Tensions between Germany and Hungary have flared over remarks by the countries’ leaders, including references to Hitler’s occupation of the eastern European country in 1944 and an irritated German government response condemning Hungary’s allusion to the Nazi era as “deplorable derailment”.
The spat was set off last Thursday, when German chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin that, despite concerns about Hungary’s democratic deficits, she would not seek to resolve disagreements by “sending cavalry”.
“We will do anything to get Hungary onto the right path — but not by sending the cavalry right away,” Merkel said at the Europaforum WDR, an annual meeting of politicians, business leaders, and journalists.
Germany and the EU have repeatedly expressed concern at Hungary’s constitutional changes, which many have condemned as undemocratic.
Merkel’s mention of the cavalry was first and foremost a domestic reference to the leader of Germany’s opposition party, Peer Steinbrueck, who is running against her in general elections in September. Steinbrueck upset Switzerland in 2009 at the same event when he called for governments to use “the whip” against Swiss “tax havens” and said the Alpine nation faced the threat of the “cavalry”.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban responded to Merkel’s cavalry remarks a day later by referring to German tanks which invaded Hungary during World War II.
“The Germans have already sent cavalry to Hungary — they came in form of tanks,” said Orban. “Our request is that they don’t send any. It didn’t work out.”
This comment and a report on Spiegel Online headlined “Orban accuses Merkel of using Nazi methods” seemingly upset the German government so much that German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle yesterday accused Orban in a statement of “a deplorable derailment which we clearly reject”.
Earlier last week, Human Rights Watch urged the EU to ensure that Hungary changes its constitution and other laws to bring them in line with international norms on issues ranging from independence of the judicial system to the rights of the homeless.
Orban’s Fidesz party has used its two-thirds majority in the legislature to push through laws, including a new constitution, which critics say weaken the democratic system of checks and balances on the government’s power.
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