Hungary It has been overcome in the international media and in political discussion in recent years. And yet, just a few weeks ago, the country has managed to attract exceptional attention. In the hybrid regime of Hungary (the only one in the European Union), with its weakened rule of law and its eroded institutional independence, what matters is the content and not the process. The “Enabling Law” passed on March 30, is just one of the instruments in the Prime Minister’s toolbox, Viktor Orbán.
Let’s take a look at some of the emergency measures (and others) implemented last month. First, the government restricted the finances of the opposition. Using the Populist slogan “Let’s save on politicians”, the authorities halved state support for political parties.
This will be very painful for the opposition, but it will not affect the ruling party, Fidezs, which has a de facto unlimited access to public resources. At the same time, salaries for secretaries of state will increase by 35% this year.
The Hungarian government also cut many of the municipal revenues, such as parking, vehicle and tourism taxes, as well as some of the investment budgets. This also constitutes a blow to the opposition, which is well represented in the leaderships of the big cities, including Budapest, the capital, and its districts.
Authorities also restricted the rights of some cities whose leaders belong to the opposition to raise money and determine what investments are made. A decree redefined the location of a (planned) Samsung battery plant in Göd, a small town in northern Hungary, such as “special economic territory”, which means that the tax revenues of the project will go to the regional council dominated by Fidesz, instead of the city council, where the opposition is the majority.
Against the hoaxes of the Covid-19
Second, the government has taken steps to silence voices that oppose them. Hiding in the Covid-19 crisis, the parliament amended the penal code so that the dissemination of falsehoods or “distorted facts” about the coronavirus was punishable with up to five years in prison. Later, a series of government-sponsored media and expert groups branded opposition journalists as sources of “fake news.”
Police fined citizens who peacefully protested some of the government’s measures without physically concentrating, with the horns of their cars and the bells of their bicycles. At state of emergency, the prosecution found the perfect opportunity to open criminal cases against protesters who participated in anti-government rallies in 2018; They will face penalties of up to five years without any type of judicial procedure.
Third, Orbán took steps to redirect money flows in order to favor specific individuals. A decree defining some of its projects as being of special importance to the national economy removed administrative restrictions.
A bus law says certain state real estate held by oligarchs in favor of the Government. In addition, it has decreed as confidential the details of a huge infrastructure project, the Budapest-Belgrade railway line of 5 billion euros (5.4 billion USD), with financing of Chinese origin. This project will benefit the closest circles in Orbán, and Chinese companies like Huawei.
The last example illustrates that the principle of “grounded interaction,” gestures toward allies that exhibit questionable behaviors in the hope that they will eventually return the favor, has produced no tangible result.
The drift towards eastern Hungary started in 2010, but accelerated after President Trump received Orbán at the White House a year ago. After the coronavirus arrived in Hungary, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó visited Moscow to meet with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to close long-term contracts related to natural gas.
Prime Minister Orbán unceasingly criticizes his Western allies for not offering them help during the pandemic, and at the same time constantly expresses gratitude to dictatorships like those of China, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
Hungarian state propaganda blames the “usual suspects” such as the pandemic George Soros, the EU and illegal immigrants, but (surprisingly) has almost nothing to say about China, except praise and praise them for their protective gear “gifts”. In this regard, Szijjártó commented that “This clears any doubts about the nature of the opening policy to the east of Hungary, which is need-based and well-founded.”
Relationship with Trump
Between Hungary’s rapprochement with China and widespread international criticism, Orbán has handled his relationship with the United States well. Just a few days ago, he had a friendly conversation with President Trump, who stated that “Relations between Hungary and the United States are in great shape!” These kinds of gestures will have no reward.
Orbán uses these situations to legitimize his control over power and solidify his reputation as a role model for other anti-liberals inside and outside the EU, and to encourage them to carry out their adventures and strengthen their ties with Russia and China.
Take as an example the case of Nikola Gruevski, the former Prime Minister of Macedonia (now North Macedonia). He began his term in 2006 as a big supporter of the USA. USA, and in return received great diplomatic support. As his regime began to drift toward authoritarianism, he became increasingly pro-Russian and became the main obstacle in integrating his country with Western alliances.
After losing power, he did his best to hinder the Macedonia’s entry into NATO opposing reaching agreements with Greece regarding its name. He had to flee Macedonia to avoid a prison sentence after being convicted of corruption. Having received political asylum from the Orbán government, this fugitive autocrat now enjoys Hungarian hospitality.
The setbacks of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe open the doors to malicious influences from Russia, China and other authoritarian countries. This should not be ignored.
*Péter Krekó He is the director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, a member of Europe’s Future at the IWM / ERSTE Stiftung and an associate member of the JHU SAIS Bologna Institute