The pressure on the Hungarian government continues

Yesterday I left off with Péter Szijjártó, the spokesman of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, suggesting that MTI’s reporters misunderstood the German government’s position on the Hungarian media law. He in fact phoned Angela Merkel’s office and talked to the deputy spokesman asking for an explanation. Subsequently, he gave a less than complete summary of the spokesman’s message to the Hungarian government.

The Germans in turn decided to make sure that there is no further “misunderstanding.” First, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle phoned János Martonyi and, to make sure that the message doesn’t remain a secret, Werner Hoyer, undersecretary, gave a radio interview. In it he emphasized the seriousness of a situation in which there is even the suspicion of government interference with the free flow of information.

Meanwhile the European Parliament also moved into action. Markku Laukkanen, chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), made the following announcement: “In a democracy, media must not be treated as enemies of the state. The Media and Communications Authority to be established in Hungary on 1 January is an alarming sign that Hungary wishes to police the media…. The PACE Sub-Committee on the Media will discuss the state of media freedom in Europe in January 2011. I do hope that the Hungarian government will have clearly set by then the limits on this new Media and Communications Authority which must not function like the censorship bodies sadly known in Hungary under communist and fascist rule. Media censorship has no place in the democratic Europe of today.”

Shortly after this announcement there came others. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal caucus of the European Parliament, released a communiqué in which he emphasized that the time when Pravda and similar party papers existed in Europe is gone. “This new law is unacceptable. Hungary must give an explanation and the European Council must act.”

Meanwhile the European and British papers kept going. The Times published three articles today, one of which was entitled “Press Ganged,” a historical term meaning to force a person to join the navy or army by a press gang or detachment of men used for that purpose. In the article which I could read only in MTI’s synopsis the author recalls that in the last years of communist rule the political leaders of Hungary thought themselves pioneers of liberalization of the system, yet they were incapable of understanding the real desire of the people for freedom. Their current successors, it seems, don’t respect the constitution and freedom of the press any more than they did. The populist Viktor Orbán’s regime hasn’t yet used the petty dictatorial practices of the communists, but they have already turned against the values of the family of European nations. The whole European Union must unanimously protest against this law.

Die Welt continued its criticism, and this paper’s very negative attitude must be a real disappointment to the Orbán government. Die Welt is a conservative paper in which articles about Fidesz used to show sympathy for the party and its leader. And yet here is the second very critical article. In the article “Führerstaat Ungarn gefährdet die EU,” meaning authoritarian Hungary threatens the European Union, the author Günther Lachmann gives a rather frightening picture of “fascist tendencies [in Hungary] that cannot be ignored.”

While all this is going on, the Hungarian government is standing fast: it has no intention of changing the law. Or at least this is the government’s position at the moment because I still maintain that if more pressure is put on Orbán, he might change his mind. A threat such as taking away the rotating presidency of the European Union would surely change his mind in a hurry. I know people could say: it is impossible, it is too late. But let’s face it, the rotating presidency isn’t a very important political role. It is more a matter of protocol. The European Commission could make the decision to ask Belgium to continue its duties for another six months.

While the world is protesting the Orbán government’s undemocratic actions, Prime Minister Orbán announced on Facebook the ten accomplishments he is most proud of. So, let’s see what they are. (1) He managed to create the greatest national unity at the general and local elections in Europe. (2) The government introduced the greatest tax cut in the last twenty years. (3) They introduced tax deductions for dependent children. (4) For the first time in Europe they introduced a tax levy on banks. (5) After ninety years there is dual citizenship in Hungary. (6) They introduced the severest punishments for convicted criminals. (7) They managed to create worldwide solidarity after the disaster of the red sludge. (8) They put an end to outrageous severance pays. (9) They halved the number of politicians. (10) They allowed Hungarians to homebrew pálinka.

Practically none of these so-called great accomplishments has any foundation. The greatest tax cut is not so much a tax cut as a redistribution of taxes. The tax deduction for dependent children is helpful only to the better-off segment of society. It is not true that his government introduced a bank levy for the first time in Europe. It was actually the Gyurcsány government. They didn’t halve the number of politicians. In fact, there are more now than a year ago. Adding making pálinka at home as a great accomplishment is only laughable. Especially since he claims that this decision clearly shows the philosophy of his government, which tells the people “just do it.” A great ad slogan for Nike, a less compelling theory of government.

The country is in an economic mess, the European Union is outraged, and Orbán talks about the great accomplishments of his administration. Fitch, the international rating agency, downgraded the Hungarian state debt to just above junk status. One of the reasons for the decision was that Hungary again raised the paid maternity leave from two years to three. According to Fitch this move reinforces the feeling that the Hungarian government is not really committed to prudent financial management. And Fitch at that point hadn’t even heard what Orbán had to say about his plans on Facebook concerning support for the family. He promised that in a few years parents will not have to pay taxes at all on money spent on children. Wow! Hungarian children will be dependents of the Hungarian state. Meanwhile here we are at the end of the year and the government managed to spend 150% of the budget. Less money is coming in, more money is going out. And he is proud of his accomplishments.

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Paul
Guest

The fact that the homebrew pálinka ‘acievement’ gets into the top ten says it all.
My wife’s relatives in Ungvár home brew pálinka (at least that is what they claim it is – it tasted like nothing in earth to me). So is that OV’s vision of the future – Trans-Carpathian Ukraine?
Mind you, I suppose that’s one step up from Belerussia.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

On January 1 The ‘Mighty One’ becomes President of Europe. Today Hungary, January 1 Europe, after that the world?
Is he not truly the ‘MIGHTY ONE’?
Something comes to mind: –
I met a traveller from a ruined starving land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the wreckage. Near them on the rank and weed strewn land,
Half sunk, a shattered head lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold contempt
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`I am Orban Viktor, The Mighty One and Boss of all Things:
Look on my works, ye great ones, and despair!’
Nothing now remains amidst the ruin and decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level empty weed infested fields and starving kine stretch far away”
With apologies to Shelly who, I think, wrote the original Ramses II (another Conman)
I think that the ‘Wise Leader’ made something similer for J.Stalin in Budapest.

Paul
Guest

I’m having memory problems here, but I’m fairly sure the Blair government in the UK taxed the banks for excess profits one year.
Anyone else remember this?
OV and Fidesz make these things up as they go along. It works in Hungary, but I think they’re in for a nasty surprise when they try it outside their cosy little paprika republic.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “I’m having memory problems here, but I’m fairly sure the Blair government in the UK taxed the banks for excess profits one year. Anyone else remember this?”
Not only Blair but Gyurcsany did too. A modest amount in comparison but he did in 2008. Then the owner of OTP threatened to leave the country. Now he has no problems.

Paul
Guest

The BBC website coverage of this issue is disappointingly low-key and Fidesz-friendly:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12070204

Member

Paul: “Blair government in the UK taxed the banks for excess profits one year.”
I think you are referring to the one-time Windfall Tax in 1997, but that was not for banks but for privatized utilities, hydro, gas, telecom.

Guest

I’ve never read the German paper “Die Welt”, because it is too far to the right for me – only when there was nothing else available on an airplane – and each time i got angry with their extremely reactionary views …
So this comes as a real surprise, that they don’t excuse the “light censorship” that Fidesz is planning …
It is a good sign that Mrs Merkel stood up – they can’t really call her a “liberal leftist” or whatever Fidesz names its critics.
Well, the next months will be “interesting times” as that old chinese proverb says …

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wolfi: “So this comes as a real surprise, that they [Die Welt] don’t excuse the “light censorship” that Fidesz is planning … It is a good sign that Mrs Merkel stood up – they can’t really call her a “liberal leftist” or whatever Fidesz names its critics. Well, the next months will be “interesting times” as that old chinese proverb says …
They have an explanation for all of this. The Hungarian socialists and liberals organized a campaign against the government. They mislead the foreign press and the politicians. Neither the politicians nor the journalists even read the law. Punkt!

Joe Simon
Guest

It seems that the freedom of the press is nowhere absolute. In the US in recent years a number of journalists were fined and even jailed for refusing to reveal their sources. A USA Today reporter was fined $5,OOO PER DAY as long as she refused to hand over her notes in a federal court proceedings. In 2OO7 blogger J. Wolf served 226 days in jail for refusing to hand over videotapes he took of a demonstration in California in 2OO5. Freedom House’s annual survey of press freedom ranks the US as 24th among the nations of the world.

Member

Eva S. Balogh: “Not only Blair but Gyurcsany did too. A modest amount in comparison but he did in 2008.”
Are you referring to the 2005-2006 option given to the banks? They were able to choose between an extra 8% corporation tax or 6% interest premium. I believe this this or some form of it is still in place, but I can be wrong (wouldn’t be the first time).

Joe Simon
Guest

Ma van ÉVA napja, azaz ÁDÁM és ÉVA napja, according to the Hungarian calendar. Is this Blog declaring a holiday? It would not be completely amiss, in fact rather appropriate.

John G
Guest

I would like to add my voice to that of Joe and wish our hostess “Isten éltessen sokáig, füled érjen bokádig !” I hope my age permits such a familiarity.
At the same time I would like to wish PEACE on this occasion for all, but particularyl for all those who read and contribute to this blog. May the holiday season give us all a time to reflect and start afresh in the New Year

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

In today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung an article about this law and a stern warning of the Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg
„So wie dieses Gesetz konzipiert ist, ist es wirklich gefährlich.“
Die EU müsse „bei der nächsten Möglichkeit“ feststellen, „dass dieses Gesetz den Prinzipien der Europäischen Union widerspricht“.
The way this law is formulated it is really dangerous. EU should establish “that this law is contradicting the principles of the European Union”
I guess Fidesz Media will try to sell to those Hungarians not reading foreign languages, that prince Karel Schwarzenberg is belonging to the Left and participating in a conspiracy against Hungary.
I hope that this kind of propaganda will backfire.

Member

I also would like to add to the holiday sentiment by wishing you all a Peaceful Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy New Year.
On that note, I also would like to thank Eva for this blog that I only stumbled upon very recently. It is great to find some like minded people, and read their reasoning. It is very unfortunate but also very reflective of the current (and not so current) make-up of Hungarian society that you cannot read any thread of comments on any Hungarian news sites that stays on topic and where some participants without fail, do not get into some totally nasty exchange. Thank you all.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
The real problem is that Hungary (like a lot of other countries) is living well beyond their means. Hungary is in debt up to its ears. Its sovereign debt is rated a little above ‘Junk’. Its politians are, in the main, only there for ‘power, prestige and personal profit’. These ‘tow-rags’ deride and (if they can) put in gaol those who are there to ‘just do something’ for their Country. The tow-rags also blame the good, falsely, for all the evils which beset their wretched people. These are the evils which they (those who are only there for self seeking purposes) have caused. The rest of Europe has a big problem. The ‘Mighty One’ (Orban Viktor) -I use this title as a term of derision- his little ‘chums’ and the rest of Fidesz were elected in an open democratic election by the Hungarian voters. They were given ‘super majority’. The Hungarians once again in their history have fallen under the spell of a megalomaniac, demagogue and ‘Confidence Trickster’. They have given him unlimited power. The Hungarians have done this by choice and in doing so they have chosen to throw away their freedom for spurious dreams of power, wealth vague… Read more »
GDF
Guest

Jo Simon:”It seems that the freedom of the press is nowhere absolute. In the US in recent years a number of journalists were fined and even jailed for refusing to reveal their sources. A USA Today reporter was fined $5,OOO PER DAY as long as she refused to hand over her notes in a federal court proceedings. In 2OO7 blogger J. Wolf served 226 days in jail for refusing to hand over videotapes he took of a demonstration in California in 2OO5. Freedom House’s annual survey of press freedom ranks the US as 24th among the nations of the world.”
I don’t want to argue these points (not that I agree or disagree with any or all). But what do they have to do with what’s going on in Hungary?

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