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Hungary has joined Turkey in adding further hurdles to Sweden’s NATO bid, with Budapest expected to win more concessions from its Western allies before ratifying the expansion of the military alliance.
Pro-government media in Hungary last week discovered the 2019 Swedish curriculum video who described Hungary as a country where democracy is eroding. Parliament Speaker László Kövér, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said on Sunday that Hungary and Sweden do not understand each other on issues of patriotism and therefore do not belong to the same alliance.
“There is a defense alliance and we guarantee collective defense,” Kövér said on a pro-Orbán TV show. “But I don’t think we need such an ally. . . spit on us.”
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó also used the video as a pretext to remind Stockholm not to take the Budapest vote for granted, writing to his Swedish counterpart last week not to be “surprised” by the Hungarian parliament’s response.
Orbán agreed to ratify Sweden’s offer after Turkey withdrew its objections in July. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has signaled reluctance to take this step in recent weeks following a series of Koran burnings in the Scandinavian country, including in front of the Turkish embassy.
The Hungarian government admitted to coordinating positions with Ankara on this issue. In the past, Orbán has used his veto on NATO expansion and other issues within the EU to win concessions from his Western allies.
The Turkish-Hungarian veto meant that Sweden was separated from Finland after they jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022, following Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland joined the alliance in April this year.
The Hungarian warning was met with astonishment in Sweden and added to the meaning of the NATO application, which is still far from certain.
Kalle Sandhammar, head of Sweden’s small public broadcaster UR, which released the educational video, said that “it is in itself gratifying to hear that Hungarian politicians are watching UR”. But he added: “It is profoundly ignorant to think that Swedish politicians have control over the content of UR.”
The Swedish Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Nordic diplomats have long believed that Hungary does not want to be the last to confirm Sweden’s membership, so that growing opposition from Budapest could signal that Turkey is not close to approving it.
Budapest’s long-standing resistance to ratifying the enlargement has caused irritation in Washington: the US ambassador to Budapest, David Pressman, has called the issue one of the more pressing issues in bilateral relations.
“The prime minister himself has stated that he supports Sweden’s membership in the alliance,” he said on Friday. “We look forward to swift action by the Hungarian government and its parliament.”
“Every fighter jet flown by the Hungarian Defense Forces is a Swedish fighter. Every single one,” Pressman said. “Hungary is intimately aware of the huge benefits that Swedish membership in the Alliance would bring.”