US and Hungary exchange barbs over Clinton remark

May 22, 2016

Former President Bill Clinton speaks during a campaign event for President Barack Obama at the Waldorf Astoria, Monday, June 4, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Former President Bill Clinton speaks during a campaign event for President Barack Obama at the Waldorf Astoria, Monday, June 4, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A flurry of verbal attacks has been exchanged in recent days by prominent political figures in the United States and Hungary. The ballyhoo began last Friday when former President Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife Hillary in New Jersey,  made comments accusing Hungary of wanting “Putin-like leadership” and having “decided that democracy is too much trouble. Just give me an authoritarian dictatorship and keep the foreigners out.”

The statements provoked a strongly worded reaction from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, who said, “No one, not even Bill Clinton, can allow himself to offend the Hungarian people in this way.” The Polish foreign ministry also responded, calling Clinton’s comments “unfair.”

The dust-up enflamed an already volatile diplomatic situation between Hungary and the United States, and Western countries at large. President Barack Obama has openly criticized Hungary over its treatment of civil organizations, and the Fidesz-led government has been the subject of a prolific stream of admonishment from European heads of state, EU organizations and independent observers, since it took power in 2010.

Still, the Orbán government doesn’t seem to have gotten used to such resounding criticism from abroad.  Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár returned fire towards the United States on Thursday, claiming that Obama and the United States support illegal immigration, and want to fill Europe with as many Muslim immigrants as possible. He went on to advance his theory that George Soros is seeking political stooges in Europe and Hungary to advance his political agenda. Szijjártó went even further, accusing Soros of being behind Clinton’s words, and of informing American critique of Hungary.

Self-righteous, and indeed juvenile, reactions to criticism have come to be a hallmark of the ruling party’s methods of diplomacy. Designed to steer the discourse away from substantive critique, official reactions consistently put Hungary in the role of the victim. Clinton’s statements, however politically insignificant, intended to broadly indicate a rise in nationalist-populist politics à la Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán and Poland’s recently elected right-wing Law and Justice party.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he hadn’t heard about Lázár’s statements concerning America’s plan to fill Europe with Muslims, adding, “I’m not sure they are worthy of a response.”