Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán has been denounced by Bosnian officials and religious leaders after he claimed integrating the country into the European Union would be a challenge because of its Muslim population.
Orbán was giving a speech in Budapest on Tuesday, lines of which were tweeted out in English by his spokesperson.
When asked about Bosnia’s bid to join the EU, his spokesman Zoltán Kovács tweeted the PM’s response: “The challenge with Bosnia is how to integrate a country with 2 million Muslims.”
Orbán, during his speech, said that Hungary supports Bosnia’s effort to join the EU, but added that “how we manage the security of a state in which 2 million Muslims live is a key issue for their security too,” referring to other EU states.
Some in Bosnia responded by calling for Orbán's official visit to Sarajevo to be cancelled, with the head of the country's Islamic Community, grand mufti Husein Kavazović, calling his statement “xenophobic and racist”.
“If such ideologies become the basis on which the policies of a united Europe are based, then it takes us back to the times when European unity was to be built on similar fascist, Nazi, violent and genocidal ideologies that led to the Holocaust and other horrific crimes,” he said in a statement.
The Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Šefik Džaferović, called Orbán's statement “shameful and rude”.
“It is not a challenge for the EU to integrate 2 million (Bosnian) Muslims because we are an autochtonous European people who have always lived here and we are Europeans,” he said.
Bosnia, with its three main ethnic groups — Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats — is going through its worst political crisis since the end of the civil war in the 1990s.
With tacit support from the likes of Russia and Serbia, Bosnian Serbs are threatening to form their own army, judiciary, and tax authority that would see state powers diminished while bolstering those of the Republika Srpska, a Serb-dominated entity or administrative unit, reviving fears of fresh conflict.
More than 100,000 people were killed and millions left homeless during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia when Bosnian Serbs created a para-state ethnically cleansed parts of the country's territory with the aim to join them with neighbouring Serbia.
The US-sponsored 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, doubling as the country's de-facto constitution, put a stop to the war between the three sides, but also created a complex political system thought to be one of the most complicated in the world.
The most recent moves by Dodik are seen by many as an attempt to secede the Republika Srpska by unraveling the checks and balances put in place by the peace deal.
During his speech on Tuesday, Orbán also said Hungary wouldn't support EU sanctions against Bosnian Serb leader and member of the state-level threeway presidency Milorad Dodik as threatened by Germany and some other member states because of his separatist stands.
“Sarajevo has lost its nerve, it is attacking everyone — Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, now Hungary. Not to mention Russia,” Dodik said on Wednesday, referring to the support he has allegedly received from those countries.
A far-right populist, Orbán has been known for his anti-migration policies, claiming Muslim migrants are the greatest threat to Europe’s Christian values.
Long-standing claims of questionable practices by Orbán and his government have resulted in the European Commission sending a formal letter to Hungary in mid-November in a bid to further investigate mounting rule-of-law concerns.