Hungary's Foreign Minister Calls EU Cutting Funding Over LGBT Promotion Law 'Blackmail'

Hungary's foreign minister pushed back against the European Union's decision to impose financial penalties over a controversial LGBT law, the Associated Press reported.

Peter Szijjarto argued against the EU's executive commission delaying billions in economic recovery funds earmarked for Hungary, calling it "blackmail" and "a purely political decision."

"We do not compromise on these issues because we are a sovereign country, a sovereign nation. And no one, not even the European Commission, should blackmail us regarding these policies," Szijjarto said in an interview with AP.

The EU said the law violates the fundamental rights of LGBT people. Passed in June, the law makes it illegal to promote or portray sex reassignment or homosexuality to minors under 18 in media content, as well as harsher penalties for pedophilia. Critics of the law say it conflates pedophilia with homosexuality and stigmatizes sexual minorities.

Szijjarto defended the law, saying it was meant to protect children from pedophiles and "homosexual propaganda."

"We will not make make compromises about the future of our children," Szijjarto said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

LGBT Rights Protest
Hungary's foreign minister said the EU's decision to cut funding over a controversial LGBT law is "blackmail." Above, LGBT+ demonstrators at the Polish Embassy protest against a lack of LGBT rights in Poland and Hungary on August 14, 2021, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ole Jensen/Getty Images

The measures were rejected emphatically by most European leaders. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested Hungary's right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, should pull his country out of the EU if he is unwilling to abide by its collective principles.

The conflict is only the latest in a protracted fight with the bloc over what it sees as a sustained assault on democratic standards in Hungary—alleged corruption, a consolidation of the media and increasing political control over state institutions and the judiciary.

Last year, the EU adopted a regulation that links the payment of funds to its member states' compliance with rule-of-law standards—a measure fiercely opposed by Hungary's government, which argued it was a means to punish countries that break with the liberal consensus of Western Europe's countries.

The EU's concerns over Hungary straying from democratic values have gone unheard by several prominent American conservatives who have recently visited the country and extolled Orban's hardline policies on immigration and flouting of the EU's rules. On Thursday, Hungary hosted former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at a conference in Budapest dedicated to family values and demography, both issues that form a central pillar of Hungary's conservative policy.

"One approach (to population decline) says that we should foster migratory flows toward Europe. This is an approach which we don't like," Szijjarto said.

In addition to firm opposition to immigration, Hungary's government emphasizes traditional family values and resistance to the widening acceptance of sexual minorities in Western countries. It also portrays itself as a beacon of "Christian democracy," and a bulwark against migration from Muslim-majority countries—positions on which it finds common cause with the former vice president.

"We know that Vice President Pence is very committed to this issue...with a strong Christian background, so that is the reason we invited him," Szijjarto said.

Despite Hungary's position on immigration, it did evacuate more than 400 Afghan citizens who had assisted Hungarian forces in Afghanistan after that country's government fell to the militant Taliban last month. But Szijjarto said his country was "not going to take any more Afghans," and that no refugees would be allowed to cross Hungary's southern border into the EU.

"We will not allow anybody to come illegally to Europe," he told AP.

On Wednesday, the Hungarian state news agency reported that Budapest would host next year's Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, an annual gathering of primarily U.S. conservative activists and politicians.

Hungary's government, Szijjarto said, is "happy when American commentators come to Hungary. We are happy because when they come, they will see the reality."

"United States press or media outlets usually characterize us as a dictatorship, as a place where it's bad to stay, and they write all kinds of fake news about Hungary," he said. "But when these commentators come over, they can be confronted with the reality."

But while some of Hungary's admirers see it as a beacon, the EU's financial pressure—designed to change Budapest's behavior—represents increasing pushback from the other side of the political spectrum.

Last week, Hungary sold several billion dollars in foreign currency bonds in an effort to cover the costs of planned development projects even if EU recovery funds are not released. This, along with economic growth, means Hungary's budget is "in pretty good shape," Szijjarto said, allowing for flexibility with the country's central budget without the need for EU funds.

"Hungarian people should not be afraid of any kind of loss suffered because of this political decision by the European Commission," Szijjarto said.

With national elections next spring expected to be the biggest challenge to Orban's power since he was elected in 2010, Hungary's government is ramping up on divisive issues like migration, LGBT rights and the COVID-19 pandemic that can mobilize its conservative voting base.

Hungary's law affecting LGBT people will be accompanied by a national referendum ahead of elections on the availability of gender-change procedures to children and on sexual education in schools. Szijjarto said the referendum will provide "strong argumentation in the debates" with the EU over the law, and a mandate from voters for the government to hold strong on its policies.

"The best munition a government can have during such a debate," the minister said, "is the clear expression of the will of the people."

Hungary Foreign Minister
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the EU's decision to cut funding to his country over a controversial LGBT law "blackmail." Above, Szijjarto speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at United Nations headquarters on September 23, 2021, during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. John Minchillo/AP Photo