May 26, 2019

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16 May 2019, 10:58 | Glen Norman

Trump to Host Hungary's Orban at White House

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The European Union has also issued warnings to Hungary about its backsliding on democracy, but Orban has faced no serious punishment.

"He's really hollowed out the democratic underpinnings of Hungary and is seeking to do so across Europe", said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

Orban, for his part, was equally as complimentary.

Senior Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Congress told Trump in a letter on Friday they were concerned about Hungary's "downward democratic trajectory" and its close relationship with Russian Federation.

US President Donald Trump on Monday praised Hungary's hardline authoritarian Viktor Orban as a leader respected throughout Europe who kept his country safe with his crackdown on immigration. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., complained that Hungary has failed to diversify its energy resources away from Russian Federation and has allowed Moscow to exploit its visa system to evade USA sanctions.

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In fact, hardly any European politician is as close to Trump as Orban.

Orban made no secret of his wish to visit the White House after being snubbed by President Barack Obama, who never even granted him a phone call. Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once called Orban "Trump before Trump".

KELEMEN: Trump praised him for that, too.

US President Donald Trump meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office of the White House. And Orban has been quite clear that he intends to govern Hungary for an extremely long period of time.

James Kirchick, a visiting police fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Orban had succeeded in his bid to create an "illiberal democracy" in Hungary. In recent years, Hungary and the United States have had occasional disagreements, for example at the end of 2018 when Hungary handed over two Russian arms dealers, wanted by the USA, to Russia. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Balazs Hidveghi, the spokesman for Orban's Fidesz Party, elaborates. It has campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform although attempted migration to and via Hungary has dropped dramatically in recent years.

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KAKISSIS: Under Orban, Hungary rewrote its constitution to strengthen his control over Parliament.

The difference, according to Scheppele, is that Orban has had far more success turning his campaign pledges into law. Orban, who's described Syrian refugees as Muslim invaders, told reporters that he and Trump have similar approaches.

Orbn isn't exactly being welcomed back to Washington with open arms.

He shares that antipathy with Trump, who has slammed the European Union as a "foe" on trade, boosted Brexit as a way to reset trade relations with Europe, and rattled North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by suggesting it is obsolete. Late a year ago, the State Department said Hungary denied a US request to extradite two suspected Russian arms dealers and sent the men to Russia instead. He eventually built a barbed-wire border fence to keep them out of Hungary.

And like Trump, he has few qualms about demonizing his opponents.

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KAKISSIS: These conspiracy theories about Soros, who is Jewish, have unnerved Hungarian Jews. He was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump in his presidential bid, and has lobbied intensely for a meeting, but it took more than two years to secure a White House invite - the last of the major Central European nations to come for talks.

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