Hungary 2016 -18

Written by  //  July 20, 2018  //  Europe & EU  //  3 Comments

About Hungary
Hungary by now is no longer a democracy, says Rutgers’ R. Daniel Kelemen<

The man who thinks Europe has been invaded
By Nick Thorpe
(BBC) Viktor Orban presents himself as the defender of Hungary and Europe against Muslim migrants.
He has won a third consecutive term as a prime minister who puts national sovereignty before everything else. But critics attack him as a racist and an authoritarian.
What does his victory mean for Europe?
If the Visegrad 4 countries grow stronger, as a counterweight to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel’s visions of Europe, he will feel reassured.
If his critics concede that he was right to identify migration as the “curse” of this age, he will claim victory.
But if future EU funds are linked to respect for European values, or if the Hungarian public grow weary of his authoritarian style, Viktor Orban will be left out in the cold. (6 April 2018)

20 July
Hungary pursued by EU over ‘Stop Soros’ migrant law
(BBC) The European Commission says a law in Hungary that criminalises support for asylum seekers is illegal amid a battle with the country over EU migration.
Hungary has now been referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for “non-compliance” with EU legislation.
Viktor Orban’s government passed a law in June stating anyone “facilitating illegal immigration” could face prison.
The law was dubbed “Stop Soros” after the billionaire philanthropist Hungary accuses of supporting Muslim migrants.

11 May
Secure in Hungary, Orban Readies for Battle with Brussels
By Marc Santora and Helene Bienvenu
(NYT) In his victorious campaign to secure a third consecutive term as prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban had a clear, urgent message: The nation was at risk from an international cabal looking to undermine its sovereignty, and it would be overrun with migrants if he was not elected.
With his party firmly in control of this Central European country, Mr. Orban says it is time to take that campaign continental. On Thursday, in his first address to Parliament in his new term, he styled himself as the leader of a movement to reform the European Union and as defender of the sovereign rights of its member nations.

12 -14 April
Mass Protest in Hungary Exposes Divisions After Orban Win
(Bloomberg) Tens of thousands of Hungarians packed Budapest’s most iconic avenue to protest Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s re-election, saying it may further stifle democratic freedoms in the ex-Communist European Union member.

13 April
Europe and its populists
By David Ritchie
The overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary’s 8 April elections is yet another sign that nationalist and populist parties are alive and kicking in Europe.
Fidesz won 49% of the vote, about the same percentage as the seven largest opposition parties combined, and is likely to have a two-thirds majority in Hungary’s parliament. It will be Orbán’s third term as Prime Minister. … nationalist/populist parties (most, but not all, are from the far right) remain strong in Europe and could benefit from the current disarray in the European Union. Deep-rooted and popular concerns remain about illegal migration and the concentration of power in Brussels, compounded by poor governance in some European countries and disillusionment with traditional political parties. Economic problems continue in many European countries, as do concerns about globalisation, Russian destabilisation of the West, and grave doubts about the reliability of the US under President Trump.
Nationalist/populist parties are now represented in parliaments across Europe, including in the majors. In some countries, such as Poland and Hungary, they form government; in others, such as Austria, they are part of a governing coalition; and in others they tolerate minority governments. In all European countries nationalist/populist parties are reshaping the political environment and forcing traditional parties to confront the issues they raise, and to look for new coalitions.

12 April
EU Draft Report Backs Sanctions on Hungary Over Rule of Law
(Bloomberg) The European Union should initiate a process that could result in the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the bloc because other measures have failed to reverse democratic backsliding in the eastern member, the European Parliament said in a draft report.
“The time for issuing warnings has passed,” European Parliament rapporteur Judith Sargentini said on Thursday, after presenting a 26-page report that recommended triggering Article 7 procedures against Hungary, the strongest possible sanction against a member state. The report said Hungary posed a “clear risk of a serious breach” to the EU’s democratic values.

9 April
Hungary Election Was Free but Not Entirely Fair, Observers Say
(NYT) One day after Viktor Orban and his governing Fidesz party and its allies won a sweeping election victory, independent election monitors said Monday that the party had used the resources of the state on a very large scale to bolster its chances of winning.
“Voters had a wide range of political options, but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias, and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate,” said Douglas Wake, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E., mission in Hungary.
“The ubiquitous overlap between government information and ruling coalition campaigns, and other abuses of administrative resources blurred the line between state and party,” he said.
Hungary election: OSCE monitors deliver damning verdict
Observers found ‘intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque financing’

8 April
Voter turnout high in Hungary as hard-line Viktor Orban aims for 3rd consecutive term as prime minister (9:00 AM)
The reelection of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s staunchly anti-migrant, strongman prime minister, and his right-wing Fidesz party is almost certain. The question is whether he can pull off a two-thirds supermajority in parliament, a legislative carte blanche that in the past has allowed him to enact drastic changes to the constitution, attempt to influence the judiciary and crack down on his critics.

7 April
Viktor Orban poised to win Hungary poll after anti-EU campaign
(The Times) Hungary is preparing to elect Viktor Orban tomorrow for his fourth term as prime minister after a poll campaign characterised by his anti-Brussels rhetoric, xenophobia and a demonisation of George Soros, the billionaire financier.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s governing party, flew to Budapest to lend his support to Mr Orban. The two share a conservative, nationalistic Euroscepticism and have been a thorn in the side of Brussels by forming an alliance to resist the distribution of migrants across the European Union.
Mr Orban, greeting the Polish leader yesterday, said: “We believe Poles and Hungarians have a common path, common fight and common goal — to build and defend our homeland in the form that we like it: Christian and with national values.” … Pollsters believe that Mr Orban’s pledges to resist the EU refugee settlement programme and his increasingly nationalistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric will give him a majority.

Comment from Tony Deutsch: Polls are more unreliable than elsewhere. Anyone admitting not supporting FIDESZ can count on losing his job forthwith, not only in the large public sector, but  also in those parts of the private sector that  depend on government business.  We should have preliminary results around 6pm EDT.

6 April
Two Hungarian law school professors discuss Hungary’s deteriorating political and legal culture
(Budapest Beacon) These are some of the opinions recently expressed by law school professors Mátyás Bencze and Zoltán Fleck when talking to us about Hungary’s changing political and legal culture.
In Hungary and Poland the lines between the separation of powers have become totally blurred.
Hungarian judges are subjected to all kinds of pressure, including political pressure.
The channels to political pressure within the judiciary became more pronounced with the creation of the National Office of the Judiciary (OBH).
Hungary’s Constitutional Court no longer supports fundamental rights.
To the extent judicial independence exists in Hungary, it is limited to civil cases not involving government bodies, ruling party politicians or their family members or supporters, or organized crime.
Hungary’s prosecution services are politically-motivated and politically-operated.
Public confidence in the judiciary, as well as the judiciary’s confidence in itself, is particularly low.
The absence of a free press means public information about the court system is manipulated and distorted.
Stripped of their autonomy, Hungarian universities are placed under financial pressure.
Who Hungarian law school students see as “successful jurists” in Hungary today are jurists who carry out orders in a non-rule of law country.
Hungary’s public education system is not teaching kids to be engaged, active citizens.

3 April
Hungary’s election: The essential guide
In-depth coverage of Viktor Orbán’s unexpectedly tough battle for another term.
(Politico.eu) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, champion of illiberal democracy and migration hard-liner, was widely expected to cruise to a fourth term next Sunday but has faced a surprisingly tense and bruising campaign.
Spying allegations, fake news, leaks, counterleaks and corruption scandals have all featured in the lead-up to the April 8 general election. Never far away from the government’s attacks on their opponents have been efforts to pin blame on Hungarian-American financier George Soros, Orbán’s liberal nemesis.
While Orbán’s Fidesz party designed the electoral system and controls much of the media, the intensity of the campaign has revealed how much the prime minister fears losing.
Many of Orbán’s critics don’t actually believe he can be beaten, but setbacks in his campaign have raised opposition supporters’ hopes that they can, at the very least, weaken his position if they vote strategically for the strongest anti-Fidesz candidate in their district.

Hungarian Opposition Begins to Coordinate Before Vote
(Bloomberg) Hungarian opposition parties began coordinating in some key electoral districts as they tried to resuscitate a push to beat Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party in Sunday’s elections.
The Socialists, the second-most popular opposition force, and Lehet Mas a Politika, a smaller green group, agreed tentatively to withdraw candidates to give each other better chances in four districts, Index news website reported Tuesday. While an all-encompassing alliance looks out of reach, the Socialists agreed to cooperate with Demokratikus Koalicio, led by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, and there’ve been other pacts among candidates.

23 March
Hungarian election campaign hit by spying allegations
Secret recordings of NGO leaders spark row with government.
(Politico.eu) Less than three weeks before Hungary’s general election, an NGO that works with migrants accused the ruling Fidesz party on Wednesday of working with foreign spies to discredit civil society groups.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government branded the allegation by the Migration Aid nonprofit “pathetic.”
Fidesz enjoys a big lead in opinion polls but the party is determined to ensure it retains an absolute majority in parliament — or even wins a two-thirds majority of seats that would allow it to change the constitution.

25 February
Orban Party Suffers Shock Loss in Stronghold Before Hungary Vote
Opposition wins mayoral race in ruling-party stronghold
Race was closely watched ahead of April 8 parliamentary ballot
(Bloomberg) The opposition still faces an uphill battle in part because unlike the joint effort in Hodmezovasarhely, they’ve struggled to form a broad national alliance against Orban. In the absence of an opposition platform emerging in the next weeks or parties agreeing to back a single candidate in the country’s 106 electoral districts, Fidesz remains well placed to rule the eastern European nation for another four years.

11 February
As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible
(NYT) Mr. Orban has remade Hungary’s political system into what one critic calls “a new thing under the sun.” Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary is now considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline.
Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture. He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc. European Union officials did little as Mr. Orban transformed Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy.”
Now Mr. Orban is directly challenging the countries that have long dominated the European bloc, predicting that 2018 will be “a year of great battles.” At home, he is pushing new legislation, this time to place financial penalties on civil society groups that help migrants. His domestic political standing is largely unchallenged, partly because of changes he has made to the electoral system; he is almost certain to win another term in April elections.

19 February
To the Editor:
Re “Taking an Ax to Democracy as Europe Fidgets
As a former progressive member of the Hungarian Parliament, I had a firsthand experience of how Prime Minister Viktor Orban transformed Hungary.
Mr. Orban’s electoral victories were a result of the disillusionment that most Hungarians felt after 20 years of democracy. Their resentment was rooted in the policies of technocratic elites, who as ardent followers of neoliberal orthodoxy promised that Hungary would catch up with the West.
But corrupt privatization, chronic unemployment, rising inequality, and crumbling schools and hospitals became the reality. So while on a superficial level Hungary looked like a fairy tale of post-Communist transition, the social conditions of everyday life were severe. (see more)

2017

8 December
George Soros: The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies
(Project Syndicate) The Hungarian government has released the results of its “national consultation” on what it calls the “Soros Plan” to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.
In October, Hungary’s government mailed questionnaires to all four million of the country’s households asking for peoples’ views on seven statements describing my alleged plan to flood Europe, and Hungary in particular, with Muslim migrants and refugees. The government made seven assertions about what it calls the “Soros Plan.” I rebutted each and every one based on my published statements or the lack of any published statements that could substantiate them.
Now, the government has released the supposed results of its “national consultation” on my phantom plan, claiming that the exercise was an unprecedented success.
See comment from AD below

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.

21 June
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.

3 Comments on "Hungary 2016 -18"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson December 10, 2017 at 5:07 pm · Reply

    The complete story should include the basic fact, that in April there will be a general election in Hungary. Orban’s FIDESZ is competing for a substantial block of voters with JOBBIK, a neo-Nazi party now trying desperately to move to the center. (The leadership might, the rank-and –file membership remains the same.) As Soros points out , basic public services such as health care and education have substantially deteriorated in recent years. The government is staking its entire re-election campaign on protecting Hungary from the Moslem invaders the EU wants to send there ,as proposed by the Soros Plan. As Soros explains below, there is no Soros Plan. On Friday, Orban appeared in front of the TV cameras, waiving a sheet of paper and saying, “this is the Soros Plan”. This I saw and heard personally. Since there are virtually no opposition media, he might get away with it. AD

  2. Diana Thebaud Nicholson April 18, 2018 at 1:16 am · Reply

    With the final results in, Orban got about one hundred thousand votes less than the combined opposition, but received 2/3 of the seats in the unicameral legislature, enough to change the constitution without any further ado. Budapest supported mostly the fragmented opposition, the countryside the government. The people outside Budapest have very little access to news sources not directed by the government. AD

  3. Diana Thebaud Nicholson May 30, 2018 at 3:14 pm · Reply

    From a well-informed friend:
    The population of Hungary is ten million, and shrinking. Two million live in Budapest, and going by recent voting results, with the exception of two out of the twenty-two voting districts there, only a minority support Orban. The remaining eight million are limited to government-controlled TV and county newspapers. In their direct media access. Eighty percent of Hungarians do not understand any other language.
    The working-age population is about 4 million. There are over 3 million on the government’s pension payroll. 300 to 500 thousand are included in the numbers above, but in fact work abroad, mostly in Western Europe. About 700 thousand of the working population are estimated to be functionally illiterate. The number of government employees should be pretty close to a million.
    Orban is a very clever man , who knows what ideas he can sell in this environment. A very important one , when confronting individual voters and their families is that visible dissent is punished by the loss of employment. He also plays on the kind of history taught to grade-school students, where the emphasis is on fighting off a series of foreign invaders. To play into this, you need a current foreign threat. George Soros was chosen for that role.
    The long-term problems are in areas such as education, where rote-learning is emphasized at the expense of problem solving and individual critical thought. Students are being pushed into technical studies involving currently marketable skills. Another problem is the creeping dependence on Russia. The government has indebted itself into payments for a prematurely booked Russian reactor system. China has also come into play with a loan-financed rail line between Budapest and Belgrade, with no discernible continuation from the latter.
    Budapest is being beautified at an impressive rate. Beggars and the homeless have disappeared. There are many tourists. The value-added tax is 27% , which I believe to be the highest in Europe. The income –tax rate is 15% for all, with benefits made available to families with children.
    This should give you an impression of Hungary in May 2018.

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