időjárás 2°C Miklós 2023. december 6.

"I quite openly threatened them," says FM

Tóth Tamás Antal
2023.10.03. 20:42
"I quite openly threatened them," says FM

Slovakian election results, European Union political issues, relations with Russia, energy security in Hungary, war in Ukraine and good neighborly relations are some topics that Magyar Nemzet asked about in the interview with Hungary's Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto, who also told our newspaper what he would do with ambassadors who intervene in the internal affairs of the country in which they are stationed. The minister also made clear what could facilitate Sweden's NATO membership.

The interview took place on October 2, 2023.

One of the perhaps most important among recent developments for us, in Hungary, is Slovakia's national election results, which have both good and bad aspects.

First of all, we would like to express our joy, that our neighbor's election outcome is a good indication of the excellent chances for a stable Slovak government to be established. The nature of our relationship with Slovakia is a crucially important from a foreign policy perspective. There are several reasons for this: first of all, our longest border, 654 kilometers, is with Slovakia, so obviously it behooves us to establish the best possible cooperation. On the other hand, Slovakia is our third most important trade partner, last year trade turnover between the two countries totaled 17 billion euros. And thirdly, approximately 460- to 470 thousand ethnic Hungarians live there, who serve as a very important link between the two countries.

From our point of view, the most significant thing here is for Slovakia to again have a stable and predictable government, with which we can discuss important issues in the long term, along strategic lines, in the hope that we will be meeting with the same politician in subsequent meetings. It is also, of course, gratifying, that the head of the winning party openly represents a position very similar to that of the Hungarian government on the three key topics: the issue of peace, and the rejection of both migration and gender propaganda. These are three very pressing issues that Europe is grappling with today, and it is good to have an ally in the European debates. Of course, we would have been even happier if the party representing ethnic Hungarians in the southern part of the country had also made it into the Slovak parliament. Unfortunately, this did not happen, but at the same time, the party's performance is still to be applauded as at no time in the past 15 years has an ethnic Hungarian party and its party president received so many votes in the Slovak parliamentary elections. As for what conclusions can be drawn from all this, is not my business to decide.

European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, upon saying that they recognize the victory of Fico and party...

...And well they should...

Her next statement, however, was that Russia had decided the election.

When a patriotic politician or party who puts national interests first, and who is against the liberal mainstream in Brussels wins an election or has any chance of doing well in an election, the Brussels immediately turns up the pressuring, the attacks and the stigmatization. It is plain as day that today the political discourse in Europe has sunk to such a level that anyone who refuses to jump on the Brussels mainstream wagon, refuses to deliver weapons, or refuses to take the position of the European mainstream regarding the war in Ukraine, is immediately labeled a Moscow plant, Putin's friend, or a propagandist for the Russians. Quite simply, Brussels does not allow a platform for common sense, democratic debate on these issues.

 In light of the Slovak elections, the voices for peace seem to be getting stronger. What can we expect in Poland? There, too, there seems to be a growing sense of sanity regarding Ukraine.

We are very much rooting for our Polish brothers and sisters. And we wholeheartedly support the ruling party in pulling off yet an other election victory, because politics is an experience-based business. Standing on the grounds of mutual respect we have, together with the current Polish government, been able to effectively rethink and realize further development of expanding cooperation between Hungary and Poland in recent years. I am convinced that both countries benefited a lot from this. Of course, we have taken different approaches to the issue of the war in Ukraine, but this in no way hampers cooperation in other areas, such as taking very decisive measures against illegal migration, preventing the introduction of mandatory quotas or even taking a joint stand in support of family and Christian values. It is an entirely different question that is likely sobering for the Poles as well, that after being the country in Europe to help the Ukrainians the most, Kyiv initiated a lawsuit against Warsaw at the World Trade Organization, which is utterly inexplicable.

Sweden wants to become a NATO member. Is there an immediate danger that makes this so extraordinarily important? Also, how compatible with NATO principles is a country that refuses to respect the sovereignty of other member countries?

The main problem is that the Swedes have repeatedly insulted and disparaged the Hungarian parliamentarians. In order for Hungary to ratify Sweden's accession to NATO, the members of parliament are needed, so the approval is not up to the government. The government presented its proposal. I think that if I am asking for something from someone, or expecting something from someone, then at minimum I approach them with respect. By contrast, what has happened here in recent years? Several hundred kilometers to the north, Swedish politicians continuously referred to Hungarian democracy in arrogant and contemptuous terms, casting doubt on the democratic quality of the Hungarian political system, and depicted us as a dictatorship, or at least as having an autocratic system. A significant number of our members of parliament have successfully won their parliamentary seats four, five, or even six times already in elections. In an actual campaign and political contest, where actual people cast actual votes in a democratic contest - especially in the rural constituencies, where one cannot even avoid actually meeting the people and actually being called to account by them.


Yet, these representatives have to endure Sweden's - a country hundreds of kilometers from here - self-righteous and pompous preaching telling them that ours is not even a democracy. I think that after this, the position of the Hungarian members of parliament is entirely understandable that until these insults are resolved, they do not wish to deal with this issue for the time being. Especially, considering the fact that Swedish children are also being taught that the system in Hungary is not democratic.

You met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a week ago, at that time you said you had discussed their scandalous falsification of history regarding 1956. Or, more precisely, the question of what is being taught in Russia about the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. What did your Russian colleague tell you? Also, did he say why it was necessary to change the textbooks?

I brought up this question. It is unacceptable to describe the Hungarian heroes of the 1956 revolution as fascists. The fact that the people standing up for Hungarian freedom and Hungarian sovereignty are heroes. This is not open for debate at any level, because it is a fact. The foreign minister's colleague made it clear that in this matter, they take the statement made by President Vladimir Putin as authoritative. The Russian president's statement, which formulated a clear position, was made a few days before our meeting. At the same time, it is also evident that we will never be on a common denominator with the Russians in terms of the past. How could we come to a common denominator with those who experienced as liberation what we experienced as occupation. So, since we will never be able to reach common ground regarding the past, we must shape our relationship system with this in mind.

Energy issues were also topics at these meetings and discussions. Will we get cold in Hungarian apartments? Will there be supplies to refuel the car?

Hungary's energy supply is safe, because we were able to keep the cooperation between Hungary and Russia pragmatic and rooted in common sense. My Russian counterpart also assured me that the Federation and Russian companies will fulfill all their contractual obligations, which they undertook with regard to Hungary, and deliver the quantities of natural gas, petroleum and nuclear fuel stipulated in the contracts. So far, our experience has been in line with this statement. We are well prepared for the upcoming heating season, the capacity of Hungary's natural gas storage tanks is well above the European average, and the continuously arriving shipments also ensure the country's energy supply for the winter period.

In Brussels they want to override the institution of the veto right in the EU. For years, there has been a debate about whether a member country is free to have a differing opinion from the majority, or whether these differing opinions should be taken into consideration? And, also relevant here, is the fact that if the right of veto is abolished, the first vote immediately passed would be the migrant pact.

When we are called to account by Brussels over rule of law issues, it is ridiculous for two reasons. On the one hand, because it has no real basis. Hungary is a functioning democracy, a functioning state of law, we are no worse in this respect than any other European Union country. On the other hand, it is also ridiculous because these accusations come from a place where the rule of law is not applied in any manner.  Today, Brussels disregards the European rules that were clearly intended to preserve the unity of the European Union on key issues. Migration is one such an issue. This is a shameful procedure, which violates European rules and the principle of unanimous decision-making, and disregards the positions of the member states in order push through the distribution of migrants. With this, they are trying to wrest  from the hands of European countries the right to decide for themselves who they want to admit to their country and whom they are willing to live with. It is clear that such a decision can only be made if everyone agrees, and we do not agree to this.

 Speaking about the right of veto, it is Hungary and Poland at center stage now, but it is common sense to ask: do  other countries fail to see that any one of them can appear in this role at any time?

When these people speak honestly behind closed doors – not putting on an act for the public or  the liberal media, not fearing pressure from NGOs – they make it clear, especially the foreign ministers from smaller member states, that they, for their part, also insist on the unanimous decision-making mechanism.

Let's switch to diplomacy. When you appoint an ambassador or a diplomat, you give the Hungarian ambassador diplomatic tasks, or you send him or her to intervene in domestic politics, in, say, Berlin or Washington.

I appoint ambassadors to develop relations between the two countries in a way that yields benefits for Hungary. The ambassador's task is to build the best possible relationship between the two countries, so that Hungarian companies can do as much as possible to establish themselves in the market of the country in question, enabling Hungary to bring job-creating investment from that country, if possible.

I have expressly forbidden any ambassador – this is a rule here at the foreign affairs ministry – to participate in actions affecting the domestic politics of the given country, and they cannot even express an opinion on domestic political issues, because that is not their job. They are not paid for this, but to develop relations between the two countries. If there were an ambassador who interfered in any issue affecting the domestic politics of  a given country, took a stand or participated in a joint European action without my permission, then of course the move would entail immediate dismissal.

Now we have been talking about the US ambassador, about David Pressman...

...without naming him once. Obviously, the American ambassador always gets a lot of attention because he represents the United States of America. But he is not the only one. That is why I sat down with the ambassadors of EU member states before the parliamentary elections last year and told them clearly so that everyone could understand: they should not meddle in the Hungarian election process, should not act like governors, should not organize campaigns or state opinions, but simply refrain from interfering. This was leaked as if I had been making disguised threats. This is not true, because I threatened them quite openly, saying that interfering in the Hungarian election process would render our professional cooperation impossible. This should be as obvious as two times two equals four.

To close our conversation, let's look at the numerous questions related to Ukraine. First of all, there is the issue of the Hungarians living in Transcarpathia, which is the most important matter for Hungary. Then there is the issue of Ukrainian grain and Ukrainians suing Hungary. And then we have the question of Hungary's OTP Bank although there was a feeble attempt over the weekend at resolving the issue.

If the question is what our three biggest disputes with Ukraine are, then you have listed them. Firstly, it is unacceptable for a country seeking to join the European Union to continuously restrict national communities living on its territory in the exercise of their rights. It is also unacceptable for a country seeking to join the European Union to initiate legal proceedings against European Union member states over trade issues. It is also unacceptable that Ukrainians want Hungarian taxpayers' money, for example, from the European Peace Framework fund, while the bank that manages the accounts of a significant part of the Hungarian population, and that fundamentally determines the performance of Hungary's economy, is added to the list of international sponsors of the war. These are three disputed issues that would be very easy to resolve if the Ukrainians whad the will.

The rights of the ethnic Hungarian community to use their mother tongue have been significantly curtailed by the Ukrainian state since 2015. Restoring the rights of Transcarpathia's Hungarian minority to the 2015 level - nothing extra, just returning rights that already existed - depends solely on Ukraine. We cannot help with this, it is not us making the laws in Ukraine.

Removing Hungary's largest bank from the list they compiled, from the list of international sponsors of the war, again depends only on the Ukranians. They included the bank in the list, they can remove it. OTP Bank was added to the list for four completely false reasons, and when these four reasons turned out to be ridiculous and untenable to the outside world, Ukrainians began to set a series of new conditions, which is obviously blackmail.

Thirdly, the grain issue. In this regard, Ukrainians should realize that there was an agreement.  Since the Ukrainians cannot transport grain on the Black Sea to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and wherever it is needed, countries in Central Europe, including Hungary, have opened transit routes. Ukrainians bringing the grain here, flooding the Central European markets with it, ruining the livelihood of Central European farmers, making a big profit and then going home was out of the question. It was agreed that grain would pass through these countries to reach ports where it is loaded onto ships and taken where it is needed. We have made the necessary investments. Hungary has the largest transshipment capacity on Ukraine's western border.

Mainstream media reports suggest the intensity of aid to Ukraine shows some sign of fatigue. What do you perceive of this when you talk to colleagues in the back rooms? A growing number of people say that Ukrainians cannot show their gratitude.

I can tell you that the world outside Europe is very much looking forward to the end of this war, because there are many things they don't understand. For example, they do not understand how it is possible that the European Union takes a fantastic moral high ground, calling for peace, negotiations and an immediate end to violence whenever there is a war in a country outside Europe. However, when there is a war in Europe, the European Union is fueling the conflict and supplying weapons. Anyone talking about peace is immediately stigmatized. Nor do they understand why Europe has globalized this conflict. They don't understand why the war in Europe causes people in Asia, South American, African to pay the price in the form of skyrocketing inflation, high energy prices or disrupted food supplies.

Unfortunately, we have first-hand experience of some of these problems, which is why we are accorded great respect outside Europe. I encountered this appreciation several times at the UN General Assembly. There are colleagues in the Council of Foreign Ministers here, in Europe as well, who tell us behind closed doors, face to face, before council meetings, that we represent a superb position and that they hope we will succeed in getting it through. But when I ask them to say something in support, then they say that they can't do that, that they are under too much pressure and so on. So the political leaders in Europe are still in a war psychosis. On top of this, there is another important aspect. Facts show that Europe made extremely serious mistakes and brought extremely bad decisions regarding the war. The sanctions policy leading to the hurting of Europe's competitiveness is an example of the former while entering into an arms supply competition with the US is an example of the latter in the context of Ukraine. The more weapons we supply, the more people will die, and the longer the war lasts, the higher the damage will be. And the more sanctions packages we accept, the more we will harm Europe's competitiveness.

Those who forced these steps and caused damage must be held to account. How can political responsibility be established? Resignation? Obviously, European politicians currently in office do not want to make this move. In Slovakia, this was resolved by Slovak voters, who sent away previous leaders and elected others.

Cover photo: Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto (Photo: Andras Eberling)


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