Coronavirus, Iranian students and the Orbán regime’s friendship with the Islamic Republic

According to the Hungarian media currently there are 19 individuals infected with the coronavirus in Hungary. Nine of them are Iranians.  (Read more here in Hungarian.)

How did the Iranian coronavirus arrive to Hungary?  The answer will lie in Hungary’s foreign policy and its blossoming friendship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iranian students protest in 2018 in front of the Iranian Embassy in Budapest against Teheran’s Human Rights abuses.

PM Orbán frequently talks in disparaging terms about Muslims in his speeches, mostly in Hungarian and primarily for domestic consumption. He talks about primitive hordes of Muslims invading Hungary from the East or about uneducated Muslims unable to accept western values.  Hungary should avoid these migrants because they are unable to integrate into European societies.

But when authoritarian Orbán travels to the Middle East his rhetoric changes dramatically.  In December 2015 he led a 120-member delegation to Teheran and upon arrival he expressed his admiration for the sophistication of the Islamic culture.  He assured his hosts that Hungary is a good friend of the great Islamic nation.  He did not mention that Iran is one of most oppressive regimes today; Human Rights organizations frequently criticise their policies and practices.

When Orbán met with President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian politician said “that the origin of terrorism lies in the big powers’ meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.”  So Rouhani accuses the United States of inciting terrorism in the region.  Orbán nodded and replied, “Unfortunately, there is no common and positive trend in the West to resolve regional issues through consultation and cooperation with major countries such as Iran.”

Three years later in May 2018, Iran was one of the first countries to congratulate Orbán on his reelection. Iranian first VP Es’hagh Jahangiri wrote that he was very satisfied with the increased cooperation between the two countries and hoped to cement further ties in other areas by implementing new agreements during Orbán’s new tenure.

Hungary and Iran have expanded their relations especially in higher education.  Orbán said that “Hungary definitely wishes to establish communication between Iranian and Hungarian youth.”   Today there are over 2,000 Iranian students living in Hungary; some of them on Hungary-paid scholarships.

Today Iran is one of the epicenters of the virus outbreak and it is suspected of covering up the full scope of the disease there.  Students frequently fly between Teheran and Budapest and it is now suspected that this travel may have introduced the novel coronavirus to Hungary.  According to Budapest media reports all infected Iranian students attended the same birthday party recently.

György Lázár

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