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Country in Focus: Hungary

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City 2018 XpA Scores
9,769,000 15,939 Budapest Freedom of Expression: 0.50
ICCPR ratified 1994 Hungary was an XpA Decliner each of our four time periods (2017-2018, 2015-2018, 2013-2018, and 2008-2018). Civic Space: 0.53

Constitution of Hungary 2011 (revised 2016)

FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY, ARTICLE IX

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech.

[…]

  1. The right to freedom of speech may not be exercised with the aim of violating the human dignity of others.
  2. The right to freedom of speech may not be exercised with the aim of violating the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community. Persons belonging to such communities shall be entitled to enforce their claims in court against the expression of an opinion which violates the community, invoking the violation of their human dignity, as provided for by an Act.
Digital: 0.76
Media: 0.52
Protection: 0.60
Transparency: 0.51

 

Hungary has seen biggest decline in freedom of expression in the world over the last decade, and is also a Decliner over the five-, three-, and one-year timeframes.

Figure 32:

In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán further concentrated power around himself and his Fidesz party, ensuring that critical voices are silenced – on the streets, in print, or online.

Before Viktor Orbán took office as Prime Minister in 2010, Hungary sat within the top quartile; by 2018, it had plummeted to the 3rd quartile, slipping more than 20 places just within the last year.

Now one of Eastern Europe’s most notorious strongmen, Orbán continued towards total state capture. At elections on 8 April, Viktor Orbán and Fidesz won a third consecutive term with a majority in parliament; thousands took to the streets in protest.

Hungary has suffered perpetual attacks on its institutions, with Orbán wielding Fidesz’s parliamentary majority against the opposition, media, academia, civil society, judiciary, and migrants.[1] Constitutional amendments pushed through during 2018 obliged all state bodies to ‘defend Christian culture’.[2]

Scapegoating of George Soros continues

2018 saw the passing of a package of laws designed to choke civil society with administrative obstacles and expenses. Known as the ‘Stop Soros Laws’, these particularly targeted human rights defenders working on migration and refugee issues.[3] Citizens took to the streets to protest these laws, but George Soros’s organisation, the Open Society Foundation, announced it would be relocating to Budapest,[4] and the university he founded and funded, the Central European University, would be moving to Vienna. A media smear campaign and public comments by Turkey’s President also targeted George Soros; the Open Society Foundation announced in November that it would dissolve its Turkish foundation and cease operations in the country.[5]

Weekly publication Figyelő published a list of government critics in 2018, naming them ‘Soros mercenaries’. Figyelő has seen substantial increases in income from state advertising since a government ally took it over in 2016; by 2018, 75% of its advertising revenue came from state contracts.[6] State advertising is also a key tool for the regime: it now makes up about one-sixth of all advertising, while state spending on advertising has increased fivefold over a decade, and 85% of contracts are awarded to government-friendly companies.

Media passes into government hands

Hungary’s media has been almost entirely placed in pro-government hands; Fidesz has perfected the use and abuse of market forces to take over media.

In 2016, Népszabadság, the country’s leading daily, was shut down in a hostile takeover, and its publisher sold to oligarch – and childhood friend of Orbán – Lőrinc Mészáros. The outlet had been struggling financially, like many publications in the country, and its precarity was seized upon as an opportunity to ensure loyalty and silence instead of criticism.

Mészáros had collected channels, publications, online media, and all of Hungary’s regional newspapers, increasing his wealth 300 times in the span of three years, and using and expanding his political connections.

At the end of 2018, Mészáros and other government-friendly businessmen suddenly offered all outlets, for free, to pro-government media conglomerate KESMA, which now has more than 400 media outlets under its remit.

European Union launches disciplinary procedures

The European Union finally took action in June, when Members of the European Parliament voted to launch disciplinary proceedings under Article 7 for violations of EU values.

In December 2017, the European Commission referred Hungary’s 2017 Higher Education Law and law on foreign-funded CSOs to the European Court of Justice. In May, the Commission began enforcement action over the anti-CSO law,[7] while in July, it referred Hungary’s asylum law – which criminalises activities supporting asylum and residence applications, and further restricts the right to request asylum – to the European Court of Justice.[8]

In May, the European Commission also proposed that the next EU budget, starting in 2021, should link distribution of EU funds to Member States to their respect for the rule of law.[9]

Hungary’s right to information

Though Hungary has a right to information in law, information is often only accessible after long and onerous litigation, and journalists have been banned from the parliament building at times. Major legislation is frequently rushed through to passage and enactment, leaving citizens, interest groups, and others little time to comment on it.[10]

 

[1] Freedom House, ‘Hungary’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/hungary

[2] Freedom House, ‘Hungary’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/hungary

[3] ARTICLE 19, Hungary: More Than 250 Organisations Stand In Solidarity with Civil Society in Hungary, 21 February 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/resources/hungary-250-organisations-stand-solidarity-civil-society-hungary/; see also Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Operation Starve and Strange, 1 February 2018, available at https://www.helsinki.hu/wp-content/uploads/OPERATION-STARVE-AND-STRANGLE-01022018.pdf

[4] Open Society Foundations, The Open Society Foundations to Close International Operations in Budapest, 15 May 2018, available at https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/press-releases/open-society-foundations-close-international-operations-budapest

[5] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p592, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[6] Freedom House, Freedom and the Media: A Downward Spiral, 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-media/freedom-media-2019

[7] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p.x, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[8] European Commission, Migration and Asylum: Commission Takes Further Steps in Infringement Procedures Against Hungary, 19 July 2018, available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-4522_en.htm

[9] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p.x, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[10] Freedom House, ‘Hungary’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/hungary

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