Katalin Novak - Photo: Facebook

President Novak: Strong European leaders, common strategic thinking needed

As a member of the European Union and NATO, Hungary stands by its allies and strives for a quick ceasefire in Ukraine, President Katalin Novak told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Tuesday.

President Novak said that amid the war situation, strong European leaders are needed who have honest private discussions but who engage in joint strategic thinking based on mutual respect.

President Novak is in Rome on Tuesday and Wednesday at the invitation of Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Hungary has always fulfilled its international obligations and will continue to do so, Novak said in the first interview given to a foreign outlet since she was elected president.

“To me, the question is how to stop Russian aggression and avoid the outbreak of a third world war at the same time,” she said, noting that there were 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Transcarpathia.

Europe must say: “No more; Putin has crossed the Rubicon,” the president said. At the same time, the means employed to achieve that goal will vary from country to country, she said.

She said Hungary always had relations with Russia, and would continue to do so, “similarly to the ties between Europe and Russia or Ukraine and Russia”.

Hungary, which currently receives 55 percent of the crude consumed and 80 percent of the gas consumed from Russia, is working on curbing its energy exposure to Russia, she said.

While Hungary has no wish to interfere with domestic affairs of other countries, it cannot remain silent when a sovereign country is attacked, she said. “We Hungarians have vivid memories of Soviet imperialism and power; we rejected it in 1956, in 1989, and will do so today,” she said.

The president said Europe’s true calling was to find unity while accepting that “our history, talents, culture, and thinking are very different”. Europe’s common foundation is its Judeo-Christian roots and Christian culture, she said.

“The European Union can still be a success story as long as we don’t abandon

our Christian culture and continue to make … common decisions. [Yet] I don’t want to live in a country or a world where there is no room for differences of opinion,” she said.

Amid the war situation, strong European leaders are needed who have honest private discussions but who engage in joint strategic thinking based on mutual respect, she added.

Novak said Hungary maintained friendly ties with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and Hungarians and Italians had similar views on taking firm action against illegal migration, promoting the EU integration of the Western Balkans, protecting Christians around the world, and supporting family values.

The president said European people had different views on migration, with some who wanted to see more economic immigrants and others fewer, and she added that this must be accepted.

As regards differences with the EU over the rule of law, Novak noted that Hungary has been an EU member for 19 years, adding that by now it knows the logic of how it is run and its rules. Hungarians should enjoy “full membership” of the bloc and have a seat at the table in Brussels while maintaining its sovereignty, she said.

Hungary has complied with its obligations so far, and it will continue to do so while setting forth its views as part of a process of joint decision-making, she added.

Novak said she was closely following discussions between the Hungarian government and EU institutions, and has been signing amendments to legislation in accordance with the agreements.

Asked whether she agreed with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ideas on illiberal democracy, Novak said: “The emphasis, as far as I’m concerned, is on democracy … my values are Christian; I’m a conservative woman who accepts — indeed requires — views and ideas that differ from my own.”

Those who regard Hungary’s placing importance on the prosperity of Hungarians living in neighboring countries as “revisionism” are “chasing demons”, she said.

Meanwhile, addressing the issue of minorities in Ukraine, she said she found it hard to accept that energy was going into making the situation of national minorities there “impossible” during a period of suffering. The right to use the mother tongue and other minority rights are beyond dispute, she added.

Novak, a former minister of family affairs, said family policies in Hungary were aimed at helping women to start a family and maintain a career without having to sacrifice one for the other.

Asked about whether Hungary discriminates against women and LGBTQ people, Novak said that everyone could live freely in Hungary, regardless of gender, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. Sexual minorities also enjoy protections under Hungarian laws, she added, while traditional family values are given special protections under the country’s constitution.

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