28th Sep 2023

Hungary follows Turkey with new row on Sweden's Nato entry

  • Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó in St Petersburg (Photo: Nina Zotina/RIA Novosti)
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Hungary is now threatening to halt Nato's war-time expansion over a 10-minute Swedish video it doesn't like.

The clip "definitely does not help your continuously raised demand to be fulfilled," Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó told the Swedish foreign minister personally by letter on Thursday (14 September), referring to Sweden's request for Hungary to ratify its Nato bid.

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The clip was "fake informations [sic]" that "democracy has been on a backslide in Hungary in the recent years [sic]," Szijjártó added in his formal complaint on heraldry-emblazoned stationery, a photo of which was leaked to media.

The offending video was produced by UR, a Swedish public-service education broadcaster.

It says nothing that isn't widely acknowledged in Europe.

The European Commission has initiated sanctions against Hungary and withheld billions of euros due to prime minister Viktor Orbán's thuggish rule. The European Parliament has said Hungary is "no longer a full democracy".

But on Thursday half of Orbán's government was suddenly up in arms about the brief Swedish film.

"Shocking Swedish government-approved educational video attacking Hungary! How do we convince Hungarian MPs to support Sweden's [Nato] membership when our democracy is repeatedly questioned, insulting our voters?", thundered the PM's chief political advisor Balázs Orbán on social media.

Gergely Gulyás, a senior MP from the ruling party, added: "If the film is played in state schools, it means that Sweden is doing everything to prevent Hungary from ratifying its accession to Nato".

The sudden uproar comes after Hungary said it was ready to proceed with ratification at a Nato summit in July.

And the apparent U-turn is making it look silly in the international arena, according to Ágnes Vadai, an MP from the opposition Democratic Coalition party.

"This is not embarrassing but humiliating for Hungary, what Szijjártó is doing," she told EUobserver.

Sweden is trying to follow Finland into Nato to protect itself from potential Russian aggression in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year.

Turkey is the only other Nato ally who hasn't ratified Swedish accession yet.

For his part, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also promised at the Nato summit to ratify the Swedish bid in October.

But he, like Orbán, is now raising fresh doubt on his commitment, amid Turkish demands the US sells it high-tech F-16 warplanes first.

Orbán has been accused of carrying water for his friend Erdoğan in Turkey's negotiations on Sweden and Budapest is still expected to move when Ankara finally makes up its mind.

Orbán also has friendly ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who speaks of Nato enlargement as a cause for wider war in Europe.

But assuming the F-16s purchase can be resolved amicably, Erdoğan is seen to keep his October promise and Orbán to follow his lead.

Looking at the Turkish situation, Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official, said: "There is no reason for Erdoğan now to hold up Swedish Nato membership".

"The [Turkish] elections are over, he has scored all his points about Kurdish-linked terrorism in the EU, he has improved his credentials among Muslims and he wants to re-energise Turkey's stalled negotiations on EU membership," Shea added, referring to Erdoğan's pre-summer punch-up with Sweden over Kurdish dissidents and Koran burnings.

"Erdoğan also has no reason to be nice to Putin, who has consistently refused to renew the Black Sea grain deal, one of Erdoğan's proud diplomatic achievements," Shea said.

The grain deal was meant to secure food supplies for poor countries in Africa and beyond despite the war.

But Putin pulled out of it in July and bombed Ukrainian grain silos in order to do bilateral food deals with Russia-friendly African states instead.

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