Politics is always a hot topic. Not a day goes by without reports of something happening with high profile leaders or a controversial decision being made which can impact not only a country, but also those who are in allegiance with them and the people who live there, and for those that are outside of the country that is being reported on, it is so easy for us to judge what is happening, from a distance, without the real consideration or understanding of how it is impacting everyday lives.
This is nothing new, and places will strive to give the right impression to their tourists. Hungary is no different, and has recently come under scorn for the decisions which its leaders have been taking.
Budapest is a thriving and seemingly cultural capital city of Hungary. Tourists and locals crowd the streets, viewing the beautiful neo gothic architecture of its parliament buildings on the stunning setting of the banks of the Danube. It feels like a real achievement for post-communist society, but looks can be deceiving.
To firstly understand the political standing and how this is impacting this country and its standing in the European Union, we need to understand what kind of political ruling is in power at the moment.
Illiberal Democracy is in play here. If you aren’t sure what this is, it is a type of hybrid democracy where although elections take place, information is not shared with the people of the country from those in power due to a lack of civil liberties. What this ultimately means is that there is no independent media within these countries and the public are only told what the powers that be want them to hear.
This gives a feel of a repressed state and surely has an impact on what the people living there are at liberty to do, not just in their day to day lives, but in what they read, the art they see, the films they watch… the list is endless and something that for me is very difficult to comprehend.
You may wonder how Hungary has got to this state, as part of the European Union, and in a part of the world which has been surrounded in conflicts in the past, this political shift can somewhat feel like a backwards step. Europe has a chequered history and through several uprisings and since the World Wars, Hungary managed to break away from its communist routes and join with the trade and European Union, but recently Hungary has come under scrutiny from its counterparts due to some of the activities of its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Orbán has previously been the Prime Minster of Hungary with his first term over 1998 – 2002, during this time in office, he drastically shifted the journey of Hungary in changing the focus to a centralised government and economic reform. As with any leader there was a certain amount of controversy which surrounded the second youngest Prime Minster the country had seen, which revolved around control over the media amongst other things.
Orbán is now in his second term as Prime Minster where he gained the position with 44.5% of the votes in 2010 with another election looming in April this year, where it is felt that he will comfortably win the seat. Once again his decisions for the country have come under fire, which is where the freedom of the country can come in to question.
It is very easy for me to write that I think that the path that Orbán has chosen is misguided, but I am not a resident of Hungary, and neither am I directly impacted by the actions which are being taken, but I can see that there some breaches of what I would consider basic human rights, which the European Union are picking up on.
As in his first term, once again there are blockades put in place for free press, which means that only media that the government approves off is issued out to rural Hungary as smaller independent publications dwindle due to the rising pressure from rules added to the legislations around media coverage. Reuters reported in November 2017 that $700,000 assistance from the US government was being put into a programme to assist journalists in Hungary learn how to practice their trade. This is set to assist the smaller independent outlets tackle the intimidation and growing pressures which are currently being placed upon them from the government. Grants will not be able to be used until after April 2018.
In 2017 Orbán took steps to force the Central European University out of Budapest with a bill that stated joint venture universities would need to have campuses in their home countries as well as off sight. Due to partial funding from its founder George Soros, this would mean that there would need to be a campus in America, pushing the universities access out of bounds for many students. Other elements to the new legislation also banned universities from awarding Hungarian diplomas without an agreement between national governments, in this case the US. This is a hard blow to the university which is rated as one of the top 200 in the world. The university was founded to “resurrect and revive intellectual freedom” for parts of the world which had suffered the atrocities of communism and fascism. Within hours of the bill being passed, staff, students and supporters surrounded the university with blue veto signs to show their discontent with the decision.
It would seem that currently Hungary is trying to shut down the freedom of speech, pin down education and stop the freedom of movement through its boarders (as we have seen in the building of the boarder fences In 2015 to limit the movements of illegal immigrants, forcing them to go through checkpoints). Where does this leave the people of Hungary?
The European Union have scorned Hungary, for Orbán’s view that he is Hungarian first and European second, as the union within Europe was to build a tolerance throughout the aligned countries an build a community where ideals would be agreed on and practiced. It does now seem that Hungarian government is turning its back on these ideals to put their own ideologies in to action.
The concern lies with a repressed media and opinions only being shown as pro government, the rights of the people and their freedom of knowledge will be severely reduced, tending back towards the right wing actions we have seen in the past.
It is true that the people have the freedom to vote in their government, but with restricted information and the closing down of shared national learning, this could impede the opinions of the countries residents leaving them ill-informed to make good choices.
While all things seem well in the multicultural city of Budapest, how long will it be, before the thriving culture there is cut down to just the under communicated masses, leaving them without enough knowledge to realises that their freedom has been sacrificed through the actions of the people in power?
With a government that can now change its focus without having to tell the people what it is doing they could easily find themselves back in a situation where the few rule the many with little option to get out.