What the EU Elections Mean in HUNGARY – Orban’s Illiberal Democracy in Control
Arnold Le Goeuil talks to Viktória Serdült at Journalist at HVG.hu and discovers Hungary is pro-EU but that Orban dominates and the independent media are at risk.
Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of the country since 2010 once called Hungary as a ‘illiberal democracy’. And he has been noticed for his opposition to immigration, for his obedience to right-wing, religious and conservative views and for his sharp opposition to the EU – but not to its money.
The country has been investigated by the EU Commission for breach to the rule of law and is now considered as the least democratic country in the Union. So, what is the state of Hungary’s political scene?
Being a member of the media, one has to be very careful to express opinion.Viktória Serdült
‘It’s not easy answering a question like this, especially as a journalist. Being a member of the media, one has to be very careful to express opinion’ says Viktória Serdült, journalist at HVG.hu. The government of Viktor Orban has shown little respect for checks and balances in the country, mainly thanks to its super-majority in Parliament.
All parts of the institutional system have been spoil by the government so it can now enjoy full control: Justice, police, electoral system, media – Viktor Orban’s Fidesz shaped a new (authoritarian) Hungary.
Abroad, Orban has been vocal against migrants, Jews and Western liberal values. But despite all that, Mrs Serdült would not say the country has fallen into dictatorship as elections are free but not fair, she says.
The full control on the media the party enjoys also helped to spread its ideas and of course its electoral message
But then, why is the party totally dominant despite years in office? Mrs Serdült explains: ‘to understand this, we have to forget the phrase “despite”. It is actually their long years in office that makes Fidesz so strong’. The party offers stability and reassurance to a people afraid by the refugee crisis, shaken by economic inequalities and confused because of the quick adoption of EU standards (both economic and cultural).
The full control on the media the party enjoys also helped to spread its ideas and of course its electoral message. ‘Today, there are more than 450 outlets (including websites, print magazines, radio and television) channelled into one giant Central European Press and Media Foundation, all controlled by the government’ Mrs Serdült says. The government waged a ‘campaign of fear’ to cement its power, attacking opposition, NGOs and dissident voices but also playing on the refugee crisis to increase its support, mainly in rural and conservative areas.
Unlike other East European countries, Hungary – which used to be a great kingdom and powerful country centuries ago – always was a homogenous society with a single history and language, which raises questions on its future with regards to the arrival of Middle-Eastern people.
Can that situation change? Can any opposition, particularly the left come back?
‘It is a very difficult question to answer,’ Serdült explains. ‘The opposition has always been divided, and now that Fidesz is so strong, their job is even harder. There have been attempts to form a coalition between the parties for the regional elections to be held in the autumn, and locally there are successful examples. Let’s wait and see how that plays out’.
But without any financial support and media coverage, it’s tricky for opposition parties to really emerge. A new centrist party called Momentum is currently trying to get the EU Election threshold to get MEPs (5%) but struggles to reach voters outside Budapest liberal and highly educated folks.
The support for EU membership has reached record high levels considering that 85 percent support it according to a Hungarian pollster Medián
But are Hungarian Eurosceptics? From a Western point of view, we’ll tend to say that we’d wish. But Viktória Serdült points out that the answer is clearly no. The support for EU membership has reached record high levels considering that 85 percent support it according to a Hungarian pollster Medián, one of the strongest pro-EU poll across the Union.
Talking with Mrs Serdült, she told me the country is not – yet – a dictatorship but that efforts of centralization have not ceased and with elections coming up in autumn, it’s hard to predict what will come next. Working for a HVG (Heti Világgazdaság), founded in 1979 and laeading political and economical weekly newspaper, she told me that journalists are not either ‘persecuted’ or ‘imprisoned’ and can write on whatever they want. ‘But there were newspapers shut down (see Népszabadság) or taken over (like Magyar Nemzet). Just a few weeks ago, covers of the print edition of the paper I work for (HVG) were banned from street advertisement pillars.’
‘But there were newspapers shut down (see Népszabadság) or taken over (like Magyar Nemzet). Just a few weeks ago, covers of the print edition of the paper I work for (HVG) were banned from street advertisement pillars.’
Banning street ads pillars is a way of tearing down the few remaining independent media as funding don’t come from the government any more and that such advertisements are critical for media survival. Another problem is the lack of access to politicians or government sources these media face as only Fidesz-controlled press can have interviews, press conferences and other events.
Mrs Serdült concludes ‘when your job as a journalist is obstructed, you don’t get answers from authorities and sources will not talk to you because of fear of being reprimanded. As such, accessing information is extremely difficult. This either results in important stories not being published or published but with important information missing. And this is what makes being a journalist extremely difficult.’