Ishaan Tharoor Reporter covering foreign affairs, geopolitics and history February 12 at 12:59 AM Want smart analysis of the most important news in your inbox every weekday along with other global reads, interesting ideas and opinions to know?
(Zsolt Szigetvary) On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Hungary, the first destination on a five-day trip through Europe.
In Hungary and Poland, Pompeo is calling on two right-wing governments that have been a thorn in the side of the European Union.
Critics warn that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, along with his Polish counterparts and far-right leaders to the west, is inspiring a new illiberal vanguard on the continent that is eyeing major gains in May’s European parliamentary elections.
In a speech in Brussels in December, he celebrated countries that “reassert” their “sovereignty” and provocatively admonished European governments to place the interests of their citizens “before those of bureaucrats” at the European Union.
At a joint briefing with Pompeo on Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said both his government and the Trump administration were “patriotic in terms of their policies,” eager to defend their borders and “Christian heritage,” and closely aligned to the right-wing government in Israel.
Those connections probably outweighed the Trump administration’s concerns over Hungary’s flirtations with the Kremlin, the penetration of a major Chinese tech company in the Hungarian market and Orban’s systematic squeezing of independent media and civil society.
When Pompeo arrives in Poland on Wednesday, he will be hosted by another illiberal government.
And as the Trump administration faces tensions with Britain, Germany and France over its anti-Iran agenda, it has found in Poland a willing partner for a summit on the future of the Middle East.
A report issued ahead of this weekend’s Munich Security Conference — a high-profile gathering of dignitaries that will include a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Pence — accused Trump of harboring “an irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe” and suggested “that this administration is living in a ‘post-human rights world.’ ”
European officials feel similarly queasy about the White House’s seeming embrace of figures such as Orban, who had been shunned for years by the Obama administration.
George Soros, a Jewish-American financier long targeted by Orban’s government (often with messaging that critics argue is nakedly anti-Semitic) for his role in funding certain civil society groups in the country, blasted the political cynicism that preserves Orban’s status at the heart of Europe.
The European People’s Party, a center-right bloc that includes parties such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has resisted calls to oust Orban’s Fidesz party from its ranks.
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