Szijjártó has been known to summon ambassadors for all kinds of things, but the Russian cyber attack wasn't enough to trigger him

May 22. 2024. – 03:08 PM


Szijjártó has been known to summon ambassadors for all kinds of things, but the Russian cyber attack wasn't enough to trigger him
Photo: Dominika Zarzycka / NurPhoto / AFP


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It was revealed two years ago that Vladimir Putin's hackers had attacked and hacked into the IT systems of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but at the time the Foreign Ministry called it all a campaign hoax.

Then a few days ago, 444 published documents that not only provide further evidence that these attacks happened, but also prove that by the time the news broke two years ago, the Foreign Ministry had been aware of the attack: a letter from the head of one of Hungary's secret services clearly describes the scale of the cyberattacks along with who the perpetrators were.

Since then, the government has only provided evasive answers to questions about how and why the Russians could have hacked into the foreign ministry's system, and why they had claimed this was a lie two years ago. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Fidesz Communications Director Tamás Menczer are now trying to divert the conversation by questioning how these documents got to the press in the first place, and advising the press to "be careful".

When asked how this affects Russian-Hungarian relations, and whether the Russian ambassador, for example, has been summoned, Menczer – who until recently was State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry – said he did not want to talk about the subject, but that "they always act in accordance with Hungarian and national security interests".

It's still not known whether the government has brought up the hacking with the Russian side in recent years, although Péter Szijjártó is not exactly known for questioning the Russian ambassador. For example, he wasn't too bothered last autumn either when it emerged that the new Russian history textbooks claimed that the Hungarian fighters behind the 1956 revolution used to be members of former fascist units. The Foreign Minister would certainly have had the opportunity to raise these issues, given that he has been visiting Moscow almost as often as his home, so much so that his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov even awarded him the Friendship Medal.

There are a number of ways in diplomacy for expressing disapproval of another country's actions: its ambassador can be summoned, a note of protest can be sent, a country can recall its own ambassador, and ultimately it can break off relations with the other country. In this article we will focus on the mildest response, the summoning of ambassadors.

When it's not about the Russians, the Hungarian Foreign Minister seems to like chiding ambassadors, although most of the time this is probably just a communication ploy. Especially because these summonses are also communicated to the public.

In March this year, for example, Péter Szijjártó summoned the US ambassador for an "urgent meeting" after US President Joe Biden said that Viktor Orbán believed that democracy was not functional and that Orbán, according to Biden, wanted a dictatorship. Szijjártó asked David Pressman to provide the exact place and time of the quote where the Prime Minister said this.

In October 2022, the Ukrainian Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest had to appear at the Foreign Ministry after the statue of the Hungarian mythical bird, the Turul, had been removed from the fortress of Mukachevo and replaced by Ukraine's coat of arms.

In June 2022, the Hungarian Foreign Minister summoned the Austrian ambassador when one of the leaders of Austrian state media ORF wrote on Facebook that Viktor Orbán's heart attack would be "a decent thing to do".

Around this time, the Ukrainian ambassador to Budapest paid two visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: in the spring of 2022, it was because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had supposedly insulted Hungary by saying that "Hungary wasn’t doing as much for Ukraine as everyone else and that it supported Russia", and in late 2021, because the Ukrainians expressed shock over the discover that Hungary was importing gas through Gazprom while bypassing Ukraine.

In April 2021, the German embassy's Chargé d'Affaires was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain why Hertha BSC had sacked Zsolt Petry, who in an interview called migration a moral degradation and criticised Péter Gulácsi (another Hungarian football player) for standing up for rainbow families.

In May 2020, Szijjártó simultaneously summoned the ambassadors of five countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – after their countries' foreign ministers wrote to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe expressing their concern about Hungary's Covid law, which granted the government extraordinary powers in cases of extreme threat.

In June 2019, rocks were thrown at ethnic Hungarians in Romania's Szekler region when they made a human chain at the military cemetery in Úzvölgy. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry thus summoned the Romanian ambassador, but to no avail: he didn't show.

In May 2019, the Dutch Prime Minister mentioned Hungary in a half-sentence in a campaign speech, and the Dutch ambassador was already due for an appearance at the Foreign Ministry. Mark Rutte had said that Hungary does not respect the rule of law and is acting as if there were no consequences for this.

The Swedish ambassador's turn came that same month, after the Swedish Prime Minister said that Hungary was one of the EU Member States where respect for human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and free media were under threat.

The Swedish ambassador is a regular visitor to the Foreign Ministry: he also had to pay a visit to Szijjártó in February 2019 after Annika Strandhäll, head of the Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs, wrote on Twitter that the Hungarian government's family policy "reeks of the 1930s" and that Viktor Orbán wants more "real" Hungarians to be born.

But the Swedish ambassador was also due at the FM's office in August 2018, when Swedish Migration Minister Heléne Fritzon reminded Szijjártó that Sweden had accepted Hungarian refugees in 1956 and that Hungary should be taking the same responsibility in the EU's common refugee policy. The Hungarian Foreign Minister interpreted this as an attack on Hungary.

Later that month, the Spanish ambassador was also called in because the Spanish Foreign Minister had said that Hungary was xenophobic, that there was no separation of powers and that there was no freedom of the press.

In January 2018, it was the Romanian ambassador who had to pay a visit to Szijjártó after Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose had said that the leaders of Hungarian political parties (in Romania) signing a declaration on the coordination of their ideas on autonomy should not be given too much weight. He also added: "If the Szekler flag is put up on the institutions in Szeklerland, those who put it up will also be hanging there. The autonomy of the Szekler people is out of the question...".

In November 2017, Szijjártó summoned the US Chargé d'Affaires after the US State Department said it would provide up to HUF 187 million in funding for the independent press in rural Hungary the following year. The government saw this as an attempt to interfere in Hungarian domestic politics.

In 2015, both the French and the Swedes criticized the Hungarian government's immigration policy, which resulted in both their ambassadors immediately landing in the Foreign Ministry.

Russian cyber attacks similar to the one against the Hungarian Foreign Ministry have also targeted Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland in recent years. These EU countries followed roughly the same protocol in dealing with cyber-espionage: they detected the problem, took swift action to avert it, shared information with their allies, and finally informed the public and protested to Russia. This May, Germany summoned the Russian ambassador to Berlin and recalled its own ambassador from Moscow because it believes that the Russian military intelligence services carried out a cyber-attack against the German Social Democratic Party last year.

Speaking at his international press conference after the 2022 election victory, Viktor Orbán said of the Russian hacking attack that the IT systems of all Hungarian ministries were under constant attack from several directions, which they were defending against. "If someone attacks us, I won't go and complain to them, but will work to protect our own territory".

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