- Tamás Fehér
Hungary in 2020
While Hungary never usually ends up first on international headlines, 2020 was somewhat of an exception. From COVID restrictions to sex scandals and anti LGBTQ+ legislation, the country has had them all. It is important to now look back at some of the most important and key events that happened to Hungary in 2020.
Deportation of Iranian Students
In January and February of 2020, Hungary was one of the few countries with no cases of COVID-19, but by March, the first case and first death had occurred and by March 15th, each county had cases. Initially, Budapest and Pest County were hit by the virus, which was soon followed by the closure of all schools, private and public. As the cases grew, right-wing rhetoric and misinformation took Hungarian social media by storm. Many far-right websites like PestiSrácok posted articles claiming that foreigners and immigrants were the reason for Hungary’s cases, which were often twisted into grand conspiracy theories involving George Soros. However, the situation deteriorated when, on March 13th, two 23-year-old Iranian university students were deported by the Hungarian government for breaking quarantine rules, along with 17 other Iranian international students threatened by deportation. This event was mismanaged from the start, as interviews with the students revealed that police had tailed them and contacted them via Facebook, demanding them to make an appearance at a police station as reported by 444.hu. From the beginning many human rights lawyers argued the claims were baseless. However, by July, talks between Tehran and Budapest led to Hungary renouncing the deportation claims, allowing the 19 students to return to Hungary.
Orbán’s Rule by Decree
Many in Europe were shocked to hear the NGO, Freedom House’s new report downgrading Hungary’s status from a “semi-consolidated democracy” to a “hybrid regime” after the Hungarian Parliament voted on new legislation giving Prime Minister Orbán Viktor rule by decree powers for an unspecified time. Due to its decisive nature, ⅘ of the Parliament has to have voted for the resolution to pass. However, Orbán’s Fidesz Party only controlled ⅔ of all seats in Parliament, and were not able to pass the resolution. Yet, by next week, despite failing in Parliament, the resolution passed without a second vote in March. This development created a lot of international attention, and many condemnations from the European Union and from the United States Embassy in Budapest. Unsurprisingly, the Hungarian opposition also started a large campaign against the government for overriding its own rules. Despite this, all protests organized by the Opposition, fell on deaf ears. Despite fears from critics, Orbán only passed laws that directly made it easier for Hungarian governmental agencies to monitor and track citizens who are suspected of having COVID-19. By June Orbán had announced that rule by decree would be overturned, and a new “state of medical crisis” would be implemented. Orbán also told the press “Those who cried dictatorship home and abroad can now extend their apologies!”.
Kaleta Gábor, Hungarian Ambassador to Peru and his Child Pornography Case
In Spring 2019, an international investigation led by the FBI managed to trace a computer in Lima to have stored over 19,000 images and videos of child pornography, and upon further investigation, the FBI descovered the computer belonged to Kaleta Gábor, Hungary’s Ambassador to Peru. Soon after, the FBI contacted the Hungarian government, which led to Kaleta Gábor being extradited back to Hungary to face charges. At the time in 2019, the case was an embarrassment for Hungary. However, that embarrassment turned to outrage on July 1st of 2020, after Kaleta Gábor received suspended prison time and a fine of 540,000 Forints, or 1494 Euros (conversion 2021, January 1st). The defense argued for lenient sentencing as Kaleta Gábor is a very devout Christian, and the fact that the trial had quote “seriously impacted his mental and physical wellbeing”. Many saw this as an example of the already corrupt judicial system in Hungary, favoring the wellbeing of the Fidesz Party elite over the rule of law. Some online news reports from the US also claimed that the FBI found images of children from Peru, in Kaleta’s child pornography collection, which further angered many not just in Hungary, but in Peru as well.
Hungary’s War on Gender and Feminism
A key concept of ultra-conservatism is without a doubt the enforcement of traditional gender norms. At the heart of Fidesz's political philosophy, is maintaining that status quo. Fidesz, despite its non-stop rhetoric against feminism, has numerous female representatives and officials. This fact is the key part of Fidesz’s defense, most notably Katalin Novák, who is Minister for Families without Portfolio, who has made some questionable statements and supported discriminatory legislation. Primarily, Novák’s office shared a video titled “Hogyan lehet sikeres egy nő?” translating to “How can a woman be successful?”. The video created a lot of backlash, as Novák stated: "Don't believe that we women must always compete with men. Don't believe that at every moment of our lives we must compare ourselves to others, and have at least the same positions and level of salaries as others.". Numerous critics saw this as problematic, since in 2019, women earned 15% less on average than men. Many argue that that video also reinforced negative stereotypes, as the video starts with Novák talking about her love of cooking and staying at home. While Novák’s reinforcement of traditional gender norms is one thing, anti-LGBTQ legislation is another. In December the Fidesz supermajority in Parliament passed a constitutional amendment, where it is proclaimed that “Fathers are men, and mothers are women”, effectively banning adoption rights for LGBTQ couples and families who often emigrate to marry in a country where it is legal to do so. In addition to the events of 2020 Pride in Budapest, where far-right members of the Mi Hazánk movement burned and stole Pride flags off of district government buildings, has slowly been adding to the reactionary atmosphere against LGBTQ rights in Hungary.
The Brussels Drug fuelled Orgy
József Szájer, a Hungarian Member of European Parliament from Fidesz, participated on the 27th of November in group sex with men in Brussels, which was raided by police as the large gathering of people went against COVID-19 restrictions. Upon the arrival of the police, Szájer attempted to escape by climbing down the rain gutter. During the raid, the police found Szájer’s personal belongings, and in his bag the police found drugs, allegedly cocaine, however not clear exactly what substance. As a result, Brussels Police launched an investigation into drug possession. The news regarding Szájer went viral in Hungary and Europe, where internet memes were born of his great escape. In the fallout of the scandal, Szájer resigned from his Member of European parliament status, formally left Fidesz, and returned to Hungary. However, despite returning to Hungary, on December 29th, the Hungarian Attorney’s Office (Legfőbb Ügyészség) signaled it will also launch an investigation into Szájer’s drug possession. Many in Hungary and abroad saw this event as an example of blatant hypocrisy, considering Fidesz’s track record of curbing gay rights. Hungarian Opposition member of Parliament András Fekete-Győr stated that the scandal showed “the complete moral bankruptcy of Fidesz''.
The Illegal Detention of Immigrants
On May 22nd, the European Court of Justice ruled that holding migrants in zones was illegal. As a result, Hungary closed its transit zones, freeing 280 immigrants. The full reality of the situation in the transit zones became clear only after interviews with detained immigrants became public. Some were forcefully held against their will in these transit zones for hundreds of days; in the case of the plaintiff families in the case in courts, they were held for 464 and 526 days. The ECJ stated that the Hungarian transit zones were illegal, as they quote “the persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever”. As a result, during a press conference by Gergely Gulyás stated “The Hungarian government disagrees with the ruling, we consider it a risk with regard to European security, but as an EU member state, we will adhere to all court rulings”. In the days following the closure of the transit zones, Hungarian newspapers and online news sources also claimed that the transit zones often lacked enough food for the detained people, and hygiene was a constant issue, alongside some cases of family separation. More notably the European Court of Human Rights, requested the Hungarian Government to provide sufficient food in their transit zones at least 24 separate times. Meanwhile, the Helsinki Committee stated the conditions inside these transit zones were “prison-like”, “filthy” and “overcrowded”. The ruling by the ECJ also led to Orbán Viktor making commenting on the matter, stating “the Brussels bureaucrats have awakened", and that "the historic debate on migration has been revived” and "Brussels bureaucrats are sitting in the pocket of someone named George Soros," in a radio interview.
While 2020 has ended, and with hopeful optimism we hope 2021 will be better, only time will tell how our world develops, and how we defeat COVID-19.