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Orbán’s remark on German tanks sparks criticism

May 22nd, 2013

A left wing columnist calls on the Prime Minister to apologise for his latest remark on German criticism of constitutional changes in Hungary. A centrist commentator suspects that the real cause behind the divergence of views is Mr Orbán’s scepticism towards Ms Merkel’s vision of a federal European Union. A right-wing pundit blames western media outlets for spreading lies about Hungary.

The German press has commented with indignation on a recent remark by Prime Minister Orbán in which he  compared German concerns over developments in Hungary, to the invasion of the country by Hitler’s Germany in 1944. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry denied reports that the statement was a reference to Ms Merkel. In a debate with her Socialist rival Peer Steinbrück, Merkel disagreed with Steinbrück’s opinion that Hungary’s eventual expulsion from the European Union should not be ruled out. Hungary should be “led back onto the right path”, she said, but “we shouldn’t send in the cavalry right away” (a passing reference to Mr Steinbrück’s earlier statement on Switzerland, in connection with German bank accounts there, meaning that she finds the Socialist candidate for Chancellor a bit hot-headed). When asked by a radio journalist about that exchange of views, the Prime Minister said “we have already had their cavalry here, in the form of tanks, and it didn’t work out well”. Liberal German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called that remark “a mistake that we must reject”. Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Gergely Prőhle told MTI Hungarian News Agency that the Prime Minister’s words clearly referred to Mr Steinbrück, as Ms Merkel is opposed to “sending in the cavalry”.

Népszava’s János Dési says the remark was rude and Merkel had in fact tried to defend Hungary against her opponent. This might have been a simple gaffe – such things happen, he says, recalling former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s unfortunate joke on the Saudi football team (Mr Gyurcsány said “Hungary fearlessly stood up to terrorists”, and was forced to apologise.) The right thing to do, Dési continues, would be to apologise. Turning against Germany, he concludes, is not the wisest thing to do – Mercedes and Audi CEOs (running plants in Hungary) might feel somewhat uncomfortable in that case.

Véleményvezér agrees: despite all the rhetoric about foreign business interests, Hungary has treated her most important German partners – Mercedes, Audi, Bosch as well as other industrial companies – with utmost deference. If Merkel has problems with Hungary, it is not business interests which have been hurt, but Orbán’s resistance to her – and other European leaders’ – vision of a federal Europe. Orbán is not alone in this, of course, but David Cameron’s Britain or Finland are far less dependent on German economic ties, Véleményvezér concludes.

In Magyar Nemzet (print edition), István Lovas contends that western papers print regularly lies about Hungary. To underpin his thesis, Lovas mentions the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which claims that Jewish activists are regularly harassed by the AVH (actually the name of the Communist political police until 1956). Then he cites the Vienna daily Der Standard, which has suggested that Fidesz  governs in coalition with the far right Jobbik party, and finally he mentions Italy’s highest circulation daily, La Repubblica which misquoted PM Orbán’s remark on Germany as if he had actually said that “Angela Merkel is like Hiltler , and is treating Hungary like Hitler did when he invaded it”.

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