David Pressmann, the US ambassador to Hungary - Photo: Janka Szitas/U.S. Embassy Budapest

US Ambassador praises, chides Orbán

United States Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman praised Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for travelling to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but chided him for his support of a US election candidate when the ambassador hosted a US Independence Day Reception in the Chief of Mission Residence garden in District XII, Budapest, on July 2, 2024.

Speaking to a full garden of guests, Ambassador Pressman said he would like to begin his remarks by addressing the remarkable journey of Prime Minister Orbán to Kyiv that morning.  He said the United States has been encouraging the Ukrainian government and Hungarian government to engage each other directly at senior levels to work through their differences.

“Prime Minister Orbán’s travel to Ukraine is significant and it is a meaningful step,” the ambassador said. “We will watch carefully to see what comes out of today’s meetings, but it is important to acknowledge that they are taking place. While we would have loved to have him and his team here today, it is far better that they are there.”

Ambassador Pressman said he would also like to speak to something else that he knows is on many people’s minds. ”Apparently, there is an election coming up in the United States,” he said. “I know this, in part, because your Prime Minister continues to remind us, daily, of who he would like to win that election, who he would vote for if he were an American, which he is not.

“What he is, is the leader of Hungary, which is an ally.  We have no other ally or partner – not a single one – that similarly, overtly and tirelessly, campaigns for a specific candidate in an election in the United States of America, seemingly convinced that, no matter what, it only helps Hungary, or at least helps him personally.  I’m not sure which.

“What does it mean if a leader behaves as though an alliance is not between countries but only between perceived ideological allies within them? Partisanising a bilateral relationship is a dangerous proposition. This is especially true between allies, especially at such a consequential time. This does not serve the Hungarian people, and, along with a host of other strategic decisions taken in Budapest, it risks changing Hungary’s relationship with America.

“The current government of Hungary may see its relationship with the United States as a ’political’ issue but, I assure you, the United States of America does not. The US-Hungary relationship is based on the shared aspirations of our people – Hungarians and Americans – to live freely under democracy, rule of law and security.  The Hungarian government would do well not to cheapen that with politics.”

Ambassador Pressman continued: “What binds our two nations – what has connected us since America’s earliest days when Mihály Kováts traveled to our nation to help build our first cavalry that helped Americans achieve our independence almost three centuries ago, that we celebrate together today – what binds us are our commitment to liberty and the relationships between our people. People that I have the privilege of spending time with every day.”

The ambassador said it was an absolute honour to host this celebration of the 248th anniversary of America’s independence. He praised singer and actress Falusi Mariann for her amazing performance of the Hungarian and United States national anthems. Her Pa-dö-dő-era song, “Bye Bye Szása,” had echoed across Hungary as Soviet oppression retreated and freedom advanced.

Ambassador Pressman said her message embodied the humour, the shrewdness, spunk and strength that is Hungary.  And the optimism and power of her message, which was really Hungary’s message, reverberated across the country and the entire eastern bloc.  It was a celebration of independence for a new generation of Hungarians, and he was absolutely delighted to have her open today’s celebration of American Independence Day.

The ambassador said that just as they celebrate 248 years of America’s independence, just as they celebrate what thay have done, together, they are looking forward to what can and must be done now, in the shared future with the new generation.

Referring to people that he had the privilege of spending time with every day, the ambassador mentioned Árpád Rostás, a master craftsman who has a little studio in Csepelfilled with antiques, “the air thick with the smell of sawdust and linseed oil. Árpád keeps pictures of himself with royalty next to pictures with local Roma kids. Árpád spends his time toiling with old wood to give faded objects new life. Not manufacturing new beauty but rediscovering what is already present, liberating it from layers of neglect and debris accumulated over time.

“Árpád is a warm and a beautiful soul.  He showed me how to make a Luca stool while regaling me with stories about his work mentoring the next generation of young Roma carpenters. He ended our meeting giving me a huge hug, our connection breaking through any cultural or linguistic barriers that could exist.

“And this humble and devout Hungarian shared with me his dream to one day apply his craft, honed in Kaposvár, to help resurrect Paris’ charred Notre Dame Cathedral. I was so moved by this that I called the Ambassador of France. The 4th arrondissement seemed a long way away from Budapest’s 21st District but I understand that he did finally make it to Paris, understand Árpád is now making preparations in contact with the church to contribute to the restoration of Notre Dame’s soaring arches. To renew this thing of beauty, to restore this icon of our shared world heritage.”

Kids the ambassador had met in Békés County had also showed off their craft, not with old wood shavings but with fresh ground meat and loud music at the Békéscsaba Sausage Festival. And the Mayor of Mohács had seemed determined to ensure the ambassador had his share of pálinka during the Busójárás Festival. Such encounters had sealed his newest friendships with impressive Hungarians.

“On and on, over and over, it is the Hungarian people who make clear why America’s relationship with Hungary is important and enduring,” Ambassador Pressman said. “This is a relationship that is not premised on individuals in power; our alliance with no country is so precariously situated.  ’We, the people’ is not about specific people in power but rather a statement that it is all the people who hold the power, and those who govern do so on their behalf.  This idea is fundamental to America, and to any democracy.

“Democracies have relationships with each other, not with personalities. That is where our predictability, sustainability and power come from. Hungary’s relationship with the United States is not measured by the frequency of your Prime Minister’s political endorsements on social media or the amount of Hungarian taxpayer money spent on political messaging supporting candidates for elected office in the United States. We should guard against those who dare take something lasting and strong, and risk making it fleeting and personal.

“Our independence and freedom as a country relies on knowing the difference between the people and personalities, between principles and politics. Knowing that the former is derivative of alliances and partnerships and relationships that transcend the latter. That is what has kept America strong and America great and America independent for 248 years.

“You see, just as no single President defines America, no single Prime Minister defines Hungary.  Our democracies are bigger than any one person, or at least they should be, and so too should our commitments to each other.”

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