Newspaper article International New York Times

Merkel Urges Hungary to See Value of Democracy

Newspaper article International New York Times

Merkel Urges Hungary to See Value of Democracy

Article excerpt

But Prime Minister Viktor Orban rebuffed the Geman chancellor's definition of democracy at an unsmiling joint news conference in Budapest on Monday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany used a visit to Hungary on Monday to remind its leader of the virtues of democracy and of the need for Europe to stand united against Russia.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, while formally allied with the German leader in the center-right bloc in the European Parliament, has irked Berlin and other capitals in recent months by cultivating ties with Moscow and pursuing policies that his critics view as authoritarian.

He again rebuffed Ms. Merkel's definition of democracy at an unsmiling joint news conference. As she has to date with recent challenges to her policies from the European Central Bank and the voters of Greece, Ms. Merkel carried on, undeterred.

"We talked about the development of our civil societies, and I pointed out that even when you have a broad majority, as the Hungarian prime minister does, it is important to value the role of the opposition, of civil society, of the media," she said. "Our societies thrive when these groups jostle with each other to find the best way forward, and I think that is also an important model for Hungary."

In a speech last summer that was widely perceived as influenced by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Orban stressed the role of what he labeled "illiberal" democracy. On Monday, he insisted that "not every democracy is necessarily liberal." Ms. Merkel shot back: "I cannot understand the word illiberal in connection with democracy."

In what was widely seen as a sign of her unease with the Hungarian leader, Ms. Merkel had not visited Budapest since he was re-elected prime minister in 2010.

On Monday, she did not publicly mention his cultivation of Mr. Putin, or that the Russian leader is coming himself in two weeks, but was unequivocal in her criticism of Moscow.

"What Russia is visiting upon Ukraine is a violation of our European system of peace and security," she said during a lively question-and-answer session with students. Moscow's desire to keep Ukraine from pursuing its individual course, she said, illustrates "the old pattern of thought that neighboring states are spheres of influence, and not partners. …

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