Hungary’s views on EU plans to sanction Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, have been known for a long time, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Thursday, adding that Hungary’s position had not been challenged at this week’s summit of EU leaders.
Hungary will keep to the agreement reached at the European Council summit, as it is binding for everyone, Orbán’s press chief cited the prime minister as saying, in a statement.
Hungary expressed its position on the plans to sanctyhhhyhion Patriarch Kirill on several occasions at meetings of EU ambassadors in recent weeks, Orbán said.
The Hungarian stance was not objected to by anyone at this week’s two-day EU emergency summit, he added.
Orbán’s statement comes on the heels of criticism from several EU politicians who claim that the Hungarian government has once again blackmailed the bloc to secure its own interests. For example, Michael Gahler, the spokesman for the European People’s Party’s foreign affairs group, had earlier slammed Viktor Orbán for blocking the adoption of the sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia because of Patriarch Kirill.
The EU wanted to freeze the church leader’s assets and ban him from entering EU territory. Brussels says the Patriarch is actively supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and spreading the Russian president’s propaganda.
Orbán: For Hungary, freedom of religion is sacrosanct
In the past month, the Hungarian prime minister said several times that his government does not support the inclusion of church leaders on a sanctions list.
Viktor Orbán first stated on May 6th that the sixth package of sanctions, in addition to the oil embargo, had a “red line” that Hungary would not cross, a red line that was unacceptable, namely that Patriarch Kirill was to be added to the EU blacklist.
“We do not support the inclusion of church leaders on the sanctions list,” the Prime Minister said.
In recent weeks, several religious leaders, including the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, the head of foreign affairs of the Armenian Apostolic Church and advisor to the ruling prelate of the Hungarian Orthodox Church in the Russian Orthodox Diocese, have written to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the “remaining voice of Christianity and common sense” in the European Union. They wrote that the European Commission’s idea could set a dangerous precedent for “keeping other churches at bay” and also for “political sanctioning.”
Patriarch Kirill himself recently sent a letter to Viktor Orbán praising him as “one of the few European politicians” to make “an outstanding effort to uphold Christian values,” and to “strengthen public morality and the institution of the traditional family.”
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó wrote on his Facebook page that for the government, the removal of the Patriarch from the blacklist was “a matter of principle.” Szijjártó added, “like the national interest, we also insist on freedom of religion. It is hard to imagine the processes that would have been set in motion by placing the leader of one of the most important Christian churches in Europe on the sanctions list.”
Featured photo by Zoltán Fischer/PM’s Press Office