News / Europe

US, EU Express Concern About Hungary's 'Crackdown' on Democracy

General view of the upper chamber of the Hungarian Parliament building while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rear center, delivers her speech during the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest, Hungary. (File photo - June 30, 2011)
General view of the upper chamber of the Hungarian Parliament building while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rear center, delivers her speech during the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest, Hungary. (File photo - June 30, 2011)
TEXT SIZE - +
Stefan Bos

Hungary's government says it has received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she reportedly expresses concerns about a perceived crackdown on democratic freedom in the country, more than two decades after Hungary threw out the Communist regime. The letter arrived just days after the European Commission urged Hungary to withdraw legislation that critics claim will lead to a government takeover of the Central Bank.

Clinton's letter

In a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly expresses concerns about the future of democratic institutions in this former communist nation. A spokesman declined to confirm the letter's contents, reported by Hungarian media, but Clinton told reporters earlier this year in Budapest that essential checks and balances must be strengthened.

"As friends of Hungary, we expressed our concerns and particular call for a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press and governmental transparency," she said.

Clinton referred to attempts by Prime Minister Orban's center-right government to place allies at the helm of almost all previously independent national institutions.

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, right, listens to his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg, left, during a press conference at the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, January 12, 2011.
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, right, listens to his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg, left, during a press conference at the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, January 12, 2011.

The government introduced a tough new media law that critics claim muzzle's the country’s press and more recently reduced power of the constitutional court and revamped the judiciary by sending key judges to early retirement.

New policies

There is concern that future generations will not be able to change these policies under a new controversial constitution that takes effect January 1.

This prompted European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to express her concerns to Hungary's government, says her spokesman Matthew Newman.

"The commission fully respects member states' rights to make changes to their national constitutions," said Newman. "It is the commission's role as a guarder of the treaties to ensure that member states are implementing legislation that is in conformity with the treaties. So in this context Vice President Reding raised a number of concerns, in particular the obligation to have an independent data protection authority and as I mentioned the age discrimination concerning judges."    

Additionally, Jose Manuel Barroso, the chief of the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, expressed concerns in a letter to the prime minister about two bills, including one that some think could threaten the independence of Hungary’s Central Bank.

Central Bank bill

European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly says "European Commission President Barroso asked for the bills to be withdrawn because he is concerned that they might contravene with the treaty" of the European Union.

Critics claim the Central Bank bill, which was expected to be adopted Friday, will lead to a government takeover as it will enlarge the Monetary Council and the number of deputy governors.

The criticism has prompted the International Monetary Fund and the EU to halt talks with Hungary on a safety net the government is requesting of some $26 billion as the country copes with the highest debt in the region, some 80 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

Prime Minister Orban rejects the European Commission's criticism.

Orban says he told President Barroso "that there was no possibility to delay [the laws] as Hungary's Constitution will take effect on January 1, and both laws are important bricks in the new constitutional order."

Yet, Western concerns over Orban's perceived autocratic and nationalistic policies have spread to the streets of Budapest.

Hungarian police scuffled with protestors and detained dozens of activists. They included legislators who chained themselves at an entrance of the Hungarian parliament.
Among those detained was also former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Speaking to reporters outside the police station, he says protests continue.

"Today there are the Socialists, tomorrow the 'Politics Can Be Different Party' and there will be other organizations." Gyurcsany says Hungarians have no other choice because "it is impossible to live with Prime Minister Orban." And, in his words, “Orban’s autocracy can no longer tolerate even peaceful opposition and protests.”

Orbanistan

Elsewhere journalists are on a hunger strike to protest alleged government interference in national news programs. Two of them have since been fired at the state-run broadcaster.

And, Hungary's main opposition radio station, Klubradio, has been told by the government-backed media authority that its broadcasting license will not be renewed. It was viewed as one of the last broadcasting voices of opposition parties that face an uphill battle to reclaim parliament because of controversial election legislation.   

Investors are also concerned after banks were forced to take massive losses on foreign-currency loans, a controversial banking tax was introduced and companies were also required to pay a 'crisis tax' to help overcome the budget deficit.

Amid the turmoil, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's debt to the non-investing junk status, following a similar move by the Moody's agency.

Yet, political analyst Peter Kreko of Budapest-based research group Political Capital isn't surprised about the perceived harsh policies of Orban’s government.

"The problem right now is that conspiracy theories became the core points of the government's ideology," said Kreko. "The way they see the current situation in Hungary is that everybody, even the international financial institutions and even the international political institutions such as the European Union want to chase away Viktor Orban."

It is a far cry from the days when, in 1989, Orban as a young man called publicly for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from then communist Hungary. Critics call Hungary 'Orbanistan', in reference to autocratic states in Central Asia.

Analysts caution however that the country is still a member of the EU and will therefore be under pressure to maintain some level of democracy.      

Yet with Hungary increasingly isolated, there is concern about more political and social tension in the country, which joined the EU in 2004 along with 10 other mainly former Communist nations.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid