Today, President Donald Trump praised the migration policy and the supposed defense of Christianity of the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, whom he described as “controversial” without reaching a decision on the democratic and human rights panorama in Hungary.
Orbán’s visit to the White House marked his first meeting with a president since 1998, when he met with Bill Clinton as soon as he began his first term, and the beginning of a thaw process for the controversial leader, to whom both George W. Bush as Barack Obama refused to receive in the Oval Office.
“Viktor Orbán is a hugely respected leader, respected throughout Europe, a bit controversial, probably, like me, but it’s okay, you are doing a great job and keeping your country safe,” Trump said at the beginning of the meeting.
“He has done the right thing on immigration issues, according to many people, some of the problems they are having in Europe are tremendous, because they have done things differently than the prime minister (Hungarian),” said the president.
For ultraconservative Orbán, the words of Trump were a boost to their harsh migration policies, which have generated a confrontation with the European Union (EU) to relate to immigrants with terrorism and claim that they endanger European and Christian culture.
Like Trump with the caravans of undocumented Central Americans, Orbán has described the refugees who in recent years have massively arrived in Central Europe through the Balkan route as a threat to the country.
“We are proud to be able to coincide with the United States in their fight against illegal immigration, against terrorism, and to protect and help Christian communities around the world,” said Orbán.
Trump then praised his “great” work “with respect to the Christian communities” in Hungary, where Orbán has promoted a campaign aimed at allegedly defending Christian identity at the hands of a harsh speech against Muslims.
The affinity that both showed in the Oval Office eclipsed the sources of tension that still characterize the relationship with Hungary.
A group of senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio and James Risch, asked last Friday in a letter to Trump to speak with Orbán about “the democratic decadence” of Hungary, where they considered that there is “a progressive corrosion of freedom and the rule of law”.
However, Trump had not planned to raise the issue during his meeting with Orbán, according to the White House, who argued last Friday that the meeting was “short” and that these issues are already addressed regularly during bilateral contacts at a lower level.
After the meeting, the White House said in a statement that Trump and Orbán reaffirmed their commitment “to the democratic systems of government” of both countries, “that safeguard freedom and cultivate prosperity.”
The two also “discussed how to increase vigilance against irregular global migration and to address China’s unfair trade and investment practices,” as well as reaffirming their “commitment to the NATO alliance,” the note added.
Their relationship within NATO, trade ties and energy policy were the big issues on the table at the meeting, which marked the first visit to the White House in 14 years of a Hungarian prime minister.
Despite the affinity that Trump showed with him, Orbán had been waiting for over two years to visit the White House: although he was the first foreign leader to show support when he was a Republican candidate in 2016, he was the last Central European leader to be invited to Washington under his mandate.
That delay shows the complexity of the bilateral relationship, overshadowed by the restrictions in Hungary to the Central European University (CEU), founded by the American progressive magnate George Soros, whom Orbán accused of conspiring to flood Hungary with Muslim immigrants.
The ties have also been strained by Budapest’s warm relationship with the Chinese technological giant Huawei, and by the decision of the Hungarian Parliament to open the door and grant diplomatic immunity to the International Investment Bank (IIB), controlled by Russia and that in the Past had links with the Soviet KGB.