Hungary is going through a drastic transformation. The nation was deeply shaken by the 2008 financial crisis. In 2010, the nation responded by electing the Fidesz party into power. With the support of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, Fidesz built a conservative coalition with the ability to draft a new constitution. This constitution was enacted in 2011 and has given Fidesz significant power. Recently, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced plans to transform Hungary into an illiberal democracy. Here are nine important facts about human rights in Hungary during this time of dramatic change.
Hungary continues to hold free elections. However, constitutional changes have unfairly benefited Fidesz. These changes include reducing the number of legislators, gerrymandering districts and allowing Hungarian-speaking residents in neighboring territories to vote. These “Hungarians abroad” overwhelmingly voted in favor of Fidesz.
The Hungarian Constitution protects freedom of speech and the press, but recent changes have undermined the freedom of the press. Media outlets are required to register with the government for licenses that can be revoked if the outlet violates content policy through actions like inciting hatred or violating human dignity. Recently, a close ally of Prime Minister Orban bought out and disbanded Hungary’s leading political newspaper after it reported on senior government officials mishandling funds.
Hungary’s constitution protects religious freedom, but the government has attempted to limit this freedom. In 2012, the Hungarian National Assembly passed the Church Act, forcing religious institutions to apply to the National Assembly for tax benefits guaranteed to accepted churches. This was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, but the National Assembly tried and failed to pass a revised version in 2015.
This April, the Hungarian government furthered Orban’s crusade against liberalism by targeting academic freedom. The National Assembly passed a law intended to shut down Central European University, which was founded by American billionaire George Soros. Human rights organizations believe this was done to stifle criticism of Fidesz-backed reforms.
The Hungarian government has become increasingly hostile to human rights organizations and has put stringent registration requirements on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Several NGOs that were critical of the government faced unlawful police raids that went unpunished. Many are worried that these actions exemplify a growing disregard for human rights in Hungary.
In 2016, Hungary passed a constitutional amendment that allows the government to declare a state of emergency in the event of a terror threat. The grounds for a terror threat are broad and poorly defined. In a state of emergency, the government has the power to restrict movement, freeze assets, ban public gatherings and fight terrorism without oversight from the National Assembly or the judiciary. After 15 days, the National Assembly can vote to increase the powers of the state.
Hungary has taken on a strong anti-immigration stance that breaks with European policy. Some notably harsh measures include detaining asylum-seekers for months in shipping containers, scaling back resources for refugees granted asylum and allowing the military to restrict the civil liberties of refugees and use “coercive weapons.” Refugees that are detained and hunted down by the military are often subjected to brutality.
The Roma are Hungary’s largest ethnic minority and are widely discriminated against. Though the government has attempted to aid the Romani people, Roma remain disproportionately impoverished and are often segregated from Hungarian schools and placed in schools for the mentally disabled.
Discrimination is becoming an even greater concern with the rise of Jobbik, Hungary’s growing right-nationalist party. Jobbik made large gains in the 2011 and 2014 elections and has a history of anti-Roma, anti-semitic and ethnic nationalist rhetoric. Some of this rhetoric has been disturbingly adopted by Orban to advance his anti-migrant agenda. Though party leaders of Jobbik claim to have toned down their rhetoric, the party’s advancement could lead to a further decline in human rights in Hungary.
Though Hungary is continuing to follow an anti-democratic trend, the situation is not hopeless. For a long time, the E.U. has turned a blind eye to Hungary’s illiberal reforms. Increased pressure from the multistate organization could motivate Hungarian leaders to follow the E.U.’s standards for human rights. In addition, NGOs are essential to protecting human rights in Hungary. Though they have become the target of government scrutiny, they retain partial freedoms to work within Hungary and encourage positive reform.
– Carson Hughes