Is Hungarian Public Opinion Anti-American? To the contrary!

After spending a little more than half a year at his first post as a diplomat, former Obama admin assistant secretary, now U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman has recently returned to Washington to give an account of his experiences from the bastion of European conservatism. His meeting with Secretary of State Blinken was reportedly dominated by a complaint about “uniquely anti-American rhetoric from senior Hungarian officials and pervasive anti-American rhetoric in the media controlled by the Government of Hungary”.

As one of those who have in the past pointed at the divisive and politically partisan actions of Ambassador Pressman, and as the editor-in-chief of the largest English and German language publications in Hungary, I feel compelled to clear up one serious misunderstanding that has found its way into the complaint presented to Secretary of State Antony Blinken: the Hungarian conservative press is not criticizing the representatives of the Biden Administration, including the U.S. ambassador, because they are American. To the contrary, the criticism levelled at them stems from the fact that they are perceived as fundamentally un-American.

The majority of Hungarians still consider the U.S. as the number one geostrategic ally, as the leading cultural and political point of orientation among the ever-increasing global paradigm-shift. The Government of Viktor Orbán, despite the all-pervasive “Putin ally” narrative in Western media, sees the United States as the leading world-power with shared values and a common historic paradigm.

The sympathies are not one sided by any means: Orbán and some of his closest political allies from the conservative side have been welcomed in U.S. Republican circles like near-rock stars, and an increasing number of American opinion-makers recognize the policies and declared values of the government in Budapest as a blueprint to build on in terms of social reforms. Hungarian President Katalin Novák’s recent meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had only reinforced the perception of a meeting of minds between the Hungarian and American center-right.

Instead, the source of the main frustration for those who do care for the success of the U.S.-Hungarian alliance is the fact that Joe Biden’s White house seems to be doing everything in their power to derail these with a not-so-veiled effort to undermine the democratically elected leadership of the country. The choice of Pressman as an ambassador is only a symptom of a larger effort that has manifested itself in such blatant interference as the financing of the 2022 pre-election Hungarian anti-Orbán coalition made up of a hotch-potch of far-right to ultra-progressive politicians with millions of dollars through the Action for Democracy lobby group. One could also mention the millions spent on sponsoring the Hungarian anti-government media or anti-conservative political NGOs.

The fact is that today the average Hungarian simply cannot recognize the America whose promises of a fair and free world they have clung on to during decades of barbaric Communist oppression. In fact, though in a different packaging, they are becoming increasingly aware of features of a similar authoritarianism coming from the West that has previously taken away the future of two generations of Hungarians. The promise of national sovereignty and choosing one’s own way of life is being curtailed by a kind of global pseudo-American imperialism calling for a common stance against real or perceived enemies of the free world. These goals, however, are diabolically reminiscent of the United States’ own economic interests and of its progressive ideological value system that the State Department has painted in front of its armor in its global crusade for a Pax Americana.

Burgers, rock n’ roll, big cars, a passionate and democratic debate, the self-determination of nations, the spirit of freedom… all that we Hungarians have identified America with, admittedly somewhat simplistically, and lusted for behind the Iron Curtain, seem to be no more. As far as we can ascertain from our little democracy by the Danube, all these above are now merely projected on the façade of the Potemkin village that is left from the greatest democracy that there ever was. Instead, we see a deeply divided people, racial unrest, a country that has actively given up control of its own borders, a radical gender ideology, and the sexualization of children, to only mention a few of the cultural chimeras casting their shadows on our relationship. Walking through the great American supermarket as a modern, yet still conservative society, we see less and less products that we would like to take off the shelves and put it in our cultural or political shopping basket. Those that we still think are worth our money, seem to have an out-of-date label.

Many Hungarians insists on a sense of historic continuity, are proud of their past struggles, and still mourn their historic defeats. In contrast, American warehouses are increasingly filling up with symbols and statues of those who have founded American democracy, who have given their country a name and made it into the most successful society that human history has ever known. What they are replacing it with are fleeting slogans of a sugar-coated cultural fundamentalism, that is alien to a European society proud of its national-civic values, such as the Hungarian. The growing mountain of the discarded statues of “old white men”, as they are often referred to, seems to be an antithesis to everything that conservative Europeans identify “their” America with.

There seems to be a decreasing number of buyers for American cultural imports, and instead of making the American way of life attractive again, the Biden administration chose to override the will of the majority through sponsoring some of its friendly European media outlets, financing aggressive far-left NGOs and interfering in elections to help U.S.-friendly proxy-governments into power. The problem is that this is a regressive process: the less attractive Biden’s America will appear to European citizens, the more coercion it will need to employ in order to achieve its geopolitical ambitions in countries with independent-minded voters, such as Hungary.

As far as the U.S. Ambassador’s complaint about a ‘government controlled media’ in Hungary is concerned, it is in fact only a cheap rhetorical escapism to deal with the fact that the package of values and policies that the Biden-run State Department had sent him out to Hungary with are hugely unpopular among the vast majority of opinion-makers in the country, and are regarded by many to be outright dangerous and undemocratic. If, in fact, one would contrast the Hungarian press’ narrative about the U.S, and the American mainstream press’ daily attacks against Hungary, it would very quickly transpire that the regular, disrespectful and offensive bile that is published in the largest U.S. media outlets against Hungary and Hungarians completely outclasses the few genuinely vulgar anti-American voices in the Hungarian discourse.

The American-Hungarian alliance must be rebuilt on new foundations. However, the Biden admin must accept that it cannot have one type of a full-fat democracy for itself at home, and a hollowed-out export version with a kill-switch for the rest of us. It might have coaxed some of its more fragile and gullible partners to accept this, but such phony and unequal alliances will not last. They will only succeed in giving birth to genuine anti-American sentiments across European democracies.

Daniel Deme PhD
Daniel Deme PhD
Editor-in-chief Hungary Today and Ungarn Heute Communications manager Friends of Hungary Foundation