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Magyar Madness?
January 12, 2011 1:51 AM   Subscribe

As Hungary takes over the Presidency of the European Union, a new media law also comes into effect that centralizes control of the media in ways many consider is anti-democratic. The central media authority can issue decrees and apply financial penalties to those media, including internet portals and blogs who for "politically unbalanced reporting". The first test for the new Authority is Ice T following the broadcast of his songs, "Warning" and "It's On". Local media responded with blank pages by way of protest. Many see this as the latest example in the increasing authoritarian and anti-democratic nature of the Orban-led FIDESZ government. They point to the privatization of pensions, the diminution of the powers of the Constitutional Court and the imposition of wind-fall taxes on multi-national companies, as examples of this trend. The Washington Post calls it the "Putinizantion of Hungary", while The Guardian laments "One-party rule" in Hungary. The German newspaper, Spiegel describes it as a "A Slow Poison Attacking Democracy" while quoting those who refer to Hungary as a "Führer state". Local critics include the prominent economist János Kornai. English readers can keep up to-date with developments at the Hungarian Spectrum blog and politics.hu. On the hand, some see Hungary as a World of Potentials (SLYT).
posted by vac2003 (37 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome post. Seriously. Thanks, vac2003.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:05 AM on January 12, 2011


Warning?
posted by Catblack at 2:06 AM on January 12, 2011


and It's On?
posted by Catblack at 2:10 AM on January 12, 2011


I'll try again: On the hand, some see Hungary as a World of Potentials (SLYT).
posted by vac2003 at 2:15 AM on January 12, 2011


If the past is anything to go by, all Orban needs to do is set himself up as a bulwark against Russia and he'll become a darling of the West in no time - complete with Rose Garden press conferences and the works.
posted by Avenger at 2:31 AM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, Ice T, eh? Didn't know he was still active. Several Hungarian language comments on the It's On link at YT. Guess it's a big story over there.

Hope Mefi's own zaelic shows up here to give us the local take on all this stuff.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:37 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is really sad.
posted by smoke at 2:44 AM on January 12, 2011


A quick note to those like myself who are prone to hastily misread things: this is a Hungarian media law, not an EU media law.
posted by Anything at 3:21 AM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


The European Commission had publicly doubted that the new media law was compliant with EU law. After a bit of resistance the Hungarian prime minister has promised to Barroso of the EC that the law will be changed if necessary. (cite in Dutch news)

I discussed this with a hungarian. He was not impressed with the severity of the issue at all. He was only concerned with the hungarian economy. Somewhat understandable since he had to emigrate to Austria to find work.
posted by joost de vries at 3:50 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The German newspaper, Spiegel describes it as a "A Slow Poison Attacking Democracy" while quoting those who refer to Hungary as a "Führer state".

You know who el-... ah, forget it.
posted by No-sword at 4:02 AM on January 12, 2011


Ice T?! How about they start with Zsolti a Béka (Zsolti the Frog)- a martial arts expert, deformed, militant environmentalist frog. Good luck getting the chorus of this song out of your head.
posted by redteam at 4:04 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I discussed this with a hungarian. He was not impressed..." I am a first generation American, my family is from Russia, and many Russian people that I meet through my family have the same "silly romantic Westerners and their liberal ideals, don't you know that what's really important is money and power?"

As long as enough people in the eastern European states feel this way (and remain insecure about being judged/lectured by the "West"), these states will never truly join the first world.
posted by tempythethird at 4:09 AM on January 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


That's an interesting perspective tempty. I guess that the norms that citizens maintain wrt government are a matter of culture. That is; a matter of widely shared ideas that people transmit from generation to generation.
Culture in that sense of the word changes notoriously slow.
posted by joost de vries at 4:19 AM on January 12, 2011


There is also criticism from Amnesty International and Der Spiegel.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:17 AM on January 12, 2011


Sure joost de vries, those norms certainly are a matter of culture. But that shouldn't be taken to mean that these norms or the culture that produced them are somehow "natural," and thus acceptable. Decades of repression have done their damage to the people and the culture, producing nearly-nihilistic cynicism and a kind of jaded we've-seen-it-all stubbornness that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and prevents progress.
posted by tempythethird at 5:26 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are several vaguely related U.S. centric stories :

Republican senators used a secret hold to prevent the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which officially had unanimous support in the senate. Republicans had previously gutted the act of protections for holders of security clearances.

The White House released a draft of a plan entitled National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which looks like a very bad thing.

Twitter has managed to unseal a DOJ subpoena for information on anyone following wikileaks. Facebook may've silently acquiescing to a similar subpoena.

Ironically, the US strategy to prevent leaks has been leaked. And apparently one tip suffices to add a name to the terrorist watch list.

Have a Nice Day. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 5:29 AM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


You had me until "imposition of wind-fall taxes on multi-national corporations". Now this elaborate lament smells like neoliberal propaganda.
posted by clarknova at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


"imposition of wind-fall taxes on multi-national corporations"

Yeah, that don't sound like no bad thing to me.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:46 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clarknova, I'm usually on your side. In barely-functioning African states, multi-nationals are probably indeed strong enough to get away with murder.

But in 2nd world quasi-dictatorships such as Russia or Belarus, (Western) multi-nationals are seen as giant bags of cash by a multitude of corrupt small-level officials, who will harass these companies to enrich themselves until the companies become fed up and leave, taking their jobs with them. See Ikea and Russia. Or they are hounded out because they're uppity and competing with inferior state-controlled puppet-corporations. See Google and China.

I admit I'm not informed enough to know if this is the case in Hungaria, but I wouldn't be surprised...
posted by tempythethird at 5:51 AM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am going to help Zloty a beca go Viral, the Ministarstvo Veselje agrees we should. Who else is with me on this? *can't get chorus out if my head!*
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:44 AM on January 12, 2011


these states will never truly join the first world.

When the nation most famous for codifying the freedom of the press in its constitution has so effectively subverted the meaning of that clause, by delegation and redefinition, is joining "the first world" really such a prize?

Perhaps each evolving nation could come up with its own balance of the rights and responsiblities of citizens and publishers?
posted by pompomtom at 7:17 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Doesn't this sound basically like an updated Hungarian version of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine that applied in the US between 1949 and 1987? The requirement for media non-partisanship, imposition of penalties for violations, etc.?

If not--if this is somehow farther reaching than that--can someone explain how?

Personally, I'm still pining for the days when we had stricter broadcast media regulation in the US--for the days when it was at least in principle not permitted to lie or distort facts for political or financial gain as a broadcaster on the public airwaves. Whether flawed in application or not, I think we've lost something very important in abandoning those legal principles.

IMO, Reagan and the right's gutting of those decade's old regulations directly paved the way for irresponsible and fundamentally antisocial media outfits like Fox to set up shop, contributing to the massive expansion of the private propaganda industry we've seen in the intervening decades. That and the near total neglect of the anti-trust laws on the books have together created the perfect storm leading to the current cultural and political dominance of corporate interests.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Privatization of pensions" suggests that all or some of mandatory pension contributions will be managed privately. In fact, this was instituted in Hungary in 1997. The current move is to end this private component and return the private contributions to the treasury, where they will be exchanged for IOU's so the government can plug its budget hole. The section of the linked article about "threatening to kick its own citizens out of the state pension system" is government's threat that those who don't give up their private contributions won't be able to receive any benefits from the public pension (which they've also contributed to) in the future. In sum, the phrase should have been "confiscation of pensions".
posted by simms2k at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2011


Silly Hungarians. Don't they understand the only proper centralisation of media control to dictate political discourse is into the hands of wealthy oligarchs? Clearly they need a joint Murdoch-Berlusconi team dispatched to explain to them how democracy works.
posted by rodgerd at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"silly romantic Westerners and their liberal ideals, don't you know that what's really important is money and power?"

They should probably listen to more Ice-T
posted by Hoopo at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2011


This all goes back to the nature of FIDESZ - which started as a liberal student organization, became a liberal party in the first free Hungarian parliamnet, and then did an about face and became a "center right" party and progressively, ever more right. Right and left mean something different in Hungary than in the West. Right wingers tend to want to renationalize industries, and are prone to the use of antisemitic and anti Gypsy sentiments to galvanize support. Lefties tend to be radical free market advocates and support civil society. Politically, nothing beats calling your opponent "a commie!" but former communist officials and informers have found a home in all parties, both right and left.

FIDESZ won the 1998 Hungarian elections, at which point Orban became Prime Minister and immediately showed little patience with bipartisanship. He built up a personality cult based on FIDESZ being the true representatives of the Hungarian people's will as embodied in its leader, Orban Viktor. The best description I have heard for this period was that it was a form of Peronism imported to Europe. Orban was very proud of his work to integrate Hungary into the EU, and was crushed to loose the 2002 election to the Socialists.

Orban then made it his personal crusade to bring down Ferenc Gyurcsany, the second Prime Minister under the Socialists who had beaten him again in the 2006 elections. Orban's outrage after losing the 2006 relection helped channel FIDESZ' alliances with some very unsavory far right wing parties and led in part to the riots in Budapest in the fall of 2006. It didn't help the Socialists that they were very easy on internal corruption scandals and quite incompetant regarding public image (dudes... Hungarians don't want to hear their governing party singing the Internationale on TV anymore... although in that clip you have the old communist leader Janos Kadar saying "Hungarian history has always been based on a One Party system, and that's how it will stay" followed by the modern Socialist Party singing at their party congress a few years ago. How do you spell 'clueless" in Hungarian? Nyomtalanul!!)

The simple fact is that when FIDESZ was running in national elections last spring against the two term ruling Socialist/Free Democrat coalition, FIDESZ never publicly stated its policies. It didn't have to. It was asssured of a sweeping win based on dissatisfaction with the ruling Socialists.

The voters did not know they were going to have the constitution rewritten. They did not know they would have to post a framed announcement in all public places explaining that FIDESZ now represents the Will of the Hungarian People. They did not know of any economic plans that would lead to nationalizing the pension plans. They did not know that the Constitutional Court was to be neutered. They did not know that FIDESZ would propose a Flat Tax that would favor the rich. They did not know that the government would propose a very EU-unfriendly tax on foreign businesses to fill up the gaps in the economy. And that's just a tip of the iceberg...

The media law assures that most Hungarians - who are the most monolingual nation in the EU with 75% unable to access non-hungarian media - would have access to only such news and opinion that the governement wishes them to hear. And it ensures that Hungary will remain a one party system for the foreseeable future.
posted by zaelic at 10:12 AM on January 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


So it sounds like the difference in this case is that, given Hungary's contemporary political realities, there just happens to be the serious potential--or at least, the perception of that potential--for the abuse of any media controls enacted at this particular historical moment. Is that a fair characterization of the situation, zaelic?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on January 12, 2011


If I might also jump in on the "Ask Zaelic" session, is the "One-Party Rule" characterization accurate? How does it differ from a parliamentary majority in other democratic countries?
posted by Hoopo at 10:32 AM on January 12, 2011


FIDESZ has a particularly bad history of trying to force control of TV and press outlets. They have already fired and banned journalists from Hungarian State Radio for expressing opposition to the Media Law. They have already declared that the old, centralized state media outlet MTI will again be preparing the evening news for all major TV channels. And from what I have heard of it here (on radio - I do not watch TV) most coverage of Orban's stormy image as the EU presidency is pretty sanitized.
posted by zaelic at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2011


Perhaps each evolving nation could come up with its own balance of the rights and responsiblities of citizens and publishers?

This. Closely related to "sovereignty" and frequently accompanied by "western hypocrisy #243" are the truly great arguments deployed by second-world despots to defend their repression.
posted by tempythethird at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hoopo: The shift to one party rule is more implied than stated, but those posters in the library and Post Office declaring how FIDESZ led the fight against communism and now represents the will f the people go a long way to implying that. As does a larger than 2/3 majority in Parliament, meaning that they can - and are - able to rewrite the Constitution.

A slew of scandals which are probably unknown to those that don't read Hungarian (The UD private Security firm scandal, the question of FIDESZ' role in the 2006 riots, the fixing of certain local elections, etc.) also work to keep the issue alive in Hungary.

In Hungary almost every aspect of life has become affected by party divisions and connections - where you can get a job, which restaurant you choose to go to, whether you can organize a festival or concert or even run a small business. The late poet, Győrgy Faludi, who lived in exile in Canada from 1956 to 1990 once said "Hungarians! Won't they ever learn that you can be happy without politics?"
posted by zaelic at 10:46 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all of the details, zaelic. That's chilling.
posted by blucevalo at 11:14 AM on January 12, 2011


Doesn't this sound basically like an updated Hungarian version of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine that applied in the US between 1949 and 1987? The requirement for media non-partisanship, imposition of penalties for violations, etc.?

If not--if this is somehow farther reaching than that--can someone explain how?


The big difference, saulgoodman, is that the central media authority that's supposed to enforce this regulation is not independent, but directed excluvively by FIDESZ appointees. And since another one of FIDESZ innovations is to ensure that civil servants can be fired at will, it appears to be a recipe for turbocharged partisanship.

As for the windfall taxes on foreign-owned businesses, as others have pointed out, it's an undisguised moneygrab, hardly EU-compliant (so they'll probably end up paying the money back, anyway), and not going to affect those multinationals which expatriate their profits through crafty bits of financial engineering.
posted by Skeptic at 11:59 AM on January 12, 2011


Also, the Hungarian media law also applies to blogs and websites, even foreign-based ones. So even Metafilter could (will?) be banned in Hungary on the basis of a single partisan post or comment (not that there is ever one).
posted by Skeptic at 12:02 PM on January 12, 2011


And it late breaking news, Ice T has been cleared by the Media Council. Phew.
posted by vac2003 at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2011


Thanks for the additional info Skeptic.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2011


Skeptic: which is why I was very careful in the wording of my post. A lot of Journos in Hungary right now are being very careful. The axe falls swiftly.

The main question concerns the Rule of Law. If FIDESZ does not respect the rule of law, (changing the constitution as it sees fit, empowering Party appointed boards to enforce it's version of the law, and dismantling the checks and balances of a democracy - as respected elder economist Janos Kornai points out in ENGLISH) then it becomes an autocracy - a hop and a skip away from the system in Belorussia. Not exactly what the EU wanted in its new Presidency.
posted by zaelic at 2:06 PM on January 12, 2011


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