You can tell a lot about a government by the company it keeps. Budapest is being heavily criticised in international circles, but even it felt moved to rebuff some rare praise at the weekend when the "last dictator in Europe", Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, gave it the thumbs up for becoming "fed up" with democracy' and the market economy.
The Hungarian government has been busy telling its growing ranks of detractors that it is creating a bastion of freedom for the common man against the anti-democratic credentials of the EU and the vampiric instincts of the likes of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the international banks. Tapping into the popular discontent thrown up by four years of crisis, the government is certainly finding some support for that view. But when Lukashenko starts singing your praises, you're on a slippery slope.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban and officials from his Fidesz party have spent a lot of time and effort since coming to power in 2010 rejecting claims that they are hurting the economy through erratic and punitive policy. The government also says criticism from Brussels, as well as the opposition at home, that it is rolling back democracy by clamping down on the media and the judiciary, and promoting nationalist sentiment, is inaccurate.
Therefore, Budapest had little choice but to awkwardly rebuff the approving comments delivered by the Belarusian president on November 16, reports All Hungary News. According to Belarusian state news agency Belta, Lukashenko used his praise of Hungary to prove that "Western society" is changing its "views on democracy and market economy".
During the appointment of new Belarusian envoys to Hungary and France, the president said: "Hungary used to be a socialist country. We used to be good friends with them. We used to have very close relations. After they became fed up with 'democracy' and market economy... they got sober."
The following day, Hungarian government spokesman Andras Giro-Szasz was issued the unenviable task of shirking the praise. The best he could come up with was to claim the Belarusian strongman's statement was a "joke".
"The words of the Belarusian president can only be interpreted as a joke, as Hungary is striving to respond to the economic and social challenges faced by all European nations in the framework of democracy and rule of law," Giro-Szasz said.