Hungary Summons U.S. Envoy After McCain’s ‘Neo-Fascist’ Jab

Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. envoy in Budapest to protest John McCain’s criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the senator called the Hungarian leader a “neo-fascist dictator.”

McCain’s remarks were the latest evidence of souring ties between the U.S. and Orban, whose administration has centralized power and pursued what it has called an “eastern opening,” including efforts to improve ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shift has also put Orban at odds with the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.

McCain criticized the appointment of a U.S. soap opera producer to become the new ambassador to Hungary and said on the Senate floor that “very bad things” are happening under Orban. He called the prime minister “a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin.”

“Hungary’s government considers unacceptable and flatly rejects Senator John McCain’s words about the Hungarian prime minister and about Hungarian and Russian relations,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement today in Budapest. U.S. officials should “get to know the facts before making statements about Hungary,” it said.

Diplomatic clashes between the U.S. and Hungary have become more frequent since Orban won a two-thirds constitutional majority in 2010 elections. After he took power, he drew criticism from the U.S. and the EU for what they said were actions curtailing the power of the Constitutional Court and for appointing allies to head independent institutions such as the central bank and the State Audit Office.

Illiberal State

Orban, re-elected in April, said in July that he intends to replace Hungary’s liberal democracy with an “illiberal state,’’ citing Russia and Turkey as models.

The U.S. barred entry to six Hungarian officials in October, including Ildiko Vida, the head of the tax office, on suspicion of corruption. Vida has denied wrongdoing. The previous month, U.S. President Barack Obama named Hungary as a place where the government intimidated civil society.

After criticizing sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine and negotiating a $14 billion loan from Putin’s government this year, Orban has shown signs of shifting his stance. Over the past month he has voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, called Germany his “compass” on foreign policy and visited NATO troops stationed in Lithuania.

“There has been a major shift in the Hungarian government’s recent communication, as the anti-western rhetoric and pro-eastern and Russian course is replaced by unusually firm commitments to the West overall and NATO and the EU in particular,” Budapest-based analysts at Policy Solutions said in an e-mail today.

(A previous version of this story corrected the timing of Obama’s remarks.)

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