US diplomat lashes out at Hungary's Orban
Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, has indirectly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban for the “cancer” of “democratic backsliding”.
Speaking at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank in Washington, on Thursday (2 October), she said: “Central Europe is once again on the frontline in the fight to protect our security and values. And today, that fight is once again both external and internal”.
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She did not name Orban, but she alluded to his open criticism of Western sanctions on Russia.
“Implementing sanctions isn’t easy and many countries are paying a steep price”, she said.
“But … when [European] leaders are tempted to make statements that tear at the fabric of our resolve, I would ask them to remember their own national history, and how they wished their neighbours had stood with them”.
She also referred to Orban’s statement, made at a meeting of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Romania in July, that: “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations”.
“Even as they reap the benefits of Nato and EU membership, we find leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten the values on which these institutions are based”, Nuland said on Thursday.
With Orban also accused of restricting press freedom and cracking down on rights NGOs, she added: “So today I ask their leaders: How can you sleep under your Nato Article 5 blanket at night while pushing ‘illiberal democracy’ by day; whipping up nationalism; restricting free press; or demonising civil society?”
She spoke of the “twin cancers of democratic backsliding and corruption” in eastern Europe, which create “wormholes that undermine their nations’ security”.
She also hit out at EU states who are preparing to build South Stream - a Russian gas pipeline through the Western Balkans to Austria and Italy, involving Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia.
“I ask the same of those who … cut dirty deals that increase their countries’ dependence on one source of energy despite their stated policy of diversification”, Nuland said.
Her remarks come after US leader Barack Obama last month put Hungary in the same basket as Russia in terms of threats to civil society.
"From Russia to China to Venezuela, you are seeing relentless crackdowns, vilifying legitimate dissent as subversive. In places like Azerbaijan, laws make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate. From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society", he said at an event in New York on 23 September.