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Thousands Protest Stricter Abortion Rules in Hungary

Civil rights group Patent Association and several other NGOs held a protest on September 28, International Safe Abortion Day, against the government’s newly-announced “heartbeat decree.”

Thousands of mostly young people gathered in Kossuth Square at 6:00pm to start the protest. Demonstrators held signs such as “If you don’t have a uterus, you don’t get a say.”

The speakers at the demonstration demanded a livable country, free contraception, and real family protection, which they believe are needed to have fewer unwanted pregnancies and therefore fewer abortions in Hungary.

After listening to the speeches, the crowd marched to the building of the Ministry of the Interior, where, in addition to banners, also present were hangers, which have become a symbol of illegally-performed and unsafe abortions.

Although it had begun to rain, the protesters enthusiastically chanted “My uterus, my body!” in front of the ministry run by Interior Minister Sándor Pintér.

On September 12, Pintér amended the rules for inducing the termination of a pregnancy without previously consulting with the public on the measure in any way. According to the decree, the health care provider must present “a factor indicating the functioning of fetal vital functions to the pregnant woman in a clearly identifiable manner.”

The Ministry of the Interior confirmed to HVG that this statement referred to listening to the heartbeat of the fetus, although based on the text of the law, an ultrasound examination required to determine pregnancy also clearly identifies fetal life. [HVG]

Szijjártó Awards Hungarian Order of Merit to Far-Right Dutch Politician Geert Wilders

“The liberal mainstream tries to paint a picture of us Hungarians as isolated people who have no friends in Europe. This is very much not the case,” stated Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, who underlined his point that the Hungarian government does have important and influential friends in Europe with the following lines:

Geert Wilders has never been afraid to take up any position, whether it be about standing against migration, protecting the sovereignty of European countries, or the importance of peace and the failure of sanctions. It is an honor to present the Commander’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit to him today.

444 points out that the far-right Dutch politician is the leader of the fourth-largest party in the Netherlands, but has never been in power in that country. [444]

Ujhelyi to Orbán: If You’re So Dead Set Against Russian Sanctions, Why Did You Vote for Them?

In view of the events of the past few days and the statements made by the Government, I would like to ask you to provide a substantive and reassuring explanation to the following question: On what grounds did you or your government’s representative vote for all the European sanctions that have to date been imposed on Russia?

-asked MSZP politician István Ujhelyi on Wednesday.

The question posed by the Socialist Member of the European Parliament (MEP) refers to messaging from the Orbán government over the past few months, which has repeatedly criticized the EU’s sanctions policy despite the fact that it continues to negotiate with the European Commission for desperately-needed EU funds.

On the first day of the autumn session in Parliament this week, the Prime Minister spoke of “sanctions inflation” instead of the previously-formulated “war inflation,” and claimed that the crisis would be significantly eased if the sanctions against Russia were lifted.

However, as Ujhelyi points out, Viktor Orbán’s government voted for all of the sanctions put before it. [HVG]

Fidesz Losing Support, But Opposition Not Gaining

Although a month after the elections Fidesz enjoyed the highest support of its party in the last three decades (46%, representing 3.7 million voters), it has lost a great deal of support since then. Hungary’s ruling party is currently at 37%, or 3 million supporters, announced Závecz Research on Monday based on a survey of 1,000 people polled in mid-September.

But the poll also shows that Hungary’s political opposition has not been able to benefit much from Fidesz’s decline. Instead, the firm’s data show a significant increase in those who do not identify with any political party, from 20% to 26%, representing half a million people.

The left-wing Democratic Coalition remains the strongest opposition party, with its support slightly increasing among the entire electorate, from 9% in May to 10% now. In third place is Our Homeland: the far-right party was at 5% in the spring, and presently stands at 6%.

Momentum and MSZP have held steady since May, with the former at 5% support and the latter at 4%. Support for Jobbik declined slightly, from 5% to 4%, and LMP, the Two-Tailed Dog Party, and Dialogue all have the backing of 2% of voters.

The public opinion survey showed that those with a basic level of education or vocational training have defected from the ruling party in a much higher proportion than average. In April, 50% of this group declared their support for Fidesz, but their support now stands at 34-35%.

Fidesz also experienced a major loss of support from those in small and medium-sized towns as well as in villages, according to the poll. Whereas the party could count on 50% and 54% of those in such areas to support them back in May, these numbers have dropped to 35% and 39%, respectively.

Moreover, public mood has also worsened since the April elections. At the beginning of May, 52% of Hungarians felt that things in their country were going in the wrong direction, while this had grown to 62% by September. [HVG]

Hungary Will Continue Issuing Visas to Russians Fleeing Mobilization

Hungary does not plan to stop issuing Schengen visas to Russian citizens, including multiple-entry visas, said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó in a statement to Russian state news agency TASS in New York.

I accept that others are not issuing visas to Russian citizens, but that’s not for me to talk about. We did not make any such a decision. Why should we?

-the Foreign Minister stated.

“There is a clear methodology for issuing visas to tourists from countries with which there is no visa facilitation agreement,” he said. “This is a procedure that is more complicated and naturally somewhat slower than when a visa facilitation agreement is in place. But if there is no visa facilitation agreement, it doesn’t mean that we don’t issue visas. We will of course continue issuing visas according to the procedure.”

Péter Szijjártó added that visa policy is Schengen policy. Since Hungary is a Schengen member state, there is a certain procedure governing how this is done, but no decision was made to stop issuing Schengen visas to Russian citizens.

Several EU member states, such as Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, have refused to issue humanitarian visas to Russians fleeing mobilization, citing security reasons. [Népszava]

Teacher Union Calls for a General Strike on Oct. 5

Along with continuing the rolling strike, we will regularly designate days in which we call for a national work stoppage for workers in education. For the first of these, we announce a nationwide, unified strike on October 5, 2022 – World Education Day. We ask those working in kindergartens, schools, dormitories, and as specialists not to work on this day.

-the Democratic Union of Teachers’ (PDSZ) wrote in a call to action at the September 23 meeting of its National Election Committee.

They write that the strike must be announced to the head of the institution by 4:00pm on Wednesday, September 27 at the latest, and the expected number and names of strikers must be submitted by 4:00pm on the 29th. Workers in other industries are also asked to organize similar solidarity protests on this day.

Also on October 5, the joint delegations of PDSZ and the Teachers Union (PSZ) will visit the offices of the Commissioner of Fundamental Rights in Budapest, Győr, Miskolc, and Pécs to hand over their collected complaints to the office. The offices in Debrecen, Székesfehérvár, and Szeged will be visited on the previous day – October 4th – as there is no customer service at these locations on Wednesday.

At 5:00pm, the “Bridge Occupation for the Teachers” event, organized by students, will be held at Jászai Mari Square. From there, the protestors will march to Kossuth Square at 7:00pm for a solidarity concert organized by the Tanítanék Movement and noÁr. [HVG]

Szijjártó Defies EU by Meeting With Russian FM Lavrov in New York

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in New York hours after the European Union asked the member states not to hold bilateral talks with the Russian side, reported Euronews from a statement Thursday by EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano.

Stano said that member states had agreed it would be pointless to meet Lavrov in the current situation. As a result, the Cypriot foreign minister canceled his meeting with Lavrov.

There is an agreement among the EU member states that at the moment, in this special situation, meeting with Lavrov in New York, for example, is pointless, as it will not bring any necessary results.

-said Stano, who believes that the only goal of Russian relations now is to call on them to stop the insane and unjust war.

And yet, Péter Szijjártó appeared surprised that he was the only EU foreign minister who shook Lavrov’s hand. In a video posted to Facebook, he began by saying, “I asked Sergey Lavrov who else he had met with from the European Union besides me, but he hadn’t met with any other EU foreign minister.” [444]

Gov’t Planning National Consultation on Russian Sanctions

Fidesz parliamentary group leader Máté Kocsis announced at a press conference in Balatonalmádi that the government would be launching a new National Consultation survey on the sanctions levied against Russia. The announcement followed a meeting by ruling coalition Fidesz-KDNP’s parliamentary caucus in the resort town.

“It’s not right that only the Brussels elite have made decisions about the sanctions,” said Kocsis. “It is important to ask the people as well, because the longer this debate drags on, the more damage it will cause.”

István Simicskó, the leader of the KDNP group in Parliament, also said, “whenever important national issues have to be decided, we ask the people.” Kocsis later admitted that they did not consider the consultation a legal tool, but a political one that they can use in the EU debate on sanctions.

A previous National Consultation on the pandemic cost 11.5 billion Ft (US $27.9 million).

The thrust of the new consultation will be the sanctions on Russian energy products, Máté Kocsis said. According to 444, Hungary is the only country in Europe that wants to soften the sanctions imposed on the Russians.

The current EU sanctions package will expire on March 15, 2023, and the Council will have to vote on extending it before that time. Kocsis stated that everything possible must be done to get the European Commission to vote against further energy sanctions in November.

The European Union banned the import of Russian coal since this past August, but the ban on importing Russian crude oil and certain petroleum products will only come into force at the start of 2023. Since most of Russia’s income comes from oil, these sanctions will strike the country the hardest economically.

However, some EU member states, including Hungary, have been given an exemption from the ban on Russian oil imports. [444]

Orbán Urges His Party to Do Everything Possible to End Sanctions Against Russia

The war between Ukraine and Russia is no longer a local affair, as sanctions have turned it into a global economic war, said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary group meeting in Balatonalmádi, as related in an article published by Magyar Nemzet on Wednesday evening.

The pro-government media outlet reported that Orbán called on the members of his caucus to do everything to ensure that Europe rescinds the sanctions by the end of the year at the latest.

According to the Prime Minister, the Hungarian left supports the sanctions, which have caused economic problems, an energy crisis, and inflation, and were imposed on Europe by bureaucrats in Brussels.

He also claimed that the Gyurcsány era and its representatives, who once “ruined the country,” want to return to power. The bureaucrats in Brussels and the Soros-affiliated NGOs, said Orbán, want to bring the newly-formed Gyurcsány-Dobrev shadow government to power, which is clear from the fact that they are financing their activities. They did this in the election campaign, and are still doing it now.

Orbán believes that Fidesz-KDNP’s task is to ensure the energy supply and protect families and workplaces. In connection with this, he mentioned the utility subsidy policy, the firewood and brown coal initiatives, and aid to energy-intensive small and medium-sized enterprises and producers. The Prime Minister also mentioned the factory bailout program, and a new action plan for protecting jobs.

At the end of his speech, Orbán stated that Hungary’s energy supply was secure, and that the country would have enough natural gas, electricity, and crude oil. “Sanctions cause serious damage to the country, but through hard work, there is a chance for Hungary to emerge from this crisis as the country that can come out on top,” Magyar Nemzet quoted the Prime Minister as saying. [HVG]

Why Do We Pay 38 Times the Cost of Producing Electricity, Asks Karácsony

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony wrote a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the rise in utility prices, a situation he views as “untenable.”

What can be the reason why a state-owned company sells electricity produced by the Paks Nuclear Power Plant to local municipalities at a profit of more than 38 times – yes, you read that right – 38 times? In addition to residential consumption, Paks produces enough electricity to provide a sufficient amount to supply all public services – public lighting, public transport, drinking water service – nationwide. Not only in Budapest, but throughout the country.

-Karácsony wrote on Facebook, with an illustration showing that one kWh of electricity costs 12 Ft to produce at Paks, but is sold to municipalities for 462 Ft/kWh. The mayor added:

In Hungary today, a state-owned company is profiting from producing electricity by a power plant built as a community investment, but at the expense of the community.

Highlighting the unsustainability of the situation, the mayor pointed out that according to their calculations, merely the cost of additional demand for electricity by Budapest public transportation in 2023 alone will exceed the City Council’s entire revenue to be generated by the local business tax (iparűzésiadó).

Basically, the bill is higher than our revenue. The situation is untenable, which is why I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. But it would be best to discuss it in person, for example at the national energy summit initiated by the Association of Hungarian Local Municipalities. Every decision-maker needs to understand that whatever the color of our coats, we are all rowing in the same boat. And if the municipalities sink, the whole country will sink.

-concludes Mayor Karácsony in his post. [Magyar Narancs]

Momentum Charges Fidesz With Fraud as It Appeals Election Results

Momentum is charging Fidesz with electoral fraud following a special election held in the Buda Castle district at the beginning of September. The by-election for the District I municipal government was won by the Fidesz candidate, Csilla Fazekas, by a mere 60 votes against the opposition candidate, Momentum’s Borbála Korsós.

The opposition party is claiming that since the beginning of August, numerous suspicious people had established residence in the district at 16 Ostrom Street. It later was revealed that many people associated with Fidesz youth group Fidelitas had registered at that address, included the Fidelitas vice president.

The local election office then released a statement in which it stated that “the number of voters did indeed show an exceptionally high increase at the address indicated in the objection. However, the LEC [Local Election Commission] does not have the right or competence to investigate, as official authorities, the legality of address declarations.”

On Facebook, Momentum President Ferenc Gelencsér wrote on Monday:

It is unrealistic to think that 10 people can just establish residency in the same apartment, and 13 people in the same apartment building, within a matter of days. This is particularly unrealistic because the property at 16 Ostrom Street is primarily a medical center and not a residential building. We will not let Fidesz get away with its fraud, and will appeal the LEC’s decision to the Metropolitan Election Commission!”

[444]

Not Many Women in DK’s “Shadow Government” of Ministers

Klára Dobrev, the Democratic Coalition (DK)’s representative in the European Parliament, released the names of a 16-member “shadow government” of ministers, after DK announced its formation last week.

Dobrev gave her first speech as shadow prime minister on Sunday, in which she said that “the main cause of the cost-of-living crisis is Viktor Orbán himself, and as long as Viktor Orbán remains, the crisis will remain. This is why it is necessary to set up a shadow government.”

As HVG notes, women are not exactly over-represented in Dobrev’s shadow cabinet, making up three out of the sixteen members, or 18.75% of the total: Erzsébet Gy. Németh as shadow minister of social and pension issues, Ágnes Vadai as shadow defense minister, and Klára Dobrev herself as shadow prime minister. Dobrev also tapped Olga Kálmán as her shadow spokesperson.

However, Justice Minister Judit Varga is the only woman in the current Fidesz-KDNP government, meaning that women represent just 6.25% of Hungary’s present government.

Opposition parties have been demanding more women be represented in Parliament as well as in government. The Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary caucus is only 10% female, while the proportion in the opposition parliamentary groups is 23%. [444, HVG]

EU Commission Recommends Cutting €7.5B in Funds to Hungary

The European Commission has proposed suspending 65% of Hungary’s cohesion funds, the Brussels-based body announced on Saturday. This amounts to €7.5 billion (US $7.5 billion), but the Hungarian government has a two-month window to implement the necessary reforms.

The announcement was made by Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who said that in April the Commission had initiated the so-called conditionality mechanism against Hungary for rule of law violations that threatened EU funds. Hahn listed three reasons for this unprecedented step: problems with public procurement procedures, conflicts of interest, and the weakness of Hungary’s anti-corruption measures.

The Hungarian government began to turn its behavior around this past summer, when it initiated 17 important measures in the right direction. “We welcome constructive engagement, even if it came late,” Hahn said.

Among the commitments made by Hungary were the establishment of an independent anti-corruption authority, amendments to the criminal code, amendments to the public procurement law, restructuring regulation for public interest foundations, and transparency in the asset declarations of high-ranking politicians.

Yet the European Commission believes that there are still budgetary risks, which is why it decided to suspend the payment of €7.5 billion, or about 3 trillion forints, in cohesion funds due to Hungary. The Commission also proposed that this money not be provided to public-interest foundations either.

However, the Hungarian government will still have until November 19 to rectify its problems and inform the Commission about the measures it has taken.

The government’s proposal will be sent to the Council of EU member states, where a decision must be made within one month, but this can be extended by two months at most. The entire procedure must be completed by the end of December. [Magyar Hang]

Gov’t Keeping Price Controls on Fuel, Food, and Interest Rates

The official price controls on fuel and food products will remain in place, announced Gergely Gulyás, Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, in Saturday’s Government Information briefing. In addition, the freeze on mortgage interest rates will be extended for another six months.

The government is also not changing its revamped utility subsidy policy, after previously announcing it would only apply to families that consume less than the average level. Gulyás stated that the government’s calculations showed that many people fall below the average consumption level, but they can also see that a large portion of the population has begun cutting back on its consumption.

New regulations were also announced by Minister of Economic Development Márton Nagy:

  • So-called energy-intensive producers, whose energy costs reached net 3% in 2021, will be eligible for state subsidies from October 1 to the end of 2023. Under this scheme, the state will reimburse half of the increase in electricity and gas bills for qualifying small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the last three months of the year, relative to the previous year.
  • A new government subsidy is also being created for long-term energy efficiency projects, but applicable SMEs will not be allowed to let go more than 10% of their workforce by the end of 2023 in order to qualify.
  • The government is also considering a factory bailout program, which will help large-scale industrial companies by providing subsidies for energy efficiency projects. The details of this plan can be expected in the next few weeks.
  • Also under consideration is a new action plan for protecting jobs, but details on this will likewise be provided at a later date.

[Magyar Narancs]

Weekend Vote by European Commission May Determine Fate of Billions of Euros Due to Hungary

The European Commission is meeting on Sunday morning to adopt a position regarding the rule of law procedure against Hungary, and will likely inform the public about their decision in the afternoon. Typically the commissioner most relevant to the matter appears before the media, which in this case is expected to be Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The Brussels-based body has until September 21 to make its decision, but its president will be abroad next week, first to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, then to spend several days in the United States to take part in the UN General Assembly. Because of this, the College of Commissioners is holding its meeting at an unusual time.

Whatever position the European Commission takes on Sunday, the Hungarian government will provide legislative proposals to address the body’s concerns on Monday. If the Commission finds Hungary’s response adequate, it can terminate the rule of law procedure and determine that Hungary does not pose a threat to the joint EU budget.

Also at stake could be €5.9 billion (US $5.9 billion) due to Hungary from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). In theory, the rule of law procedure and the RRF are independent of each other, but the European Commission is unlikely to determine that money sent to Hungary harms the EU’s budget while also approving the payment of funds to the country.

A possible solution to this problem could be if the Commission effectively combined the two issues by approving Hungary’s recovery plan on the condition that certain laws are passed by the Hungarian Parliament.

EU law stipulates that Hungary could lose 70% of the funding it is entitled to if all of the formalities are not in place by December 31. [Magyar Hang]

EP: Hungary is No Longer a Democracy

A plenary session of the European Parliament (EP) voted by a large majority on Thursday for the new report on the rule of law in Hungary.

The report states that Hungary continues to move away from the basic values ​​of the European Union, and that instead of a full-fledged democracy, in 2022 the term “electoral autocracy” is more suitable for it.

433 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted in favor of the resolution, 123 voted against it, and 28 abstained.

The report was submitted by French Green Party MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the head of the EP special committee investigating the rule of law in Hungary.

The 30-page document is an updated version of the Sargentini report, which was adopted by the EP in 2018. Following this, an Article 7 procedure to suspend Hungary’s rights in the EU was then launched.

Euronews notes that the recently-adopted report addresses the issue of EU funds still due to Hungary. Specifically, MEPs call on the European Commission to freeze these funds until the Hungarian government rectifies its problems.

Fidesz: Brussels Wants to Punish Hungary

In a statement released on Thursday morning, ruling party Fidesz responded to the news by saying, “What’s happening in the European Parliament is shocking,” adding that:

While European residents are suffering from an energy crisis due to misguided Brussels sanctions, the most important thing for the left-wing-majority European Parliament, even in this crisis, is to attack Hungary.

The statement then mentions the energy crisis “due to the failed Brussels sanctions,” the drastic rise in prices, the impoverishment of Europeans, and the decline of the European economy.

The left in Brussels again and again wants to punish Hungary and withhold the money owed to our country. They are doing this because Fidesz-KDNP, which does not allow migrants to enter Hungary, does not allow LGBTQ propaganda into schools, and opposes the Brussels sanctions that caused the energy crisis, once again won the Hungarian elections in April.

-the Fidesz statement reads. [Telex, Magyar Narancs]

Budapest City Council Votes to Assist Needy Residents With Utility Subsidy Program

An extraordinary session of the Budapest City Council on Wednesday decided that starting in October, needy residents of the capital can apply for an annual 48,000 Ft. (US $120) subsidy to help offset the expected rise in utility prices.

The board unanimously voted for an amendment to the regulation on residential utility subsidies in the capital, which will significantly expand eligibility for the subsidies and double the amount of subsidies available to the neediest households in Budapest. The change will also allow the cost of residential gas and electricity to be subsidized.

In the new system, households in need, as well as Budapest residents who receive pension or pension-like benefits under 100,000 Ft. ($250) per month, will be eligible for subsidies of 4,000 Ft. ($10) per month, or 48,000 Ft. per year.

Pensioners who receive more than 100,000 Ft. but less than 170,000 Ft. ($425) per month will be eligible for subsidies of 2,000 Ft. ($5) per month, or 24,000 Ft. ($60) per year, the City Council decided. [Magyar Hang]

MKKP Now Offering Free Advice on Energy and Accounting

The Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP) has, until now, offered free advice on utilities, insurance, and consumer protection matters, but is now expanding its advising services to two new areas: energy and accounting.

Since we’re a joke party, we can take over in our usual way the duties of the state in areas that it is unwilling or unable to temporarily provide for, those which civil organizations do not have the capacity for, and other parties are not interested in doing because there’s no election campaign on at the moment.

-the Dog Party writes. And this is all while the next few months “look terrible from an economic and social point of view.”

Further details are available at mkkp.hu/fogyasztovedelem. [Magyar Hang]

Security Company Overstepped Authority by Taking Ukrainian Flag From Fans at Basketball Match

A minor diplomatic incident took place last Wednesday, August 24 at a basketball match in Szombathely between Hungary and Lithuania, where a Ukrainian flag was confiscated from one of the Lithuanian fans. But the organizers believe that the security company who took the flag was at fault.

In addition to their own national flag, Lithuanian fans at the match also wanted to unfurl a Ukrainian flag in the stands. A security guard approached the man holding the flag and told him to take it down, claiming that only Hungarian or Lithuanian flags were allowed at the event. The Ukrainian flag was later confiscated by security.

The National Association of Hungarian Basketball Players (MKOSZ) told RTL.hu that security guards had overstepped their authority and made a mistake during the World Cup qualifier match in the Aréna Savaria sports and event hall.

Responding to RTL.hu‘s inquiry, the association stated that employees of Hunbert Trade Kft., which provided security for the event, took it upon themselves to remove the flag. The basketball association did not give them any such instructions to do so, as neither the Hungarian nor International Basketball Federation (FIBA) restrict the flying of flags of other countries in the stands.

In its defense, the security company said that that its employees often take on organizing duties at Hungarian football matches, and the rules of the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) specifically prohibit flying the flags of other countries during a match. [HVG]

Municipalities Not Only Have to Give Waterworks to State for Free, But Also Have to Pay for Transition

Water utility associations that municipalities are forced to give up their ownership of have to arrange their own nationalization, writes Népszava based on a document the news source has seen.

Through an integration program, municipalities whose waterworks are close to bankruptcy can transfer them for free to the government, thus freeing them from their obligation to continue supplying services. The entire transition process for this was created by the municipal associations, and must be financed from the budget of the Hungarian Waterworks Association (MaVíz).

The state will not forgive the debt carried by municipalities to the service providers – it will still “have to be paid from other resources” even after the town hands over its water utility.

Estimates indicate that at least 20 municipalities may be forced to hand over their waterworks.

Municipalities will have to decide on this by September 20, and have until November 1 to complete the transition. But one local municipality expert who spoke to the news outlet said the transition would be impossible, as the state does not have the appropriate apparatus to deal with it. [444]