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Weeklies on Hungary’s conflicts with Western allies

March 6th, 2023

Opinions diverge on the rights and wrongs of the Hungarian government, but commentators agree that there is growing friction between Hungary and its partners in the Western alliance.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető accuses the government of ’spectacularly ignoring’ its own promises to the European Union by fast-tracking the new law on the Chamber of Physicians early last week (see BudaPost, March 1st). During the rule-of-law conditionality talks with the European Commission, he recalls, it promised to limit fast-track legislation to the strict minimum, but in this case, the law scrapping compulsory Chamber membership for physicians was passed within 24 hours after the bill was tabled. By contrast, Szerető adds, the decision on the ratification of Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership has been postponed by another two weeks (see BudaPost, March 4).

In one of its three editorials this week, Magyar Narancs likens the procedure used by the government against the Chamber of Physicians to the practices of ‘the darkest communist era’. Compulsory membership in the Chamber was scrapped after it called on doctors to sabotage the new on-call system being introduced by the ministry. Continued Chamber membership, Magyar Narancs writes, will thus amount to a demonstration of hostility towards the government, and they believe this will deter many doctors working in the public health system.

Heti Világgazdaság carries an interview with Anna Lührmann, who is in charge of European affairs within the German Foreign Ministry as a ‘Minister of State’. She tells the liberal weekly that relations between Germany and Hungary are tense at present because rule-of-law and foreign policy problems have isolated Hungary within the European Union. She describes the long-drawn-out process of NATO ratification as ‘a bad sign’.

In Jelen, Tamás Fóti writes about the growing unease of EU member countries with Hungary’s reticence over the sanctions being imposed on Russia because of the war in Ukraine. The latest case was Hungary’s attempt to take four Russian individuals off the list drawn up as part of the 11th sanctions package. Fóti suggests that they were religious leaders. (After the sanctions were approved by the European Council, Russia suspended visa-free travel for Hungarian diplomats.) The liberal commentator reports that angry EU politicians proposed to renew sanctions on Russia once a year rather than every six months in order to avoid repeated debates with Hungary. He believes that sanctions will eventually be renewed every nine months as a compromise.

In his Mandiner editorial, Mátyás Kohán rejects the accusation that the Hungarian government sides with Russia when it demands an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. He argues that the first time Hungary put forward that demand was when Russian troops were advancing, and the Hungarian side has always urged the parties to put an end to the fighting regardless of who was advancing and who was retreating. He believes that after a ceasefire, internationally supervised referenda should be held in disputed territories to decide where the border between the two countries should run. He calls such a stance clearly pro-Ukrainian as it is first and foremost the Ukrainian population that is suffering as a result of the war.

In Demokrata, Gábor Bencsik condemns the Russian aggression on Ukraine but believes that leading Western politicians have failed to ‘think with the head of the Russians’. Western intellectuals, whom he deems extremely influential among policymakers, should have known what the Russian reaction would be to Ukraine’s increasing commitment to an alliance with the West, and therefore, a compromise acceptable for all parties should have been found. Now, he predicts the war will drag on until one of the parties is exhausted – and the price will not be paid by those leading Western intellectuals.

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