Hungary 2019 –

Written by  //  October 26, 2021  //  Europe & EU  //  1 Comment

Broken City: Budapest After World War II
By Amos Chapple, Archival Photos By Fortepan
Click or tap on the images to reveal the same scene in 2020.
(Radio Free Europe) Seventy-five years after the end of World War II in Europe, photographs capture the devastation wrought on the Hungarian capital, Budapest, during one of Europe’s most overlooked battles.
Hungary was allied with Nazi Germany during World War II and tens of thousands of its soldiers fought alongside Nazi troops in Soviet territory, including during the battle for Stalingrad — a major turning point in the war. For seven weeks at the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945, Soviet and Romanian troops encircled and then fought their way into Nazi-held Budapest, assisted by U.S. airpower.

Heather Cox Richardson October 26, 2021
…in this era, democracies die more often through the ballot box than at gunpoint.
You can see it in Hungary, where Viktor Orbán has quite deliberately dismantled liberal democracy and replaced it with what he calls “illiberal democracy.”
On paper, Hungary is a democracy in that it still holds elections, but it is, in fact, a one-party state overseen by one man.
Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture, stop the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture, and reject “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.”
No matter what he calls it, Orbán’s model is not democracy at all. As soon as he retook office in 2010, he began to establish control over the media, cracking down on those critical of his party, Fidesz, and rewarding those who toed the party line. In 2012 his supporters rewrote the country’s constitution to strengthen his hand, and extreme gerrymandering gave his party more power while changes to election rules benefited his campaigns. Increasingly, he used the power of the state to concentrate wealth among his cronies, and he reworked the country’s judicial system and civil service system to stack it with his loyalists. While Hungary still has elections, state control of the media and the apparatus of voting means that it is impossible for Orbán’s opponents to win an election.
Hungary is in the news in the United States because Americans on the right have long admired Orbán’s nationalism and centering of Christianity, while the fact that Hungary continues to hold elections enables them to pretend that the country remains a democracy.
In 2019, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson endorsed Hungary’s anti-abortion and anti-immigration policies; in that year, according to investigative researcher Anna Massoglia of Open Secrets, Hungary paid a D.C. lobbying firm $265,000, in part to arrange an interview on Carlson’s show. Recently, former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, where he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court. Further indicating the drift of today’s right wing, the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest.
In their embrace of the illiberal democracy of Hungary, those on the right argue that they are defending traditional American values.

17 October
Outsider Marki-Zay to stand against PM Orban in 2022 after winning run-off
By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than
For the first time since he came to power in 2010, Orban will face a united front of opposition parties that also includes the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right, Jobbik.
(Reuters) – Small-town conservative Peter Marki-Zay, a political outsider with no party affiliation, will go head-to-head with Prime Minister Viktor Orban next year for leadership of Hungary after winning an opposition run-off primary on Sunday.
Marki-Zay defeated leftist Klara Dobrev, who on Sunday pledged to support him at the head of an alliance of six opposition parties that will bid to oust Orban after more than a decade in power in next year’s parliamentary election.
Marki-Zay’s family-man image and Christian faith could appeal to swathes of undecided voters, both in the countryside and Budapest, making him a tough competitor for Orban. (Outsider Marki-Zay hopes to blunt Orban’s attacks in 2022 Hungarian election)
Opinion polls show Orban’s ruling Fidesz party and the opposition alliance running neck-and-neck.

4 October
Hungary’s Leader Fights Criticism in U.S. via Vast Influence Campaign
(NYT) Viktor Orban, the country’s far-right prime minister, has spent millions on lobbying, support for think tanks and cultivating allies in Washington.
Former Vice President Mike Pence turned up in Hungary last month to speak to a conference on conservative social values hosted by the far-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, was another recent visitor. Tucker Carlson did his Fox News show from Hungary for a week this summer. The American Conservative Union is planning a version of its CPAC gathering in Budapest early next year.
Those are among the more visible recent fruits of a well-funded campaign by Mr. Orban in the United States that stretches back a decade and now stands as a case study in how governments around the world seek to shape policies and debates in Washington, sometimes raising concerns about improper foreign influence in U.S. politics.
Carried out by a network of government offices, Washington lobbyists, Hungarian diaspora groups, educational institutions and government-funded foundations, the effort’s main impact has been to bolster Mr. Orban’s image as a conservative leader on the world stage — and to counter his reputation as an authoritarian nationalist who is cozying up to Russia and China.

30 September
Pro-EU Dobrev wins first round of primary to take on Hungary’s Orban
(Reuters) – A 49-year-old lawyer who favours closer ties with the European Union pledged to unseat Viktor Orban as Hungary’s prime minister, after she won the first round of a contest that will produce his challenger in an election next year.
Klara Dobrev, the leftist Democratic Coalition’s candidate, won the first round of primary vote ahead of another leftist, Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, who also campaigned on a pro-European agenda.
In next year’s parliamentary vote Orban will, for the first time since he came to power in 2010, face a united front of opposition parties that also includes the Socialists, the liberals and the formerly far-right – and now centre-right – Jobbik.
Opinion polls put Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party and the opposition coalition neck and neck, raising the prospect of the tightest election in more than a decade.

20 July
Hungary’s spyware scandal is a crisis for Europe
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, was already seen as a boogeyman stalking the West.
(LSE) In nearly a dozen years in power, he has transformed his nation’s fledgling liberal democracy into a thorn in the side of the European Union. Critics accuse Orban of presiding over a “post-communist mafia state,” where the media is dominated by his allies, the courts are stacked with his loyalists, the electoral map gerrymandered in favor of his right-wing Fidesz party and a network of kleptocratic patronage traces its way back to the prime minister.
Then there’s his politics: Orban styles himself as the continent’s great illiberal and grandstands ceaselessly over the perceived evils of immigration, multiculturalism, feminism and European integration. He has at various times been accused of peddling anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and anti-Roma sentiment.


30 November
The Orbán veto is no accident: following EU law would threaten the Hungarian PM’s business empire
A rapid lockdown initially contained COVID-19 in Hungary, but now the country is struggling with a second wave. Much of the vaunted crisis package was designed to prop up Viktor Orbán’s kleptocratic business empire, and his threat to veto the EU budget recognises the danger the rule of EU law poses to his ‘Empire’, writes Júlia Király.
The core element of Orbán’s economy is the Orbanian (Galactic) Empire, a loose, opaque network of holding companies and investment funds owned by friends, relatives and subordinates of the Prime Minister. The Empire enters those industries – especially construction, retail business, tourism and lately banking – that do not compete on the export markets.
It is difficult to assess how deeply the Empire is rooted in the economy and how wide is its total span. The Empire is based on rent-seeking and audacious corruption. Several objective indicators support the argument a crony system and a kleptocratic state operate in the field of public procurement in Hungary, especially focusing on the appropriation of EU funds. These processes clearly contradict the rule of law of the European Union.

20 May
There are good reasons to consider Trump and Orban as parallel figures.
They have similar political bases, similar enemies and similar support from the “nationalist international” that has rallied online support for populists the world over. Both are sharp critics of international institutions and liberal politesse, both have cronyist tendencies and insalubrious associations and both have benefited immensely from the failures of the genteel center, the respectable elite.
… Orban is not exactly the autocrat of liberal caricature, but he is a politician profoundly interested in political power and its uses, and he has consolidated enough power for his circle and his party that the liberal alarm around his rule is understandable.
Consider their differing responses to the coronavirus. In Hungary, its arrival prompted a swift push for a declaration of emergency, passed by a supermajority in Hungary’s Parliament, that gave the prime minister extraordinary powers for the duration of the crisis — and left that duration open-ended, a state of exception without a formal end.
What this meant was instantly disputed: Orban’s critics charged that Hungary had crossed the Rubicon into dictatorship; the European Union hemmed and hedged; Orban himself has let be known that he may return the powers to the legislature this month and give “everyone a chance to apologize to Hungary for the unfair charges.” (Hungary, like most of Eastern Europe, has successfully contained the coronavirus for now.)

30 March
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán wins vote to rule by decree
While the new legislation remains in place, no elections can be held and Orbán’s government will be able to suspend the enforcement of certain laws.
(Politico) While the new legislation remains in place, no elections can be held and Orbán’s government will be able to suspend the enforcement of certain laws. Plus, individuals who publicize what are viewed as untrue or distorted facts — and which could interfere with the protection of the public, or could alarm or agitate a large number of people — now face several years in jail.
The legislation has elicited deep concern both among civil rights groups in Hungary and international institutions, with officials from the Council of Europe, United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe publicly expressing fears about the bill. The legislation also drew criticism from members of the European Parliament.
Critics say that emergency measures to address the coronavirus crisis should be temporary and time-limited to allow for checks and balances. Hungary is currently facing Article 7 proceedings under the EU Treaty, used when a country is considered at risk of breaching the bloc’s core values.


15 November
Pushed From Hungary, University Created by Soros Shifts to Vienna
Central European University and its founder, George Soros, have been favorite targets of Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, as he stifles dissenting voices.
By Benjamin Novak
(NYT) Forced out of Hungary, Central European University marked its relocation to Vienna on Friday with a bittersweet ceremony that amounted to a victory for Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, in his campaign against liberal values.
Founded and endowed after the fall of the Iron Curtain by George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist, the university promoted democracy and liberal thought in a region where they had been suppressed for a century under fascism and communism.
But it ran afoul of Mr. Orban’s increasingly authoritarian and nativist government, which has turned Mr. Soros — a Jew who was born and raised in Hungary, but has lived most of his life in the West — into a kind of all-purpose boogeyman.
Mr. Soros announced on Friday that his Open Society Foundations had committed 750 million euros, about $825 million, to an effort by Central European University and Bard College in New York to build a global network for colleges and universities to work together and support each other.
26 October
In Hungary, Viktor Orban Showers Money on Stadiums, Less So on Hospitals
By Patrick Kingsley and Benjamin Novak
(NYT) Gleaming soccer stadiums. Decaying hospitals. The contrast reflects the priorities of Mr. Orban, who has become one of Europe’s most powerful far-right leaders by presenting himself as a nationalist champion of ordinary Hungarians and a scourge of European elites.
Yet ordinary Hungarians have suffered most as the country has plunged in European health ratings and many doctors have departed since Mr. Orban took office in 2010. Health care was badly managed by prior administrations, but Mr. Orban has overseen a drop in government health care funding as a proportion of national economic output.
At the same time, Mr. Orban pushed through a program that has allowed businesses to divert at least $1.5 billion in corporate taxes directly to sports institutions. The biggest recipient is the professional soccer team that Mr. Orban co-founded. He uses the stadium’s V.I.P. section to entertain state officials and wealthy business leaders — raising questions about conflicts of interest, and corruption.
While Hungary’s health care ratings have dropped, the flood of money into sports has not improved its ranking in European soccer.
And in both health care and tax revenue, Mr. Orban’s government has weakened accountability and transparency, much in the way he has curbed the media, the courts and other democratic institutions in creating what critics call a semi-autocracy inside the European Union.
… Mr. Orban has de-emphasized health care in his government. He eliminated the Health Ministry, which was subsumed into a “super ministry,” depriving the sector of a cabinet-level representative.
He also has weakened oversight. The chief medical officer, an independent state ombudsman, has lost resources. The Health Insurance Supervisory Board, an independent body with a mandate to inspect hospitals, has been disbanded.

3 July
Hungary’s far-right government passes law that lets it take over scientific research bodies
(The Independent) Hungary‘s far-right government has passed a law allowing the state to tighten its control over scientific research bodies.
The law strips the 200-year-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its network of 15 research bodies and hands them over to a committee.
The committee’s chairman will be appointed by Viktor Orban, the Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, and half of its members will be selected by the government.
Lydia Gall, Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the law is “essentially another nail in the coffin for academic freedom and independent thought” in the country.
“This is the latest in a line of attacks on academic freedom after forcing the Central European University out of the country and banning gender studies at universities,” she told The Independent.
Liviu Matei, provost of the Central European University, said: “This is just another moment illustrating the disdain of this government – of the regime perhaps I should say – for the value of science, for academic freedom, for the rule of law and democracy. It’s not something new in Hungary. It’s just confirming a trend that has been here for many years now.”
Professor Matei said one Hungarian research team had already decided to leave the country and move to Sweden “because they cannot continue their work here”. He added: “Freedom for science, for education, is being restricted almost by the day.”

13-14 May
(The Atlantic) Donald Trump embraced Hungary’s prime minister at today’s White House meeting. Viktor Orbán has flirted with authoritarianism and undermined democratic institutions in the country as part of his self-proclaimed goal of creating an “illiberal democratic” state. The praise from the president isn’t all that surprising: Trump’s own hand-picked ambassador in Hungary told Franklin Foer that “knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years … he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has.”
(Reuters) ‘Like me, a little controversial’ said President Trump as he praised Hungary’s Prime Minister and brushed off concerns about threats to democratic norms in Hungary during Viktor Orban’s tenure. “He’s a respected man. And I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man,” Trump said, when asked whether he had concerns about a weakening of democracy in Hungary. Welcoming the right-wing Hungarian leader for a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump lauded him for being tough on immigration, a policy area in which the two leaders have similar visions.
Trump should be isolating Viktor Orbán, not feting him at the White House
Editor’s Note: With European Parliament elections coming up later this month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s reception at the White House by President Trump appears an endorsement of illiberal, nationalist forces which seek to weaken the European Union, providing opportunities for Russia and China to divide the West, argues James Kirchick. This piece originally appeared in NBC News.
(Brookings) Those elections are projected to result in increasing support for a variety of nationalist factions, from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, all of which seek to weaken the European Union and, in doing so, provide opportunities for powers such as Russia and China to divide the West from within.
Having transformed his country into the illiberal democracy he prophesied in 2014, Orbán has emerged as the most visible leader of these forces. Under such conditions, the United States should be isolating the Hungarian prime minister, not embracing him.
Monday’s will be the first visit of a Hungarian leader to the Oval Office since 2005. White House meetings are a precious commodity that presidents typically dispense to close allies or to achieve clear-cut U.S. foreign policy objectives. Under Orbán, Hungary has repeatedly snubbed the U.S. and the liberal, democratic values it seeks to uphold in Europe. It has expelled U.S.-accredited Central European University, blocked NATO cooperation with Ukraine, unleashed state-sponsored Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitism, and refused to extradite a pair of Russian arms dealers wanted for selling weapons to Mexican drug cartels, to name just a few of Budapest’s more egregious rebuffs.

10 May
Viktor Orbán’s War on Intellect
As the Hungarian prime minister systematically undermined his own country’s education system, one institution stood defiant: a university in the heart of Budapest, founded by George Soros.
By Franklin Foer
(The Atlantic June edition) On a relentlessly gray Budapest morning, Michael Ignatieff took me to the rooftop of Central European University’s main building. Ignatieff, an intellectual who made an unsuccessful bid to become prime minister of Canada, has spent much of his career studying the fragility of human rights and the irresistible impulse toward nationalism. When he became CEU’s rector in 2016, however, he didn’t believe the job would catapult him to the front lines of the fight for liberalism. He imagined it would be more like a pleasant homecoming. Hungary is the native land of his wife, Zsuzsanna; he had come to know the place intimately on regular visits to her family. “I’m of a certain age,” he said. “I thought, That’s a nice way to top it off.”
Hungary once had some of the best universities in postcommunist Europe. But Orbán’s government has systematically crushed them. His functionaries have descended on public universities, controlling them tightly. Research funding, once determined by an independent body of academics, is now primarily dispensed by an Orbán loyalist.
Like Pol Pot or Josef Stalin, Orbán dreams of liquidating the intelligentsia, draining the public of education, and molding a more pliant nation. But he is a state-of-the-art autocrat; he understands that he need not resort to the truncheon or the midnight knock at the door. His assault on civil society arrives in the guise of legalisms subverting the institutions that might challenge his authority.
CEU is a private university, accredited in both the United States and Hungary, and for that reason it has posed a particular challenge to the regime. The school was founded by the Budapest-born financier George Soros, whom Orbán has vilified as a nefarious interloper in Hungary’s affairs. Soros had conceived the school during the dying days of communism to train a generation of technocrats who would write new constitutions, privatize state enterprises, and lead the post-Soviet world into a cosmopolitan future. The university, he declared, would “become a prototype of an open society.”
When Orbán moved against CEU, it wasn’t just political posturing or spleen. Destroying Hungary’s finest institution of higher education was a crucial step in his quest for eternal political life.

22 April
Study documents electoral corruption in Hungary
(Yale News) Politicians and powerbrokers in Hungary use a variety of illicit election strategies to secure people’s votes, including making access to public benefits contingent on supporting preferred candidates, according to a new study co-authored by Yale political scientist Isabela Mares.
Mares and co-author Lauren Young, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California-Davis, documented the prevalence of multiple forms of electoral clientelism — quid pro quo exchanges of votes for some agreed upon behavior by a politician — in Hungary’s 2014 parliamentary elections.
The study, published in the journal Comparative Politics, is the first to document electoral clientelism in Hungary, a member of NATO and the European Union.
Until now, we didn’t know whether clientelism existed in countries in the European Union,” said Mares, a professor of political science. “These are countries that are supposed to have free and fair elections. The existence of these illicit practices in Hungary is extremely important.”
Research on clientelism generally has focused on documenting vote buying — the exchange of private money or gifts for votes — in developing countries in Latin America and Africa, Mares said.

21 March
Bloomberg Politics: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban emerged bruised, but not beaten, after Europe’s biggest political family froze the membership of his Fidesz party for eroding democratic standards. At home, Orban’s pro-government propaganda machine portrayed the suspension as voluntary and a victory over factions that wanted him expelled, rather than humiliation. That gives him the option of either repairing ties or joining forces with like-minded nationalists after May’s European Parliament elections BBC: Hungary Orban: Europe’s centre-right EPP suspends Fidesz

18 March
Hungary Rolls Out Red Carpet for Obscure Russian Bank, Stoking Spy Fears
The International Investment Bank, an obscure Russian financial institution with a small-time balance sheet, is an unlikely source of global intrigue. In more normal times, its plans to open a new headquarters in Budapest would pass unnoticed.
But the bank’s chairman has longstanding ties to Russian intelligence agencies. And the Hungarian Parliament has effectively granted the bank diplomatic immunity from any scrutiny by police or financial regulators — leaving Western security officials concerned that Russian spies could use it as a base to conduct European intelligence operations.
Several European nations have expelled Russian agents and cracked down on Kremlin finances in an effort to present a united front as Moscow is accused of meddling in the American election, poisoning a former spy in Britain and targeting European think tanks with hacking attacks.
And if the Europeans are now concerned about the Russian bank, so are the Americans, especially since the Trump administration has cultivated Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, as an ally. Days before Parliament granted immunity to the Russian bank, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Mr. Orban in Budapest and warned against allowing Russia to drive a wedge between friends.

28 February
I knew Orbán when he started his political journey; where it’s taken him terrifies me
By András B. Vágvölgyi
(euronews) Orbán’s political appetite knows no limits. His dreams are simple dreams; the dreams you might hear voiced in any bar or football stadium. There should be power (lots of it), money (lots of that too), the Olympics or the World Cup. In fact, any mega event will do to further the development of the neo-feudalist regime. This would inflict still further damage on the wounded social and psychological fabric of the country, with its ethos of silent surrender and petty jealousy. It is astonishing to see how Orbán, in spite of the size and limited resources of his country, has managed to become such a big player on the international stage.
He is like the youngest son in the fairy tales who, in his cunning and care-free way, smashes down everything to gain revenge. He has followers from Poland to Slovenia and North Macedonia, and his destructive work is celebrated in Bavaria, Italy and Austria. He thinks he can bamboozle everyone from Trump to Xi Jinping
Today, the pressing issue is the nightmare world which Vladislav Surkov (Putin’s spin doctor), Breitbart, Steve Bannon and other ultra-Trumpist outlets, Gazeta Polska or even the Hungarian Árpád Habony (Orbán’s spin doctor) are spinning around us. The fight against this is a question of both hardware and software. Around 1989, the Hungarian press and most of its media took note of the warnings that the opposition intellectuals in Budapest sounded in their samizdat publications.
They received support from the Munich-based Radio Free Europe, which was financed by the US Congress and supported the liberal line. Orbán understood this, bulldozing the contemporary media scene aside and after 2010, seizing control of all media that had a mass reach.
It’s really only the Hungarian people who can topple Orbán, yet he represents a threat to Europe as a whole. In Hungary, the bulk of the opposition parties have adopted shades of Orbánism, either as a group or out of self-interest. But any intellectual and political forces that have a sense of responsibility for Europe cannot abandon those intellectual and political forces in Hungary that are opposing Orbán. This is not just a matter of general ethics, but of pure self-preservation.

14 January
Viktor Orbán’s Far-Right Vision for Europe
The Prime Minister of Hungary, who thrives on conflict, has consolidated power in his own country. Now he is turning his attention to the E.U.
By Elisabeth Zerofsky
(The New Yorker) Fidesz and other right-wing parties in the E.U. contend that unelected bureaucrats are making consequential decisions—regulating markets, inflicting rules on technology and economic development, setting quotas of refugee resettlements—without the participation of European citizens; increasingly, voters agree. This resentment is at the core of the Brexit movement in the U.K. and lies behind the growing strength of xenophobic parties in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Central Europe. Steve Bannon, who has been serving as an informal adviser to various nationalist parties, told me, “The fight right now in the E.U. is between those who look at the nation-state as something to be overcome and the others, who look at the nation-state as something to be nurtured.”

8 January
Is Hungary becoming a rogue state in the center of Europe?
By James Kirchick
(Brookings) Most of the international criticism directed at Hungary over the past nine years has focused on domestic indicators such as the rule of law, separation of powers and press freedom. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been remarkably blunt about his designs for Hungary, citing China, Russia and Turkey as models. After an election in April widely deemed free but not fair, he sounded a triumphal note, declaring that “the era of liberal democracy is over.”
Since Orban won reelection, however, his behavior has called into question not only his democratic bona fides, but also his basic trustworthiness as an ally of the United States and member of the democratic Western world. Increasingly, Hungary is behaving like a rogue state.

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