Category Archives: Hungary

Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights

Masha Gessen writes for the New York Review of Books:

July 26, 2017, was a personal anniversary for me: one year earlier I had written a piece in which I argued for setting aside the idea of a Trump-Russia conspiracy (yes, this idea was with us a year ago) for the much more important task of imagining what a Trump presidency might bring. I wrote that Trump would unleash a war at home and while it was difficult to predict the target, “my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable.” This was a thought exercise; even as I made an argument that I believed to be logical, I could not believe my own words. On Wednesday of this week, one year to the day since I made that prediction, President Trump announced, by tweet, that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military—a policy reversal that would directly and immediately affect thousands of people.

Many commentators immediately branded this move a distraction, an attempt to draw attention away from the Russian-conspiracy story, the health care battle, or anything else they deem more important than the president’s declaration that a group of Americans are second-class citizens. This is not only a grievous insult to transgender people but a basic failure to understand the emotional logic of Trumpism. This is a logic that Trump shares with most modern-day strongmen, and it was this logic that made his attack on LGBT rights so predictable, even while he was literally draping a rainbow flag over his body last year.

Trump got elected on the promise of a return to an imaginary past—a time we don’t remember because it never actually was, but one when America was a kind of great that Trump has promised to restore. Trumps shares this brand of nostalgia with Vladimir Putin, who has spent the last five years talking about Russian “traditional values,” with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, who has warned LGBT people against becoming “provocative,” and with any number of European populists who promise a return to a mythical “traditional” past.



The Hungarian Rise And Fall Of Sebastian Gorka

Mitch Prothero writes for BuzzFeed:

Deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka participates in a discussion during the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 24, 2017, in National Harbor, Maryland.Sebastian Gorka — national security aide and all-round Donald Trump attack dog — failed his way upwards to the White House, having been denied security clearance to work in the Hungarian parliament, defeated in a local mayoral race in the 2000s, and widely dismissed as an opportunist.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president who focuses on counterterrorism, was denied security clearance in 2002 to serve on a committee investigating the then-Hungarian prime minister’s past as a communist secret police official during Soviet times. That denial, local security officials and politicians told BuzzFeed News, effectively ended his career as a national security expert in Hungary.

Washington’s standards may be lower than Budapest’s. Gorka has been widely criticised for his lack of qualifications and connections with fringe political groups since joining the Trump administration. In the past few months, his ties with far-right Hungarian groups and past as an editor at Breitbart News have raised questions about both his ideological views and his judgment. But, back in Hungary in the 2000s, he wasn’t seen as an extremist, but instead a self-promoter, who exaggerated claims about his past, including his work for the British intelligence services.


Croatia and Hungary Are ‘New Face of Corruption’ in Europe

Nikolaj Nielsen reports for EU Observer:

Perceived corruption in Croatia and Hungary is so high that both have dropped in global rankings when compared to last year, according to Transparency International (TI).

Carl Dolan, who heads the anti-corruption NGO’s office in Brussels, described the two on Wednesday (25 January) “as the new face of corruption in Europe”.

His comments, posted on a blog on TI’s website, followed the publication of the NGO’s annual corruption perception index.

Out Wednesday, the survey noted Croatia and Hungary have now joined the ranks of the worst performers in the EU alongside Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, and Romania.

The survey ranks some 176 countries and scores them on a 0 to 100 scale, with 0 being perceived as highly corrupt and 100 as being very clean.


Hungary: Jobbik’s first direct election win bodes ill for Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party

The Economist writes:

This year is not going well for Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister. After falling out with a key oligarch and ally, Mr Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party has lost two by-elections. The loss of Veszprem in February to a left-winger cost Fidesz its two-thirds majority in parliament.

But its defeat in Tapolca on April 12th has even bigger implications. Lajos Rig took the seat for Jobbik, an extreme-right party, with 35.3% of the vote to Fidesz’s 34.4 %. The left-wing candidate trailed with 26.3%.

Modern, decentralised campaign tactics helped Jobbik to win. Whereas Fidesz ran an old-fashioned air war, parachuting in party leaders, including Mr Orban, only for brief visits, Jobbik ran a well co-ordinated ground war, flooding the constituency with MPs and activists, targeting villages and focusing on local concerns such as Tapolca’s hospital.’


Hungary: The baby that divided a nation

Nick Thorpe reports for BBC Magazine:

Rikardo Racz[…] Rikardo Racz was born at one minute past midnight, five weeks ago, and thus became the first baby born in Hungary this year. National, as well as local media noted his birth and a photo of Peter and his wife Sylvia holding Rikardo made the front pages.

Then Elod Novak, deputy leader of the far-right Jobbik party, posted that picture beside one of himself, his wife and three children on Facebook, mentioned that Rikardo was the third child of a 23-year-old Gypsy mother, then added: “The number of Hungarians is not just falling disastrously, but soon we will become a minority in our own homes. When will the day come when they decide to change Hungary’s name? And when will we finally tackle our country’s biggest problem?”

This provoked an avalanche of both condemnation, and approval. Rikardo’s birth seemed to hold up a mirror in which both Hungarian racism and anti-racism were reflected.’


Hungarian Parliament Speaker Accuses US of Plotting to Create New Liberal Party

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

File:Hungary-CIA WFB Map.pngIn a weekend interview with the Magyar Hirlap, Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, a top figure of the ruling Fidesz Party, has accused the United States of plotting to create a new Liberal party to replace the defunct SZDSZ and try to force the next Hungarian coalition government to exclude the nationalist Jobbik party.

Kover’s allegations come in the wake of Sen. John McCain (R – AZ) accusing Fidesz leader and Hungarian Premier Victor Orban of being “anti-democratic” and claiming Hungary was about to install a “neo-fascist dictator” who would be “in bed with Vladimir Putin.” Kover had complained loudly about McCain’s allegations.’


Thousands of Hungarians protest to demand prime minister’s resignation

Al Jazeera reports:

People protest in front of the Hungarian parliament in Budapest, Hungary on 17 November 2014More than 10,000 Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Monday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accusing him of employing corrupt public servants and cosying up to the Kremlin.

The numbers who turned up at Parliament for the rally — billed by organizers as a “Day of Public Outrage” — were much smaller than the crowds that protested a planned tax on the Internet last month and forced Orban to shelve the plan.

Alleged corruption has become a new rallying cry for Orban’s opponents after the United States said it was barring entry to six Hungarian public servants, including the head of the tax authority, on suspicion of being associated with graft.

Although Hungary — like many former Eastern Bloc countries — adopted the form and institutions of a liberal democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orban’s government has tilted in a more authoritarian direction. In late July, he said publicly that he wanted to construct an “illiberal state” in the mold of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.’


Mass protests force Hungary to retreat from internet tax plans

Roland Moore-Colyer reports for V3:

‘Hungary has cancelled plans to introduce a tax on internet data traffic after large-scale protests in Budapest.

Demonstrators opposed to the proposed levy of 150 forints (40p) per gigabyte of data traffic passing through data centres in the country threw old computer parts at the offices of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Kossuth Radio: “This tax in its current form cannot be introduced. If the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done.”‘


Hungarians take to the streets to protest “internet tax”

Zoltan Sipos reports for Index on Censorship:

Hungarians gathered in Budapest on Sunday to protest plans to introduce a tax on internet bandwidth. (Photo: 100,000 Against the Internet Tax /Facebook)‘The draft law proposed by Orban’s government would levy a fee of 150 forints (£0.40; €0.50; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic. In the face of public outrage, ruling party Fidesz promised that the tax will be capped at 700 forints for consumers and 5,000 forints for businesses. However, this did not calm the angry protesters.

Sunday’s rally that drew thousands of people to the Hungarian captial’s city center. The peaceful protest became heated when some demonstrators marched to the Fidesz headquarters, and broke the windows of the building with old computers and peripherals.

This protest was arguably the largest anti-government demonstration since 2010, when Viktor Orban came to power. In contrast with other protests, the gatherings denouncing the internet tax were not organized by the weak, discredited and fragmented opposition.’


Alarm at Hungarian Leader’s Power Tactics

Pablo Gorondi reports for The Associated Press:

‘[…] To the conservative leader’s opponents, the recent moves against the rights groups, including police raids, are attempts to silence some of the last critical voices left against his increasingly authoritarian rule. He had already concentrated power for his Fidesz party over many other institutions in Hungary, including the media, the courts and the central bank.

Fidesz was the clear winner in Sunday’s nationwide municipal elections, with the left-wing opposition making only some gains in Budapest and candidates from the far-right Jobbik party winning in several rural cities. With no other balloting scheduled until 2018, Orban can continue his transformation of the country.’


Hungary’s Crackdown on the Press

Philip N. Howard writes for The New York Times:

‘The European Union faces a challenging conundrum. While Hungary has embarked on building Europe’s most controlled media system, the European Commission just agreed in August to provide the country with nearly 22 billion euros of economic assistance.

Hungary has become a disturbing example of how a political elite can roll back democracy, even in the heart of Europe. Leveraging an electorally successful right-wing populism, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has staged an autocratic crackdown on the nation’s press, which the independent watchdog Freedom House now ranks as only “partly free.”’


American White Nationalists To Hold Conference With Russian And European Far Right

Rosie Gray reports for BuzzFeed:

‘The white nationalist think tank the National Policy Institute is holding a conference in October in Hungary that will feature Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist thinker who is increasingly popular in Kremlin circles.

Richard Spencer, the president of NPI and a former writer at the American Conservative, said the conference, which will also feature figures from the ascendant European far right, would be the first of its kind for NPI outside the United States. It’s part of an effort to reach out to “European traditionalists” all over the world, he said, and the relationship with Dugin is just beginning: a publishing arm attached to NPI will publish a book this fall by Dugin, who this week called for Ukraine to be “cleansed” of the Ukrainian “race of bastards.”

“I think there are a lot of things happening in Europe that I think would excite people like me and people who want to go to the conference, and would excite Americans who care about their European identity,” Spencer said.

Apart from Dugin, the conference will also host Márton Gyöngyösi, a leader of Jobbik, Hungary’s extremist far right political party.’


Infographic: The New European Parliament

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Young EU members celebrate decade in rich club

Monika Scislowska writes for the AP:

From left, member of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs Jan Marinus Wiersma, Chief Executive Officer of the European Financial Stability ...‘It has been a time of monumental change for several former Soviet satellite states that joined the European Union 10 years ago: open markets and the free movement of people has spurred economic growth that at times dwarfed worldwide trends. The goods they produced reached millions of new consumers. But it also left some feeling they threw away the yoke of an overbearing Moscow for an unaccountable Brussels. On May 1, 2004, in its biggest single expansion, the EU took in 10 countries with some 74 million people. Seven entrants were either one-time Soviet republics or once part of the Warsaw Pact: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. The others were Malta, Cyprus and Slovenia.’


Hungarian PM Orban wins third term, far-right opposition gains

Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs report for Reuters:

Photographer: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty ImagesHungarians 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.


Victory seen for PM Orban, far-right may gain in Hungary vote

Krisztina Than reports for Reuters:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during an election rally of ruling Fidesz party in Budapest, March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett SzaboHungarian 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.


Eco-friendly makeover for Hungarian village devastated by toxic waste

‘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 form human chain, asking for self-governance of Szekely Land

From Nine O’Clock:

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.


Report Finds Police Worldwide Criminalize Dissent, Assert New Powers in Crackdown on Protests

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 PM warns investors ‘colonisation’ is over, pays off IMF debt, may eye EU exit

From bne:

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].”


‘Most of Europe has no whistleblower protection’ ~ DW


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.