Hungary Monthly Digest: State Turanism and EU Backlash Against the Hungarian Government4 min read

 In Central Europe, News, Politics

– Since the start of the new school year and following a recent amendment to kindergarten curricula over the summer, Hungarian kindergarten teachers are required to teach their pupils “national identity, Christian cultural values, patriotism, attachment to homeland and family.” An interesting pedagogical program for 3 year-old toddlers.

– During the 3rd-5th of September, Orbán was in Kyrgyzstan for a meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan), where Hungary acquired the status of an observer state. While the Prime Minister’s desire to get closer to Eastern partners is understandable, it is surprising to note that he chose to play the identity card at the risk of mobilizing unscientific arguments: “… we are Hungarians, and we speak Hungarian. This is a unique and strange language, which is related to the Turkic languages. We have always closely followed the cooperation between countries of Turkic identity … Hungary respects and nurtures its Turkic roots.”

– The Hungarian director László Nemes Jeles, well-known for his masterpiece Son of Saul (Grand Prix of the 2015 Cannes Festival), won the prize of the international federation of film critics (FIPRESCI) at the 75th Venice film festival for his new movie Sunset on the 7th of September.

– On the 10th of September, an article published by the investigative journalism centre Direkt36 revealed that the Hungarian government had sold permanent residence permits to wealthy and influential foreigners between 2013 and 2017, granting them entry to the Schengen zone. Among these foreigners, Vladimir Blotskiy (member of the Russian Duma), Sergey Naryshkin (chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service), Dmitry Borisovich Pavlov (close to the Kremlin), but also Atiya Khoury (close to Bashar al-Assad). As Corentin Léotard puts it, there seemingly are holes in the Hungarian border.

– The most discussed news of the month perhaps has been the vote over the Sargentini report at the European Parliament on the 12th of September. An absolute majority of 448 MEPs voted in favor of launching the procedure known as “Article 7,” aimed at stopping infringements to the rule of law in Hungary. The Hungarian government has since clumsily tried to defend itself, alternatively arguing that the report was a collection of qualified lies,framing the procedure as a punishment against the Hungarian migration policy, or claiming that the decision was fraudulent.

– With the energy unleashed by the outcome of the vote, an anti-government protest was organized by opposition parties in Budapest on the 16th of September. The ex-Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK) called for national resistance and tried to launch a recurring demonstration every day in front of the Parliament, which seems to have failed. This might not have been surprising for those who remember the leak of the notorious 2006 Őszöd speech, where the politician openly and using obscene language, admitted that he had lied to the face of the Hungarian people.

– Orbán traveled to Moscow on the 18th-19th of September in order to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The talks mostly revolved around energy matters such as the Turkish Stream pipeline project and Paks Nuclear Power Plant. Analysts pointed out that such a meeting was not really necessary, and may have been just a demonstration to show how close the leaders are with one another.

– Tensions over the fate of Hungarian minorities in Ukraine continue between the two countries. In 2017, Ukraine voted on a language law aimed at reinforcing the teaching of Ukrainian in schools, thus endangering the minorities’ rights to education in their mother tongue. The Hungarian government vehemently reacted and has blocked NATO and EU talks with Ukraine ever since. The embers were rekindled on the 19th of September, when a video showing a citizenship ceremony in the Hungarian consulate of Berehove leaked on Youtube. Given that Ukraine forbids dual citizenship, Kiev asked for an answer and threatened to expel the Hungarian consul, to which Szijjártó replied Hungary would respond proportionally.” The conflict  between the two countries seems far from settled, and may in fact worsen with the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections.

On the 20th of September, a Hungarian court reduced the jail sentence of Ahmed H. from 7 to 5 years. However, the terrorism charge was upheld. The Syrian man was convicted for “complicity in an act of terror” in 2016 for throwing stones at the police on the Hungarian border, and has become the symbol of governmental abuse towards refugees.

By the end of the month, the Századvég newspaper had its editor-in-chief Tamás Demeter dismissed, while half of the members of the editorial board resigned in protest. The media outlet had published an article criticizing the economic policy of the government, which apparently was not to the latter’s taste. Moreover, the “problematic” issue of the newspaper was withdrawn from sales. Attacks on the press have become common over the last years, with numerous publications being bought by organizations or individuals close to the government, or simply shut down.

Main sources: Hungarian Free Press (EN), Hungarian Spectrum (EN), MTI/MTVA (EN), Le Courrier d’Europe Centrale (FR)

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