At a press conference held in the Hungarian parliament on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán emphasized the need for a joint strategy on the conflict unfolding in Ukraine, as well as in diversification of energy supplies to Europe. Merkel expressed her hope that Hungary “will comply with some of the practices of Germany with regards to civil society and the freedom of the media.” In response to a question from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on what Angela Merkel’s and Viktor Orbán’s position is on “illiberal democracy,” Merkel expressed that a democracy can only be liberal, and the roots of her governing Christian Democratic Union are undoubtedly liberal as well, and therefore the notion “illiberal democracy does not make any sense” to her. To her visible dismay, Orbán openly disagreed with this, repeating that he believes “democracy is not necessarily liberal.”
Merkel opened her statement by congratulating Hungary on the improving macroeconomic results, emphasizing the contribution of large-scale German enterprises and investments to the Hungarian economy. She also said that Hungary and Germany agree Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be violated, and the two countries will seek diplomatic solutions to the conflict, but supplying weapons to the Ukrainian army is “out of the question.”
The US already provides Ukraine with anti-tank and other weapons.
Addressing the issue of energy safety, Merkel emphasized that Hungary provided Ukraine with the necessary gas supplies from its own reserve. She also mentioned that Hungary is “not the only country dependent on energy supplies from Russia,” and this was not a valid argument for Hungary’s closer ties with Russia.
The official purpose for Merkel’s trip to Hungary was to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Szeged. A number of official meetings took place after the event, making the short visit extremely busy for the German Chancellor.
Upon accepting her honorary doctorate, Merkel briefly addressed the issue of media freedom and civil society in Hungary. She said plurality and civil society discussions are core values of the European Union, and it “should not be afraid of them.” Merkel added that “calling civil society workers foreign agents is not in accordance with these values.” Her comment was a reference to an earlier statement by Orbán that some civil society political activists are “political agents paid from abroad.”
According to her official program, Merkel held talks with leading German investors and businessmen followed by talks with representatives of Hungary’s Jewish community. There was a reported controversy surrounding her visit to the Dohány Street Synagogue, as Orbán expressed his desire to accompany the German leader there. The idea was allegedly dismissed by the Germans, citing the Hungarian government’s fallout with the Jewish Federation over the government-financed “Monument to the Victims of the German Occupation” erected last year in Budapest’s Szabadság square amid significant protest from Hungary’s Jewish community, which subsequently boycotted Hungary’s official Holocaust Year commemorations.
Merkel became the first German Chancellor to visit the site of the infamous Pest ghetto and pay homage to those who died there at the hands of German soldiers and Hungarian fascists during WWII. Taking place just weeks after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Pest ghetto, her visit is regarded as a symbolic act of contrition and reconciliation.
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