By Al Kamen, Published: October 14
A July 2010 photo of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kissing the hand of a most-delighted U.S. ambassador, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, suggests they had a warm relationship.
Lately, though, things have cooled — a lot. Maybe it’s Orban’s increasingly anti-democratic antics. Just the usual stuff — cracking down on the media, curbing the independence of the judiciary, attacks on minorities and a drift toward one-party rule.
Or maybe it’s his annoying praise of Chinese investment and aid along with his constant denigration of Western Europe and predictions of the decline of the West. This from a country that’s a member of NATO and the European Union.
Despite human rights groups’ increasing criticism of Orban’s governing style — a sort of Lukashenko-lite policy along the lines of autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus — the premier generally has continued his ways.
So Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — in Budapest on June 30 for the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute, a human rights organization named for the late Hungarian-born congressman — tried to make things perfectly clear, warning against letting “any democracy anywhere backslide.”
She and Orban “talked very openly about preserving democratic institutions,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with him, in a Hungary that “is very true to its democratic traditions to protect individual liberties.”
That meeting was just a few days after Chinese premier Wen Jiabao had been in Budapest and Orban had lavishly praised the commies’ way of doing things.
After a while, the State Department concluded that Orban simply wasn’t getting Clinton’s message that he knock it off, so the diplos upped the ante. In mid- or late August they reiterated their displeasure, this time in the form of a demarche, or official diplomatic protest, to be hand-delivered to Orban.
Alas, word is that Orban has been simply too busy to receive Kounalakis, a California real estate executive who, along with family members, has contributed more than $800,000 to Democrats since 2005, especially to Clinton’s presidential effort and then to Barack Obama’s campaign.
Orban has been traveling of late, speaking just last week to business folks in Saudi Arabia, signing some agreements and praising the way the all-controlling monarchy runs the place. But one of these days, despite his ducking and dodging, the process-server will catch him.