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Hungarian Democracy Under Threat
January 3, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Previously. On 1 January Hungary's new Constitution came into effect which, amongst other things, entrenches the power of the current ruling party, FIDESZ, and enshrines social issues such as the right of the unborn child. Many so-called cardinal laws have been passed in Parliament which requires a 2/3 majority to change. The president of the EU, José Barroso wrote to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, requesting a rethink of two such laws which impact the political independence to the Central Bank. This was rejected by the Hungarian government. Economically things are tough with Hungary requesting additional IMF assistance but they withdrew from informal talks, citing concern over the independence of the central bank. Hungary's debt was downgraded to junk status with rating agencies citing concerned at the relationship with the IMF.

There is rising concern at government control over the media with journalists been dismissed after taking part in a hunger strike. The popular liberal radio station, Klubrádió, has been taken off the air by the government-controlled Media Council. Government controlled media even digitally-removed the image of a former top member of the judiciary. Poking fun [YouTube link, sub-titles in English] by some journalists at the current situation in Hungary also resulted in the banning of a popular internal portal from reporting on Parliament.

International criticism is mounting: The Guardian cautions against the rising xenophobic, right-wing nationalism of Orbán, while The Washington Post laments the return of autocracy to Hungary. Paul Krugman of the New Times is likewise concerned at recent developments and Der Spiegel is very concerned at the growing power of the right-wing on cultural matters such as the appointment of the anti-semitic István Csurka as head of the National Theatre.

Hilary Clinton is worried [PDF] at recent developments, as are US Congress members.

In Hungary, protests are mounting too. Some MP's, including the former Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány were recently detained following large protests outside Parliament. Protests continue into the New Year.

Those wishing to see what Victor Orbán thinks of international and domestic criticisms, check out his views in a recent interview. Apparently, he is still looking at things.
posted by vac2003 (27 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this. In the midst of the financial crisis, Europe seems to be ignoring the rise of authoritarianism in its midst. I've wondered whether it's owing in part to the remoteness of the Hungarian language, except in the most tenuous way, to any other language. And apparently Hungarians don't want or have many opportunities to learn other languages.

Some other good blogs on the subject:
Hungarian Spectrum
The Contrarian Hungarian
posted by orrnyereg at 2:27 PM on January 3, 2012


*sigh*

Well at least they don't have the industrial infrastructure of that other place in Europe a few years back.
posted by edgeways at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2012


Dude. You can't have austerity without authoritarianism, because you have to police your people to keep them from striking, protesting and rioting, and you have to provide some kind of torchlight parades to keep them (or at least the military and the police) loyal. This whole business of Hilary Clinton and the German government and various austerity-mongering supporters of the IMF pearl-clutching about authoritarianism....well, if you don't want the whirlwind, don't sow the goddamn wind in the first place.
posted by Frowner at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Thank you for this post. I've been reading about Hungary in the news for the last couple of weeks and desperately wanted to tell Mefites about it but I haven't the in depth appreciation of the situation or the resources to make this into a decent FPP.

This is what I come to Metafilter for.
posted by Talez at 2:47 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post. I'm going to be in Budapest in a few weeks to see a friend. I start to get the feeling that this might be my last visit for quite a while.
posted by brennen at 2:53 PM on January 3, 2012


I have a friend in Budapest, and she moved there after marrying, from Singapore. I find it interesting how she is reacting to this, and is rightfully concerned about it all. She and her husband (who has been on Hungarian tv) work for the people that are tended to be ignored there, a lot of mentally ill and such. It's a gorgeous city, with a lot of history, but also a whole lot of troubles going on. I'm also seeing a lot of similar things happening here in the US.
posted by usagizero at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2012


This whole business of Hilary Clinton and the German government and various austerity-mongering supporters of the IMF pearl-clutching about authoritarianism

Um, the Obama administration is trying to pressure Europe NOT to adopt austerity measures. I've seen no evidence that Hillary Clinton has tried to subvert the administration's efforts in this regard.
posted by yoink at 3:29 PM on January 3, 2012


Say what you will about the House of Hapsburg at least they kept Hungary in check for years and years.
posted by cell divide at 4:07 PM on January 3, 2012


Dude. You can't have austerity without authoritarianism

This is a somewhat crass and opportunistic assessment that assumes Hungary ever needed an excuse for authoritarianism.
posted by victors at 4:34 PM on January 3, 2012


Say what you will about the House of Hapsburg at least they kept Hungary in check for years and years.

Yes, these are the kind of glib remarks that I usually try to ignore on Mefi; it doesn't really throw much light on the situation, saying that, does it?
posted by jokeefe at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2012


Um, the Obama administration is trying to pressure Europe NOT to adopt austerity measures. I've seen no evidence that Hillary Clinton has tried to subvert the administration's efforts in this regard.

Clinton praises 'vital' austerity measures in Greece.

"The Portuguese people and the government of Portugal have demonstrated impressive resolve in putting aside political differences to implement difficult austerity measures that are helping to stabilize the Portuguese economy, but also to set it up for long-term economic success," she said.

In addition, I've heard multiple statements from the administration over the past few months for Europe to get its finances in order quickly. I interpreted this to mean that they want Europe to implement the austerity measures that were on the table at the time (I haven't kept up the past few weeks).
posted by formless at 7:39 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been following this and have to say that while Orban certainly seems like a dictator in training, the fact that he and parliament have given the finger to the IMF and EU (while seeking a bailout all the while) is fascinating. Why does it take a dictator to assert that national interests are more important than what investors want; why does it take a guy like Orban to say that banks ought to experience some austerity too?
posted by kgasmart at 7:49 PM on January 3, 2012


I haven't kept up the past few weeks

No, you haven't. Try reading this NYTimes piece. America is worried that European austerity will tank the global economy. It has been worried about that for most of this year. Of course they'll make happy noises about any actions made in the PIIGs countries--they want to encourage the general sense that Progress Is Being Made. But they're trying to convince Germany to allow the central European bank to goose the general European economy and to be the lender of last resort for the Eurozone nations.
posted by yoink at 9:28 PM on January 3, 2012


Dude. You can't have austerity without authoritarianism, because you have to police your people to keep them from striking, protesting and rioting....

Might be true somewhere else but what's happening in Hungary doesn't quite fit that narrative. The government there is acting *against* the wishes of the IMF. This isn't authoritarianism in the pursuit of austerity. It's a power grab by a would-be dictator exploiting economic suffering.
posted by storybored at 9:43 PM on January 3, 2012


Why does it take a dictator to assert that national interests are more important than what investors want; why does it take a guy like Orban to say that banks ought to experience some austerity too?

Orban has introduced a flat rate tax on individuals and soon on corporations. The only outcome of this is the already terrible Hungarian economy getting even worse. That is not in the national interest, and is is certainly nothing to do with bailing out banks.
posted by estuardo at 2:41 AM on January 4, 2012


Some of the laws, such as the Constitutional entrenchment of homophobia, will almost certainly be found a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. At least Article XV.2, excluding sexual orientation from grounds of discrimination (doubtful about the same-sex marriage ban, obviously).

Which is small comfort, I admit. But it's comfort nonetheless.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:08 AM on January 4, 2012


Holy shit.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:10 AM on January 4, 2012


Orban doesn’t just lead the FIDESZ party – it is essentially a populist personality cult. Orban IS FIDESZ, and he really sees himself as the embodiment of the Hungarian nation. Disagree with him and you will likely be accused of treason, as many journalists and civil activists here have come to learn. Orban, and by extension FIDESZ, has no real ideology. “Right” and “Left” have no real meaning in Hungary, although the retro-Nazi Jobbik Party (17% in Parliament) and their marching Hungarian Guards are definitely far-right. FIDESZ are a collection of country lawyers, public relations analysts, and business people backed by some very rich and influential Hungarians at home and abroad. It is a formidable political machine, and party discipline is strict, allowing no internal dissent. Four legs are always good, two legs are always bad.

FIDESZ already had its five years in government before losing to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) in 2002. After losing the 2006 elections to the MSZP Orban refused to step down as FIDESZ party leader, and developed an intense personal hatred of Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Socialist Prime Minister who defeated him. Instead he took politics to the streets in a series of demonstrations ending in violent riots in 2007. (In a true democracy policy is debated in the Parliament, not made in the streets…) FIDESZ has since made the riots an allegory for the 1956 revolt against the Soviets, with the Socialists called “commies” and the police playing the role of the AVH snipers attacking innocent Hungarians. As a public relations spin, it worked like a charm to help FIDESZ regain power. The socialists didn’t help themselves much by turning a blind eye to some whopping corruption scandals. The old SZDSZ (the party of the 1980s dissident intellectuals) diddled and published essays and fell apart from infighting. Presently there really is no unified left opposition, only civil networks organizing demonstrations and bloggers expressing dissent.

During the 2010 elections, FIDESZ never clearly stated its policies. It won by playing up public disappointment against Gyurcsany and the Socialists and making promises of huge economic growth. Orban, never announced his intention to change the constitution, to nationalize private pension funds, to criminalize homelessness, to remove the checks and balances of the judicial system. That all came as a surprise to many who had backed him, including trade unionists, students, and retirees. With entire chunks of the population now feeling cheated, FIDESZ needed to cement themselves in for the long run.

As of January 1 Hungary is in violation of a slew of EU laws. Officially, we are no longer the Republic of Hungary anymore. The Republic was taken away and we are now officially just “Magyarorszag” (Hungary.) And the MSZP Socialist party has been legally designated by FIDESZ as the successor party to the MSZMP Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (the pre-1989 Communists) and therefore liable for all their “crimes.”

Remember that Hungarians are the most monolingual nation in the EU. We have internet, so there can never be complete control of information, but 90% of the population only gets its news from Hungarian language sources. Orban enjoys playing the role of the plucky Magyar standing up to foreign domination. The latest PR campaign is to convince Hungarians that there is an international conspiracy against Hungary led by “speculators.” Gyurcsany accepted an IMF deal, which causes Orban to reject even the idea of "selling out to foreign bankers." Orban never accepts defeat or steps back unless he can maintain an advantage. With the Forint now dropping to all time lows he may have boxed himself into a corner he can't get out of.

If -or when – the economy tanks I believe there may be massive unrest, which plays into the hands of the largest party in Parliament after FIDESZ - the neo-Nazi Jobbik. The years of FIDESZ divisive wedge politics have left the country shrilly polarized into “Us” and “Them” camps. Klub Radio - the last dissenting talk radio station that has just lost its frequency - actually was discussing the issue of Hungarian mass emigration the other day. I had a talk with my teen age son about how we need not internalize all this outer conflict, but he's worried about universities being closed on ideological and economic grounds. We have a joke in Hungary - what is the difference between a Hungarian pessimist and a Hungarian optimist? The pessimist says "Things can't get worse." The optimist says "Yes, they can!"

But Hungary is still a wonderful place to visit. That, at least, will not change.
posted by zaelic at 5:12 AM on January 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I've been following this and have to say that while Orban certainly seems like a dictator in training, the fact that he and parliament have given the finger to the IMF and EU (while seeking a bailout all the while) is fascinating. Why does it take a dictator to assert that national interests are more important than what investors want; why does it take a guy like Orban to say that banks ought to experience some austerity too?

Except that Orban is not asserting national interests at all, only short-term personal ones: the reason why the IMF and EU are setting conditions is because Hungary, which is seriously broke, has gone to them cap in hand. Spitting in the face of the same people you are asking to cover your debts does not seem a particularly clever move in my book. At least not for the country as a whole.

Also, Orban's move against the banks is not motivated by righteous anger at their selfish behaviour: it's simply because, being almost exclusively foreign-owned, they are an easy target.

In short: we have here a narcissistic politician on a power trip. Other EU countries are reluctant to intervene, because it rather backfired in Austria's precedent. Rather, they are bidding their time and preparing themselves to pick up the pieces when the Orban regime inevitably collapses.
posted by Skeptic at 5:34 AM on January 4, 2012


Orban just took 25% of the Republican vote in Iowa yesterday...
posted by Xoebe at 6:36 AM on January 4, 2012


Except that Orban is not asserting national interests at all, only short-term personal ones: the reason why the IMF and EU are setting conditions is because Hungary, which is seriously broke, has gone to them cap in hand. Spitting in the face of the same people you are asking to cover your debts does not seem a particularly clever move in my book. At least not for the country as a whole.

Fine, but take a look at the lede of this piece:

Pressure grew on Hungary to change its policies to satisfy international lenders on Tuesday after bond yields jumped above 10 percent and the European Commission told the government to safeguard the central bank's independence.


...and my first reaction is, you know, F*CK "international lenders." Why is it that a sovereign nation's policies must be crafted, first and foremost, to please the IMF or the EU or the banks?

Hungary may well be headed for an economic crash, as some knowledegable folks here claim, and whatever Orban has done may indeed be only for crass political cult-of-personality reasons. But he's instituted what looks very like an excess profits tax - "crisis taxes on more profitable industries" - and taxing banks, forcing them to bear some of the austere burden.

They may be "easy targets," but I don't see too many western nations - or any western nations at all - suggesting the banks might have to take a dose of the austerity medicine being served to everyone else.

This isn't meant as an endorsement of Orban, nor is it an opinion on the correctness of his economic policies as they pertain to Hungary. What it is is, a lamentation that western politicians don't think the banks should have to share in the austerity, and the ease with which we accept that international lenders ought to determine sovereign policies, and how an excess profits tax, here, would be a non-starter - unthinkble, even. Not saying he's doing it right. But I'm pretty sure much of the west is doing it wrong.
posted by kgasmart at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2012


...and my first reaction is, you know, F*CK "international lenders." Why is it that a sovereign nation's policies must be crafted, first and foremost, to please the IMF or the EU or the banks?

Because said sovereign nation in question is the one begging for hard currency?

You don't go to a bank and say "PLEASE LEND ME $500,000 FOR A HOUSE WHICH I'LL THEN REPAY WITH THIS MONEY I'VE OBTAINED FROM THESE MONOPOLY BOARD GAMES". That would require the lender to be pants on head retarded and to not to look out for their interests.
posted by Talez at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2012


Because said sovereign nation in question is the one begging for hard currency?

That's to assume that the "international lenders" would be unconcerned if Orban weren't seeking a bailout.
posted by kgasmart at 10:40 AM on January 4, 2012


That's to assume that the "international lenders" would be unconcerned if Orban weren't seeking a bailout.

Why would they be concerned otherwise?

Look, the IMF and the EU are both financed by tax money. Their "technocrats" have a duty to care for the money they are entrusted with by their member states and not lend it recklessly.
posted by Skeptic at 6:16 AM on January 5, 2012


Also, kgasmart, you appear to believe that the source of the EU's and IMF's concern is Hungary's bank taxes. That's actually the least of their concerns, even if it looks less like an "excess profit tax" (what profits?), than a banana-republic-style money grab. What the European Commission is concerned about (read the first article you link to yourself) is that Orban is trying to get his hands on the Hungarian Central Bank, that is, the money printing press. Considering that Orban has already vaporised the money held in Hungary's private pension funds within months of grabbing them, that is a very scary prospect for Hungary.

Orban seems determined to defend the Hungarian national interest in a worryingly similar manner to Robert Mugabe's defence of the Zimbabwean national interest.
posted by Skeptic at 6:28 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finally, kgasmart your second link is the most absurd fluff piece I've read in a while. Just a sample:

On Monday, ratings agency Fitch revised its outlook on Hungary’s debt from “negative” to “stable” and affirmed its long-term foreign and local currency debt ratings at ‘BBB-’ and ‘BBB’, respectively. This was one of the first international recognitions that the government’s plan is taking effect.

Some "international recognition": 'BBB-' is the lowest investment grade rating Fitch awards, just one step above junk (which is S&P's rating).

Other journalists are markedly less sanguine.
posted by Skeptic at 6:41 AM on January 5, 2012


BBC Newsnight: Hungarian democracy and prosperity 'in question'
posted by homunculus at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2012


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