On Thursday, an interview was published in weekly magazine 168 Óra with the outgoing Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Gajus Scheltema. In it, Scheltema was quite forthright in his criticism of Hungary’s media landscape, government attacks on civil society, the Hungarian government’s propaganda campaigns and anti-EU rhetoric, corruption and a “Marxist worldview” that dominates Hungarian politics.
Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, responded by accusing the Dutch ambassador of offending Hungary’s “dignity and sovereignty”. Szijjártó announced that Hungary would recall its ambassador to the Netherlands, and that ambassadorial-level relations would be suspended indefinitely. He demanded an apology from the Netherlands.
Upstart opposition party Momentum has announced that it will send a “high-level delegation” to Amsterdam in early September to meet representatives of several Dutch parties so as to strengthen the relationship between Hungary and the Netherlands.
“Momentum is dedicated to representing Hungarian and European interests, both at home and abroad,” reads a statement released by the party. “We cannot abandon the tens of thousands of Hungarians living in the Netherlands because of one interview. We do not need offended sulking by the government. Rather, we need strong friends and allies in Europe: the kind who will not shy back from sharing their criticism or praise. These relationships are particularly important in light of the growing Russian influence in Hungary, particularly at a time when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is making visits to Budapest repeatedly and regularly.”
Lajos Bokros, a former finance minister and chairman of Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMa), a small center-right party, also criticised Szijjártó’s spat with the Netherlands.
“Is Szijjártó’s head spinning, is that why he can’t see the world clearly?” Bokros asked. “Severing diplomatic ties with the Netherlands – one of Europe’s freest, richest countries which ensures one of the highest qualities of life for its people – is complete and utter lunacy.
“This kind of thing only happens in the stories. This perfectly nonsensical step, which will cause immense harm to our country, shows the Hungarian government’s real face. Now everyone knows that [this government] is the congregation of uncivilized idiots who constantly steal and lie.”
Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a leftist microparty, also criticised Szijjártó’s decision to undermine diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“The outgoing Dutch ambassador did not attack the Hungarian people or Hungary, he was criticizing the Fidesz government,” reads a statement on PM’s website. “When Gajus Scheltema stated, ‘We cannot fund a corrupt system, we cannot keep alive a corrupt system’, he was protecting the interests of the Hungarian people.”
Együtt (Together), a small center-left party, condemned Szijjártó’s response to the interview.
“The Netherlands is one of the largest investors in Hungary,” said Nóra Hajdu, Együtt’s deputy chairperson. “Dutch companies pay a lot of taxes in our homeland, and provide employment and livelihood for thousands of our fellow citizens. Holland is a founding member of the European Union and will play a key role in how Hungary’s interests will be received in the European Union in the future.”
Attila Ara-Kovács, a foreign policy advisor with the Democratic Coalition party (DK), held a press conference Friday and criticized the Hungarian response. According to Ara-Kovács, the Hungarian government’s behavior is a sign that Hungary is heading down a path that will inevitably lead to its departure from the European Union.
“This is unprecedented,” he said. “And it shows the importance of the upcoming election, where we must choose between Orbán and the European Union.”
As of the publishing of this article, neither the Hungarian Socialist Party nor Jobbik had commented on Szijjártó’s reaction.