The prime minister was filmed wearing a piece of clothing featuring a pre-partition map of Greater Hungary
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been seen wearing a football scarf featuring the shape of Greater Hungary, the historical territory that existed before the country ceded lands to neighbors after ending up on the losing side in World War I. He downplayed the implied territorial claim, after some nations took issue with the accessory.
"Football is not politics. Let's not see what is not there," he said on his Facebook page on Tuesday, reacting to the outcry. Hungary's national team belongs to all Hungarians, regardless of where they live, he added.
Greater Hungary refers to historical Hungarian lands, many of which Budapest lost under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Parts of the former Kingdom of Hungary now belong to Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Croatia and Slovakia. Critics say the idea of Greater Hungary is inherently irredentist, but supporters say it is about historical roots of ethnic Hungarians.
Orban wore the scarf bearing the controversial map on Sunday when he met the national football team ahead of its friendly match against Greece in Budapest. Footage of the meeting was posted on the premier's social media. Some foreign officials condemned Orban for what they saw as a provocation.
German MEP Daniel Freund drew public attention to the symbol in a tweet on Monday, remarking sarcastically that the map would be "reassuring" for Hungary's neighbors.
A fellow EU lawmaker from Romania, Alin Mituta, stated that Orban had sent an "unacceptable message" that was a throwback to the "Nazi period." Both Hungary and Romania were Axis powers during World War II.
"Orban must be held accountable for such actions that are incompatible with the membership of the family of liberal democrats," the politician wrote on social media.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry said it had conveyed "strong disapproval" to the Hungarian ambassador in Bucharest. The scarf stunt contrasted with an "atmosphere of openness" during the visit that Minister Bogdan Lucian made to Budapest last week, the statement added.
During his trip to Budapest, the top diplomat met Orban and complained to him that some Hungarian officials had been going to Romania in a private capacity and making "inappropriate statements" there, the Romanian Ministry said at the time.
Ukraine, another nation whose current territory includes parts that used to belong to the Kingdom of Hungary, said it too intended to lodge a formal complaint.
"The promotion of revisionist ideas in Hungary does not contribute to the development of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Tuesday. His department will summon the Hungarian ambassador and expects an apology, he added.