Hungary prime minister hits out at EU interference in national day speech
Viktor Orbán on collision course with Brussels as his government attempts to revive aid talks to keep Hungary afloat
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, centre, delivers a speech in front of the parliament building in Budapest. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
Hungary's strongman prime minister, Viktor Orbán, delivered a stinging broadside against Brussels on Thursday, likening EU bureaucracy to Soviet tyranny and casting himself in the mould of Hungarian heroes fighting to free the country from foreign domination since the 19th century.
Locked in dispute with Brussels for more than a year over media freedoms, economic policy, the central bank, and the judiciary, Orbán put himself on a collision course with the EU just as his government is attempting to secure credits of €20bn (£17bn) to keep Hungary afloat.
Addressing tens of thousands of supporters on Hungary's national day, commemorating the 1848-49 uprising against Habsburg rule, the prime minister rounded on eurocrats whom he accused of illegitimate interference in the country.
"We do not need the unsolicited assistance of foreigners wanting to guide our hands," Orbán declared in a reference to Brussels' demands for legal and constitutional changes regulating Hungary's central bank, data protection laws, and the retirement age for judges on the supreme court.
Drawing a clear parallel between Soviet domination of Hungary until 1989 and the behaviour of the European authorities, Orbán said: "We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with shoulder patches."
Orbán enjoys the strongest democratic mandate in the EU, after a landslide election victory in 2010 that gave his Fidesz party a two-thirds majority in parliament. He has used the mandate to draft and rush through a new Hungarian constitution, crack down on media pluralism, and has been accused of authoritarianism and breaking the laws of the EU, which Hungary joined in 2004.
This week, EU finance ministers said they would withhold half a billion euros in funding for Hungary from next year because it was failing to get its budget deficit under control and violating EU rules on fiscal rigour.
The European commission is also threatening to take Hungary to court for breaching EU law, insisting the country amend its legislation to guarantee the independence of the central bank. The commission is also worried about media censorship and control and at moves to force judges to retire, a policy seen as enabling Orbán to rid himself of opponents in key institutions of power.
On Thursday, the prime minister rounded furiously on EU outsiders demanding changes. "Hungarians will not live as foreigners dictate, will not give up their independence or their freedom, therefore they will not give up their constitution either," he thundered in a speech with strong nationalist overtones.
"Freedom means that we decide about the laws governing our own life, we decide what is important and what isn't. From the Hungarian perspective, with a Hungarian mindset, following the rhythm of our Hungarian hearts. We will not be a colony."
The prime minister traced Hungary's freedom fight through the great revolutions of 1848 against Vienna, of 1956 against Soviet communism, and of 1989 when he played a starring role as a young student anti-communist leader.
The message was that Hungary was once more embroiled in a fight for its freedom and that Orbán was the heir to the heroes of Hungary's history. "In 1848 we said that we should tear down the walls of feudalism and we were proven right. In 1956, we said we have to crack, we have to break the wheels of communism and we were proven right," he declared.
"Today also, they look at us with suspicion. European bureaucrats look at us with distrust today because we said: we need new ways. We said we have to break out of the prison of debt and we also declared thatEurope can only be made great again with the help of strong nations. You will see my dear friends that we will be proven right yet again."
On Wednesday, Orbán wrote to the European commission requesting support for his attempts to secure crucial standby credits from the International Monetary Fund.
His speech advocated nationalism, protectionism, and reeked of chippiness, arguing that his country was getting a raw deal in the EU. "We have with us the silently abiding Europe of many tens of millions, who still insist on national sovereignty and still believe in the Christian virtues of courage, honour, fidelity and mercy, which one day made our continent great.
"As a thousand-year-old European nation we have one demand. We demand equal standards for Hungarians. As a European nation we demand equal treatment. We will not be second-class European citizens."