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Austrian State Media Boss Wishes Death Upon PM Orbán

A hateful outburst which saw one of Austria’s top state-backed media officials publicly wish death upon Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has prompted a diplomatic row between Central European neighbors, with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry summoning the Austrian ambassador late last week to explain the dreadful remarks.

In a tasteless social media post on Wednesday evening, Karl Pachner, the online managing director of the state-funded Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), wrote that it would be a “great thing” if Orbán were to suffer a heart attack, adding that the world would be a better place without him and other heads of state like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Erdogan, Kronen Zeitung reports.

The post, which Pachner quickly deleted following widespread backlash, was prompted by his outrage over Hungary’s unwillingness to sign on to the EU’s latest suicidal sanctions package, which—in addition to banning Russian oil imports—sought to freeze the assets of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

On Thursday, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation from the Austrian ambassador for Pachner’s “rough, deeply shocking, and scandalous statement.” In a written response, the Austrian Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the post was “undoubtedly tasteless and completely unacceptable.”

The same day, Pachner, for his part, issued an apology for the “imprudent and misleading wording” he had used, claiming that he doesn’t wish death on Orbán or anyone else. He added that he deeply regretted his statements.

In this case, however, a simple apology hasn’t sufficed for Zoltán Kovács, the Hungarian government’s international spokesman, as well the anti-establishment conservative opposition party Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ), both of whom have called on Pachner to be removed from his post for his statements.

Pachner’s remarks should “disqualify him from his post,” Kovács said, adding: “His immediate resignation and departure would be the morally appropriate minimum consequence.”

Hungary State Secretary of Foreign Relations Tamas Menczer, who also called for Pachner’s immediate resignation, referred to his statement not only as “terrible in and of itself” but also as a “slap in the face to the entire country, as the prime minister was elected by the people.” 

Menzer’s statements were echoed by Levente Magyar, Hungarian Secretary of State for Bilateral Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who—following his meeting on Friday with the Chief Executive of the Austrian Embassy—said that most Hungarians felt offended by the comment.

While speaking to the press, Magyar said: “I made it clear that if such comments are made in the future, [an apology] will not be enough to settle the issue. These words go beyond civilizational norms that aren’t allowed in Europe even in such a time of war when we should be focusing all our efforts on meeting challenges presented by the shockwaves of war together.”

“Hungary strives for good relations with Austria, but will not allow Austria or any other players to disparage Hungarians, their democratically elected government, and its leader,” Magyar added.

The ORF has distanced itself from Pachner’s social media post, saying that it was “a private and personal Facebook page, which of course has no connection with the editorial reporting by the independent and independent editors of the ORF.”

Roland Weissman, ORF’s chief executive, on Friday announced Pachner’s temporary suspension—and said that he had been given a final warning.

Robert Semonsen is a political journalist based in Central Europe. His work has been featured in various English-language news outlets in Europe and the Americas. He has an educational background in biological and medical science. His Twitter handle is @R_Semonsen.