Hungarians handed their maverick Prime Minister Viktor Orban another four years in power, election results showed on Monday, while one in every five voters backed a far-right opposition party accused of anti-Semitism. Orban has clashed repeatedly with the European Union and foreign investors over his unorthodox policies, and after Sunday’s win, big businesses were bracing for another term of unpredictable and, for some of them, hostile measures.
But many Hungarians see Orban, a 50-year-old former dissident against Communist rule, as a champion of national interests. They also like the fact that under his government personal income tax and household power bills have fallen. After 96 percent of the ballots were counted from Sunday’s parliamentary vote, an official projection gave Orban’s Fidesz party 133 of the 199 seats, guaranteeing that it will form the next government.
That tally also gave Orban’s party the two-thirds majority needed for it to change the constitution, but only by one seat, and final results could still push Fidesz back below the threshold. The same projection gave the Socialist-led leftist alliance 38 seats, while far-right Jobbik was on 23 seats.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks likely to win a second term in parliamentary elections on Sunday, but the far-right Jobbik party is on course for a strong showing. A good result for Jobbik, accused by critics of being anti-Semitic and stoking antipathy toward Hungary’s Roma minority, could be a harbinger of how other nationalist right-wing parties will perform in European Parliament elections next month.
In a poll published on Thursday, Orban’s Fidesz scored 36 percent, Jobbik had 15 percent support and the Socialist-led leftist alliance had 18 percent. Orban’s centre-right Fidesz is certain to have enough seats to form a government, a sign voters are not concerned about idiosyncratic policies that have angered the European Union and hurt foreign investment. The only question mark is whether Fidesz will retain the two-thirds majority that allows it to change the constitution.
‘A village in western Hungary which was devastated by a tide of toxic sludge has rebuilt itself as a eco-friendly settlement. Devescer was partly destroyed when a dam holding aluminum sludge collapsed and a wave of chemicals flooded homes. Today the bus station is powered by geothermal energy and the village is one of the few places in the country not reliant on Russian gas.’ (Al Jazeera)
Over 100,000 Hungarians from several counties in Transylvania but also from Hungary took part in a protest march yesterday, forming a 54-kilometer-long human chain from Chichis locality, near the administrative border with Brasov County, to Bretcu, on the administrative border with Bacau County. According to the proclamation read by National Szekely Council (CNS) President Izsak Balazs, the Hungarians asked for the self-governance of the Szekely Land and the application of the norms practiced in the European Union so that the Szekelys could exercise their self-determination right through the autonomy of the Szekely Land and reaffirmed their “attachment to the provisional boundary line of the Szekely Land formed by 8 seats and 153 local authorities.
“Internal self-governance means regional power, which has deliberative authority constituted through democratic means, a wide autonomy, and the means necessary to exercise self-governance prerogatives,” the proclamation reads.
At the same time, the signatories of the proclamation are asking the Hungarian government “to demand” the Romanian government to respect the basic treaty between the two states “with a special emphasis on its Article 15/9.” The Sezkelys gathered at the Monument of Martyr Szekelys in Targu Mures on the Day of Szekely Freedom sent to the government a petition on March 10 too, asking for the Szekely Land to become a distinct development region. The petition was left unanswered. The participants carried placards with Romanian and English messages such as: “we want autonomy, not independence,” “Szekely Land, Romania’s other face,” “Romania is our country too,” “autonomy does not mean independence, it means efficiency.” The march was preceded by several religious services attended, according to CNS representatives, by 60-70,000 persons.
In a major new report, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations details a global crackdown on peaceful protests through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report, “Take Back The Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” warns of a growing tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right — the right to protest — as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain. The report’s name comes from a police report filed in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G20 Summit. A senior Toronto Police Commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, more than 1,000 people — peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents — were arrested and placed in detention. We are joined by three guests: the report’s co-editor, Abby Deskman, a lawyer and program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; and Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian human rights activist and the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. (Democracy NOW!)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched another broadside against foreign investors and media on September 9, warning that the era of “colonisation” is over. The heightened rhetoric ahead of the elections next year will only raise worries amongst investors.
Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have been campaigning for some weeks now as they push to try to recapture the constitutional majority currently enjoyed at elections to be held in the spring at the latest. Opening the autumn session of parliament, the PM both boasted of his government’s economic prowess, reiterated promises to cut energy bills, and continued the pressure on the banks to take more losses from their foreign-currency loans.
“Hungary is an independent, sovereign country,” Orban proclaimed as he set out the agenda for the parliamentary session. “The era of colonisation is over. Utility price cuts, the elimination of the foreign currency loan regime and rescuing families and their homes are national causes for us.”
The resumed attack on the banks is the most immediate issue affecting investor confidence. As bne has reported, Fidesz effectively launched its election campaign in a sudden move in July, as it reopened an issue it had previously said was not in its plans. However, forcing the banks to shoulder more big losses from the hundreds of thousands of mortgage loans made in Swiss franc and euro should offer a clear populist boost at the polls.
Previously full of rhetoric concerning “negotiations” with the banks, the government upped the ante in early September. Following up ultimatums issued by officials, Orban told the lower house: “The banks abused their own position and [exploited] the people’s naivete. They were propagating [forex-based] loans while they were aware of the potential risks. They knew exactly what would happen if exchange rates went haywire, they [played down] the risks to customers in advance, [and] they made a deal that meant a huge profit only for them.”
Repeating a chilling new demand that the banks should be ready to absorb the bulk of the losses in phasing out such forex loans, the PM added: “It is a moral obligation of the banks to modify the [loan/mortgage] contracts. We are calling on the banks to bear most of the losses stemming from the exchange rate changes themselves. If they do not comply voluntarily by November 1, the government will take steps [to do so].”
The case of Edward Snowden remains in the spotlight. Yet even in Europe, there’s little protection for those who point out corruption, crime and wrongdoing, explains Transparency International’s Mark Worth.
Deutsche Welle: With the current case of Edward Snowden there’s a lot of attention on whistleblowing across the world with the focus on the situation in the United States. There’s a lot of public sympathy for Snowden - but what’s the situation for whistleblowers actually in Europe? To which extent are people employed in the public or private sector protected from retaliation or being fired if they choose to uncover corruption, misconduct or crime in the company they work for?
Mark Worth: The only country in the EU that has a strong whistleblower law and where there is a somewhat well functioning enforcement system is the UK. Britain has had a law on the books since 1998 that protects employees in the public and private and also the non-profit sectors. So if you follow the procedure to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, corruption, crime and so forth and it is in the public interest, then you’d be legally protected from being fired, demoted, harassed, or being transferred against your will. That law has been on the books since 1998.
Hungary has a similar law that protects people in the private and public sectors but there’s no agency to receive the complaints and from what we’ve been able to determine it does not work very well in practice. But those are the only two countries in the EU that have an actual whistleblower law to protect employees.
Three other countries - Romania, Luxemburg and Slovenia - have laws that protect whistleblowers but the laws are more limited in scope and in the case of Luxembourg and Slovenia are included in broader anti-corruption legislation. The other 22 EU countries either have very limited or basically no legal protection for whistleblowers specifically.
‘Hungary decided to eliminate all plantations using GMO seeds from Monsanto. According to the Minister of Rural Development Lajos Bognar, around 500 hectares of corn crops were burned this week – equivalent to five million square meters. The intention is that the country has no produce originating from genetically modified material.
According to the information portal Real Pharmacy yesterday (23 May), the cornfields that were destroyed were scattered around the Hungarian territory and had been recently planted. Thus, poisonous corn pollen was not about to be dispersed in the air, and so there was no danger to the population.
The Hungarians were the first to take a forceful position in the European Union in relation to the use of transgenic seeds. During recent years, the government of Hungary has destroyed several plantations of crops derived from Monsanto seed. Minister Bognar says the country’s producers are required to ensure they do not use genetically modified seeds.’
by NIKOLAJ NIELSEN
Hungarian authorities will pass on the cost of EU fines through a tax on its own citizens whenever it breaches EU law.
Giving details of the new Hungarian initiative, EU justice commissioner for justice Vivian Reding told euro-deputies at the Strasbourg plenary session on Wednesday (17 April) that: “in practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this.”
The so-called ad hoc tax was introduced into Hungary’s latest constitutional reform in March, its fourth in the past 15 months.
The latest changes are said to undermine the rule of law by limiting the power of the constitutional court.
Hungary denies the charge.
Orban v democracy
Hungarian lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly (265-11) approved a long amendment to the constitution which threatens democratic checks and balances. The biggest opposition party, the Socialists, boycotted the vote. The bill enshrines in the constitution policies that were previously struck down as unconstitutional by Hungary’s highest court. Among other things, it curtails the independence of judges, it wipes out 20 years of jurisprudence by banning the court to refer to rulings given while the previous constitution was in force, a law requiring students who received state scholarships to work in Hungary for years; a prohibition on political campaigns in private media; and a law allowing local authorities to fine or jail homeless people living on the street.
The New York Times quoted a very worried Peter Hack, a leading professor of constitutional law at ELTE University in Budapest: “We are not yet North Korea, but this amendment is extremely alarming because it removes constitutional control and checks over the legislature. It is a bald and dangerous power grab.”
Thousands of Hungarians protested in central Budapest on Saturday against imminent changes to the country’s constitution that they fear would curb democratic rights, echoing worries this week from the European Union and the United States.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling center-right Fidesz party has used its unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority to make laws that critics say limit citizens’ freedoms.
Parliament is scheduled to hold a final vote on the constitutional changes on Monday.
Decisions of the country’s top Constitutional Court made before the new constitution entered into force in 2012 will no longer be valid, discarding an important body of law often used as reference before. Restrictive new regulation may now appear in higher education, homelessness, electoral law and family law.
“We really have had enough of this,” said 17-year-old student Luca Cseh, adding the changes limited her prospects of going to university as state subsidies would only be available to students who pledge to work in Hungary after graduation.
“They oppress students, but also the homeless or homosexuals,” she said.
In a phone call on Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his government and the parliament should address concerns “in accordance with EU democratic principles”.
Orban sent a letter to Barroso after the phone call in which he pledged Hungary would conform to the norms and rules of the European Union, without offering specifics, according to a copy of the letter posted on the state news agency MTI’s web site.
Earlier this week the European institution responsible for defending human rights, the Council of Europe, urged Budapest to postpone the vote, fearing for Hungary’s democratic checks and balances.
The government rejected that request, and Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics sent a detailed explanation of the laws to the Council defending the changes and offering further discussions.
The U.S. State Department and human rights organizations also expressed concern.
However, the leader of the Fidesz party’s parliament group, Antal Rogan, told a news conference on Saturday that external pressure on Hungary was unacceptable.
by Elad Benari
The first Hungarian convicted under a new Holocaust denial law has been given a suspended 18-month jail sentence and has to visit Budapest’s memorial museum, Auschwitz or Yad Vashem, a court ruled Friday.
AFP reported that in addition to visiting Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center three times the man, Gyorgy Nagy, has to write down his thoughts. Alternatively he can go to the Auschwitz former death camp in Poland or the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.
The sentence, which also bans the unemployed computer technician from attending political rallies or events, is the first conviction since a new law came into force in 2010.
Attending a political rally in Budapest in 2011, the 42 year-old held up a banner with the Hebrew-language inscription, “The Shoah (Holocaust) did not happen.”
The banner was visible for around 15 minutes before Nagy was detained by police, the weekly newspaper HVG reported.
The denial of the genocide committed by the Nazi regime was declared a crime punishable by a maximum three-year prison sentence by the Hungarian parliament in February 2010, AFP reported.
Later in 2010, the denial of crimes against humanity committed during Hungary’s communist era was also declared a crime by the incoming right-wing government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.
Orban has however been accused of pandering to nationalists and of stoking anti-Semitism, amid renewed tributes to Hungary’s wartime leader Miklos Horthy, an ally of Adolf Hitler, and the rehabilitation of some anti-Semitic writers.
In 2012, Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary’s highest state honor because of what he called a “whitewashing” of history in the European Union member state.
Last month, residents of the small Hungarian town of Gyomro failed to stop a park from taking on Horthy’s name, after too few voters turned out for a referendum on the issue.
The park was named after Horthy last year, following a motion by the far-right nationalist Jobbik party, the third-largest in parliament. Angry locals forced the referendum, but it was declared invalid after only 18 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
The neo-Nazi Jobbik recently made headlines for several anti-Semitic statements by its officials. In late November, a far-right deputy from the party called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.
At a press conference, deputy Elod Novak called for the resignation of Katalin Ertsey, of the small opposition party LMP, saying that it was unacceptable that she had kept her dual Hungarian-Israeli citizenship secret.
He later told news portal Index, “Israel has more deputies in the Hungarian parliament than they have in the Israeli Knesset.”
The comments came after another member of Jobbik In released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of parliament and government.
The prime minister of Hungary and the International Monetary Fund are not friends any more, and that’s official.
Viktor Orban ‘defriended’ the IMF from his official facebook profile and posted a video criticising the agency’s terms for a loan it made to Hungary. He said that the IMF’s list of conditions “contains everything that is not in Hungary’s interests”.
The IMF is preparing to lend recession-hit Hungary up to 15 billion euros to help get its economy back on its own two feet. But in return it is asking for pension cuts, a reduction in the number of public sector employees and the eradication of a bank tax.
Just the day before Orban had announced that negotiations with the IMF had been going according to schedule and the two sides were headed for an agreement.
It just goes to show how quickly things turn sour when money comes between friends.