Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó held an extraordinary press conference this morning at which he announced that he has summoned Hungaryʼs ambassador to the Netherlands home for consultations after Dutch Ambassador to Hungary Gajus Scheltema voiced strong criticisms of the Hungarian government in a newspaper interview.
As reported by online news portal index.hu, Szijjártó said that the step signifies a severing of diplomatic ties with the Netherlands for an indefinite period at the ambassadorial level, although contacts remain in place at the chargé dʼaffaires level. He added that the move is “one of the most radical steps in diplomacy.”
In an interview with weekly current affairs magazine 168 Óra, published in Hungarian online Thursday here, the Dutch ambassador – who is departing Budapest after four years and heading into retirement – appeared to liken the attitude of the Hungarian government to that of terrorists.
“Here is a group whose members are the losers of globalization, and for this reason they have turned to extremism and fanatical religiosity because it gives them a sense of security. They create enemies by the same principle as the Hungarian government,” he was quoted as saying.
Scheltema also described the Hungarian governmentʼs world view as “classically Marxist,” and suggested that “everything is black and white” in Hungary.
“Here only pro and contra positions are possible; you are either with us or against us,” he commented. “Everyone is constantly looking for an enemy […] “…if someone doesnʼt agree with those in power, they are immediately seen as the enemy.”
Ambassador attacks ʼcheap propagandaʼ
Scheltema also touched on the subject of Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, on whom the Hungarian government has expended enormous resources in recent months to fashion into Public Enemy No. 1.
“George Soros can be condemned for many things, and itʼs enough to think of his speculative transactions,” he began. “At the same time, he deserves respect for the gigantic sums he has invested in democracy and the building of civil society. For this reason, the Hungarian governmentʼs extraordinarily intense and aggressive attacks against him are, to put it mildly, strange to every foreigner.”
The ambassador also took issue in the interview with the governmentʼs attitude to refugees and migrants.
“As a first step, a distinction has to be made between refugees and economic migrants. But here the government regards everyone as a migrant, and no one as a refugee,” he said. “In an absurd manner, the Hungarian governmentʼs campaign [against migration] works because if the danger is far away, it appears much bigger,” he added.
Scheltema also attacked the governmentʼs controversial anti-EU “Letʼs stop Brussels!” billboard campaign earlier this year, which triggered harsh criticism from other European Union states.
“There is no such thing as certain countries only profiting from the EUʼs money, but not being willing to contribute and help us in the challenges we face,” he said. “For the French and other ambassadors, the ʼLetʼs stop Brussels!ʼ poster is strange because it is attacking an organization which was created precisely to help your country among others. […] All this is cheap propaganda. And most Hungarians know it.”
Szijjártó warns of consequences
On Thursday, Szijjártóʼs initial reaction to the interview was to say “we hope he goes home quickly,” and that the ambassador would no longer be welcome at his ministry.
On Friday, the minister said the ambassador had made statements that show disdain for diplomatic customs, and “offend the dignity and sovereignty of Hungary.”
Szijjártó announced that, in addition to recalling Hungaryʼs ambassador from the Netherlands, he has directed Hungaryʼs temporary chargé dʼaffaires to personally reject the Dutch ambassadorʼs “slanders and unfounded pronouncements” at the Dutch foreign ministry on Monday, and to request an explanation. He argued that the interview was public, and thus requires a public explanation.
According to Szijjártó, to draw a parallel between the Hungarian government and terrorists is “an accusation that no one made even during the coarse debates of 2015, and amounts to sacrilege.”
“Hungary is not a punching bag,” he said. “A policy of submissiveness may have been customary in the past in Hungary, but it is no longer,” warning that “if the Dutch want to continue bilateral relations in this way, then we will carry on this way too.”
Szijjártó also warned that if the Netherlands does not issue an apology, then the Hungarian government will take further political and diplomatic measures.