Hungary Monthly Digest: EPP suspends Fidesz and Orbán’s village is getting an artificial lake and an island5 min read

 In Central Europe, News, Politics

– In February, the Hungarian government launched an “information” campaign featuring posters targeting billionaire and liberal George Soros and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (see the February edition of What’s Up Hungary?). The government also sent letters to Hungarian households to inform them of “what Brussels is preparing.” The campaign was not warmly welcomed at the EU level, and Orbán received vocal criticism.

The European People’s Party (EPP) in particular grew weary of its rambunctious child. On March 1st, the required minimum of 7 parties from 5 countries calling for Fidesz’s expulsion was reached, and a vote was scheduled for March 20th.

On the following day, Orbán called the above parties “useful idiots” of the Left during an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

On March 5th, leader of the EPP Manfred Weber set his conditions for Fidesz to remain in the party: to stop the anti-Brussels campaign, to apologise to the other EPP members, and to keep the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest (read more about that debacle in the November edition of What’s Up Hungary?).

In an attempt to re-open dialogue, Weber went to Budapest on March 12th. Besides the Prime Minister, he held talks with CEU’s rector Michael Ignatieff, and suggested that the university develop a partnership system with the Technical University of Munich.

On March 20th, the vote on Fidesz’s expulsion eventually took place. The Hungarian party was suspended, but not excluded. This decision can be understood as a twist to satisfy Orbán’s critics, while not completely alienating the vocal Hungarian leader two months before the next European elections. The risk would be to have him building alliance with far-right parties, consequently limiting the EPP’s number of seats in the Parliament. In order to regain full membership, Fidesz will have to meet the three conditions listed above.

The leaders of the V4 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) met near Warsaw, Poland on March 10th to celebrate the 20th anniversary of NATO in the region. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined the military organisation in March 1999, while Slovakia was integrated in 2004. (Read more about Poland’s recent NATO celebrations in the March edition of What’s Up Poland?).

– On March 12th, the workers of the Hankook Tire factory in Dunaújváros, Central Hungary, launched a strike, despite threats of retaliation from factory management. After ten days, they eventually received a 18% wage increase. This success falls within the scope of a wave of workers’ protests over recent months, beginning with protests against the so-called Slave Law in December 2018 (see the December edition of What’s up Hungary?), and followed by a series of strikes in the country’s factories (including Mercedes, Suzuki, and Audi). While there is undoubtedly a snowball effect, the workforce shortage in the country may also be playing in favour of the workers.

– March 15th was a national holiday in Hungary. On this day, Hungarians commemorate the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution. Following a wave of European revolutions in the same year, the Hungarian insurgency evolved into a war of independence from the Austrian Empire. The Hungarian forces were eventually defeated, notably thanks to the Russian Empire’s support to Austria.

While official celebrations were held, opposition parties organised a joint protest in Budapest, where they collectively released a “March Manifesto” – confirming that we may be witnessing the advent of a structured and coherent opposition movement in the country.

On the occasion of the national holiday, Minister of Human Resources Miklós Kásler awarded literary prizes to two well-known anti-semitic writers, Mihály Takaró and Kornél Döbrentei. The former is an admirer and promoter of the Hungarian far-right literature of the interwar period, while the latter showed his true colours in several anti-Semitic statements. The strategy may not be fruitful for a government that has already been accused of anti-Semitism.

– Upon a referral from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the European Court of Human Rights again ordered the Hungarian government on March 15th to give food to the migrants in detention at the border. An official presented the justification that “Hungary is not responsible for those who have not requested asylum and those whose requests have been denied. There’s no free lunch for illegal immigrants,” meaning that people whose refugee application was refused, but are still retained in detention centers are simply not given food.

– On March 20th, the investigative media outlet Atlatszo revealed that Felcsút, Orbán’s native village, is now getting an artificial lake and an island, funded by the European Union. Previously, the 1,800 inhabitants of the village had already been gifted a large soccer stadium, a football academy and a hobby train.

– On March 29th, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó confirmed that the country would start importing natural gas from Azerbaijan beginning in 2021. The government has been eager to diversify its gas supply in recent last years, especially since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. “This represents a particularly serious challenge for Hungary in view of the fact over half of Russian gas imports to Hungary arrive via Ukraine,” explained the Minister.

A few days earlier, Gazprom CEO and Szijjártó had already signed an agreement according to which Hungary would receive gas for the next year, irrespective of whether Russia and Ukraine manage to reach a deal.

Main Sources: Atlatszo (EN), Hungarian Spectrum (EN), Index (EN), Le Courrier d’Europe Centrale (FR), The Orange Files (EN)

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