UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Continued Western criticism of Hungary on democratic and cultural issues makes the small European country’s right-wing government reluctant to offer support on practical issues, particularly strengthening NATO against Russia, Hungary’s foreign minister said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also said Friday that his country did not vote on whether to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO because Hungarian lawmakers were sick of those countries’ criticism of Hungary’s internal affairs.
Ruling party MPs plan to vote on the Finnish request on Monday, but “serious concerns” have been expressed about Finland and Sweden in recent months “mainly because of the very disrespectful behavior of the political elites of both countries towards Hungary”, Szijjártó said.
“You know, when Finnish and Swedish politicians question the democratic nature of our political system, that’s really unacceptable,” he said.
The vote on Sweden is harder to predict, Szijjártó said.
The EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has frozen billions in funds to Budapest and accused populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of suppressing media freedom and LGBTQ rights. Orbán’s administration has also been accused of tolerating an entrenched culture of corruption and co-opting state institutions to serve the ruling Fidesz party.
In a European Parliament resolution last year, EU lawmakers said Hungary had become a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Orban’s nationalist government and that its undermining of the bloc’s democratic values had taken Hungary out of the community of democracies.
That criticism sparked objections within Hungary and made it difficult for the government to support Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, Szijjártó said. Skeptics insist that Hungary was simply trying to win lucrative concessions.
When it comes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Szijjártó said that his country’s commitment to peace does not mean accepting that Russia will keep the territory it currently controls.
“You know, stopping the war and sitting at the table doesn’t mean you accept the status quo,” he said. “When the war ends and peace talks begin, it is not necessary for the borders to be where the front lines are. We know this from our own history… The ceasefire must come now.”
As for relations with the United States, Szijártó said they were at their peak under former President Donald Trump. Things were more difficult for his administration under President Joe Biden.
In perfect, almost unaccented English, Szijjártó explained that Hungary is a “clearly right-wing, right-wing, Christian Democratic, conservative, patriotic government.” He then continued with terms that would be familiar to millions of Americans.
“So we are basically anti-mainstream in all our attributes. And if you are against the liberal mainstream, and in the meantime you are successful, and in the meantime you continue to win elections, that is not digestible for the liberal mainstream itself,” he said. “Under President Trump, political relations have never been better.”
Key to that relationship was Trump’s acceptance of Hungary’s policy towards its own citizens. The government has banned the sharing of material with minors that it considers depicting or promoting homosexuality or gender reassignment.
Human rights groups and politicians from across Europe condemned the law as an attack on Hungary’s LGBT community.
Szijjártó said Trump welcomes such measures more than the Biden administration.
“He never wanted to impose anything. He never wanted to pressure us to change the way we think about family. He never wanted us to change the way we think about migration. He never wanted us to change the way we think about social issues,” said Szijjártó.
He also said that Trump’s stance on Russia would be more welcoming to some of today’s parties.
During Trump’s tenure in the White House, Russia has not launched “any attack on anybody,” Szijártó said.
Associated Press writer Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this report.