Kurt Volker’s departure a blow to Hungarian autocracy

Hungary’s party state has lost a key American ally and an enthusiastic promoter of Hungarian autocracy with the departure of Kurt Volker, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine. Mr. Volker is at the centre of the current impeachment turmoil in Washington DC, after telephone call transcripts released by the White House suggest that the American president attempted to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the son of his key Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as a favour for American support to the embattled Eastern European country. Mr. Volker resigned his position on Friday without offering any public comment.

As Hungary’s Népszava daily points out, Mr. Volker has been a key Washington-based promoter of Fidesz, Hungary’s dictatorial ruling party. The former envoy, after working for the CIA, served as a diplomat in Hungary for three years during the nineties and he also mastered the Hungarian language. Although Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn was in power for part of his tenure in Budapest, Mr. Volker developed ties with Fidesz — a party that at the time has just finished transforming itself from a liberal alliance of young democrats to a conservative force which formed a coalition government with the Smallholders’ Party in 1998. According to Népszava, the current Orbán government had set its hopes on Mr. Volker becoming the new U.S. ambassador in Budapest, as the party’s leaders maintained close ties to the Washington insider. Mr. Volker’s friendship and professional association with the late John McCain, a critic of President Trump and also of Hungarian ruler Viktor Orbán, reportedly nixed his chances of becoming ambassador.

Kurt Volker in Budapest in 2019. Source: Válasz Online.

Crucially, Mr. Volker is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hungary Initiatives Foundations, a pro-Fidesz organization based in the United States which promotes the interests of the Orbán regime under the guise of cultural and artistic programming.  On the Board of Trustees, Mr. Volker serves alongside Tamás Fellegi, János Martonyi, Edith Lauer, George Pataki and former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, April Foley, who is an unwavering supporter of the Hungarian autocrat.

In the past several years, Mr. Volker has visited party officials in Budapest on several occasions — most recently this past April, when he attempted to sway avowedly pro-Russian Hungarian foreign policy on the question of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO. During his most recent visit to the Hungarian capital, Mr. Volker was interviewed by the conservative Válasz Online — the remnant of the defunct Heti Válasz, which fell out of favour with Fidesz last year for engaging in journalism. Válasz Online’s Szabolcs Vörös decided not to ask Mr. Volker a single question on matters pertaining to Hungary, but focused exclusively on Ukraine instead. In this interview, Mr. Volker pointed to Hungary and Poland under their current respective governments as examples of democracy. He said: “Ukraine is important from a variety of prospectives (sic). First is the people. People deserve to have a secure society, their own country, their own territorial integrity, they deserve to build a democracy in a prosperous economy, just like everybody else whether it is the United States, Hungary or Poland…”

In October, Mr. Volker will be testifying to a Congressional committee as part of impeachment investigations. Observers of Hungarian politics would do well to follow the proceedings.

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