Hungarian citizens are suffering new consequences of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “cordial” relations with Russia, his criticism of the US and his policy of constant ignorance of European values. The US recently imposed restrictions on Hungarian passport holders under the Visa Waiver Programme on the grounds that Budapest has failed repeatedly to address security vulnerabilities raised by Washington. But this is not the first time Washington has used the visa “weapon” against Hungarian passport holders. For months, ethnic Hungarians with dual citizenship from Romania and Slovakia have been discriminated against compared to those born in Hungary when they want to travel to the US.
According to a statement quoted by Reuters, the US Embassy in Budapest recently announced that the validity period offered to Hungarian citizens under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be reduced, with immediate effect, from two years to one year and only single visits will be allowed under the system, not multiple visits.
In 9 years Hungary has granted citizenship to almost one million citizens
Hungary has granted citizenship to around one million people between 2011 and 2020 – mostly ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring states – “without adequate security measures in place to verify their identity”, the US embassy said. Granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians from abroad was a political move by Prime Minister Viktor Orban aimed at winning him votes in subsequent elections. Thus, the fact that Hungarian citizens will find travelling to the US difficult could cause them to turn against Viktor Orban. Relations between Hungary and the US have been strained recently, including because the leader in Budapest refused to play ball with the rest of the EU on Sweden’s NATO membership, supporting Turkey by postponing the vote in parliament on the issue. However, the core of the contention seems to be Orban’s policy on LGBTQ rights, seen in both Brussels and Washington as imposing far too severe restrictions upon implementation.
Asked whether the visa measure is related to other issues that have caused friction between the two governments, the US ambassador to Budapest said:
“The United States is paying close attention to Hungary’s elections,” adding, however, that the measure should not be interpreted as a message related to other sensitive issues in bilateral relations.
According to the US ambassador in Budapest, the security vulnerabilities now being exploited by the US were identified long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And action has been taken. But the decision went almost unnoticed. It is the measure whereby Hungarian citizens born outside Hungary’s current borders are no longer exempt from the visa requirement, according to the Transylvanian Hungarian daily Krónika. He published an article, based on information appearing on a travel blog from 2022 written in Hungarian, in which he pointed out that the US authorities only allow Hungarian citizens born on the current territory of Hungary to obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa. According to the publication quoted, the decision would have been taken as early as February 2021, but it did not attract attention, since following the travel restrictions imposed by the United States of America due to the coronavirus outbreak, citizens of Schengen states were not allowed to enter the U.S. anyway – for months.
The consular service of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs draws attention to this decision of the US authorities on its website in an information note on the conditions of entry and residence in the United States, Krónika writes. If Hungarian citizens born outside Hungary’s current borders want to travel to the U.S., they must apply for a visa – even if they have lived in Hungary for years or decades. And Hungarians living, for example, in Romania can only do so at the American diplomatic mission in Bucharest.
On the other hand, the US has for some time been considering restricting the entry of Hungarian passport holders suspected of corruption. In addition to the 2014 cases, their names would be made public on the US State Department website. In 2014, the United States banned six Hungarians accused of corruption from entering the US as a warning to Orban’s previous government for promoting policies that threatened to undermine democratic values. This time, several former Hungarian government officials and people close to the FIDESZ government led by Viktor Orban are reportedly targeted, who could be affected by a US bill that was recently signed Free Europe, the Hungarian edition. According to the document, several Hungarian state officials would be on the visa ban list, the publication highlights. This could be the next step after the Hungarian vice-president of the Budapest-based International Investment Bank, Imre Laszlóczki, was placed on the US sanctions list against people with links to Russian finances.
The bill invokes Section 7031(c) of the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act, which provides that foreign government officials and their family members are ineligible to enter the United States if the State Department has credible information that they are directly or indirectly involved in serious corruption and/or have been involved in serious human rights violations.
In comparison to Presidential Proclamation 7750, which was used in the 2014 ban scandal and affected Hungary, the names of those involved in the 7031(c) application will also be publicly posted on the U.S. State Department website. Underlying the draft legislation is the US State Department’s 2022 Country Report for Hungary, which speaks of an alarming level of corruption in Hungary.
“Although the government has taken steps to identify, investigate, prosecute and punish officials who commit human rights abuses, action against corruption with high-level political links has been limited,” the report said.
Hungary has been accused of corruption not only by the US but also by several international organizations in recent years. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary became the most corrupt EU member state in 2022. Relations between Hungary and the US have suffered before and especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Viktor Orban is accused of naming the US as “one of the top three opponents” of his party at a closed-door political strategy session. The statement appears in one of the leaked Pentagon documents, the Washington Post reports.Viktor Orban also made numerous social media posts in which, without naming US President Joe Biden, he nevertheless said that potential Republican White House candidate Donald Trump was “the only hope for peace” in Ukraine.
444.hu notes that Hungary’s hesitation to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership was the “last straw” for Washington. The White House is also reportedly becoming increasingly “irritated” by the Orban government’s position on the war in Ukraine, the publication adds.Although he eventually approved the sanctions imposed on Russia, the Hungarian prime minister repeatedly complained about external pressure that could “drag Hungary into war” and took the Russian position that giving arms to the Kiev regime would escalate the conflict.
Another thing that would make Washington unhappy is the treatment of Ambassador David Pressman since he took office. In February, he was harshly criticized by Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto after suggesting that the Hungarian government should also send his calls for peace to President Vladimir Putin himself. Peter Szijjarto then accused the ambassador of meddling in Hungary’s internal affairs. Viktor Orban also mocked the ambassador’s name “Pressman” in his State of the Nation speech, claiming he was pushing too hard and saying he wished the future ambassador wasn’t somehow called Puccini (referring to the Hungarian word for coup).