Hungary: Authoritarianism, racism, and media censorship

Not content with pushing through the most draconian media laws ever seen in an EU country the right-wing government is now cutting unemployment benefits and putting unemployed people in labour camps.

If the whole “labour camps for the unemployed” wasn’t bad enough this is a policy championed by the openly fascist Jobbik party and squarely aimed at the Roma (gypsies) minority who make up a highly disproportionate number of the country’s unemployed population. These are the same people who are calling out jews as enemies of the state. It’s racism as public policy.

It’s the closest thing to the rise of fascism in the 1930’s as I can imagine today.

Isn’t Tim Partlett in Budapest? Any comment on all this, Tim?

As written it’s hard to tell if this is a tone-deaf public employment program or something unsettling. Though, uh:

If the work to be done is located more than a three-hour journey from a person’s home, they will be accommodated in shipping containers.

Hungarian Spectrum has more details.

This just in… Hungarian spectrum’s writer has just lost his job, and is being accommodated in a shipping container!

I can get in touch with a number of Hungarian friends I have (went to grad school with them, they were post-docs and some became very close friends of my wife and I) and get their take, if we don’t have anyone from Hungary posting here. It was always interesting to here their perspectives back then, as they were still Communist back then and the Iron Curtain was still up. (One couple was also the reason that I was interrogated by the FBI on an espionage case, but that is another story! ;) )

Would the EU have the ability to kick them out if it got too “bad”? Are there any good behavior clauses or similar in any agreement to join?

The problem there is that while the EU is often very strict on human rights and such for countries wanting to enter the EU, once a country is in the EU, they often turn a blind eye. I certainly hope there’s a level which is unacceptable to Parliament, Council and Commission.

I got out of Hungary just after the birth of my first child in May. I didn’t feel Hungary was a good place for him to grow up. I’ve returned to the HQ in Frankfurt as you can see from my profile on the left ;).

The problem is that the main left wing party was so fundamentally undermined by scandal that the right-wing party got into power almost completely unopposed. This coupled with rising nationalism that gave the far-right Jobbik a good slice of the action, means that Fidesz can do pretty much what they like, while throwing the occasional bone to Jobbik.

So they seem to be rushing to implement changes that will make it very difficult to remove them from power (media control, constitutional changes, electoral reform), while at the same time enshrining Hungary as some kind of nationalist paradise (Roma, foreigners, poor = bad; Christianity, Hungary, Motherhood = fantastic).

Is Hungary going to become a fascist state? I doubt it, but they are certainly heading in a direction that is contrary to EU values. The EU occasionally reprimands them, and in response the Hungarian government makes a few amendments, and then carries on as before. The direction remains unchanged.

Are Hungarians supportive of a fascist state? Again, not really. They are largely apathetic in my experience. They don’t seem to feel that they can do much to change the way the country is run whether they like it or not. They seem to feel that they have been out to sea since their empire was taken from them after World War 1, swinging into the orbit of one great power or another, the Nazis, the Soviets and now the EU. They tend to blame these groups for their problems.

Are Hungarians nationalistic? Living in Hungary felt like what it must be like in 50s England just as large scale immigration started. People don’t hate foreingers, but they do hold many openly stereotyped views about them. A number of quite ordinary people I spoke to were openly racist about Roma, with sometimes more hushed racism towards Jews, and I was often asked “don’t you have the same problem with blacks in your country?” Foreigners are largely accepted without insult or complaint, but I got the feeling that I was welcome as long as I didn’t plan to stay and make Hungary my home.

But I didn’t get the feeling that Hungary was unusually racist or xenophobic, especially by east European standards, where Soviet inculcation meant people grew up believing that the evil deeds of the past, like the fascist Arrow Cross, were largely the fault of foreigners, or foreign influence, not something they should feel responsible for. Without that feeling of responsibility for their actions, like Germany has, many countries in Europe haven’t been forced to reconsider their views since World War 2.

The main problem is, as Tim says, that the opposition literally disintegrated under corruption scandals. That in itself is not a problem, it’s a healthy reaction on part of the electorate, but it means that the usual check on power in parliamentary systems suddenly doesn’t exist.

Fidesz has taken this extraordinary opportunity to attempt to remake Hungary into what I can only describe as a de facto one-party state. Fidesz has cemented party people in positions of power where they are likely to stay even in case of future electoral defeats, moved to curtail judiciary independence and transfer power from the courts into parliament where Fidesz can use it’s majority to pass laws unchallenged. The political language is openly hateful and liberals and leftists are referred to as enemies of Hungary.

Shit getting real in Hungary.

Are we as a species doomed to repeat this shit? Is it coincidence that this type of crap is on the rise again now that the generation that fought and bled against it are nearly gone?

Orban has pretty much got himself declared as dictator for Emergency, and who knows how long the Emergency will last (hint, forever).

No idea what the EU can do, if anything, because Hungary has the cover of Poland, and maybe more.

Yeah, so long as Poland is willing to veto Article 7 in the Council, there’s not much serious that can be done at the EU level. Same goes for Hungary vetoing censure of Poland.

Maybe at least this time some of these dictators don’t have extremely powerful militaries at their beck and call?

The EU has some options which can’t be vetoed, such as EU funding distribution. It’s a slow process but, considering these latest developments in Hungary, one that is likely to happen sooner or later.