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US envoy asks Hungary to focus on Ukraine war, not ‘fake’ issues

#envoy #asks #Hungary #focus #Ukraine #war #fake #issues

Hungary should focus on the war in Ukraine and not “fake” issues, the US ambassador told AFP, as American and European conservatives on  Thursday denounced “the virus of wokeism” at a meeting in Budapest.

Budapest is hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for a second straight year which is being attended mostly by US and European conservatives.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban lashed out against the “virus of wokeism” propagated by “Western liberals” at the gathering, boasting he had “the antidote”.

Orban also called for the return of Donald Trump to the White House. 

“There’s an unfortunate eagerness to talk about a fake culture war in Hungary,” US ambassador David Pressman told AFP in an interview.

“At the same time there is a real war next door where thousands are dying in Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression,” the diplomat said Wednesday, during a visit to meet aid workers and refugees near the Ukrainian border.

“This is not about wokeism. This is about Russia,” he said.

“I’m squarely focused on the real war, and the relationship that’s deepening and expanding – instead of constricting – between Hungary and Russia,” said Pressman.

The 46-year-old envoy pointed to five visits by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto to Russia to discuss energy deals since the Ukraine war began in February last year. 

According to Pressman, Szijjarto “has not spoken once” to his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba during the same time. 

“Where other countries are making choices to diversify off of Russian energy, Hungary is doubling down on its relationship with Gazprom,” said Pressman, referring to the Russian energy giant. 

– ‘Kremlin disinformation’ –

Pressman also voiced concern about pro-Russian propaganda in EU and NATO member Hungary.

Budapest has slammed the EU’s sanctions on Russia and calls for an immediate ceasefire. Pro-Orban media meanwhile regularly broadcast anti-Ukrainian narratives. 

“One of the challenges we’re confronting in Hungary is… propagation of Kremlin disinformation,” said Pressman.

Last month, the US levied sanctions against the Russian-led International Investment Bank, an institution Pressman called a “Kremlin platform inside of NATO hosted in Budapest”.

A day later, Hungary withdrew from the entity, a step swiftly followed by the bank announcing that it is quitting Budapest to return to Moscow four years after moving its headquarter to Hungary.

Pressman said he welcomed Hungary’s “albeit late” decision to leave the bank, a Soviet-era invention called a “spy-bank” by critics.

“It’s unfortunate that… it required this level of engagement from the United States in order for there to be responsiveness,” he said.

– ‘Foreign-controlled agent’ –

In office since last September, the openly gay Pressman and his confrontational style have seen him on the receiving end of attacks in pro-Orban media from day one, when he posted photos of his husband and their children on Twitter.  

Budapest has been at odds with Brussels over its tightening of legislation seen to be targeting LGBTQ people.  

Breaking with diplomatic discretion, Pressman regularly challenges government officials and narratives on social networks.

The speaker of parliament, a close ally of Orban, called him “one of the least classy ambassadors ever to set foot on Hungarian soil”.

Pressman said the US “is focused on and will remain focused on (ensuring) space for independent institutions and voices in Hungary to exist and thrive”.

“If you raise an issue that is from a perspective that is not shared by… the government, you are identified as (a) somehow foreign-controlled, -influenced, or -funded agent.”

“Sometimes (those) entities are… just independent,” he said. “But independence is not the same as opposition,” he said.

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