Hungary’s hardline nationalist leader Viktor Orban is facing international condemnation after making remarks on race and multiculturalism that were slammed as a “pure Nazi text” by his longtime aide.
Zsuzsa Hegedus, who served as an adviser to Orban for two decades, quit Tuesday over what she called Orban’s “illiberal turn,” describing his comments in Romania on Saturday as a “pure Nazi text worthy of (Nazi propagandist) Goebbels,” according to her resignation letter published by Hungarian outlet HVG.
He was also denounced by the International Auschwitz Committee after comments in the same speech that were interpreted as a joke about the use of gas chambers against Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
Orban told a crowd that Europeans do not want to mix with people from outside of the continent.
“This is why we have always fought: We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race,” Orban said.
He warned that “Islamic civilization” is “constantly moving towards Europe” and that in the future, “those whom we do not want to let in will have to be stopped at [Hungary’s] western borders,” regardless of the country’s membership of the Schengen Area of open borders across 26 European countries.
Hegedus, one of Orban’s closest aides, said the speech contradicted her values and made her position untenable. She added that Orban’s lurch toward authoritarianism during his 12-year stint as Hungary’s Prime Minister had previously eroded her support.
“You can’t be serious about accusing me of racism after 20 years of working together. You know better than anyone that in Hungary my government follows a zero-tolerance policy on both antisemitism and racism,” Orban said in response, according to a letter published on Twitter by his political director Balazs Orban.
But the leader’s speech has prompted an angry reaction across Europe, with critics of his regime demanding EU leaders openly condemn the right-wing Prime Minister.
“Orbán continues to have a seat at the European Council table & veto rights to undermine Europe’s sovereignty … Untenable, unacceptable, un-European,” Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and a senior member of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
“Orban carefully cultivates a more palatable image in Brussels/abroad. Many conservatives happily posing with him would never publicly endorse such far right extremist rants,” Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian MEP, added in a post on Twitter.
In another section of the speech, Orban was accused by Cseh and others of making light of the use of gas chambers by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.
Discussing the European Commission’s agreed target for its 27 member states to reduce their gas demand by 15% between August and March next year, Orban said: “I do not see how it will be enforced – although, as I understand it, the past shows us German know-how on that.”
CNN has contacted the Hungarian government for comment.
In a statement on Tuesday, the International Auschwitz Committee condemned Orban’s remarks as “stupid and dangerous.” They said Auschwitz survivors and others were “alarmed and appalled” by his speech.
Throughout his tenure, Orban has overseen a process of democratic backsliding and has made comments about migrants and multiculturalism that have been condemned by European colleagues.
Last year, he criticized the anti-racism kneeling gesture made by many countries’ football teams, saying he agreed with Hungarian fans who booed the act. He has railed against EU migrant quotas, putting the issue to a referendum in 2016 that was dismissed by international watchdogs as a stunt.
But Orban has received a groundswell of support among some American conservatives, and is still due to speak at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) conference in Texas despite his Saturday remarks.