Orbán builds “spiritual iron dome” over Hungary, according to Norwegian minister

Norway’s minister in charge of European affairs, Vidar Helgesen, is calling upon European leaders to take more decisive action against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s growing authoritarianism, noting that the country’s leader was busily building “a spiritual iron dome” and was turning his back on the West. Mr. Helgesen published his thoughts in the form of a letter to the editor, submitted to the Financial Times. In this he wrote:

“Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said that it was in Hungary that the first stone was removed from the Berlin Wall.This month marks 25 years since Hungary opened its borders to the west and set the reunification of Europe in motion. Today, Hungary’s government is turning its back on the west. (…) High quality global journalism requires investment. While not a member of the EU, Norway is closely integrated with the EU and deeply committed to the values that underpin European integration. These values are now being challenged by the Hungarian government, a member state and a recipient of massive EU funding. Given this situation, I am puzzled and disappointed that a response from the EU institutions has been largely lacking.”

Vidar Helgesen. Photo: nrk.no.

Vidar Helgesen. Photo: nrk.no.

In contrast to the European Union (which in over four years has not been able to muster an effective response to Mr. Orbán’s abuses), Norway took relatively decisive action by freezing transfers of aid to Hungary from the Norwegian Fund.  Mr. Helgesen lists some of Mr. Orbán’s most blatant abuses over the years, including his decision to replace the heads of the judiciary and public institutions with local party stalwarts, the implementation of tight media controls, as well as attacks on civil society and the NGO sector. Earlier this year, Mr. Orbán accused the Norwegian Fund of backing left-wing opposition groups in Hungary. As part of these accusations, the Orbán regime used the country’s tax authorities to launch retaliative, punitive actions against key NGO’s, including the Ökotárs. The government claimed that Ökotárs was under the influence of the opposition party Politics Can Be Different (Lehet Más a Politika – LMP).

“High quality global journalism requires investment. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the EU should demonstrate in no uncertain terms that it will not accept the re-establishment of an illiberal state within its borders,” added Mr. Helgesen.

Péter Szijjártó, parliamentary secretary for Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to Mr. Helgesen by suggesting that as a minister of a country that is not a member state of the EU, it is not his business to worry about the state of democracy within an EU member state, nor critique the European Union for its perceived inaction. Mr. Szijjártó added that Mr. Helgesen’s statements “lacked credibility and were based on vague generalities.”

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