Hungary’s Orban visits Austria after ‘race’ row

Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrived in neighbouring Austria on Thursday for a one-day visit after sparking a storm of criticism with comments against creating "peoples of mixed-race".

Hungary's Orban visits Austria after 'race' row
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (L) is welcomed by Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (R) in front of the Federal Chancellery during Orban's official visit to Austria in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer vowed to discuss the row with Orban, saying the Hungarian’s comments last Saturday were “of course to be criticised.”

“Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t shy away from direct dialogue,” Nehammer said on Wednesday.

The International Auschwitz Committee has urged the European Union — and Nehammer specifically — to distance themselves from “Orban’s racist undertones”.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Austria is the first EU country to host Orban for talks since he won a fourth straight mandate in an April landslide.

“Hungary is an important neighbour and partner for us, both countries are severely affected by irregular migration, which we want to fight together,” the conservative Nehammer tweeted last week before Orban’s latest controversy.

Vienna sees itself “as an honest broker” and is anxious not to sideline Hungary, an Austrian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Jewish community representatives voiced alarm after Orban last Saturday criticised mixing with “non-Europeans” in a speech in Romania’s Transylvania region, home to a Hungarian community.

Orban, an ultra-conservative known for his anti-migrant policy and virulent rhetoric, said that “we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race”.

The 59-year-old also seemed to allude to the Nazi German gas chambers when criticising a Brussels plan to reduce European gas demand by 15 percent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Hungary was the only EU member to oppose the plan, which passed on a majority vote this week.

On Tuesday, an advisor to Orban, Zsuzsa Hegedus, resigned, slamming his speech as “a pure Nazi text”.

In response, Orban stressed his government’s “policy of zero tolerance when it comes to anti-Semitism and racism,” according to a letter made public.

Discussions on energy and migration

The Hungary leader defended his comments against creating “peoples of mixed-race”, saying they represented a “cultural” standpoint.

“It happens sometimes that I speak in a way that can be misunderstood… the position that I represent is a cultural… standpoint,” Orban told reporters during his visit to Austria.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a joint press conference with Orban that the issue had been “resolved… amicably and in all clarity”, adding his country “strongly condemned… any form of racism or anti-Semitism”.

Besides the race row, the two leaders discussed migration and energy security amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Romania recalls Austria envoy after Schengen veto

Romania on Friday recalled its ambassador to Austria, a day after Vienna sparked anger by vetoing Bucharest's bid to join the Schengen zone free of border checks.

Romania recalls Austria envoy after Schengen veto

The Eastern European country with a population of 19 million joined the European Union in 2007 and had high hopes of integration into the vast zone of free movement after waiting for more than 10 years.

On Friday, Romania’s foreign ministry said diplomat Emil Hurezeanu “has been recalled [to Bucharest] for consultations”. It was a “political gesture” indicating “a decision to decrease the current level of relations” with Austria, the ministry said.

READ ALSO: ‘A stupid prank’?: Why has Austria vetoed enlargement of Schengen area?

Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca had expressed “deep disappointment” over Austria’s decision to block the country’s decade-plus long bid.

Romanian foreign minister Bogdan Aurescu then summoned Austria’s ambassador to protest what he called “an unjustified and unfriendly attitude” which would have “consequences on bilateral relations”.

Austria thwarted the hopes of both Bucharest and Sofia, justifying the vetoes over an influx of asylum seekers that it said could grow if the Schengen zone expanded.

Bucharest said Vienna’s stance was based on “incorrect” figures, since migratory flows “do not pass through Romania”.

Meanwhile, calls to boycott Austrian companies have grown louder, with Romania’s tourism ministry saying skiing holidays should be taken in  destinations such as France, rather than Austria.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Austria?

A demonstration is also planned in the Romanian capital.

As a leading economic trading partner, Austria represents “the second largest foreign investor” in Romania, the foreign ministry said.

A large amount of Romanian citizens and businesses have Austrian bank accounts. Austrian oil and gas group OMV as well as HS Timber also have a big presence in Romania.