BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's prime minister urged the Hungarian minority in Romania to vote in Sunday's parliamentary election there and "speak up for their own interests."
Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke Thursday during a visit to western Romania, home to a large Hungarian minority. He said Romania's government wasn't doing everything it could to help the 1.3 million local Hungarians who he said "do not always receive the respect they deserve."
The minority group's rights have long been a contentious issue between the neighboring countries and Orban's government has stepped up the rhetoric recently.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto banned Hungarian diplomats from participating in Romania's national day celebrations on Dec. 1, commemorating the 1918 incorporation into Romania of Transylvania, an area long dominated by Hungary.
The ban drew a sharp rebuke from former President Traian Basescu, now running for a Senate seat, who told Orban not to provoke Romania "because we also have our limits." Additionally, Basescu called for the expulsion of Hungary's ambassador to Romania.
Orban recently praised the Foreign Ministry's more confrontational tone, saying Hungary was now ready "to give as good as we get."
Orban met Hungarian minority leaders in Satu Mare, Romania, where he praised Hunor Kelemen, head of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, for creating "the widest possible unity for this election."
Despite the praise, Orban's own Fidesz party has often resorted to divisive policies with the parties representing Hungarian minorities.
"It was common practice for Fidesz to create parties in neighboring countries to compete with those which did not support Fidesz, but these often were not successful," said analyst Botond Feledy, a fellow at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy think tank in Budapest.
Feledy noted that Fidesz was already preparing for April 2018 elections in Hungary, where support for the Hungarian minorities could help attract votes away from the far-right Jobbik party, its strongest challenger.
"Fidesz wants to reach out to Jobbik voters through the issue of Transylvanian Hungarians," Feledy said.