Imbroglio in Orban's Hungary

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By Naveed Qazi

Budapest hasn’t seen hundred thousand people marching together in front of the national parliament for years. This massive crowd had huddled together, demanding cancellation of Viktor Orban’s reelection in April 2018. 

Protestors were seen wearing EU and Hungarian flags, which reflected their unease against the recent election win.

Viktor Orban won a  Presidential term, as his anti-immigrant message resonated strongly. His right-wing Fidesz party took two-thirds of the overall parliament seats.

During the election rallies, he talked of crushing the refugee wave on the borders and a crackdown on civil society groups. Many common Hungarians think that his re-election will jeopardise democratic freedom in the country.

It is amazing to see Orban’s transformation if one looks at his political career. In 1989, in a public speech at Budapest’s Hero Square, he won the hearts of 250,000 listeners by calling for free elections, and telling the Soviets, to withdraw the occupation.

Now years later, after being Hungary’s Prime Minister, he talked of crushing the refugee wave on the borders and a crackdown on civil society groups during election rallies. 

Opposition parties alleged election result irregularities while as organisers believed that the current ballot box system favoured the current leader.

Orban has been charged with nepotism for installing allies in the court and extending influence in the media institutions.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticised the election for ‘intimidating, media bias and opaque campaign financing.’

Pro-government media machines labelled this event as propaganda by ‘Soros Empire’. Jewish billionaire George Soros has been popular in promoting liberal democracy around the world with his philanthropy initiatives.

During the election rallies as well, Orban spoke against Soros for being a threat to Hungary’s Christian identity and for his support to asylum seekers. The orphaned lives of asylum seekers, and people fleeing war and prosecution, mean very little to him.

In May 2015, when the European Commission proposed compulsory quotas to redistribute asylum seekers, his answer was a fence and construction of a 175 km (110-mile) barrier along the southern border with Serbia. The barrier had been built by a combination of soldiers, prison inmates and unemployed Hungarians on community work schemes.

By mid-October, a 40km extension was added along the border with Croatia. It was topped with coils of razor wire and then reinforced with a second fence with a live 900-volt electric current and night-vision cameras and a service road in the middle. This barrier was guarded up by a personnel of 10,000 police and paramilitaries.

The message from Orban, despite EU’s policy on welcoming the refugees, was loud and clear: Hungary had closed its borders for non-Europeans.

Orban even passed a law to criminalise migrants, especially those who tried to cross the fence.

Quite lately, he accused the opposition of being a pawn of his global investment initiatives. A pro-government weekly, Figyelo, accused several academicians, journalists and NGO’s - including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International Hungary section and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. But the groups have pledged to carry on their activities. This recent publication by Figyelo has been criticised by the US Government.

The magazine made a written tirade against many individuals and called them as ‘mercenaries’. The magazine had used the Magyar term ‘spekulans’- speculator.

An English news site and an opposition-leaning newspaper were also shut down before the start of the election. During his rule, Orban wants to penalise organisations that support asylum seekers through a new ordinance.

Hungarian political commentators believe that the country is 'slipping into illiberalism.’

Viktor Orban, it seems, is transforming Hungary into an authoritarian state, similar to regimes in Turkey and Syria.

Being a watcher of political events in Hungary, the European Parliament is debating to suspend Hungary’s voting rights in the trading bloc. A full 751-member bloc is scheduled to vote on this issue in September 2018.

Judith Sargentini, an EU spokesperson said: “the government in Budapest poses ‘a clear risk of serious breach' to EU’s democratic values that warrant a serious penalty."

To ponder on Viktor Orban’s political intentions, it is important to reflect on Hungary’s history – which had been rife of foreign invasions, of being invaded and ruled by Turks, Austrians and the Russians.

Hungary lost seventy-two per cent of her territory during the Treaty of Trianon.  The result was that thirty-one per cent of ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside its borders - as a minority community in Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

In World War Two, most of Hungary’s Jewish population was exterminated in death camps.

During post-war deportations, Hungary lost many of the Germans and other ethnicities that had settled in the country since the 18th Century. Hungary had been emptied of her people. This laments with Viktor Orban every now and then, as Orban is known to bring up these facts of history during his public talks, most notably in September 2015 at a monastery in Banz in Bavaria.

During the talk at the monastery, he had reflected on a parable of a Christian Europe to be adamant against a Muslim World. For this reason, Orban wants every Hungarian school child to read Geza Gardonyi’s novel – ‘The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon’ – where a central character Gergely Bornemissza plays an explosive soldier in defending a fortress from a Turk invasion in northern Hungary at the Castle of Eger.

In February the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein accused Orban of being a ‘racist’ and a ‘xenophobe’.

The Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto rejected the criticism as ‘unacceptable’ and insisted him to resign.

For a strong regionalist, nationalist, anti-immigration and Euroskeptic political approach, Viktor Orban has won a third election in Hungary. But it is keeping his opponents talking.


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