Viktor Orbán adviser resigns after Hungarian premier’s ‘mixed race’ speech

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is facing a growing international backlash over inflammatory comments about race that led to the resignation of one of his close aides.

In his annual speech in Băile Tușnad, a Romanian town home to a large Hungarian community, Orbán warned against his country becoming more “mixed race” than in western nations. He said it was fine for nations in the Carpathian basin to mix among themselves, but not with “non-Europeans”.

The comments crossed a line for one of his longtime allies, sociologist Zsuzsa Hegedüs, who on Tuesday resigned from her role as an adviser on social inclusion, describing Orbán’s speech as “a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels”.

Hegedüs said she had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the Hungarian PM’s “illiberal turn”, with the latest remarks pushing her to end their friendship of almost 20 years, according to Hungarian media.

Orbán responded in a statement, saying his government had “a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and racism”.

In addition to the remarks described as “openly racist” by Hegedüs, Orbán also seemed to make light of Nazi gas chambers when referring to the EU’s gas reduction plans for member states: “I do not see how it will be enforced — although, as I understand it, the past shows us German knowhow on that.”

Zsuzsa Hegedüs

Zsuzsa Hegedüs, a longtime ally of Orbán. resigned in protest at his speech, describing it as ‘a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels’ © YouTube

Orbán’s comments were deemed “stupid and dangerous” by the International Auschwitz Committee of Holocaust survivors, which urged European leaders to distance themselves from the Hungarian PM. Romania’s foreign minister also condemned the comments and said it was regrettable that they were made on Romanian soil.

European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, said on Twitter on Wednesday that “we are all different, our skins are different, our languages, cultures, beliefs. And yet we are all part of the same race, the human race. Racism is a poisonous political invention. There should be no place for it in Europe where our strength comes from diversity.”

The backlash against Orbán comes as Hungary, which is struggling with a steep economic downturn, is seeking to mend ties with Brussels in order to unblock €15bn worth of EU pandemic recovery funds. Orbán in recent weeks had agreed to concessions on fighting corruption and weaning the country off Russian energy imports.

“I can’t imagine this helps Orbán’s case,” said an EU diplomat on Wednesday. “Hungary is becoming more and more isolated among the 27.”

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government sought to minimize the scandal, saying in a tweet that the “mainstream media elite are hyperventilating about a couple of PM Orbán’s tough lines about immigration and assimilation”.

Orbán is still due to speak next week at a gathering of US conservatives in Texas.

“Let’s listen to the man speak,” Matt Schlapp, chair of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), told Bloomberg. “We’ll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”

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