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politics in hungary
Hungary is a landlocked European nation of nearly 10 million that operates under a parliamentary government system. Historically, the political divide in Hungary led to highly competitive elections, with the prime minister and presidential positions democratically grappled over. Elected as prime minister in 2010, Viktor Orbán is an outspoken Eurosceptic, self-proclaimed illiberal and member of the right-wing Fidesz party. Orbán has slowly centralized government powers, squashed political opposition and threatened freedom of the press for nearly a decade. Orbán supporters point to the prime minister’s rapid response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which hit Hungary in March 2020 but has experienced near-eradication from the country, as evidence of his effectiveness. Implementing a five-year jail sentence for promoting misinformation about the virus, closing borders and shutting down non-essential businesses early, Orbán undoubtedly contributed to Hungary’s successful containment of COVID-19. However, the power he indirectly obtained from the virus also contributed to his controversial ambitions to redefine politics in Hungary.

5 Ways COVID-19 is Changing Politics in Hungary

  1. The Effects of Unilateral Decisions: In March 2020, Hungary’s Fidesz-dominated government approved a law allowing Orbán to make unilateral decisions concerning COVID-19 resources, response funding and guidelines. Orbán has since exploited this ruling, taking steps to weaken the platforms of opposing politicians, largely from left-leaning mayors, as the 2022 parliamentary election approaches. While this legislation was to bolster local responses to the virus without needing approval from parliament, its loopholes enabled Orbán to also reallocate municipal funds, neglect transparency about vaccination updates and control the media more tightly.
  2. Flawed Communication: Orbán has failed to provide local leaders data about vaccinations, case numbers, hot-spots and other vital public health information. As mayors lack this data, they have struggled to decide if and when their constituents can return to normal economic and social activities. Although parliament formally ended the Hungarian state of emergency in June 2020, the March legislation remains. Orbán and future prime ministers, through another legislative loophole, will still wield many of the unilateral decision-making powers that enable poor communication and vertical collaboration within the government.
  3. Targeted Tax Cuts: A contentious component of Orbán’s COVID-19 response strategy has been the tax cuts on both public and private businesses that stimulate local level economies. Before the pandemic, the Hungarian economy was relatively stable, with increased wages, low unemployment and steady growth despite the looming issue of inflation. Almost immediately after COVID-19 hit Hungary, Orbán cut taxes on several municipal services by making public parking free. With urban cities like Budapest already losing revenue from public transit and other public services, Orbán’s parking tax cut appears to assist citizens but drains local funding vital to the efficiency of politics in Hungary and virus containment.
  4. Economic Zoning: In another unilateral decision, Orbán categorized certain businesses as “special economic zones.” Under Orbán’s plan, revenue and taxes that businesses generated, qualifying as “special economic zones,” go toward the national COVID-19 response fund instead of stimulating local economies. Projections determine that working-class and factory towns, like God, could lose up to $170 million over the next four years as a result of Orbán’s zoning legislature.
  5. Refugee Restrictions: For the last decade, Orbán has vocalized his conservative stance on refugees and migrants. Using his newly acquired emergency power, Orbán, like many world leaders, has slowed the influx of all immigrants, even vulnerable refugee populations. In May 2020, despite low COVID-19 infection rates, Orbán further threatened the institution of asylum in Hungary. Justifying his actions with the pandemic, Orbán ordered the relocation and detainment of refugees and continued to build a fence at the country’s Serbian and Croatian borders. A product of unsound politics in Hungary, Orbán’s refugee policies leave former citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran more vulnerable to the virus and with even fewer options for obtaining asylum in Europe.

Moving Forward

With an election approaching, approximately half of Hungarians approving of the Fidesz party and Orbán’s approval rating at an all-time high of 57%, the stability of politics in Hungary is in danger. As partisan leaders have largely failed in efforts to hold Orbán democratically accountable, NGOs like Freedom House are stepping in to influence politics in Hungary. Freedom House collects data on political overreach and provides educated reports and quantitative scores on the status of democracy in Hungary, where critical press coverage of the government is punishable. The reliable and in-depth assessments that Freedom House generates provide crucial evidence for Orbán’s political opposers. If these opposers, who advocate for democracy and decentralized government, can regain parliament seats in 2022, Hungarians in the political minority will likely regain a voice.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

strongest democraciesFreedom House’s annual nonpartisan report on the state of global democracy, Freedom in the World, had grim findings in its newly released 2018 version. According to the report, 2017 marked the “twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom” in which civil liberties and political rights eroded in multiple democracies, both young and old.

That said, the focus in this post will be highlighting the world’s top 10 strongest democracies, moving from last to first, based on various economic and social factors:

  1. Uruguay
    Uruguay is known for its strong record on legal equality and social tolerance of minority groups. It has a strong economy, an informed populace and a national identity based on democratic freedoms rather than ethnicity. It is also highly regarded for its notable lack of government corruption, an issue that has long plagued other democratic nations in South America.
  1. Ireland
    Despite instances of corruption, Ireland has upheld its strong and stable democracy throughout the political turmoil of the past few years. Balanced and fair elections have maintained the country’s tradition of equal protections under the law, though Ireland could stand to dedicate more to foreign aid, giving just 0.33 percent of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2016.
  1. Switzerland
    Notable as one of the only countries in the world to operate as a confederation, Switzerland follows a tradition of decentralizing power and allowing citizens to weigh in on government decisions through referendums, making the nation closer to a direct democracy than a representative one.  Switzerland has a long history of civil rights and political liberties, having been a democratic nation since 1848.
  1. Denmark
    A parliamentary representative democracy with open and fair elections, Denmark remained one of the world’s strongest democracies in 2017. Despite pressures following the 2015 migrant crisis, Denmark has maintained its core democratic structures. It has strong checks on power and corruption, a robust set of civil liberties for its citizens, and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
  1. Australia
    Australia is widely recognized as a strong democratic system, with free and fair elections and a system of obligatory voting. The country encourages the sharing of powers, with a bicameral parliament designed to mitigate extreme divides between opposing views.
  1. New Zealand
    A nation that contains immense and stunning scenery, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its appearances in the popular Lord of the Rings movies and its thriving tourist industry. But the nation also possesses a thriving democracy. With regular elections and a system of checks on governmental abuse of power, New Zealand remains a destination for those who wish to combine epic scenery with the modern attributes of a prospering democracy. Its only shortcomings relate to combatting global poverty, as the country contributed just 0.25 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016 despite strong economic growth.
  1. Finland
    Competition between multiple parties with diverse views, along with deep respect for the law and a resulting lack of corruption, made Finland one of the best democracies in 2017. It boasts a free press and independent judiciary that respects the political rights of citizens. It is above average in terms of foreign aid contributions, contributing 0.44 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016, but could still improve in this regard.
  1. Canada
    A country recognized by its broad social welfare system and vast landscapes, Canada remains an admirable democratic society. A strong electoral system combined with governmental respect for diverse opinions among citizens has led to a solid and functioning country. Canada could do better in foreign aid, however, contributing only 0.26 percent of its GNI to helping less fortunate nations in 2016.
  1. Sweden
    A parliamentary monarchy with a robust and independent judiciary, Sweden remains one of the best multiparty political systems and one of the strongest democracies, incorporating the viewpoints of most members of society and benefitting from a respected judicial branch that largely upholds civil liberties. Sweden also contributes the most toward fighting global poverty among members of the United Nations, with 1.09 percent of its GNI going to foreign aid in 2016.
  1. Norway
    Despite the political and social turmoil that defined 2017, Norway preserved its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Norway sports strong protections for freedom of speech among its populace and has a civil society and independent media that is encouraged to critique the government and promote responsible behavior by public officials. Key to Norway’s success is its modest population, which makes it easier to represent all viewpoints in government and mitigate the societal divisions that plague larger countries. Norway also has done more than most democracies to address the issue of global poverty, contributing 1.1 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index found in its July 2017 report that democracy was in retreat across the globe, including in the United States, which is considered one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies. It is important to examine the strongest democracies in the modern world in order to study how they have maintained strong systems of civil and political liberties, as well as what they are doing to improve other nations’ economic well-beings, a key foundation for democratic stability.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Human Rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The island nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, often known as just Saint Vincent, has made an active effort to alleviate human rights infringements. However, residents are still subject to infractions of their basic rights. Women and children often bear the brunt of these infractions, but the government is working toward passing legislation to help the nation sustain its “free” status given by the Freedom House.

2015 in particular was a year of major violations in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The country’s political election elicited many peaceful protests that were met with brute force by the police. Media outlets reported that adversaries of certain politicians were harassed and physically abused. Some were even subject to misdemeanor charges or property confiscation. Once the election was finished, these rough and unreasonable acts by the police diminished.

Human rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have been upheld as far as laws against sexual assault. According to precedent, the government has followed through on reports of rape, with a starting punishment of at least 10 years. Furthermore, spousal rape has been condemned and is considered an illegal act.  Unfortunately, some victims are paid off by perpetrators for not reporting the violations, thus hindering justice.

Sexual harassment, domestic violence and human trafficking are three major issues in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Both sexual harassment and domestic violence have yet to be criminalized by the government, and prostitution of girls under the age of 18 is rampant. Many young girls are forced into pursuing sexual relationships with tourists or older men by their mothers in order to make a contribution to the family income. After government effort, the nation was able to go from tier three to tier two on the Watch List for Human Trafficking.

Lastly, child labor is also a primary concern for residents of Saint Vincent. Children under the age of 18 have no legal restriction on the number of hours that they can work while enrolled in school. Furthermore, there are no restrictions about workplace environment and safety.

While Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are clearly in need of major overhauls regarding human rights, the government is indeed taking action. However, quicker and more severe punishments for violations of rights are necessary in order to make living conditions better for the nation’s inhabitants.

Tanvi Wattal
Photo: Flickr