by Mark Porter
Cannes, July 28, 2022 (updated 01/08/22)
Viktor Orbán, 59, veteran Hungarian prime minister and Putin cheerleader, is hardly renowned for his restraint. His regular anti-EU outbursts had thus far been tolerated in Brussels – though only just, and through gritted teeth. Has he now gone too far?
Speaking to ethnic Hungarians in Tusnádfürdő, Transylvania – as he does annually and in defiance of Romanians who think the place has been theirs since 1920 – Orbán denounced the EU´s approach to the Putin war in Ukraine, praised his hero Donald Trump, and railed about “mixed-race” populations and the “flooding” of Europe with non-European migrants. He referred to the notorious concept of “population exchange,” causing his longstanding (Jewish) friend and adviser to resign in protest at “a pure Nazi speech …worthy of Goebbels.”
But Zsuzsa Hegedüs, a sociologist who was Orban’s special representative on social inclusion and modernisation, promptly “un-resigned” after Orbán withdrew the remarks during a state visit to Vienna a few days later.
“Sometimes,” he said in Austria, carefully and ambiguously, after unleashing fury across Europe: “I make ambiguous statements. That happens.
“But I asked the (Austrian) Chancellor to kindly put all this information into a cultural context, because in Hungary these expressions, phrases, and the position I represent is a cultural, civilisational position…I am proud of the results that Hungary has achieved in the fight against racism in recent years”.
Mrs Hegedus, daughter of parents who survived the Holocaust, as few of Budapest’s huge Jewish population did, had denounced the speech as a ”pure Nazi text” which showed clear ”racial hatred.” and was ”completely unacceptable.’ ‘When she resigned, the International Auschwitz Committee called Orban’s statements “stupid and dangerous,” and reminded Holocaust survivors of the “dark times of their own exclusion and persecution.”
Hungarian Chief Rabbi Robert Frölich said there was “only one species on earth that walks on two legs, works, speaks, and occasionally thinks: homo sapiens — that is a single and indivisible race.”
Zsuzsa Hegedüs, one of Orbán’s longest-serving advisers, has known Orban since 2002. However, in her resignation letter – published by the Hungarian news outlet hvg.hu on Tuesday – she said she had become increasingly uncomfortable with Orbán’s “illiberal turn” in recent years.
European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, said on Twitter: “Racism is a poisonous political invention. There should be no place for it in Europe where our strength comes from diversity.”
The backlash against Orbán comes as Hungary tries to unblock €15bn worth of EU pandemic recovery funds. For that fairly evident reason, Orbán in recent weeks had agreed to concessions on fighting corruption and weaning the country off Russian energy imports.
But a EU diplomat told the AEJ: “I can’t imagine this (affair) helps Orbán’s case. Hungary is becoming more and more isolated among the 27.” With the populist far right once again threatening to rear its head in Italy, there are deep worries across Europe about the shifting of political plates.
Until his behaviour became intolerable, Orbán’s obvious shift to the nationalist right was long tolerated by the centre-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament simply because his Fidesz party’s votes were politically useful.
Anti-migration rhetoric has been a key part of Orban’s political platform since 2015, and he frequently uses proto-fascist language. But the speech in question – in which he denounced “race mixing” – was extreme even by his standards.
A one-time young firebrand who denounced Soviet domination in Easter and Central Europe, Orbán has long since turned into a pro-Russian nuisance, or worse. His refusal to join other EU countries in sanctioning Russia over Ukraine has been shameless and troubling. But it has certainly been rewarded with continuation of Hungary’s cheap gas deal.
- Day 155 of War in Ukraine
- Deutsche Welle 27/07/22 “Pure Nazi” speech triggers political earthquake
- New Yorker 04/07/22 Does Hungary offer a glimpse of our authoritarian future?
- Politico 03/03/21 EPP Group finally kicks out Fidesz