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)
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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More