidesz party have mounted "sustained attacks on the country's democratic institutions" by imposing restrictions on-or asserting control over-"the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector."
According to the report, Mr. Orbán's administration has deployed government advertising, which represents a substantial share of Hungary's media revenue, to bolster supportive media outlets and weaken his critics. This encouraged the formation of a massive pro-government media conglomerate, which the government then exempted from Hungary's antitrust laws, which almost certainly would have prohibited it.
In Hungary, the press has been brought to heel. It is no longer the enemy of the people. No wonder Mr. Trump is envious.
It's not only creeping autocracy the president's embrace of Mr. Orbán legitimates; it's also anti-Semitism.
The Hungarian prime minister's campaign for re-election last year featured a barrage of attacks against George Soros, the Jewish and Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist. "We are fighting an enemy that is different from us," Mr. Orbán said at a campaign rally in March 2018, "not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world." As numerous observers noted, this rhetoric replicates-almost verbatim-the anti-Jewish tropes of the 19th and 20th centuries.
As the anti-Soros campaign gathered strength, the leader of Hungary's Jewish community made a personal appeal to Mr. Orbán to end it. Ignoring this plea, the Hungarian prime minister took full advantage of the evil sentiments from Hungary's past that his tactics had rekindled.
In June 2018 the Hungarian parliament adopted what the government called the "Stop Soros" law, which criminalized helping asylum seekers, a measure criticized in stinging terms by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, among others. Undaunted, Hungary's parliament subsequently imposed a 25% tax on financial support for "an act which supports immigration." By the end of 2018, Mr. Orbán's attacks on the Soros-backed Central European University, a distinguished center of free inquiry, forced the institution out of Hungary.
The Orbán government has also systematically attempted to whitewash Hungary's anti-Semitic past. The prime minister has repeatedly praised Miklós Horthy, Hungary's leader from 1920 to 1944. Under Horthy, Hungary became the first European country after World War I to impose quotas on Jews who wished to attend university. In the late 1930s, his government adopted racial laws that disenfranchised Hungary's Jews and authorized the seizure of much of their property. In 1940 Horthy told his prime minister, "I have been an anti-Semite all my life." Although he initially resisted German pressure to deport Hungary's Jews, Horthy told Adolf Hitler in 1943 that "the measures I have imposed have, in practice, deprived the Jews of any opportunity to practice their damaging influence on public life." This is the man Viktor Orbán has chosen to rehabilitate as a national hero.
According to Paul Shapiro of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mr. Orbán's handpicked former director of the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in Budapest, András Levente Gál, dismissed Horthy's alliance with Hitler and participation in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia "as 'irrelevant' to the Holocaust." Mr. Gál's efforts to minimize Hungary's role in the deportation of its Jews, more than half a million of whom were murdered, continued until international criticism forced his dismissal.
In 2012 Fidesz revised Hungary's public-school curriculum to include books by three anti-Semitic authors published between the two world wars. One of the authors declared: "Jews are the most serious and deadly enemies of Hungarians."
Another was convicted of war crimes, including complicity in the murder of Jews.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump's Oval Office meeting with Viktor Orbán was a disgrace that no amount of White House realpolitik can justify