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14th Apr 2024

Letter

Right of Reply: Viktor Orbán's office responds to EUobserver

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Last week, following a closely watched military build-up, Russia attacked a sovereign, independent country bordering the European Union.

"Russia attacked Ukraine with military force this morning," said prime minister Viktor Orbán that day. "Together with our EU and Nato allies, we condemn Russia's military action."

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"Hungary's position is clear," said foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, referring explicitly to the outbreak of war. "We stand by Ukraine. We stand by Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Our condemnation was swift and categorical, the only reasonable response to such a grave turn of events, and we have voted in lockstep with every EU and Nato position since.

Unfortunately, one might think otherwise from certain reporting and rumors circulating as news in recent days. Some sources claimed that the community of ethnic Hungarians living in western Ukraine had begun to organize a referendum on independence.

Others accused Hungary of blocking certain EU sanctions, like the barring of Russian banks from SWIFT, and refusing to welcome refugees.

None of it was true, and while some of it can be chalked up to mistakes made in haste, it also reflected a negative bias among the Orbán government's critics and a politically motivated opportunism. After all, with general elections only a month away, campaign season is in full swing in Hungary.

So it seems like a good moment to push back on some of the distortions and clarify Hungary's perspective and the course of action we've chosen to take – and not take.

First of all, it is true that Hungary does not provide lethal weapons nor permit the transit of military aid to Ukraine through our territory.

Given its geographic proximity and the presence of a significant, ethnic Hungarian community living in western Ukraine, we proceed with great caution. If Ukraine receives weapons from, say, Hungary, as Szijjártó has said, then those shipments and the ones supplying them become a target.

"There's no need to encourage Hungary to send weapons to that region," Orbán said. "Those weapons might be used against Hungarian people; because there are Hungarians living in Transcarpathia, and soldiers are also being conscripted from there."

But more importantly, we place emphasis on stopping the war as soon as possible and initiatives that support peace.

Hungary, along with eight other EU members (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia), staunchly supports granting Ukraine EU candidate status as soon as possible.

We're encouraging the parties to return to the negotiating table to find a diplomatic solution.

That's why we've offered to host peace talks in Budapest.

At the same time, we have made it clear that all refugees from Ukraine are welcome in Hungary.

According to the latest reports, more than 120,000 people have crossed safely since last Thursday (3 March).

We expect the situation to become even more dire in the coming weeks, but as Orbán said during his visit to the border on Thursday, we have designated places around the country for these refugees where they will be provided shelter, food and even work in the long-run. "No one will be left uncared for," he said.

But welcoming refugees is not the only area where Hungary has been stepping up: The Hungarian government adopted the country's largest humanitarian aid package to date.

As a first step, Hungary earmarked HUF 600 million (more than €1.5m) in humanitarian aid, besides the more than HUF 200 million (more than €500,000) in support already raised through a national helpline.

The government is supporting charity organisations, including the Hungarian Red Cross and Hungarian Interchurch Aid, with no less than HUF 1.35 billion (more than €3.5m).

A few days after the outbreak of the war, Szijjártó announced that Hungary is sending 100,000 litres of fuel and 30 tonnes of food to the war-torn regions.

"The Russians are redrawing the security map of the continent," the prime minister said in an interview this week, and they are using military force to assert their will. But war is clearly not an acceptable path to any goal, he said, and "Hungary unequivocally condemns those who choose that path."

While we remain determined to avoid being dragged into this war, we will also do everything we can to help, to encourage the parties to pursue negotiations and to have peace prevail.

Instead of finger-pointing and stoking division, now is the time for all people of good will to step up and for the whole of Europe to work in unity for the end of this tragic war.

Author bio

Zoltán Kovács is spokesman for the Hungarian government. He was responding to this piece, among others Why Orbán won't really change his spots.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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