Friday, February 10, 2023

Ervin Szabo Library, Budapest, Hungary


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: [off mic] And again, they are working side by side with search and rescue professionals from dozens of countries, as well as first responders from the Turkish government side, and northwestern Syria, with the Civil Defense, the White Helmets. I want to send every member of those teams my gratitude and the gratitude of President Biden. This work is a powerful example of the kind of global cooperation that the world needs more often with the United States, Hungary, other NATO members, and other countries that seek to join together to support an ally, in its time of great need.

I am here in Budapest to discuss USAID's new support for the Hungarian people. But I also see this trip as an opportunity to underscore that the United States wants to work more closely with Hungary in many domains. A central component of this work is making progress together on addressing some key challenges to democracy, and helping secure respect for the rights and dignity of all people. I am here because the U.S.-Hungarian relationship is an important one. And it is a relationship at a very dynamic moment. It is important that we get this relationship right, and we are concerned about where things stand.

Earlier today, I sat down with members of the independent media and with civil society organizations that are dedicated to promoting the rule of law and exposing corruption here in Hungary – a key role of such organizations in any vibrant democracy. These kinds of groups are really important to giving citizens a chance to hold their governments accountable. I had the opportunity, as well, to meet more than 80 high schoolers, whose tough questions and very bright insights made me very hopeful about Hungary's future. I also heard about the experiences of members of the LGBTQ community, and I reaffirmed the United States’ support for their right to live lives free of interference and persecution.

Later today, I will be engaging government leaders, where I will have the chance to share what I've heard. I will also make clear that the Hungarian government's politicized approach to our relationship is divisive, unproductive, and as we see time and again, based on clear falsehoods. I look forward to the opportunity to have candid and hopefully productive conversation about how we can move forward in a more productive direction together. In the meetings I've had this week, many people have described in vivid detail how the government's clamp down on dissenting voices is shrinking the space for free and open discussion about issues of public interests, including a range of efforts to muzzle and close media outlets that reported critically on developments here in Hungary.

So the U.S. government is committing $20 million to sustain democracy across Central Europe, including by bolstering civil society, and helping independent media thrive and reach new audiences. The USAID programming here, along with the other resources approved with the support of both major political parties in the United States Congress, will help Hungary meet its commitments to its own people and democratic partners to fight corruption and promote the rule of law. To be clear, this is just one component of the work the United States is doing in Hungary and with Hungarians, where we're supporting scholarship, and – scholarships, and exchange opportunities for young Hungarians encouraging economic development and investment, people to people ties, and community-led initiatives that can empower local groups who are trying to make change.

When I arrived in Budapest yesterday, I met up with a group of young leader. We ate lángos and walked in front of the stunning parliament building through Kossuth Lajos Square, named after the man who over 170 years ago called on the United States to support the Hungarian people and their dreams of democracy. These young people and many others I've met here spoke candidly about the challenges they see in Hungary right now. But they also made clear that they won't be deterred in seeking a positive vision for Hungary’s future, a future in which all voices are heard, all rights are respected, and all people who call Hungary home have an equal chance to pursue prosperity and to achieve their full potential. The United States is committed to supporting those aspirations, and continuing our long friendship with the Hungarian people. With that, I’ll take your questions.

MODERATOR: Take a question from 4-4-4.

REPORTER: Oh yeah, I’m [inaudible] from 444. By your standards would you still consider Hungary as a plural democracy?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, certainly over my time here I've enjoyed having the chance to hear all kinds of perspectives on the political situation, on the economic situation, on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the threat that poses to democracy, to the rule of law, to the cause of justice on Earth.

And so clearly, many, many people are exercising their voice and their democratic rights here. But as I indicated, there are also sources of concern, as it relates to the clampdown on media, on civil society, and fundamentally, again, what I know as USAID Administrator and as a member of President Biden's National Security Council, and as somebody who travels the world, is that every country, including the United States, every country is stronger when pluralistic voices, dissenting voices, democratic voices, can be heard, when citizens have the ability to hold their leaders accountable, and to speak freely. And so, you know, every young person is looking for economic opportunity and every generation wants to see more prosperity than the generation that came before. Governance and the rule of law, and checks and balances are a critical part of the equation to see that kind of economic progress and democratic progress that I know we Hungarians hold dear.

REPORTER: Question from [inaudible] Radio. Administrator Powers. Who are you going to meet from the Hungarian government, and what is your agenda? What do you want to discuss with them?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I am going to be meeting with a number of ministers including the Justice Minister and the Defense Minister, as well as some key Parliamentary leaders, I believe, the leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Parliament. You know, the U.S.-Hungarian relationship is really important. It is one that is at a very dynamic time right now. It is one that is being watched very carefully in Washington.

President Biden, of course, has sent Ambassador Pressman here, a fully empowered ambassador, the first time in several years that the United States has had an empowered ambassador that the President has sent to represent U.S. interests. And, so I think, you know, one of the topics of discussion is going to be the state of the U.S.-Hungarian partnership, which matters a great deal to us, and which we really want to get on a better and more productive path.

At the same time, as I mentioned, I've had a number of meetings and a couple days that I've been here, and, so, conveying some of the impressions to the people that I meet with. A number of them had messages that they wanted to see shared. You know, particularly when you have the chance to engage young people, I think those aspirations are very powerful. But I'm also very interested in what is on the mind of the Hungarian officials that I'm meeting. And so one of the things that we pride ourselves on in the Biden administration is coming with the strength of our convictions and our principles, but also with humility, and with a desire to listen and constructively engage.


REPORTER: AFP. Peter Murphy. Can you comment on the Hungarian Foreign Minister's comment on the U.S. ambassador's criticism of Hungarian position on Russia and on the war? He describes the U.S. Ambassador’s comments as irrelevant. It is irrelevant what the Ambassador says about Hungary, he seems to suggest that it was intervention to Hungary’s domestic policies when, in fact, he was talking about foreign policy. I don't know if you have a comment on that.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, Ambassador Pressman has been sent here by the President of the United States, he speaks on behalf of President Biden. He stands up for American interests and American values. He is also here very much on behalf of President Biden to move the U.S.-Hungary relationship into a more productive place.

But, you know, I think we should all be clear about what is happening next door. The Russian Federation, having lied about its intentions, for years, and then for months in the immediate run up to February 24th, is committing naked aggression on a sovereign member state of the United Nations. And not just that – [they are] pulverizing energy infrastructure in the dead of winter. Hungarians who live next door know better than anybody how cold it can get in the dead of winter, and what it means for the Russian Federation to intentionally try to decimate energy infrastructure. I think Hungarians who live right here can understand uniquely what that vulnerability would feel like. Russian forces have come in, and everywhere that they have been forced to withdraw from – because of the courage of Ukrainian people backed by the unity of the transatlantic community – every place from which they've been forced to withdraw they have left mass graves in their wake.

So this is not a time for hegemony. There is right, and there is wrong. There are war crimes being perpetrated against civilians next door. And when Ambassador Pressman or any U.S. official speaks in opposition to war crimes, that is in keeping with democratic values, and the human rights enshrined in every international legal instrument. And these are principles that all of us would ignore, at our own peril. At the parallel to our values, at the parallel to our economic welfare, and at the peril of our security.

MODERATOR: And one last question from [inaudible].

REPORTER: Have you met with any politician from [inaudible] opposition.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Any opposition politicians? No, I have not met with opposition politicians. I do have these meetings ahead with members of the government and the Parliament, so I'm looking forward to those meetings. But maybe if I could just address, you know, something that I have seen in some official statements, which are sometimes concerns about the support that the United States offers to independent institutions. And I just want to make very clear that the United States doesn't support anywhere in the world, opposition parties or opposition politicians, we support independent institutions. And independent institutions should never be conflated with opposition parties.

Because if you look back to the founding of democracy anywhere in the world, including in the United States, and the Federalist Papers, you understand that for democracy to function it is absolutely essential that there be independent institutions, that there be checks and balances. And so it is that belief in the health and importance of democratic institutions and checks and balances that animates U.S. work around the world, including work here in Hungary.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone. That's all the time we have, unfortunately. Thanks for coming.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.

Samantha Power Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Hungary
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