Orban meets Trump - the ramifications for Europe
Steve Bannon once described Victor Orban as 'Trump before Trump' - as the two meet, what does this mean for Europe?
Donald Trump hosted Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Oval Office on Monday, in a meeting critics say defied widespread concerns over bolstering a leader with Orban’s democratic and human rights credentials.
“Viktor Orban has done a tremendous job in so many different ways,” the US president said at a photo-op marking the beginning of talks. “Highly respected. Respected all over Europe. Probably like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s ok. That’s ok. You’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe.”
Orban responded by explaining how he thought he and Trump's political philosophies align: "We are proud to stand together with the United States on fighting against illegal migration, on terrorism, and to protect and help the Christian communities all around the world".
In the meeting, as with others, Trump revealed his regard for strongman leaders, the New York Times says. “The president has hosted or praised autocrats from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines and Kazakhstan, 'fell in love' with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and upended his entire Syria policy after a phone call with Turkey’s iron-fisted leader, triggering the resignation in protest of his own defense secretary.”
Critics say Trump’s meeting with Orban comes as a boost for the latter’s profile - and will energise those sympathetic to him - in the days leading up to the European elections 23-26 May.
As the Financial Times’ Edward Luce writes, “Mr Trump was sending a clear message that he is rooting for parties that want to undermine Europe [who] look poised to make significant gains next week.”
Speaking to the Financial Times, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon said: “What Trump did by meeting Orban was tremendously helpful. We are facing a potential European earthquake next week if the leading sovereigntist parties come out on top.”
Controversial for his disdain for democratic norms and ethno-nationalist policies, presidents Bush and Obama both refused to meet Orban. However, resistance in the United States to Orban’s visit crossed party lines. In a rare show of dissent from members of Trump’s own party, Republicans Marco Rubio and Jim Risch both signed a letter stating: “In recent years, democracy in Hungary has significantly eroded... Under Orban, the election process has become less competitive and the judiciary is increasingly controlled by the state”.
This letter to Trump was swiftly followed by one from nine Democratic members of the US House of Representative, who wrote: “Prime Minister Orban represents so many things that are antithetical to core American values. He has overseen a rollback of democracy in his country, used anti-Semitic and xenophobic tropes in his political messaging, and cozied up to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.”
Indeed, Orban is credited with having compromised the judiciary, acted against minority interests, and fomented anti-Semitism and xenophobia within Hungary. However, as he said confidently sitting next to Trump: “From the people, by the people, for the people, this is the basis for the Hungarian government.”
Franklin Foer, staff writer for the Atlantic, said in an interview with NPR: "The week that I was in Hungary, CNN published a poll showing that Hungarians had become the most anti-Semitic country in the whole of Europe. One of the pro-government publications published a magazine that had a cover featuring the head of the Jewish federation. And his face was put against a black backdrop, and money was raining down."