How Orbán Dismantles Hungarian Democracy

Triumph of the Brutal Populist

Hungary’s Prime Minister is moving away from democracy, the rule of law and Europe. At a breathtaking pace, Viktor Orbán is cutting back the powers of control institutions, regulating the press, examining the feasibility of forced labour and labour camps – and the crisis-ridden EU is merely standing by.Is Brussels so preoccupied with saving the Euro that meanwhile no other topics can even be addressed? Is the small and peripheral Hungary too unimportant for the agenda? Or is the EU simply weapon less to deal with brutal populists as the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán? The silence, with which Europe is observing Orbán’s policies is, by all means, a cause for concern.Since his Fidesz party – together with the conservative-nationalistic Christian democrats –  won a two-thirds majority – Orbán has been making no secret of his determination to “reconstruct the entire country”. Since the very first day, he has been doing so at a breathtaking pace. The Budget Council was dissolved, the competences of the Constitutional Court and the National Bank cut back. Parliament was degraded to a voting machine that’s been approving new laws like a conveyor belt. Between January and June, Hungary held the EU presidency and was under the increased scrutiny of the European public. All sceptics who had been warning that afterwards Orbán would accelerate yet again were proven right: not even a week after Hungary getting rid of the presidency, 550 employees of the state-owned media were fired. It is likely that, in the autumn, a further 400 are going to follow. Unsurprisingly, so far it was mainly journalists critical towards Orbán, who had to go. Furthermore, the news programmes of the state-owned media are being concentrated in a single centralised editorial team. Its political editor-in-chief, Dánel Papp, is a man who earlier was a member of the far-right Jobbik party, and worked for the right-extremist Echo TV.The few existing independent media are as good as being strangled. The last leftist and liberal newspapers can partly no longer pay their staff, because advertisements have mysteriously disappeared. In addition, under a new and dangerously hazy piece of legislation, Hungary’s press is obliged to provide “balanced reporting”. Overseeing and judging that is a media authority made up exclusively by Fidesz people. Its leader had already declared 10 years ago the 100% monopolisation of media opinion as the highest priority. All of that is enshrined in the new media law that the EU – after cosmetic adjustments – accepted. Plans for forced labour and labour campsAlso, Klubrádió the last station that dares to publish critical and substantial reports is fighting for survival. All state-owned institutions withdrew their advertising assignments, now the media authority is reassigning the frequency. Of course, Klubrádió can also apply – after all, Hungary is a democratic country. Except that the frequency now costs double the amount. By the way, there is one more requirement. The Authority wishes itself an entertainment radio. This means that 60% of air time must be dedicated to popular music, and a further quarter to local news and light-hearted features. In other words, Klubrádió would be left with only 15% with which to do what it has been earning ever increasing attention for: publishing self-researched, independent stories, and addressing politically relevant topics. God knows, there is no shortage of the latter: in order to combat unemployment, the government plans to introduce forced labour, and labour camps. Those registered unemployed for more than 90 days may be sent to construction sites for unskilled labour, under police supervision. According to the daily Népszabadság, workers will be housed in containers on the spot. The sites may be up to 6 hours away from their place of residence. Parliament has furthermore ruled that from previously 350, now it is only 14 religious groupings that enjoy state recognition. All others must reapply to Parliament. However, the recognised churches receive the double amount of state support from tax revenues, and do not need to provide accounts for these. Most recently, a special parliamentary committee has paved the way for the preceding socialist governments being brought to trial for the “political crime” of state debt. The committee added: if legislation in force were to be insufficient to punish of the politicians – it’s no less than three previous prime ministers, Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai, who are concerned – the necessary laws should be changed retroactively, as soon as possible. If one were to ask Orbán’s followers, whether labour camps were the right tool to combat unemployment, whether a Parliamentary decision defining what a religious community was were running against the freedom of religion, and whether retroactive penal laws were violating fundamental principles of the rule of law – they would probably just shrug their shoulders.On the one hand, under a rhetorical reference to the voters and the historic mission of saving the Hungarian nation, the government has long vaccinated itself against any kind of external criticism. When Thomas O. Melia, deputy secretary of state of the US State Department criticised Orbán’s style of government, Péter Szíjjártó, Orbán’s Spokesman replied by stating that “nobody is in a position to criticise the Hungarian Government that has won a mandate from the voters to rebuild the country”. On the other, Orbán has been insinuating consistently that the western project of democracy was an expiring model, so it was high time to give a slap to those talking-shop democrats: “We’ve handed out a couple of bops to them, and gave some bashes on their faces, too” as Orbán (reacting to a question as to European criticism to his policies) is cited by the Journalist Ádám Majorosy in his blog “Stargarten”, one of the best German-speaking sources on the situation in Hungary. Highly interesting was the speech that Orbán has just held in the Transsyilvanian village of Tusnádfürdő, where the community of the right-conservative Hungarians of Romania is organising an annual Summer Academy. Orbán’s intervention could be summarised by one sentence: the West is bankrupt, “the framework of values in which we were living our lives, is losing its significance”.Individual solutionsThe debt crisis was so suffocating that it would lead to collapse, so that Hungary should distance itself from the sinking ship as fast as possible. Which was no loss, as one had already found their own solutions, such as the new Media Law. He would bet that – after the News of the World scandal – the UK was soon to adopt a new Media Law that would “be startingly similar to ours”. The idea that Hungary should distance itself from Europe would only do good to the Hungarian Nation (evoked 49 times in the speech), as the country had passed the last 100 years “in an unnatural state”. In his catalogue of “unnatural” events, he puts the humiliating treaty of Trianon, the Second World War, the Communist Regime and the economic downturn after 1990 in one and the same line, just as he likes to compare directives from Brussels to Soviet oppression. Thanks to him and his Government, Hungary was on a new path, Central Europe would grow to become a new powerhouse, Hungary would continue its revolution. Where that one would end – nobody knows for certain. But as – a couple of weeks ago – the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao came to visit, Orbán complimented the „fantastically successful policies” of the Chinese communists. He also boasted that his country provided foreign investors with the most stable political system in Europe.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11