News / Europe

Clinton Questions Hungary's Democratic Credentials

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech, during the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute, at the Hungarian Parliament building, in Budapest, June 30, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech, during the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute, at the Hungarian Parliament building, in Budapest, June 30, 2011
Stefan Bos

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised concerns with Hungary's government about legislative measures that critics claim limit press freedom and reduce powers of previously independent institutions. Clinton also expressed solidarity with pro-democracy activists in Egypt, where she says the U.S. will re-open talks with the controversial Muslim Brotherhood group. Clinton made the remarks in Budapest where she attended the official inauguration of a human rights center as part of her European tour.  

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledgedd that she expressed concerns about Hungary's new media law and constitution in talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

She raised the issue after writers, philosophers and other opponents of Hungary's old communist regime said the new center-right government restricted press freedom, curbed the powers of the top court and passed a constitution which tied the hands of future governments.

In a letter they urged Clinton to speak out against what they called their country's "autocratic system."  

Clinton, who also met the opposition and made clear she had urged Viktor Orban's government not to remove checks and balances in government which she said was essential to any democracy.

“As friends of Hungary we expressed our concerns, and particular call for a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary a free press and governmental transparency," said Secretary Clinton.

Prime Minister Orban says he is committed to democracy and that Hungarian legislation is in line with laws introduced in other European Union member states.

Clinton also urged emerging democracies from Hungary to Latin America to Asia to help Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries in transition.

She also said all should support pro-democracy activists in Belarus, which has been described by Washington as Europe's last dictatorship, and show solidarity with freedom fighters in Libya.  

Additionally, Clinton used her visit to Budapest to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. She said the Obama  administration is talking with the controversial group to help build ties and promote democratic principles, despite criticism from Israel and others concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interest of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to non-violence," said Clinton. "That intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency and we welcome therefore duologue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us.”  

Clinton was in Budapest to participate in the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute dedicated to human rights.
The institute is named after the late Hungarian-born U.S. Congressman.

During one of the many visits he made to Budapest, Lantos spoke to VOA about his frustration over anti-semitism in his native country, which supported Nazi Germany during the war when some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed.  

"I deeply regret that there are still elements in Hungary who wish to blame the Holocaust entirely on Germany, which is inaccurate," said Lantos. "Vast numbers of Hungarians personally participated in the most outrageous, murderous acts."

Lantos had extensively studied Hungarian history.  

Ethnic Hungarian Bishop Laszlo Tokes from Romania sang a song about freedom of Hungarian 19th century statesman Lajos Kossuth, who inspired the late Lantos.

Speaking in Hungary's parliament, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled candid conversations about human rights with Lantos.

“Whenever Tom Lantos came to see me as national security adviser or secretary of state to tell me that he thought we were off course on a matter concerning human freedom, I thought 'I better check my compass'. Because if Tom thinks we're off course, we probably are. This institute will help us to stay on course," said Rice.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said he hopes the Tom Lantos Institute will help to ease tensions in Central and Eastern Europe where the wounds of a violent history have not yet healed completely.

“Further regional cooperation, historical reconciliation and tolerance in Central and South-Eastern Europe is something we very desperately need in our context where old and fresh historical trauma's influence our life on a daily basis. If the institute shall be able to contribute [to] this high aim of further reconciliation in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe it will be a true heir of the Tom Lantos legacy," said  Martonyi.       

Clinton continues her European trip in Lithuania for a meeting of the Community of Democracies where she will discuss ways to advance women in politics and business.  She then travels to Spain to meet President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and other government officials.

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