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26/08/2016

Washington introduces Russia-style sanctions against Hungarian officials

Global Europe

Washington introduces Russia-style sanctions against Hungarian officials

Viktor Orbán. Budapest, 2011.

[Europa Pont]

The United States said yesterday (20 October) six Hungarians had been banned from entering the US, as a warning to Budapest to reverse policies that threatened to undermine democratic values.

An American diplomat in Budapest said yesterday the individuals were public servants or people with government connections. Last week’s ban came after a long series of warnings from Washington, the embassy said.

A 2004 Presidential proclamation allows the US government to ban foreign nationals whose corrupt conduct hurts US interests, without providing proof of the charges.

The travel ban is a sanction recently used by the USA and the EU against Russian nationals in the context of the Ukraine crisis.

Corruption was one symptom of Hungary’s weakening democratic institutions, US Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend said.

“At a certain point, the situation, if it continues this way, will deteriorate to the extent where it is impossible to work together as an ally,” Goodfriend told reporters at a briefing on Monday.

“That’s what we want to avoid, because we are allies, we are friends, we are strong NATO partners, and we want to try to help Hungary avoid this downward trend in its own society, and this obstacle to good relations with us and with others.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, re-elected for another four-year term in April, said in a speech in July that he aimed to build an “illiberal state” in Hungary, citing Russia, China and Turkey among successful models.

“We have spoken about this for so long that at a certain point you have to decide if you believe these things, if they are more than words, what is the action you take?” Goodfriend said.

Orbán’s chief of staff, János Lázár, told the Hungarian parliament’s national security committee the government was not privy to the details of the cases.

“The government of Hungary is somewhat baffled at the events that have unfolded because this is not the way friends deal with issues,” Lázár told the committee.

“If you say you have credible information on something and then talk about government officials, then you help Hungary only if you provide us whatever credible information you have,” Lázár said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is due in Washington on Tuesday, where he is will meet Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, partly to talk about the issue.