On Monday morning, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán outlined the challenges of 2023, in his words, the most dangerous year for Hungary, to the Hungarian chiefs of mission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Before the conference, the Prime Minister held a meeting with Minister Péter Szijjártó and the leadership of the ministry. He then briefed the ambassadors about the tasks for this 2023, a year marked by the dangers of war, inflation, and migration.
Although the PM’s press chief did not release any details as to what specific tasks the PM set for the ambassadors, we can make educated guesses, based on Orbán’s recent State of the Nation address. For one, it will be the task of ambassadors to further Hungary’s main foreign policy goals: to build friendly relations abroad and connect with the Hungarian communities living beyond the country’s borders.
Danger of War
The ambassadors will obviously have to argue for the country’s stance on the Russo-Ukrainian war in the countries where they are posted. During his State of the address, Viktor Orbán declared that if 2022 was the most difficult year, then 2023 will be the most dangerous year for Hungary since the fall of communism. The Prime Minister expressed concerns about two new dangers that lie ahead: war and inflation. Although Hungary would like to put an end to war, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is beyond its control, and the country must stay out of it. Regardless, Orbán emphasised that Hungary must let in Ukrainian refugees, as it is imperative as an act of basic humanity. The Prime Minister also stressed that Hungary cannot put the interests of Ukraine before its own, and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine does not mean cutting off relations with Russia. The chiefs of mission will most likely need to convincingly communicate that message as well.
Orbán also said Russian forces are not in a position to attack NATO and emphasised the importance of a sovereign Ukraine. However, he stated that this can only be achieved through an immediate ceasefire and negotiations. The Prime Minister criticised those who turn NATO into a war alliance instead of maintaining it as a defence alliance. He stressed that the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia deserves more respect, as many of them are dying on the front line while their symbols are being taken down and their leaders replaced in Ukraine. The Hungarian ambassador to Ukraine will clearly have the difficult job of working on the protection of the interests of ethnic Hungarians while also building good will and cooperation with the war-torn country.
Orbán warned that Europe is in the midst of drifting into war, and the danger of it is constant. He noted that the West could have followed the solution it created in 2008 and 2014 to reach peace, but has made a different choice, which is another argument in favour of a sovereign system of member states.
Foreign Investments Remain a Priority
Despite the high inflation, Orbán touted the Hungarian economy’s record-breaking achievements in 2022, such as the high employment rate, record-breaking exports, and record-breaking investments. As Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also emphasises repeatedly over the years, Hungarian chiefs of mission also have the important job of promoting business and trade relations with their host countries, in an ideology-free way. That is unlikely to change this year.
A Fraught Relationship with the United States
Hungarian Ambassador to the United States Szabolcs Takács will probably not have an easy time this year. Orbán criticised the US government in no uncertain terms in his address last Saturday. He accused the US of interfering in Hungary’s internal affairs by sending an ambassador who is trying to force Hungary into a pro-war stance. He contrasted this with what he sees as the more sensible approach of former US President Donald Trump, who he claims had arrived as ‘relief troops’ to support Hungary.
Orbán also said he was hopeful that democracy will prevail in Europe and that public opinion will increasingly demand peace and sanity. He suggested that the key to achieving peace is for the United States and Russia to sit down and negotiate, and that Hungary should stay out of further conflict while keeping its military prepared for any eventuality.