How Washington pivoted from finger-wagging to appeasement.Two important American visitors showed up in Budapest on Wednesday. One was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser who is an admirer of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orban; he addressed a conference on “Europe’s Future ” organized by Mária Schmidt, an Orban counselor with Bannon-esque ideas about maintaining a Christian culture in Europe. Bannon had called Orban “a man of principles” as well as “a real patriot and a real hero” earlier this year... Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, the highest-ranking American official responsible for U.S. relations with Hungary. Mitchell came to usher in a new era of accommodation between the Trump administration and the Orban government... this administration believes that offering high-level contacts and withholding criticism will improve an authoritarian regime’s behavior. For those who know Hungary’s politics, this is appeasement — the victory of hope over centuries of experience... Orban’s odyssey began in 1998 when, during his first term as prime minister, he started to flirt with nationalistic, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments to try to win reelection in 2002... When Istvan Csurka, the head of an anti-Semitic party, blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks (it got what it deserved, he said), the premier declined to dissociate himself from Csurka, despite a White House request to do so... He has since managed to change the Hungarian constitution five times to reduce judicial independence, restrict press freedoms and modify the electoral system to ensure that no viable opposition could ever form against him and his coalition... he still embraces anti-Semitism as a political tool, praising a Nazi-allied wartime leader of Hungary and using stereotypes to cast Jewish emigre George Soros as an outside puppeteer... the pro-government weekly Figyelo recently issued an enemies list of about 200 prominent opposition individuals. Most were local civil society advocates
.. Two Hungarian newspapers, Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon , shut down this spring as advertisers vanished because of their opposition to the Hungarian government, leaving only one print opposition daily.
.. on May 15, when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, received Jeno Megyesy, Orban’s chief adviser on the United States. (Megyesy was also the official point of contact for then-Trump aide Carter Page’s meetings in Budapest during the campaign.
.. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; although Szijjarto has visited Washington an eye-popping seven times in the past 18 months
.. What, if anything, is the United States getting from Hungary for this appeasement? The $12 billion Russian-financed and secretly signed Russian Paks II nuclear plant in southern Hungary is one reflection of Orban’s Russian orientation.
.. Hungary spends only 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest levels for NATO members, despite Trump’s insistence that nations step up their payments.
.. the policy of appeasement signifies abandonment
.. But the hour is late. Orban’s vision has gained considerable appeal throughout Europe.
.. In 2014, when he declared the end of the age of liberalism, he was seen as a pariah; today he is the leader of a xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-American trend that haunts Poland, Austria and Turkey.
.. His hostility to migration, particularly what he calls the “Islamic multitude” that “leads to the disintegration of nations,” is widely shared.
.. He is admired for having built the first wall in Europe — on the Hungarian-Serbian border — to stem the flow of migrants in 2015. (Paradoxically, Hungary used to be admired for tearing down the barrier between itself and Austria, precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall.)