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Hungary - Politics

Miklós NémethMSzMP;1989 MSzP24 Nov 198823 May 1990
József AntallMDF23 May 199012 Dec 1993
Péter BorossMDF 12 Dec 199315 Jul 1994
Gyula HornMSzP15 Jul 199406 Jul 1998
Viktor OrbánFidesz-MPP06 Jul 199827 May 2002
Péter MedgyessyNon-party27 May 200229 Sep 2004
Ferenc GyurcsányMSzP27 Aug 200414 Apr 2009
Gordon Gordon Bajnainone14 Apr 200929 May 2010
Viktor OrbánFidesz-MPP29 May 2010...

"Just 20 years after communism collapsed, Hungary's government, though elected democratically, is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy's checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions, and the media." The Budgapest Appeal 07 January 2011, signed by 73 former dissidents from Communist Europe.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban championed what he calls "illiberal democracy" in Hungary and Budapest was singled out in human rights watchdog Freedom House's annual report, published in April 2021, for an "unparalleled democratic deterioration over the past decade." Orban's Fidesz party has also been suspended from the EU Parliament's European People's Party and, as Budapest and Brussels remain locked in a tug-of-war set off by EU concerns over the rule of law and misuse of the bloc's funds. The shifts in the country's domestic and foreign policies over the past decade have largely been led by Orban and should he and his Fidesz party lose in 2022, many of those changes could see a swift reversal.

In 2003 the Bertelsmann Foundation placed Hungary at the very top of the list of 120 ‘developing’ countries in terms of quality of democracy. The country received 10 out of 10 for its ‘democracy status’ and its overall status-index was 9.71. By 2014 Hungary’s ‘democracy status’ score dropped to 7.95 and its overall status index decreased to 8.05. For the first time, the country was labeled a ‘defective democracy” and the 2014 country report registered the “dismantling of democratic institutions” in Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban liked to come across as moderate and pro-European when abroad but changed tack on the domestic stage. Ever since he and the ruling Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections in April 2010, both increasingly distanced themselves rhetorically from Europe and the EU. Orban vowed to make Hungary a "non-liberal" or "il-liberal" state, and called for the mandatory drug testing of journalists and politicians.

Miklos Haraszti, a veteran of struggles against Hungary’s Communist dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, observes "Hungary is becoming a constitutional dictatorship in the classic sense." By the end of 2011 diverse groups were joining in oppositional to the Orbán regime. Civic groups which had wanted nothing to do with political parties were suggesting a common strategy for getting rid of Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz party.

The National Police Headquarters (ORFK), under the direction of the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for maintaining order nationwide. The country’s 19 county police departments and the Budapest police headquarters are directly subordinate to the ORFK. City police have local jurisdiction but are subordinate to the county police. Two hierarchically equal units are directly subordinate to the minister of interior: the Counterterrorism Center (commonly known by its Hungarian acronym “TEK”) and the National Protective Service (NPS). The Counterterrorism Center is responsible for protecting the prime minister and the president and for preventing, uncovering, and detecting terrorist acts, including kidnappings and hijackings and other offenses committed in relation to such acts, and arresting perpetrators of such crimes. The NPS, created in 2011, is responsible for preventing and detecting internal corruption in law enforcement agencies, government administrative agencies, and civilian secret services.

Both the Counterterrorism Center and the NPS are empowered to gather intelligence and conduct undercover policing, in certain cases without prior judicial authorization. The Hungarian Defense Force is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security as well as aspects of domestic security and disaster response.

The 2010 rules permit the governing parties with a two-thirds majority in the parliament to nominate and elect judges to the Constitutional Court independently of opposition parties. As of 2014 that resulted in the Constitutional Court being composed of an overwhelming majority of justices nominated by the governing parties. On 24 September 2014, parliament elected three new Constitutional Court justices for 12-year terms to replace retired justices. Based on a December 2013 legislative amendment, Constitutional Court justices are no longer required to retire when they turn 70 years old, so they can fulfill their entire 12-year term. Human rights NGOs voiced severe concerns that, with the election of the new justices, the number of Constitutional Court justices nominated exclusively by the incumbent governing parties since they came to power in 2010 rose to 12 (one of whom already retired), forming an overwhelming 11 out of 15 majority.

Among the most important problems were serious governmental and law enforcement actions against civil society organizations, continued curtailment of media pluralism, and societal discrimination against and exclusion of Roma. The re-elected Fidesz-KDNP coalition continued to make the comprehensive changes to the legal framework and state structure that it began in 2010, largely without public consultation or inclusive dialogue with opposition parties. International organizations and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to voice severe criticism of the systematic erosion of the rule of law, checks and balances, democratic institutions, and transparency, and of increased intimidation of independent societal voices.

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press. The broad powers of the media regulatory authority, however, together with an advertising market highly dependent on governmental contracts, created a climate conducive to self-censorship and political influence. The OSCE election observation mission noted media bias during the election campaign and increasing media concentration under government-linked ownership. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) continued to report a bias in news reporting by the public media. Mertek Standard Media Monitor reported increased pressure on the media by politics and business.

In January 2018, the governing Fidesz-KDNP alliance compiled the ‘Stop Soros’ legislative package to help the country more effectively combat illegal migration. There are three elements to the bill. The first is that those organizations that support migration through the use of foreign funding would be required to register and provide information on their activities in future. There would also be a special tax imposed on these organizations known as the ‘tax on the financing of immigration’, with the income derived to be used solely for the purposes of border protection. The third part of the package would introduce a restraining order for foreign nationals, which makes possible the exclusion from Hungarian territory of those people who organize or finance migration, while Hungarian citizens involved in these activities would be prevented from traveling to any area within eight kilometers of the Schengen border. The Hungarian parliament passed the laws in June 2018, aimed at penalizing the “promotion or organization of illegal migration”.

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the “Stop Soros” package of laws. The commission sent the Hungarian government a letter of formal notice concerning the “Stop Soros” laws and related constitutional amendments on 20 July 2018. According to MTI, the European Commission has given the Hungarian authorities two months to respond to its concerns. The ruling Fidesz party said that the latest infringement procedure confirmed that Brussels supported migration and “is protecting the Soros organizations”.

“The Stop Soros law and the constitutional amendment prohibiting the settlement of migrants in Hungary stand in their way, this is why they launched the procedure,” the party said in a statement. “As long as the Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance is in government, Stop Soros and the constitutional amendment will remain intact, because the Hungarian people have made it clear that they do not want Hungary to be made into a country of immigrants,” the statement added.

The nationwide municipal elections 13 October 2019 were seen as a test for the opposition's new strategy of banding together behind a single candidate against Fidesz. Opposition candidate Gergely Karacsony won Budapest's mayoral election, defeating the Fidesz-backed incumbent. The result is an upset for Orban's ruling Fidesz party, which hasn't suffered an electoral defeat since it came to power nine years ago. Opposition candidates also won mayoral races in 10 of the country's 23 largest cities. That's a significant shift since the last local elections in 2014, when opposition groups won just three mayoral contests. More than 8 million people were eligible to vote for over 3,000 mayors and more than 17,000 local council members. The election turnout was nearly 50%, one of the highest participation rates in local polls since Hungary's return to democracy in 1990.

Hungary's parliament on 30 March 2020 passed a bill that greatly increased the power of the country's far-right prime minister, Victor Orban. The premier had said the move was necessary to fight the spread of coronavirus. Orban has asked to extend a national state of emergency that would give his government the right to pass special decrees in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Lawmakers passed the bill with 137 votes against 52 in Hungary's lower chamber. Orban's Fidesz party held a two-thirds majority there.

The bill allowed the government to indefinitely extend the country's state of emergency and the attached rule-by-decree powers, according to a draft of the bill posted on March 20 on the parliament website. Normally such extensions would need approval by Hungary's parliament. The draft also includes the introduction of jail terms of up to five years for people who spread "fake news" about the virus or measures against it, raising anxieties about freedom of press in Hungary.

The Hungarian government wants to maintain the launch of its much-criticized nationalist curriculum in September 2020. The curriculum's patriotic goals are particularly clear in literature and history. Students should learn to be "proud of their people's past." The nation's historical wartime defeats are to be deleted from textbooks and replaced by portrayals of victorious battles. Hungarian legends and myths are to be presented as historical facts. The controversial authoritarian rule of Miklos Horthy from 1920 to 1944 is also to be portrayed in a positive light. The fact that Horthy passed anti-Jewish laws in 1920 and later became one of Adolf Hitler's close allies will be downplayed.

Works by nationalist authors such as Jozsef Nyiro and Albert Wass are now mandatory reading. Nyiro was a member of the fascist Arrow Cross Party and an admirer of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Wass was an avowed anti-Semite and convicted war criminal. The government of Orban's Fidesz party has been pushing the rehabilitation of these authors for years, erecting new monuments and naming streets after them. Teachers' unions, universities and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences have called for the curriculum to be withdrawn.

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Page last modified: 08-03-2022 19:37:36 ZULU