UNITED NATIONS (AP) -The right-wing populist government in Hungary attracts conservative thinkers from the United States who admire its approach to migration, LGBT issues and national sovereignty-all issues that have put the country at odds with its European partners, who do not see a conservative sanctuary but a worrying erosion of democratic institutions on several fronts.
Hungary’s top diplomat has a few things to say about it.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday alongside the UN General Assembly meeting with world leaders, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his country would not give up policies that have prompted the European Union to impose financial sanctions and initiate legal proceedings against it. over violations of the block’s values.
“We do not compromise on these issues because we are a sovereign country, a sovereign nation. And no one, not even the European Commission, should blackmail us about this policy, says Szijjarto.
Top list of controversial government policies: a controversial Hungarian law that, according to the EU, violates the fundamental rights of LGBT people. This led to the EU Executive Commission delaying billions of economic recovery funds earmarked for Hungary – a step that Szijjarto called “a purely political decision” and “blackmail.” The law, he says, is intended to protect children from pedophiles and “homosexual propaganda.” ”
“We will not compromise on our children’s future,” Szijjarto told the Associated Press.
The law, passed in June, makes it illegal to promote or portray the transmission of sex or homosexuality to minors under the age of 18 in media content. It also contains provisions that provide harsher punishments for pedophilia. Critics say it combines pedophilia with homosexuality and stigmatizes sexual minorities.
The measures were emphatically rejected by most European leaders. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, should withdraw from the EU if he did not want to follow its collective principles.
The conflict is only the latest in a protracted struggle with the bloc over what it sees as a lasting attack on democratic norms in Hungary – alleged corruption, media consolidation and increased political control over state institutions and the judiciary.
Last year, the EU adopted a regulation linking the payment of funds to its member states’ compliance with the rule of law – a measure strongly opposed by the Hungarian government, which argued that it was a way of punishing countries that violate the liberal consensus in Western Europe.
The EU’s concerns about Hungary deviating from democratic values have not been heard by several prominent American conservatives who have recently visited the country and praised Orban’s tough policies on immigration and violations of EU rules. On Thursday, Hungary hosted former US Vice President Mike Pence at a conference in Budapest on family values and demography, both of which are a key pillar of Hungary’s conservative policy.
“An approach (for population reduction) says that we should promote migration flows towards Europe. This is an approach we do not like, says Szijjarto.
In addition to strong opposition to immigration, the Hungarian government emphasizes traditional family values and opposition to the growing acceptance of sexual minorities in Western countries. It also presents itself as a guiding light for “Christian democracy” and a shield against migration from Muslim majority countries’ positions as it finds common ground with the former vice president.
“We know that Vice President Pence is very committed to this issue … with a strong Christian background, so that’s why we invited him,” Szijjarto said.
Despite Hungary’s stance on immigration, it evacuated more than 400 Afghan citizens who had helped Hungarian forces in Afghanistan after the country’s government fell to the militant Taliban last month. But Szijjarto said his country “will not take any more Afghans” and that no refugees will be allowed to cross Hungary’s southern border with the EU.
“We will not allow anyone to enter Europe illegally,” he told the Associated Press.
Pence’s visit to Hungary was just the latest in a series of anti-immigration right-wing Americans visiting Hungary, which its government increasingly portrays as a bastion of conservative values.
Tucker Carlson, the most popular presenter on the right-wing Fox News Channel, spent a week broadcasting from Budapest in August. While there, he praised Orban’s attitude to immigration, family values and national sovereignty. Carlson also paid a helicopter visit to visit a fortified fence along the country’s southern border.
On Wednesday, the Hungarian state news agency reported that Budapest would host next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, an annual gathering of mainly American conservative activists and politicians.
The Hungarian government, Szijjarto said, is “happy when American commentators come to Hungary. We are happy that when they come, they will see reality. ”
“The US press or media usually characterize us as a dictatorship, as a place where it is bad to live, and they write all kinds of fake news about Hungary,” he said. “But when these commentators come over, they can be confronted with reality.”
But while some of Hungary’s admirers see it as a guiding light, the EU’s economic pressure – which is intended to change Budapest’s behavior – represents an increased closure from the other side of the political spectrum.
Last week, Hungary sold several billion dollars in foreign currency bonds in an attempt to cover the costs of planned development projects, even if EU recycling funds are not released. This, together with economic growth, means that Hungary’s budget is “in pretty good shape”, said Szijjarto, enabling flexibility with the country’s central budget without the need for EU funds.
“Hungarian people should not be afraid of any loss suffered by this political decision of the European Commission,” Szijjarto said.
As national elections next spring are expected to be the biggest challenge for Orban’s power since he was elected in 2010, the Hungarian government is addressing divisive issues such as migration, LGBT rights and the COVID-19 pandemic that could mobilize its conservative voting base.
On Thursday night, in his speech to world leaders at the UN, Szijjarto drew parallels between migration and the pandemic, saying the two together formed a “vicious circle” where the health and economic effects of the virus’ spread would lead to more people “moving away.”
“The more people involved in the migration flows, the more accelerated the virus will spread,” he told the UN Assembly. “So nowadays, migration poses not only the already well-known cultural, civilizational or security-related risks, but also very serious health risks.”
Hungary’s law affecting LGBT people will be accompanied by a national referendum ahead of elections on the availability of gender reassignment procedures for children and on sex education in schools. Szijjarto said the referendum would provide “strong argumentation in the debates” with the EU on the law and a mandate from voters for the government to stick to its policy.
“The best ammunition a government can have during such a debate,” the minister said, “is a clear expression of the will of the people.”
Justin Spike, based in Budapest, covers Hungary for the Associated Press. He is on assignment this week at the UN. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jspikebudapest