8 Dec 2017

Hungarian government's dashed hopes for approval from Trump

Thomas O. Melia made it clear that criticism coming from the highest ranked member of the US Embassy in Hungary, the Chargé d’Affaires, are not personal remarks -- they reflect Washington's official position.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
Hungarian government's dashed hopes for approval from Trump - NewsMavens
Donald Trump. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

politics, illiberalism

"It is time to realize that the policies (aimed at Hungary) are those of the United States of America,” said Thomas O. Melia, who has served two senior positions in the administration of President Barack Obama. 

In an interview with Nepszava, he made it clear that the criticism coming from the highest ranked member of the US Embassy in Hungary, the Chargé d’Affaires, are not personal remarks -- they reflect Washington's official position. This may sound obvious to many readers but not in Hungary where the government has been trying hard to downplay criticism coming from the United States.

Lately, the state of the free press in Hungary raised American's concerns. In October, the Chargé d’Affaires, David J. Kostelancik, condemned the negative trends in the local media, at an event organized by the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ).

“In recent years, the United States has spoken on multiple occasions about the negative trends in the sphere of press freedom in Hungary. Unfortunately these negative trends are on the rise. Government allies have steadily acquired control and influence over the media market, without objection from the regulatory body designed to prevent monopolies.

Journalists who work for these outlets -- or who used to work for them -- tell us that they must follow pro-government editorial guidelines dictated by the outlets’ new owners, and that they do not have the freedom to publish articles that are critical of the government,” the diplomat claimed.

A few weeks after Kostelancik’s remarks, the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced on its website a funding opportunity -- of approx. 700,000 dollars -- to „support objective media” in Hungary. The move itself is not unprecedented, but DRL rarely supports media freedom in European Union member countries.

Melia, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the DRL, emphasized that the United States value democracy, human rights and freedom of speech -- regardless of who the American president is and which party he or she represents. 

For while there, the Hungarian government was convinced that Donald Trump would applaud the idea of Hungary's illiberal democracy. The Hungarian PM was among the first ones to congratulate the newly elected American president after his victory. The administration in Budapest has been expecting an invitation to the White House ever since. So far, it hasn't arrived.

Details from the story:

  • Thomas O. Melia is currently a fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. He is also a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
  • He served as deputy executive director of Freedom House in the early 2000s.
  • If David J. Kostelancik delivered a speech at an official event, we can be sure that the text has been approved in Washington, claimed Melia.
  • Freedom is eroding in Hungary. That is how the United States sees the situation, he added.
  • Melia shared his views regarding the Hungarian PM. He believes that the attacks against independent voices -- in the media and among NGOs -- are part of the process to prepare the scene for his election victory. If he wins, he will further expand his power.
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