— NRC (@nrc) August 25, 2017
Thursday, 24 August, the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Hugo Gajus Scheltema, gave an interview to 168 Ora Magazine because of his imminent resignation due to retirement. The interview has caused some controversy, leading Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for Hungary, to recall the Hungarian ambassador to the Netherlands “for an indefinite period,” while threatening “political and diplomatic steps” if the Netherlands does not offer a formal apology.
In the interview with 168 Ora, Scheltema calls on Dutch funded NGO’s operating in Hungary to “take pride in the support they receive from the Netherlands,” and then goes on to compare the differences between the Dutch and Hungarians in their attitude towards history.
“I asked [György Fajcsák] to tell me where the Hungarians came from. The Netherlands have no such roots, for us it is of little importance, but for Hungarians, it is very important.“
It seems the rest of Scheltema’s worldview also contains traces of some disregard for history, both in his description of the country he’s representing, as well as of the country where he is a – diplomatic – guest:
“In Holland, we always look for a compromise: have a little of this, lose a little of that. There are four or five parties in the governing coalition, each of which has to give and take a little. It may take months of negotiations, but eventually, we find a compromise. Here, however, only pro or contra positions are possible, someone is with us, or against us. Classical Marxist worldview.“
To talk about a ‘classical Marxist worldview’ in a country that famously suffered under Communism in such an off the cuff manner could be considered undiplomatic. But his remarks about Dutch politics are off as well, which makes the quote even worse. Contrary to what Scheltema posits, a five party government is an exception in Dutch politics – it happened only twice after 1945, and the first time it failed to fulfil its four year mandate.
Four party governments have been a thing, but since 1977, all Dutch governments have consisted of either two or three parties. What’s more, the reason the Netherlands are now in the fourth month of negotiations to form a new, possibly five party, government, is because those parties are unwilling to compromise with the second largest party, Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom.
Scheltema seems bent on proving, time and time again, that he does not know the facts. When talking about immigration, he lectures the Hungarians that:
“Moreover, there are no migrants in Hungary, it is a homogenous people. In the Netherlands, mainly because of our colonial past, there are many immigrants, we are an open society, we welcome the arrivals.“
How he can square that with his complaints about the stance on migration by what he calls the ‘far-right’ Geert Wilders, is unclear. Then again, the man who might not know the Netherlands that well, just as easily claims that
“I hope this doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, but after a lot of excursions I know the country better than many Hungarians today.“
If Scheltema had intended to embarrass his country, he couldn’t have picked a better way than giving an interview like this. But bad though these remarks are, Scheltema topped them when he talked about Islamic terrorism in the context of the terrorist attack in Barcelona:
“Here, a group whose members are losers of globalisation, turned to extremism and fanatical religion because it gives them a sense of security. They create an enemy using the same principles as the Hungarian government.“
In response to the recalling of the Hungarian ambassador to the Netherlands, and the demand for a formal apology, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders (Social Democrats) has claimed he does not want to see this get any bigger than necessary. He distanced himself from the remarks by Scheltema, saying:
“In no way must impression take hold, that the Hungarian government uses the same methods as terrorism. That is just not right and I distance myself from that.“
Whether or not the Dutch government will formally apologise, was as yet unclear at the time of writing.