This morning I was still planning to write about the researchers who received sizable sums of money for academic projects but who escaped opprobrium. I don’t have to emphasize that their political views were not on the liberal side. To the contrary. They strongly supported the right. However, I have to postpone writing on this topic because life intervened.
Two things happened today. First, ATV cancelled the contracts of several liberal journalists, allegedly for financial reasons. Second, this afternoon Viktor Orbán held a press conference which I listened to live on the Internet outlet Origo.
I would like to start with a piece by Adam LeBor which he first published in The Times and lately made available on his blog. The gist of his argument is that although Viktor Orbán “has used his mandate to consolidate political power with unprecedented speed and determination” which is “deeply unsettling,” Hungary is not a dictatorship. This small country “has made a solid transition from Communism” to “a stable, modern democracy.” It is unfair to talk about Putinization as The Washington Post did or Führerstaat as Die Welt referred to Orbán’s Hungary. Adam LeBor thinks that Orbán’s blossoming new regime is simply “an over-centralized democracy.” He thinks that Orbán’s model is not that of Putin but of Margaret Thatcher.
I don’t know enough about the politics of the Thatcher era to argue with LeBor’s assessment. I will simply say that I agree with him that for the time being there is no dictatorship in Hungary. However, I believe that the country is marching toward a one-party system where dissent will not be tolerated. Viktor Orbán’s speech this afternoon only reinforced this belief.
Orbán announced that the “nationalization” of the twelve-year savings of active wage earners is final. Any hope that the Constitutional Court will hand down a ruling that nullifies this expropriation is in vain. It doesn’t matter what the Constitutional Court says. The new system is in place and there is no appeal to any other independent institution! So, in effect, the Constitutional Court is merely a decoration that the government can ignore as it chooses. (Here the rationale is the new law Parliament passed precluding the Constitutional Court from ruling on budgetary matters, which I’m sure can be interpreted very broadly.)
Then there is the issue of a free press and the media law. I’m coming to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter what the media law says or doesn’t say. It is enough to pressure media outlets to toe the line.
Someone will visit the television station, radio station, or newspaper and tell them that if they don’t get rid of this or that or if they don’t hire so and so they will see what will happen to them. For example, they will not receive a frequency. Or the government can handle the situation in a less obvious way. For example, the Media Authority doesn’t have to be so crude as to tell KlubRádió that they will not receive a frequency. Instead they will just drag their heels as they are doing at the moment. They will say that getting a frequency (which the station already received but the Authority refused to sign) will take at least eight months. During this period the Authority can only extend permission for the current frequency for two or three months at a time. So KlubRádió will try to survive from day to day, not knowing its ultimate fate. Meanwhile advertisers will be reluctant to sign contracts with the station. That is already happening. So even before a decision can be reached about the frequency, KlubRádió may go bankrupt. End of problem. One fewer thorn in the side of the government.
Or there is the situation at ATV. Last night I received news that György Bolgár, who was running the station’s early morning political show Jam on Wednesdays, was fired although he was retained as one of the members of a round-table discussion called Journalist Club (Újságíró Klub), a very popular program on Monday night. I heard that the reason was that they wanted to have a woman on the panel of Jam instead of the five-man team that runs the show at the moment. The station also claimed that fewer people watched Bolgár’s interviews than those of others. Then this morning I read in the papers that Bolgár was not the only one to get the sack; two other journalists, Péter Németh and János Dési, both editors of Népszava, were let go. They had been employed as anchors for a call-in show called Fórum.
Of course, it is possible that all this has nothing to do with political retribution and is simply a money saving move as ATV claims. One can hear arguments on both sides. But I have my suspicions. I know only too well how Orbán and his cohorts operate.