MURPHY, DURBIN, SHAHEEN, SCHUMER PRESS U.S. AMBASSADOR TO HUNGARY ON DEMOCRATIC BACKSLIDING

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday joined U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in pressing the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein over their mounting concerns with democratic backsliding in Hungary, including the most recent forced expulsion of the American-accredited Central European University (CEU). CEU enjoys considerable bipartisan support in Congress given its commitment to open society and critical thinking in a former Soviet Bloc nation still consolidating its democratic gains. Murphy previously led a bipartisan effort urging Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Hungarian government to keep CEU in Budapest.

“This petty and counterproductive move by the Hungarian government comes on the heels of increased intimidation and shrinking of the country’s free press.  While we appreciate the challenge of engaging the Viktor Orban regime, such moves by his government are antithetical to key American democratic values and international norms and do not go unnoticed in the United States Congress,” the members wrote in a letter to Ambassador Cornstein.

The last few years have seen deeply troublingly and brazen efforts to undermine the country’s judiciary as well as access to independent media in Hungary. Just recently, more than a dozen owners gave 400 news websites, newspapers, television channels, and radio stations to a front group run by Orban loyalists. The members also expressed concern over Hungary’s seeming leanings toward Moscow, including its refusal to extradite to the U.S. two Russians wanted for selling arms to drug cartels and harboring of pro-Russian, ex-Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, a fugitive facing prison at home over corruption charges.

U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined Murphy, Durbin, Shaheen, and Schumer in sending the letter.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

 

December 20, 2018

 

Dear Ambassador Cornstein:

We write to express our mounting concern over democratic backsliding in Hungary, including the most recent forced expulsion of the Central European University (CEU).  This petty and counterproductive move by the Hungarian government comes on the heels of increased intimidation and shrinking of the country’s free press.  While we appreciate the challenge of engaging the Viktor Orban regime, such moves by his government are antithetical to key American democratic values and international norms and do not go unnoticed in the United States Congress.  

The Central European University enjoys considerable bipartisan support in Congress—and for obvious reasons given its commitment to open society and critical thinking in a former Soviet Bloc nation still consolidating its democratic gains.  As such, we were deeply disturbed by reports that you did not wield sufficient U.S. leverage over Hungary to try to achieve a better outcome and instead tried to blame the university for its ouster.  Our understanding is that CEU attempted to comply with bullying legislation targeting foreign academic institutions by establishing a program at New York’s Bard College, a step Orban’s government refuses to acknowledge.  In the end, there should have been a way for the United States to find a more suitable solution to such a government vendetta that adheres to American values and serves Hungarian students hoping for a top education.   

Similarly, the last few years have seen deeply troublingly and brazen efforts to undermine access to independent media in Hungary.  Just recently, more than a dozen owners gave 400 news websites, newspapers, television channels, and radio stations to a front group run by Orban loyalists.  Taking from the tired autocrat playbook, Orban is obviously trying to silence those critical of his government or unwilling to serve as regime mouthpieces. 

Lastly, we are troubled by Hungary’s seeming leanings toward Moscow, including its refusal to extradite to the United States two Russians wanted for selling arms to drug cartels and harboring of pro-Russian, ex-Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, a fugitive facing prison at home over corruption charges.

We have many shared interests in our important relationship with Hungary.  Nevertheless, we expect these shared interests to be pursued with underlying core American democratic values.

 

Sincerely,

 

###