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.”


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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs