Hungary 2016 -17

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About Hungary

VIKTOR ORBÁN – THE CONSERVATIVE SUBVERSIVE
(Politico EU) The small-town rebel helped bring down the Wall. Now he builds them.
Viktor Orbán is impossible to ignore, no easy feat for a leader of a Mitteleuropean state of 10 million souls with scarcely any natural resources. Love him or hate him — and most people do one or the other — you have to pay heed to him. Indifference is not an option.
More than at any time in his winding career, Orbán shapes as much as fits the European zeitgeist. Migration is but one example. His decision to build razorwire fencing and put water cannons at the ready on his borders — all the while needling Europe’s chattering classes with undisguised glee — shifted the debate from how to accommodate the flow of refugees to how to stop it.
“Moral imperialism” was what Orbán called Germany’s unilateral opening of its borders in September, an unsubtle push to get the rest of Europe to follow. He stirred and tapped into a brewing backlash across the Continent. The Hungarian put the EU’s wise and mighty on the spot: As hard as it was for them to admit, and as much as his rhetoric made them blanche, he was the one who respected the law of the Union by not waving migrants across his territory, as Italy, Greece and France had done for months. “To defend borders is a national responsibility,” he told a conference in June. “As a state, you have to protect your own borders. I don’t believe in a European solution.” European leaders once sought to ostracize him. He is now the talisman of Europe’s mainstream right.

The Economist: Hungary’s opposition: Magyars en marche! Momentum burst onto the scene in Hungary last winter, when its petition drive forced the government to abandon its lavish bid to host the 2024 Olympics. The group then turned itself into a political party, ahead of elections in early 2018. Its members look to France’s young president, Emmanuel Macron, for inspiration. But in order to defeat the country’s illiberal regime, Hungary’s half-dozen left-wing and liberal parties must work together

20 May
Hungary: The War on Education
(NY Review of books) Is a crackdown on universities the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a pioneer in anti-liberal government in Europe and an admirer of Donald Trump, is making a wager that it is—with implications that go far beyond Hungary’s borders. At issue is a new law aimed at shutting down the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest … But it is clearly part of a larger culture war against liberal values as well as a very concrete attempt to bring any independent institutions remaining in Hungary under Orbán’s control. Both the European Parliament and the US State Department have called for the suspension of the new law. But it is not clear they can stop him.

5 May
Hungary summons Canadian ambassador after concerns over university
(National Newswatch) The ministry said Friday that Ambassador Isabelle Poupart’s statements on recent amendments to the law on higher education are false and academic freedom is not under threat.
Poupart had said in a statement Thursday that Canada was “seriously concerned” by the amendments seen targeting Central European University, founded by George Soros in 1991 and accredited in Hungary and New York state.
Poupart said Canada encourages a constructive dialogue to solve the matter.

2 May
Laszlo Palkovics: Michael Ignatieff is waging a media war against my government to suit his own ambitions
(National Post) As minister of state for education in Hungary, I am calling out Ignatieff for misrepresenting his position as dean of the Central European University (CEU). I believe he is spreading mistruths about our country’s new education legislation, which in reality is designed to benefit national and foreign students at CEU. Yet Ignatieff appears hell-bent on placing CEU in the middle of a political battle, but for what gain?
I am responsible for Hungary’s educational values and integrity; therefore, it is incumbent on me to dispel Ignatieff’s myths and set the record straight once and for all.
During a recent review of 28 foreign institutions of higher education operating in Hungary, the state’s Education Office found irregularities and unlawful operations at 27 of them — including the CEU.

Tony Deutsch comments: Mr.Palkovics is not a minister, but a more junior official. Mr.Ignatieff is not a dean, but a rector, appointed by the President of Hungary. The article omits the fact that the Hungarian Government has just appointed a special committee to check on the Immigration status of the non-Hungarian professors , which is the majority, at the CEU. There are hints of special tax audits of the teaching staff. In a closed meeting of leaders in Brussels, Mr. Orban , who previously publicly called the CEU fraudulent, promised to regularize the CEU situation, but this fact, widely reported outside Hungary, was not communicated to Hungarian voters.

29 April
Prime Minister Orbán to comply with EU laws and EPP values following meeting with EPP Presidency
(EPP) Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán was summoned to the Presidency of the European People’s Party (EPP) this morning to explain the latest developments related to the Hungarian Higher Education Act and the national consultation “Let’s stop Brussels”. Following the meeting, EPP President Joseph Daul made the following statement:
“After an open and frank conversation with Prime Minister Orbán during the EPP Presidency meeting this morning, EPP asked Fidesz and the Hungarian authorities to take all necessary steps to comply with the Commission’s request. Prime Minister Orban has reassured the EPP that Hungary will act accordingly.
“The EPP Presidency sent a clear message to Prime Minister Orbán and his party, Fidesz, that we will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded. This includes academic freedom and the autonomy of universities. The EPP wants the CEU to remain open, deadlines suspended and dialogue with the US to begin. …
“The EPP has also made it clear to our Hungarian partners that the blatant anti-EU rhetoric of the ‘Let’s stop Brussels’ consultation is unacceptable. The constant attacks on Europe, which Fidesz has launched for years, have reached a level we can not tolerate. This consultation has been deeply misleading. The European Union was founded by visionary representatives of the EPP, and our convictions are deeply pro-European. We do not have to remind Viktor Orbán, of all people, that decisions in Brussels are taken collectively by European governments, including his Hungarian government, and by the European Parliament, which includes representatives of the Hungarian people.”

27 April
Hungary’s Freudian political fight: Orbán vs Soros
The two men once walked a common path but now are sworn enemies
(Politico Eu) Charles Gati, senior research professor of European and Eurasian studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who has known both men for years, said Orbán’s vilification of Soros fits a lifelong pattern of rebelling against authority figures: his own father and the Soviets, while growing up in the town of Felcsút in the communist era, and later against Washington and Brussels.
“Obviously, you don’t have to be Freudian to conclude that he has had a problem with authority ever since and the authority of the European Union as much as the authority of George Soros is a factor here,” Gati, who is Hungarian-American, said in a telephone interview from Stockholm.

26 April
Chided by Brussels, Hungary’s Leader Attacks George Soros
Hungary’s leader issued a blistering attack against the American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros on Wednesday, after the European Union criticized a new Hungarian law that threatens to shut a university founded by Mr. Soros.
“I know that the power, size and weight of Hungary is much smaller than that of the financial speculator, George Soros, who is now attacking Hungary,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban told members of the European Parliament in Brussels, in a sarcastic but methodical speech. He called Mr. Soros “an open enemy of the euro,” a reference to the role currency speculation played in building Mr. Soros’s fortune.
It was an exceptional attack by a head of government against a private citizen, albeit a wealthy and powerful one. Mr. Soros has been a frequent target of criticism from right-wing news media organizations like Breitbart and Infowars, which deplore his affinity for Democratic and liberal causes. Supporters of Mr. Soros, who is 86, a native of Hungary and a Holocaust survivor, have detected a whiff of anti-Semitism in the attacks in the United States.

16 April
Nick Cohen: The dirty tricks that demonise George Soros
Nationalists around the world have found an enemy – now they’re prepared to pin anything on him
(The Guardian) As the politics turns hard right, the creased face of an elderly Hungarian Jew has become the prime target for resurgent nationalists across the world. George Soros is their essential enemy. If he did not exist, they would have to invent him. As the “George Soros” they credit with supernatural power does not exist, you could say that they have invented him.
Republican senators are now trying to persuade the Trump administration to cut support for Soros’s campaign to promote democracy and human rights in eastern Europe. Soros’s Open Society Foundation has no difficulty in showing that their Putin-influenced propaganda is riddled with errors . But a better riposte is to turn to Europe and see why democracy and human rights might need promoting. It’s not just Putin who goes for Soros. Macedonia’s former autocratic prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, has called for a “de-Sorosisation” of society
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s self-proclaimed illiberal democracy is threatening the Soros-funded Central European University. Its president, the former Canadian Liberal party leader and former Observer columnist Michael Ignatieff, is bewildered. He protests that he is running a university, not an opposition political party that might take Orbán’s power away.
Most of Soros’s charitable efforts are not devoted to funding politicians, but values conservatives once claimed to believe in: transparency, free elections, free speech and a free press. Instead of upholding them, the dominant faction on the right has turned to a nationalism that treats opposition as treason.

13 April
Fascinating!
The Budapest Bridge: Hungary’s Role in the Collusion Between the Trump Campaign and the Russian Secret Service
(Hungarian Free Press) We do not claim to have any insight into the evidence at the disposal of the FBI about the alleged collusion between the Trump team and the Russian secret service. What we have, is evidence, that the FBI is forbidden by law to investigate, because it lies outside the territory of the USA.
This series argues that the place where the FBI, Congress, and the American mass media should be looking for evidence, about the collusion between senior Trump staffers and the Russian secret service is not in America, but in far away Hungary, a member of NATO, the European Union, and a champion of Vladimir Putin in the West. …
What has not been known, up to now is, that the unacknowledged architect of this grand strategy was the notoriously secretive Arthur J. Finkelstein, a long time New York associate of Donald Trump, going back to the Roy Cohen days.
Finkelstein is perhaps the most bitter opponent of Hillary Clinton amongst a small circle of pro-Republican campaign gurus, and a frequent flyer to many of the capitals where Putin is seen as a hero. Finkelstein introduced Paul Manafort years ago to Putin’s pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs, who use their corporate hats, to advance Putin’s fortunes abroad. Finkelstein also had a big hand in Manafort’s addition to the Trump team. Finkelstein has also served as chief political strategist for the past 10 years, to Putin’s most loyal follower in the Western alliance – the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orbán. Finkie, as Orbán is fond to call him, also works for some of the most notorious autocrats of the former Soviet Republics, and always indirectly, so his pay-masters can’t be easily identified – a skill that he passed on to Trump’s ex-campaign chairman, Manafort. …
Last, but not least, the FBI and the Congressional team should investigate Sebastian Gorka, Bannon’s “terrorism expert” and a man with a 15 year connection to anti-American, pro-Russian, pro-Iranian radicals in Hungary.
In our second installment, we shall provide some empirically verifiable evidence about Gorka’s Hungarian associates, and his 15 year track record in Hungary as an enemy of democracy and the rule of law. That alone should make for his rapid exit from his strategic position in the White House.

11 April
Hungary Is Turning Into Russia
On the CEU, Orban Mimics Putin
By Dalibor Rohac
(Foreign Affairs) On March 20, the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg in Russia revoked the license of European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP), leaving its small body of mostly Russian students in limbo as to whether they will be able to complete their studies. …  Appalling as this incident is, independent centers of thought with ties to the West expect such government harassment in Russia. One would not expect the same type of behavior in an ostensibly democratic member of the European Union, but that is precisely what is currently happening in Hungary. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is poised to put Central European University (CEU), founded and funded by the Hungarian-American investor George Soros, out of operation. … Hungary’s European partners are cautious in using the substantial leverage they have over Budapest. In per capita terms, Hungary is the third-largest recipient of EU funds. And in the European Parliament, Fidesz remains a member of the solidly centrist European People’s Party (EPP), together with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Unless they turn their outrage into action by threatening to turn off the spigot of EU funds and to expel Fidesz from the family of Europe’s center-right parties, both the EPP and the EU at large risk becoming complicit in Hungary’s descent into a Putin-style authoritarian kleptocracy.

7 April
Hungary and Iran form nuclear reactor deal
Hungary will cooperate with Iran on setting up a small nuclear reactor for scientific-educational purposes
Hungary’s Assault on Freedom
(NYT editorial) This move is yet another rebuke to the European Union, and the rights it guarantees all citizens, from the increasingly autocratic Mr. Orban. It is also an ugly attack against the liberal Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. Mr. Soros, who has spent some $12 billion through his Open Society Foundations to promote a liberal political and social agenda throughout the world, has become a lightning rod for resentment by Central and Eastern European populists intent on wresting their countries away from democracy.
Will Trump let Hungary get away with its attack on academic freedom?
(WaPost) So far, the State Department spokesman has expressed “concern” about the new law and admiration for the CEU’s “academic excellence and many contributions to independent, critical thinking.” But this story has just begun. Orban has friends in this White House — Breitbart is one of his champions — and there are a lot of members of Congress who see the world through glasses heavily tinted by American political partisanship. Does the United States still support the ideal of academic freedom around the world, or does the election of Trump mean we’ve given up on all that? We’re about to find out.

6 April
Hungary passes a law to shut down a bothersome university
The ruling Fidesz party sees the Central European University as a breeding-ground for liberals
(The Economist) WITH just 1,440 students, the Central European University (CEU) is one of Hungary’s smallest institutions of higher education, but it may be its most prestigious. Housed in a mix of grand historic and ultramodern buildings in central Budapest, it draws visiting professors from across Europe and America, and its graduates include many members of Hungary’s business and political elite. It was founded in 1991 by George Soros, a Hungarian-born billionaire, as part of his philanthropic effort to promote liberal democratic values in formerly communist countries. This annoys Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, and his ruling Fidesz party. On April 4th Mr Orban fast-tracked a law through parliament that could force CEU to close.
The legislation requires foreign-accredited universities in Hungary to have a base in their home country. CEU, which is accredited in Hungary and the United States, would have to open an American campus by February 2018, which university officials say would be onerous and prohibitively expensive. They have asked Janos Ader, the president of Hungary, to veto the law, which they argue violates the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.

4 April
Hungary passes bill targeting Central European University
(BBC) The 199-seat parliament head earlier voted 123 to 38 in favour of the legislation, which places tough restrictions on foreign universities.
The main target is believed to be the Central European University (CEU) and its founder, George Soros.
It is the latest battle declared by the right-wing Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, against liberalism.
The English-speaking university, which is still partly-funded by Hungarian-born Mr Soros, is ranked among the top 200 universities in the world in eight disciplines.
But Zoltan Balog, a government minister, told MPs on Tuesday it went “against Hungary’s interests to host experiments, financially supported and evading democratic ‘rules of the game’ in the background, which aim at undermining the lawfully elected government or leadership”.

2 April
George Soros CEU Academic Freedom, Under Threat in Europe
By MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
(NYT) The latest threat to academic freedom is occurring in the heart of Europe. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has introduced a bill in Parliament that would effectively abolish the freedom of Central European University, a private American-Hungarian graduate institution (of which I am the rector and president) that has been granting American- and Hungarian-accredited masters and doctoral degrees for more than 20 years.
The bill would forbid the university from issuing its American degrees, require it to open a campus in the United States (it operates only in Budapest) and put it under the control of the Hungarian government. The government would have the power to deny work permits to faculty members from outside the European Union and use the visa system to restrict the university’s ability to choose its students.
The university’s trustees …  have rejected the legislation as an outrageous attack on an institution that has been a vital part of Hungarian higher education for more than 20 years.
The government has accompanied the bill with a defamatory attack on the university, claiming that it “cheats” by awarding both American and Hungarian diplomas and thus violates Hungarian law. As the government well knows, because its own accreditation authorities have repeatedly confirmed it to us, Central European University has been in full conformity with the law throughout its operation.
What is at stake is clear. If the bill passes, it would mark the first time that a member of the European Union dared to legislate an attack on the academic freedom of a university. It would also mark the first time that an American ally, a member of NATO, openly attacked an American institution on its soil.
Thousands protest in Hungary to support Soros-founded university

31 March
Hungary’s prime minister wants to shut down a beacon of freedom
(WaPost) THE FRONT line between liberal values of democracy and the darker forces of authoritarianism can often be found far from government offices, in a civic association or church hall, a newsroom or university classroom. Witness the effort by Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary to close the Central European University in Budapest. The school, founded and funded by philanthropist and financier George Soros, has been an anchor for the study of freedom in lands long tormented by tyranny.
Mr. Orban, who has vowed to wipe out liberal values in Hungary, tabled legislation in parliament that, if passed, would place onerous restrictions on the university, founded in 1991 at the collapse of communism to train scholars and others in the building of open societies that respect human rights and adhere to the rule of law. Now a graduate school with 1,440 enrolled students and 370 faculty from more than 130 nations, the university grants degrees accredited in both Hungary and the United States and, in the words of President and Rector Michael Ignatieff, stands “for open minds and open frontiers at a time when political forces of anger, exclusion and closure are in the ascendant.”

13 March
Hungary Plays the E.U.
(NYT Editorial) Hungary’s cruel treatment of refugees has reached a new low. On Tuesday, in defiance of international law, the Parliament approved the mass detention of asylum seekers, including children, in guarded camps enclosed with razor wire.
To justify the move, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, echoing President Donald Trump’s views, has called refugees the “Trojan horse of terrorism.” When Mr. Orban was denounced by the United Nations and human rights organizations for the new policy, he dismissed the chorus of condemnation as “charming human rights nonsense.”
In its annual report on human rights, released this month, America’s State Department said Hungary’s “most significant human rights problem remained the government’s handling of migrants and asylum seekers.” On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders said their medical personnel treated 106 refugees between January 2016 and last month for injuries inflicted by Hungarian border patrols, including beating injuries and dog bites, decrying the level of abuse as a “ritual of brutality.”
As if all this weren’t bad enough, Hungary is recruiting and training a new cadre of “border hunters,” citizens who will be armed with pistols, batons, pepper spray and handcuffs and given the mission of beating refugees back from the country’s border.

2016

16 September
Michael Ignatieff’s journey from politician to academic freedom fighter
Mr. Ignatieff arrives in Budapest at a time when it’s far from clear that open society will prevail. “Illiberal democracy” – a term coined by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to describe the semi-authoritarian system he is building here – is on the rise not only in Hungary, but also in fellow ex-Communist states such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
(Globe & Mail) The new post he begins this fall as president and rector of the famed Central European University in the Hungarian capital of Budapest is about as politically charged a job there is right now in the world of academia.
The CEU is renowned as one of the most important centres of liberal thought east of the former Iron Curtain. The university was launched in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a time when most believed Europe’s fate had been decided, and that liberal democracy had definitively won the argument against more authoritarian forms of government.
Founded and funded by George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist, the CEU was envisioned as a breeding ground for future generations of leaders, all theoretically sharing Mr. Soros’s vision of an “open society” of free speech and free markets.
14 September
Hungary: Closing the Border
By Gwynne Dyer
“Hungary is not far away from issuing orders to open fire on refugees,” said one of the European Union’s foreign ministers on Tuesday, and called for the country to be suspended or even expelled from the EU because of its “massive violation” of the EU’s fundamental values. And it’s true that Hungary has built a 175-km. razor-wire fence along its southern border to keep migrants out.
It has deployed ten thousand police and soldiers along that border, and is recruiting
3,000 “border-hunters” equipped with pepper-spray and loaded pistols to help them in their task. And on 2 October it will hold a special referendum asking Hungarians: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?”
The answer that Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants is “No”, and he is certain to get it. He was an anti-Communist student radical when I first interviewed him almost 30 years ago in the dying days of the Soviet empire. Now he is a right-wing demagogue — but he knew what Hungarians really thought about Communist rule then, and he understands what they think about giving asylum to Muslim refugees now.
See also Gwynne Dyer: Hungary’s Viktator says Europe needs Russia (February 2015)
29 August
Hungary’s gilded age
Underneath the booming façade lies a hollow economy.
(Politico EU) Throngs of tourists will venture into streets lined with glittering riverside palaces and slick EU infrastructure projects — sights that might suggest the country is enjoying a golden age. But if they walk along the city’s side streets, peek into a municipality-owned apartment, or strike up a conversation with a government employee, they might discover a hint that Hungary’s apparent prosperity is just skin deep.
In recent years, abandoned lots where buildings had stood before the war have been repurposed as open-air bars. Gray, decaying, turn-of-the-century buildings have been restored with bright façades. In many ways, Hungary’s elegant, multicultural capital has more in common with the Budapest of 1906 than the Budapest of 1966. New generations only vaguely remember a time before open borders and multinational corporations. …
Policymakers are so focused on filling quotas for the public works program that they put little effort into helping jobseekers find work in the private sector, or gain the skills needed to thrive in today’s economy.
A large segment of the population has been left behind. In 2015, the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH) found that 35 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. The finding was so much in contradiction to Hungary’s formal narrative of progress that the agency quickly announced it would no longer release data on poverty levels.
27 July
viktor-orbanHungarian prime minister says migrants are ‘poison’ and ‘not needed’
The populist leader fuels anti-immigrant sentiment and praises Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas as ‘vital’ for Hungary
(The Guardian) Orban is a fierce opponent of the European Union’s troubled plan to share migrants across the 28-nation bloc under a mandatory quota system.
Hungary has filed a legal challenge against the proposal and will hold a referendum on its participation in the scheme on October 2.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees trekked through Hungary and Austria in 2015 as they sought to reach wealthy European nations. But the flow slowed to a trickle after Orban’s government erected razor wire and fences along the southern borders last autumn and brought in tough anti-migrant laws.
Orban said the migration and foreign policy plans of the US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump were “vital” for Hungary, whereas those of his rival, the Democrat Hillary Clinton, were “deadly”.
14 April
Budapest makes a move in race for 2024 Summer Olympics
(LA Times) Among the four cities vying to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, Budapest has been seen as the dark horse and the slowest to get up and running.
On Thursday, bid officials in the Hungarian capital finally unveiled a logo and launched a website for their campaign.
Budapest 2024 is proposing a string of venues in the downtown core, many of them along the Danube River. The city has positioned itself as a smaller, more-intimate alternative that could take the Games in a new direction.
28 March
Nina L. Khrushcheva: The Lilli-Putins of the EU
(Project Syndicate) One of the saddest ironies of this year’s commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union is that Hungary and Poland, always the most restless of the Soviet empire’s captured nations, are now led by men mimicking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s governing style. They, too, are hollowing out independent democratic institutions and suppressing citizens’ fundamental freedoms. As the old saying goes, we become what we hate.
After the fall of communism, Poland and Hungary declared that they were Eastern European countries no more. Instead, they were part of Central Europe – Europa Srodkowa, the Poles called it – or even of Western Europe, on par with Austria. Today, however, they are embracing Putin-style authoritarianism, to the point that the European Union may impose sanctions against them. Such reprimands are fully deserved. …
The situation is no better in Hungary, where Viktor Orbán has been pushing his country toward illiberalism since 2010, when he began his second stint as the country’s prime minister. In fact, he set to work almost immediately changing the constitution to consolidate the power of his Fidesz party and limit the independence of the constitutional court.
Furthermore, like Putin and Kaczyński, Orbán has asserted control over the media, with new legislation empowering it to dictate content and impose sanctions on media outlets, as well as to grant broadcast licenses to favored stations. These laws also ensure preference for Fidesz’s campaign advertising, including by restricting the location of opposition billboards and messages by NGOs. The slogan “Only Fidesz!”, accompanied by the image of a grinning Orbán, are now plastered on 15-foot-high struts across the country.
Of course, “father of the nation” worship is nothing new in countries with illiberal governments.

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