Ezra spoke with sociologist and sinologist Dr. Eric Hendriks at the Tuo Festival in Romania, an ethnic festival for Hungarian Romanians. He met Dr. Hendriks at the Danube Institute, a think tank in Budapest with the aim of “encouraging the transmission of ideas and people within the countries of Central Europe and between Central Europe, other parts of Europe, and the English-speaking world.”
The two spoke about the tension between America and Hungary over Hungary’s more conservative values which conflict with the Biden administration’s left-wing policies. Ezra asked how China is in some ways filling the void, at least economically, left behind by America.
Dr. Hendriks explained:
Hungary has gotten such a prominent role in the American culture wars. So if you talk to people on the American, right, you often hear positive opinions about Hungary. If you talk to people on the American left, you often hear negative opinions and I, I think that other countries in Europe do not have such a pronounced position.
Ezra then asked him for an explanation about how Hungary balances their relationship with the United States with their relationship with China. He responded:
I think it's fair to say that the Hungarians I've met feel very close to the United States and closely follow American politics, and there are a lot of intellectual and political affinities and sympathies. For China, the reaching out towards China is part of a more general outreach campaign. Hungary doesn't want to have the sense that it is on the edge of civilization. It wants to be the center of something and therefore it has been reaching out in various directions… So Hungary is involved in multiple culture war conflicts and therefore needs to look for friends everywhere.
Ezra questioned if Hungarians share the same worries about industrial espionage, Chinese corruption, and financial corruption that North America and the rest of Europe have. Dr. Hendriks responded:
Well, Hungary is a small country. It has just over 10 million inhabitants. It has a mid-size economy for Central European standards. So, I mean, it's an interesting place otherwise I wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have come and visited the Hungarian community if it wasn't an interesting community at the same time, it's a small country. So it doesn't play on this really large geopolitical level.
So when you look at the world from an American point of view, or even from a Canadian point of view, you're looking at a really big geopolitical chess board and that's just not the dominant framing looking at the world from Hungary because these large rivalries are not really Hungary's concern. Hungary is just a mid-sized European country in central Europe. So I think, I think that's the real difference.
Dr. Hendicks explained that Hungary’s sympathy with China is not ideological because of the country’s previous experiences with communism:
Because ultimately, there is, there are not a lot of ideological sympathies between a country like Hungary and a country like China. China has a Leninist is led by a Leninist Party State. Hungary has very negative experiences in the past with communism as you, as you well know. So it's not an ideological sympathy, but there are important trade relationships being set up.