Bill Clinton Scolds Poland, Hungary for ‘Putin-Like’ Leaders

  • Leaders see democracy as ‘too much trouble,’ Clinton Says
  • Hungary calls comments ‘insult,’ Poland says they’re ‘unfair’

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Poland and Hungary are embracing a leadership model touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding to criticism in Washington over policies pursued by the eastern NATO members.

The two formerly communist countries have fallen out with their European Union peers and the U.S. amid concerns their governments are backsliding on the democratic values built up following the collapse of the Iron Curtain a quarter century ago. While Hungary is seeking nuclear energy technology from Russia, Poland is a vocal critic of Putin’s assertive stance in eastern Europe and wants to finalize a deal boosting the presence of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in the region at the alliance’s summit in July.

“Poland and Hungary, two countries that would not have been free but for the United States and the long Cold War, have now decided this democracy is too much trouble,” Clinton said on Friday at a campaign stop for his wife, probable Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “They want Putin-like leadership: just give me an authoritarian dictatorship and keep the foreigners out.”

Poland’s foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement that the comments were “unfair,” spoken during a heated election campaign and not in line with the views of President Barack Obama’s administration. Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said it was the Hungarian people who fought for the country’s freedom and Clinton didn’t have the right to snipe at voters who gave power to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Presidential ‘Insult’

“No one, not even former U.S. President Bill Clinton can allow himself to insult Hungarian people,” Szijjarto said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.

Clinton said his wife, secretary of state in Obama’s first cabinet, understood changes in the global landscape, including in eastern Europe, and would “keep big bad things from happening and make good things happen” if elected in the race unfolding against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Trump said the U.S. has spent “trillions of dollars over time” to help defend its allies abroad and called on them to pay more for such protection or risk losing it.

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