Hungary Monthly Digest: EP elections campaign launched and bad news for Hungarian media7 min read

 In Central Europe, News, Politics

– In Hungary, the European Parliament Elections campaign officially began on April 6th (read all about the elections in Lossi 36’s handy guide).

Incumbent party Fidesz will campaign this year under the slogan “Hungary comes first for us in Brussels as well.” On April 5th, Fidesz president Viktor Orbán laid out in a speech the seven points of his campaign programme, available in English here. Unsurprisingly, the seven points revolve around the same topic: migration.

Moreover, the Hungarian leader attacked the European People’s Party (EPP), the European party Fidesz belongs to: “We decide on our future and not the European People’s Party,” and generously criticised European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Fidesz was suspended from the EPP in March (see the March edition of What’s up Hungary?), and is currently under scrutiny regarding its reintegration. One of the conditions the Hungarian party has to comply with is to stop its smear attacks against “EU bureaucrats”, often embodied in the person of Juncker.

In addition, the government does not seem to have changed its mind regarding the Central European University, one of other conditions to remain within the EPP (see the November and March editions of What’s up Hungary?)

With this April speech, it seems clear that Fidesz has chosen confrontation, and that it will most likely part ways with the EPP after the elections.

Another interesting fact regarding the EP elections was published by Le Courrier d’Europe Centrale. While the far-right party Jobbik has become the country’s second party for a couple of years, overpassing the socialist MSzP during the last Hungarian parliamentary elections in 2018, polls seem to indicate that MSzP and Jobbik are now neck and neck.

– Around the beginning of April, Hungarian online media outlet Atlatszo published an analysis of Budapest street names in the form of data visualisations. Although they might seem anecdotal, street names reflect a political vision of the state, witnessed by the changes of the names throughout history.

Among other things, we learned that 89% percent of the capital’s streets are named after men, a general trend across the world. More interestingly, about 40% of Budapest street names refer to the period between the mid-19th and mid-20th century, acknowledging the importance of the Austro-Hungarian empire (a significant number of streets also take names from the Habsburg Dynasty), but also the will to symbolically forget the communist period.

– Around the same period, Reuters reported on the recent creation of a Hungarian-backed international news agency, V4NA. Since the end of last year, the London-based agency has provided “a conservative, right wing perspective of the key political, economical, cultural and other news critical to the EU and the world” in Hungarian, English, and French. According to Reuters, it was founded by businessmen and politicians close to Orbán.

While the Hungarian government is now controlling (directly or indirectly) most of the national media landscape, “Orban has been unable to control international news coverage, which has been far more critical of him than local media. The new agency’s early content suggests it is more sympathetic to him,” according to Reuters.

– On April 2nd, television presenter Anikó Marsi used her platform on one Hungary’s most-watched programmes to shame high school student and anti-government activist Blanka Nagy for her poor grades at school.

The origin of the story dates back to December 2018, when Nagy received media attention for her virulent speeches against the government, in the midst of the “Slave Law” protest (see the December edition of What’s up Hungary). Subsequently, the young woman was violently attacked and publicly humiliated by a cohort of pro-government media (see the January edition of What’s up Hungary?).

While the pro-government media are carrying out its shaming campaign, Nagy wisely remarked to independent investigative website Atlatszo “’I think all this verbal aggression against me is very strange but I am no longer bothered by it. It only proves that I somehow scared the highest ranks of governing party Fidesz”.

– The plans for a Trianon memorial were released during the first half of the month. Following the government’s will, the monument is meant to be erected by 2020 to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty of Trianon.

In the aftermaths of the First World War, the Treaty of Trianon was signed on 4 June 1920 between the Allies and the defeated Kingdom of Hungary. As a result, Hungary lost two thirds of its historical territory and more than half of its multi-ethnic population, while one third of Magyars (ethnic Hungarians) found themselves outside the new borders, mostly in Romania, but also in Croatia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine.

The Trianon loss is a very policitised topic in contemporary Hungarian society, as illustrated by the decision to commemorate the 100th anniversary of what is often framed as a major historical trauma.

The memorial is set to be built in Budapest, across from the Parliament building at Kossuth Lajos square, and will take the form of a ramp where the 12,000 municipality names of pre-Trianon Hungary will be engraved (for more details about the monument, see this post from Hungarian Spectrum). The project received numerous criticisms, even from intellectuals close to power, as it is deemed a form of historical revisionism, and provocative towards Hungary’s neighbours.

– On the topic of media again, Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders released on April 18th its 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Hungary is ranked at 87th out of 180, after Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Within the EU, only Bulgaria is ranked lower (111th). It is also worth noting that Hungary lost 16 places only in two years (see 2017 Index).

– Also on April 18th, a flashmob took place on Széll Kálmán Square in Budapest to protest against the termination of a contract between the advertising company Mahir Cityposter and independent weekly HVG.

To summarise Index’s article on the topic, Mahir Cityposter is a Hungarian advertising company owning advertisement columns in Budapest. It had held a contract with HVG for about 40 years, wherefore the cover of the latest issue of HVG was displayed on the streets of the capital every week.

HVG usually adopts a critical stance towards the Fidesz government. The crux of the affair may lie in the fact that Mahir was acquired in early 2019 by Lőrinc Mészáros, one of the wealthiest men of the country, and (or most likely because) great friend of the Prime Minister.

As a matter of fact, only a few months after Mészáros’ investment, Mahir terminated its advertisement contract with HVG, arguing a lack of advertising space. Although no formal link has been established between the two events, it is certain that the Hungarian government will not regret the absence of HVG’s cheeky covers on the streets of Budapest.

– Prime Minister Viktor Orbán went to China at the end of the month to attend a meeting centred on the Belt and Road Initiative, along with around 40 world leaders.

This Chinese-led project was launched in 2013, and plans to re-activate the ancient trade route between China and its partners in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Concretely, China is offering to generously finance land and sea infrastructure in order to connect China to the rest of the world. The EU has been very divided on how to welcome the initiative. While Western European countries usually see it with a lot of defiance because it threatens to displace the “centre of the world” Eastwards, Central and Eastern Europe has shown more enthusiasm.

As Le Courrier d’Europe Centrale explains, “for Central and Eastern Europe, the Silk Roads offer several advantages: access to new sources of funding while European funds could be expected to decline in the future; to diversify their commercial relations, particularly with a partner who pays little attention (it is a euphemism) to violations of human rights and the rule of law; to move from a peripheral position in the transatlantic world to a central position in the Eurasian world” .

For the present Hungarian government in particular, the project is seen with a lot of benevolence. The Hungarian foreign policy strategy aims to move forward from a Western-centred world order, promoting a multipolar system that is seen as more beneficial for Hungary. The government has in fact developed an “Eastern Opening” since 2013, hoping to attract more investors from the East, as well as developing relations with countries such as Russia and China. In that regard, the Belt and Road Initiative fits the government’s geopolitical vision.

Main Sources: Atlatszo (EN), Hungarian Spectrum (EN), Index (EN), Le Courrier d’Europe Centrale (FR), Le Monde (FR), Reuters (EN)

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