War, Inflation Make 2023 ‘Most Dangerous Year’

Ukraine Crisis

László Lehel, president and director of Hungarian Interchurch Aid, speaks at a round table discussion in the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) building on February 20, 2023.

Photo by Lajos Soós / MTI.

Following the “most difficult year” since the fall of Communism, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that 2023 would be the “most dangerous” due to the dual threats of war and inflation during a state of the nation address delivered on February 18.

Since Hungary lacks the means to end the war outright, which Orbán said would be most desirable, he argued the best way to protect the country is to stay out of the war. However, the PM claimed this would be difficult, given Hungary’s membership in NATO and the European Union, both of which he said are intent on remaining belligerent. Despite its commitments to these supranational bodies, which unconditionally support Ukraine’s war effort, Orbán insisted that the conflict is not Hungary’s but rather “between the troops of two Slavic countries.”

But within this context, Orbán acknowledged “Ukraine’s right to self-defense, to fight against external aggression,” which Russia instigated with the invasion it launched one year ago today. Although the Prime Minister reiterated that Hungary would not deliver weapons to its beleaguered neighbor, it had supported Ukraine “with the largest humanitarian aid operation in our country’s history.”

In addition to Hungary taking in over one million refugees from Ukraine, the Hungarian Interchurch Aid organization has delivered more than HUF 6 billion worth of aid to the country over the past year, according to László Lehel, the president and director of the organization. At a roundtable discussion on February 21, organized to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the war, Lehel said that the aid, about half of which was government support, had assisted more than 245,000 people. Although the organization could only deliver food via the back of trucks during the first phase of the war, Lehel recalled that it soon established a warehouse in Berehove (known to Hungarians as Beregszász), Transcarpathia, from which donations went to every region of the country.

Commitment Reaffirmed

Earlier, Orbán had reaffirmed Hungary’s commitment to providing Ukraine with humanitarian aid during a European Union summit in Brussels on February 9, in which his Greek, Croatian and Slovenian counterparts, along with the Austrian Chancellor and the Bulgarian and Cypriot presidents, met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Hearing the Ukrainian president, it’s obvious this war is dragging on; we can’t count on it ending soon,” Orbán said. “As it drags on, we Hungarians will continue to help the Ukrainians with humanitarian means.”

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Parliament is scheduled to discuss the prospective accession of Sweden and Finland into NATO on the third day of its spring session starting next week, according to the business weekly HVG. The two historically neutral countries applied for membership in May last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adding that they want to join “hand in hand.” Joining the alliance, however, requires the unanimous approval of its members, of whom Turkey and Hungary alone have not yet acceded.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 24, 2023.

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