A profile of Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in The Atlantic paints the power-grabbing far-right leader as snidely anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic, and an enemy of a free press and intellectuals. America’s ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, a friend for decades of Donald Trump, told the magazine that the president would “love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has.”
Reporter Franklin Foer said in a tweet when the story appeared Thursday: “My jaw hit the floor.”
Trump is scheduled to welcome Orbán to the White House on Monday, giving a significant status boost to a leader whom critics see as heralding in another era of fascism in Europe.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to Trump on Saturday citing concerns about the meeting with a leader who has ever closer ties to Russia and who is responsible for what they term the “downward democratic trajectory” in Hungary.
“Democracy in Hungary has significantly eroded,” and the country has “experienced a corrosion of freedom,” committee chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey wrote in the letter. “Under Orban, the election process has become less competitive and the judiciary is increasingly controlled by the state. Press freedom has declined.”
Since taking office in 2010, Orbán has changed the nation’s constitution, centralized power, curtailed civil liberties, asserted control over the media and compromised the independence of Hungary’s judiciary. He’s a proud nationalist who boasts of his support for what he calls “illiberal democracy.”
He is an ally of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu but is widely viewed as anti-Semitic. Like Trump, he is a staunch foe of billionaire George Soros. At an election rally last year, Orbán attacked the Jewish philanthropist, calling him an “enemy that is different from us: not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international.”
Soros, a major donor to Democratic candidates and causes, battled plans by Orbán to eject the Central European University, founded by Soros, from Hungary. The move was part of the government’s assault on academic freedom. A pro-government website recently called on students to inform on professors who espoused “left-wing political opinions,” The Atlantic reported.
Orbán will be able to use the White House visit and Trump’s apparent support to deflect criticism, said Botond Feledy, a senior fellow at Budapest’s Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy. The meeting with Trump “will be a big weapon for Orban,” Feledy told PBS early this month.