Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is facing backlash after a speech arguing that Europeans should not “become peoples of mixed race,” although the far-right leader is still slated to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas next week.
The comments, made by Orban during an annual address to members of the Hungarian minority in Romania on Saturday, prompted immediate outrage among his critics and unease among some of his supporters. The most consequential fallout so far came on Tuesday, when Zsuzsa Hegedüs, a sociologist and longtime adviser to Orban, submitted a public resignation letter.
“After such a speech, which contradicts all my basic values, I was left with no other choice,” Hegedüs, who is Jewish, wrote to Orban in a letter published by the hvg.hu news site.
Orban’s views on immigration and multicultural societies were no secret: He said in 2015 that Muslims threaten Europe’s Christian identity, and in 2017 his government erected a border fence to keep Syrians and other immigrants out.
But his latest provocation appeared to have hit a nerve in a way it rarely did even at the height of the 2015 immigration influx into Europe.
Hegedüs characterized Orban’s speech as “a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels,” and the “racist” culmination of an increasingly “illiberal turn.”
A Hungarian government spokesman denied those accusations, accusing “the mainstream media elite” of “hyperventilating about a couple of tough lines about immigration and assimilation.”
Orban directly addressed Hegedüs in a response, writing: “You can’t be serious about accusing me of racism after 20 years of working together.” He added that his government “follows a zero-tolerance policy on both antisemitism and racism.”
As of Wednesday, Orban was still expected to be a keynote speaker at CPAC.
“Let’s listen to the man speak,” conference organizer Matt Schlapp told Bloomberg News, even as criticism of the Hungarian leader mounted.
The International Auschwitz Committee of Holocaust survivors was among the organizations that demanded consequences. It criticized Orban’s remarks as “stupid and dangerous” and called on other E.U. leaders to “make it clear to the world that [a leader like] Mr. Orban has no future in Europe.”
Orban still maintains a tight grip on politics in Hungary, where he was reelected for a fourth consecutive term in April. But his government is increasingly isolated within the E.U., the bloc of 27 member states of which his country is a member.
Hungary has been a major beneficiary of E.U. subsidies, which have continued despite concerns over efforts to undermine independent judges, a free press, political opposition and civil society under Orban’s government. But Brussels has signaled that it plans to take a tougher stance going forward. The E.U. has withheld some payments to the country from a pandemic recovery fund, and a court ruled earlier this year that the bloc can legally withhold broader subsidies if Hungary is found to have violated the rule of law.
“How long till we cut his funding and power?” Guy Verhofstadt, an influential Belgian member of the European Parliament, said in response to Orban’s speech.
The foreign minister of Romania, home to a large Hungarian minority, also condemned Orban’s remarks, and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans tweeted — without naming the Hungarian leader — that “racism is a poisonous political invention.”
Even the countries or leaders that in the past would have jumped to Orban’s defense, including Poland’s main right-wing ruling party, remained silent in the wake of his comments.
The Polish government — once a reliable ally for Orban because of their shared E.U. skepticism — has been increasingly at odds with the Hungarian leader over his stance on the war in Ukraine. Whereas Poland has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine, supplying heavy weapons and hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees, Orban has upheld close ties to Russia.
As most of Europe is rushing to wean itself off Russian natural gas supplies, Orban’s government wants to purchase more of it. Hungary was the only E.U. country to vote against the bloc’s rationing plan on Tuesday, two European officials told The Washington Post.