Budapest, Hungary – “It was with a deep sense of pride, as well as some sadness, that I informed President Trump and [Hungarian] Foreign Minister Szijjarto that I will be stepping down, “ announced David Cornstein, the current US ambassador to Hungary, last week.
The statement published on the website of the US Embassy did not provide a reason for his departure.
A former businessman with no prior diplomatic experience, Cornstein was the ninth US Ambassador to Hungary appointed since the fall of communism in the Central European country.
Coming to Budapest, Cornstein’s main task at hand was to protect Central European University (CEU), an American institution founded by billionaire George Soros, from being kicked out of the country.
CEU’s struggle to stay in Budapest began when the Hungarian government introduced legislation which would make it impossible for CEU to issue academic degrees in Hungary.
After meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in September 2018, Cornstein victoriously announced that he managed to strike a deal that would keep CEU in Hungary.
With Donald Trump elected as president of the United States, Washington reconsidered some of its foreign policy relationships and priorities.
Breaking with the tradition of isolating autocratic leaders followed by Trump’s predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump began engaging with Orban.
According to CNN, Cornstein, a close friend of Donald Trump, “was instrumental in arranging a meeting between Orban and Trump in May 2019”, hailed as a significant diplomatic achievement by Hungarian authorities after years of being snubbed by the White House.
Yet cozying up to Orban was all but successful. The Prime Minister of Hungary, who has long scapegoated Hungarian-born CEU founder George Soros as his bête-noire, defied the wishes of Washington, which resulted in the Central European University being forced out of Budapest.
In his leaving statement, David Cornstein, whose lavishing praise of Orban and controversial policy statements have drawn numerous controversies throughout his tenure as US ambassador to Hungary, said that he is proud of “how much we have accomplished together in strengthening our countries’ bonds as allies.”
But with CEU gone, and the many American students and teachers with it, Cornstein’s legacy is likely to be the exact opposite.