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Jobbik and MSZP Propose Referendum on EU Membership

Jobbik President and Member of European Parliament Márton Gyöngyösi is holding a press conference on Monday titled “Hungary’s Place in the Union – Jobbik is Initiating a Referendum.” Further details are not yet known, including what their referendum is about exactly, and if it is somehow connected to the announcement of a similar initiative by MSZP on Sunday.

Earlier, MSZP’s István Ujhelyi proposed a referendum on the following question: “Do you agree that Parliament should create a law on Hungary’s commitments to membership in the European Union?” The Socialist MEP argues on social media that Hungary’s EU membership must be “confirmed” in a referendum:

Until now, only EU money has kept Orbán and his regime in the European community, not values, which means that if the ‘money tap’ is closed, there will be nothing left to keep the leaders of the regime in the European Union.

-Ujhelyi writes, claiming that the country has never before been in such grave danger, since the Hungarian government is unable to reach a compromise with the European Commission and may lose some of the EU funds due to it from the recovery fund.

Together with the referendum effort, MSZP will also submit a bill to Parliament. The referendum will force the National Assembly to take up the vote, reasons the Socialist politician.

If the bill passes, there will be no need for the referendum, says Ujhelyi, who believes that “the intent to leave the EU is hardly far from the minds of the current government.”

However, the proposal was received cooly by fellow opposition party Momentum. Board member János Kele thinks that the referendum initiative would be a “huge mistake.”

Kele writes on social media that it’s simply not worth risking an enormous national tragedy just because some “political actors, who are afraid of becoming irrelevant, now see this issue as an opportunity for them to claw their way back.” [HVG, Telex]

Gov’t Policy to Clear Cut Forests for Heating Could Have Terrible Consequences, Says Dialogue

On Thursday evening, the government published a decree suspending environmental regulations in order to increase logging for firewood. Green party Dialogue is now warning about the danger of ending all restrictions on the prohibition of clear cutting forests, including state-owned environmentally-protected forests, Natura 2000 areas, or otherwise-protected forests.

The opposition party writes that the state of Hungary’s forests is deteriorating year by year, the number of native forests is decreasing, and clear-cutting can have unforeseeable consequences, such as higher air pollution, water shortages, drought, and species invasion. Burning freshly-cut wood is not only uneconomical, they say, but also harmful to the environment and worsens air pollution. Even now, burning solid materials makes the air in many Hungarian towns and cities extremely unhealthy in the wintertime.

Dialogue argues that instead of the irresponsible destruction of forests, the government could take a meaningful step towards Hungary’s energy independence with a single stroke of the pen: by ending the ban on wind farms, and repealing the tax on solar panels and heat pumps.

The party pointed out that Fidesz promised in its 2010 election platform to remove administrative obstacles for utilizing green energy. Instead, the party banned wind farms, introduced a tax on solar panels and heat pumps, and made a long-term gas contract with Russia. The gas contract, moreover, is neither cheap nor advantageous, nor does it guarantee the security of supply.

Katalin Rodics from Greenpeace told Magyar Hang that the new decree would wipe out Hungary’s environmental achievements over the past 40-50 years. The most painful thing about this, she claimed, was not that the efforts of environmentalists will have been in vain, but that destroying the natural world endangers the country’s future. And it is being destroyed for a very short-term goal, in the middle of the climate crisis as well, said Rodics. [444, Magyar Hang]

Népszava: Orbán Gov’t Planning to Sell Off National Park Land to Raise Funds

The government is counting on 300 billion Ft. (US $776 million) in revenue in next year’s budget from the sale of state-owned real estate under the Ministry of Agriculture, writes Népszava. Experts claim that the ministry will only be able to raise this amount with forestry farm assets or national park land, or if not only private persons, but agricultural companies are also able to purchase state land, which is currently being leased to them.

An agricultural expert desiring anonymity told the newspaper that the government was planning to launch a new program called “Land for Farmers” with 480,000 hectares of national park land.

Zoltán Gőgös, a former state secretary in this area between 2006-2010 in the MSZP government, pointed out that the government previously tried to sell off property in Hungary’s national parks, but the Constitutional Court intervened and blocked the deal. However, he told Népszava he was no longer certain that the current Constitutional Court would make the same ruling today. [Magyar Narancs]

Orbán Speech Opens CPAC in Dallas

Viktor Orbán opened the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with a speech in Dallas, Texas on Thursday. CPAC has been a major gathering for U.S. right-wing conservatives since 1974.

The main purpose of the Prime Minister’s half-hour-long English-language speech was to introduce himself and his policies to the American conservative audience, which may sympathize with him but does not know much about Hungary and its government.

Orbán touched on his well-worn themes: Christian values, migration, gender, and the importance of the fight against liberalism, but also didn’t leave out Barack Obama or George Soros.

He compared Hungary to Texas, the Lone Star State, where independence, freedom, and sovereignty are the three most important values in both places.

The Hungarian government made great efforts to get the Prime Minister a speaking slot at the conservative convention. The taxpayer-funded Center for Fundamental Rights, which also organized CPAC Hungary earlier this year, is one of the event’s sponsors.

As for how he felt about speaking at CPAC, Viktor Orbán said it was a dream come true. [444]

DK: European Commission Investigating Whether Highway Concession Violates EU Law

The European Commission is investigating whether the Orbán regime’s highway concession violates EU law, announced Sándor Rónai, DK’s representative in the European Parliament, on social media on Thursday. As he wrote:

We learned in May that groups associated with Orbán’s oligarchs, [Lőrinc] Mészáros and László Szíjj, were awarded the right to operate Hungarian highways for 35 years. However, we have not been able to find out since then what calculations the government used to justify the several trillion-forint business, whether it was a good deal for Hungarians, or if it was just another theft. It stinks from afar, which is why I have brought the issue to the attention of the European Commission. And Ursula von der Leyen has just informed me that the Commission is investigating the deal, specifically, whether the 35-year motorway concession violates EU law.

[Magyar Hang]

Ungár’s News Site Azonnali Shutting Down

News site Azonnali.hu, started in 2017 by LMP politician Péter Ungár and Gábor Gerényi, will be shutting down, Media1 announced.

Ungár did not comment to Media1, but Gerényi told them that the matter had essentially been decided. The site had been losing money for years, said Gerényi, and its prospects had become bleak. He added that good people had worked there, and he hoped they would be able to find employment elsewhere.

Media1 also reported that another site owned by Péter Ungár, Úgytudjuk, was likewise facing an uncertain future.

Veteran journalist András Kósa became editor-in-chief of Azonnali last fall, having previously worked at Magyar Nemzet, HVG, VS, and Népszava. Kósa simply told Media1 that he was currently on vacation. [Magyar Hang]

Fidesz to Boycott Extraordinary Parliamentary Session Called by Opposition

Ruling party Fidesz has told atv.hu that its parliamentary representatives would not be attending the extraordinary session in Parliament being convening by the political opposition.

The opposition parties announced on Monday afternoon that they would initiate convening an extraordinary parliamentary session, and would also submit proposals to Parliament intended to alleviate the crisis affecting the livelihood of Hungarians.

Issues they expect to address are the modification of the KATA tax law, the development of new regulations following stakeholder consultations, withdrawing the increase in utility costs, and lowering VAT on staple grocery items.

Fidesz did not immediately announce whether it would take part in the extraordinary meeting or not, but their reaction to the initiative gave an indication. The party referred to the fact that DK President Ferenc Gyurcsány claimed that he was “getting ready,” a phrase the former prime minister has begun using recently to end his Facebook posts, and which Fidesz interpreted as Gyurcsány’s intention to “bring together all of his smaller members” and return to power.

Parliamentary Speaker László Kövér must still call Parliament to order, but the National Assembly will not have quorum without the representatives from the governing party. This means that speeches on the agenda will be delivered, but the opposition won’t have enough MPs to vote on the agenda and the session will then be adjourned. [Magyar Hang]

Right to Abortion Supported by 70% of Hungarians

The Hungarian population continues to support the right to have an abortion, provided that the age of the fetus has not reached the 20th week, according to an Ipsos poll. The polling company included 27 countries in its latest survey.

In Hungary, 70% believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 14% think that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Internationally, the survey found an average of 59% for the former and 26% for the latter.

81% of the adults polled in Hungary said that abortion should be permitted if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or health, a result nearly identical with the international average of 80%.

The poll also found that 82% of Hungarians felt that abortion should be legal even in the case of rape, and 81% supported it if the fetus has a serious disability or health issues. These were noticeably higher than the international averages of 70% and 67%, respectively. [444]

910,000 Hungarians Live in a District With No Family Doctor

Data from the National Hospital General Directorate (OKF) as of July 1 show a total of 842 long-term doctor vacancies in Hungary, of which 600 were family doctors and 242 were dentists, reports Napi.hu.

Close to half of doctors working in primary care are in the 56-65 age group, and 30% are actively working past their retirement age.

Zoltán Komáromi, DK parliamentary representative and a health care expert, stated that 909,720 people currently live in a district that lacks a family doctor, and 725,430 do not have a dentist in their district. According to Komáromi, the number of people without a health care professional in their district has grown by 80%. [Telex]

Hungary May Experience Serious Fuel Shortage, Says Gas Station Interest Group

Some gas stations don’t have diesel, but there are others where no fuel at all is available, Gábor Egri, President of the Alliance of Independent Gas Stations, told RTL News. Within the next few weeks, there could be huge problems with Hungary’s diesel supply, said Egri.

At Saturday’s Government Information briefing, Chancellor Minister Gergely Gulyás said that a new directive would spur fuel savings, and that no new restrictions were expected.

But Gábor Egri thinks that the entire policy of a price cap on gasoline should be repealed, and welfare benefits provided to less-privileged motorists. The government, however, does not plan to lift the price cap until at least October.

On Sunday, economist Viktor Zsiday wrote that there could be more fuel shortages, and inflation is also on the rise. Only the government, which sees its revenue increase, can do well in such an environment. This essentially means an indirect tax increase that is paid by companies, argues Zsiday. [444]

Viktor Orbán Meets With Donald Trump in New Jersey

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with Donald Trump at the former President’s estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, the Prime Minister’s press chief Bertalan Havasi told news agency MTI.

The Prime Minister posted a picture of himself together with Trump on social media, overlaid with text reading “In an Alliance for Peace!” Underneath the photo, a short statement read, “Meeting with American President Donald J. Trump.”

picture of Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán
(photo: Viktor Orbán / Facebook)

Accompanying the Prime Minister at the meeting were Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Balázs Orbán, the Prime Minister’s Political Director, and Zsolt Németh, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. Also present were Susie Wiles, CEO of the Save America Leadership PAC, consultant Brian Jack, and Taylor Budowich, Director of Communications for Save America.

As previously reported, Viktor Orbán left for the U.S. yesterday to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event in Dallas this week. The Prime Minister has no plans to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden. [444]

David Pressman Hasn’t Even Arrived in Hungary, But Zsolt Bayer Has Already Told the New U.S. Ambassador to Leave

After the United States Senate confirmed David Pressman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary last Thursday, pro-government pundit Zsolt Bayer expressed his extreme displeasure with the choice over the weekend in a blog post entitled, “Get the Hell Home!

Bayer, a staff writer for pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, does not exactly indicate in his post the nature of his problem with David Pressman, writes 444, apart from the fact that the 45-year-old human rights lawyer and diplomat is not a conservative right-winger. However, this did not stop him from being foul-mouthed and insulting:

“Mr.” Ambassador should go home and consult with the dog-f***ing “Mr.” secretary for nuclear energy on the big questions of democracy and freedom. We are doing great here without guidance from idiots like you. Is that clear?

-wrote Bayer.

The reference to the “secretary for nuclear energy” likely refers to Sam Brinton, an assistant secretary for nuclear waste at the Department of Energy. The Hungarian right-wing press kicked up a big fuss about him a few weeks ago, since, in addition to being a qualified nuclear engineer, he reportedly spends his free time as a drag queen. But how this relates to Bayer’s ugly slur, or how Brinton is connected with the new ambassador, is not entirely clear.

At the end of his post, Bayer offers a bit more of an explanation as to why he has a problem with another country having the audacity to send an ambassador to Hungary:

For forty years, sausage-fingered, smelly-mouthed Soviet comrades wanted to tell us what the only path to salvation was. Now they have transformed into “woke,” cancel culture-loving neo-Marxist d**ckheads, and they continue where the Soviet comrades left off.

David Pressman previously represented the U.S. at the United Nations at an ambassadorial level between 2014 and 2017 under the presidency of Barack Obama, and also ran George and Amal Clooney’s foundation as executive director. According to HVG, Pressman spoke about the decline of democracy in Hungary at his Senate hearing, although he believes this phrasing obscures the intent behind the decline of democratic processes in the country. [444]

“Very High” Likelihood of Orbán-Trump Meeting at Dallas CPAC, Says Kovács

The Prime Minister has not gone on vacation. That’s fake news. Viktor Orbán is traveling to the United States, where he will give a speech at the opening of CPAC. There has been no change in this.

-said Bertalan Havasi, the prime minister’s press chief, to atv.hu about Viktor Orbán’s plans.

The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) website clearly shows that the Prime Minister will be a guest speaker at the event, Zoltán Kovács, State Secretary for International Communications and Relations, informed the news channel.

There had been speculation last week that the Prime Minister’s invitation to Dallas for CPAC might be in doubt over the controversy surrounding his use of the phrase “mixed race” while speaking at the Tusványos event in Băile Tușnad, Romania the previous weekend. News had also begun circulating that the Prime Minister would be going on vacation from today, but Bertalan Havasi has now denied this.

At a press conference last week, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó clarified to ATV that Viktor Orbán’s invitation was still valid. Szijjártó said that he had visited Washington two weeks ago and met with Congressional Republicans on tax and economic matters, but that they have a wide-ranging and intensive politicial cooperation with the U.S. political party.

The Minister told the news outlet he would be traveling to New York at the beginning of the week, and “of course will participate” in part of the Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

ATV asked Zoltán Kovács whether there might be a meeting between Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump in Dallas, since the former US president will also be a keynote speaker at CPAC.

The State Secretary responded that “the probability of this is quite high,” giving it a “10” when asked to rank the likelihood of such a meeting on a 10-point scale. [atv.hu]

Von Der Leyen Also Criticizes Orbán’s “Mixed Race” Comments

Ursula von der Leyen has also expressed her thoughts on Viktor Orbán’s speech at Tusványos about “mixed races.”

According to the President of the European Commission, discrimination on the basis of race tramples on the values ​​that are enshrined in international treaties, including the UN Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

As reported by Népszava, the European politician told Slovak news outlet Aktuality.sk that these values were universal and not subject to debate. “We have all undertaken to maintain and protect them,” she said, adding that the European Union is built upon equality, tolerance, fairness, and justice.

In the interview, von der Leyen also spoke about how she was optimistic about the future of democracy and Europe, asserting that “the covid crisis, and now our response to the Russian war of aggression, demonstrated a very important thing: democracies and Europe are performing well.”

While speaking in Băile Tușnad, Romania, during the Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp (informally known as Tusványos) last weekend, Viktor Orbán stated that he didn’t want Hungary to “become a mixed race.”

Since then, the Prime Minister has faced widespead criticism over the comments, such as from the U.S. Embassy in Hungary and in the Romanian media. The speech also prompted a longtime Orbán advisor to tender her resignation.

On Thursday, 67 members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) protested the speech in an online petition. As they wrote, “the idea of human races and their mixing is biologically flawed,” and therefore the academics “find it unacceptable that the Prime Minister associates the future of the Hungarian people with such a scientifically untenable doctrine and dangerous ideology.” [Magyar Hang]

Morawiecki: Poland and Hungary Have Parted Ways

“I confirm Prime Minister Orbán’s words that Poland and Hungary have parted ways,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, when asked if he could identify with a comment made by Viktor Orbán in Băile Tușnad, Romania last Saturday on the deteriorating relationship between the two erstwhile allies.

Orbán stated that the war in Ukraine had jolted Polish-Hungarian relations, as Hungary sees the conflict as a war between two Slavic nations while the Poles have taken up the fight for themselves.

In response, Morawiecki said at a rural meeting on Friday that contrary to what Viktor Orbán had claimed, Poland is not taking part in the war in Ukraine. “The war is being fought by the Ukrainians,” he confirmed.

However, his country is trying to help the Ukrainians “survive the brutal Russian attack” and “preserve their territorial integrity,” said the Polish Prime Minister, as reported by Polsat News and tvn24.pl. [Magyar Hang]

David Pressman Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary

The United States Senate voted 61-30 on Thursday to confirm David Pressman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Only Republican senators voted against confirming the diplomat and civil rights lawyer, although Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in favor of him. Nine senators did not cast a vote.

The 45-year-old was nominated for the post by President Joe Biden in May. A Democrat, Pressman is the former director of George and Amal Clooney’s foundation, and worked as a human rights lawyer and aide to recently-deceased former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Between 2014-2017, under President Barack Obama, Pressman served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs. He is currently a partner at the New York office of law firm Jenner & Block. Pressman is still awaiting the swearing-in for his ambassadorial post in Budapest.

The Hungarian press has commented on David Pressman’s advocacy work for LGBTQ rights and on the fact that he also led a working group that fought for the recognition of this community in U.S. foreign affairs. But HVG notes that he his area of competence extends far beyond this field.

The news outlet suggests that Pressman’s nomination by President Biden may be more related to the Russian-Ukrainian war than to the Hungarian government’s position on the LGBTQ movement. The newly-confirmed ambassador not only has expertise in minority rights, but also in the area of national security. Under two U.S. presidents, he worked directly for three cabinet members in positions connected to national security and law enforcement.

At his Senate hearing, the diplomat stated that current assessments of Hungary show a decline of democracy in the country, but that this decline is a euphemism, as it conceals the intentions behind the erosion of press freedom and the influence of the judiciary. This topic needs to be discussed with government officials, but civil organizations also have to be supported as much as possible so that they can take part in democratic processes. [HVG]

Orbán Advisor Calls Resignation “Unnecessary,” Decides He Isn’t So Bad After All

(UPDATED – see below)

Just a few days after announcing her resignation in protest over Viktor Orbán’s “pure Nazi” speech, advisor Zsuzsa Hegedüs indicated that her resignation had “become unnecessary” after the Prime Minister’s comments in Vienna yesterday, several Hungarian media outlets are reporting.

The Prime Minister’s commissioner for social mobility expressed this in a letter to the Fidesz leader, in which Hegedüs wrote that Orbán’s statement in Vienna had convinced her that he had “publicly distanced himself” from “incriminating phrases” in the speech delivered on Saturday at the annual Tusványos summer gathering.

Because of our 20 years of acquaintance and friendship, I also know what this public correction has cost you, so I appreciate you now taking this step even more than the topic itself would justify. So much so that my first reaction was that with this public statement, my resignation has become unnecessary But even more importantly, after some thought, I still think so a few hours later – I consider it unnecessary.

-the advisor wrote in her letter.

So, just as before 2010 and of course after that, regardless of whether I am officially your chief advisor or not, you can count on my help in the future, as you have in the past 20 years.

-Hegedüs closed her letter to Viktor Orbán.

Speaking on ATV‘s “Egyenes Beszéd” (“Straight Talk”) on Thursday night, Hegedüs said she was “proud of what Orbán said in Vienna.” It appeared that the Prime Minister had backtracked, she said, adding that it is rare for a leader in an international venue to correct his views, which in this case had caused quite a “fuss.” [444]

UPDATE (17:30 CEST): Hegedüs has informed Telex that despite her letter to Viktor Orbán on Friday, she will still resign her advisory position. “The letter does not mean that I am rescinding my resignation,” she told the news outlet.

Orbán Visits Vienna, Claims Tusványos Speech Is About Culture, Not Race

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Austria on Thursday to hold talks with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Orbán was officially invited to discuss the migration issue and the war in Ukraine, but Nehammer indicated he would also ask the Prime Minister about his speech at the Tusványos summer gathering in Băile Tușnad, Romania, on Saturday.

During their joint press conference, Orbán stated that he was in agreement with Austrians on the issues of anti-Semitism and racism. “What the Austrian Chancellor thinks is also what I think,” said the Prime Minister, adding that in politics, “a biologically-based approach is not possible. What is possible is a culturally-based approach.”

“I have a clear and direct position,” continued Orbán. “I define myself as an anti-migration and anti-immigration politician. This isn’t a racial issue, but a cultural issue. We want to maintain our civilization the way it is now.” The Hungarian Premier believes his country differs from Austria in this matter, as he pledged that Hungary would always protect its borders.

The Hungarian Prime Minister also said that sometimes he expresses things in a way that can be misunderstood.

The press conference held with the Austrian chancellor is Orbán’s first public event since his speech in Tusványos, which has provoked negative reactions and prompted a long-time advisor to quit over his comments on not wanting Hungarians to “become a mixed race.”

Dozens of protesters were waiting for the Prime Minister’s arrival on Thursday in front of the Austrian Chancellor’s office building, booing him when he arrived, reported Telex‘s correspondent. [HVG, Magyar Narancs]

Gov’t Sets Up Emergency Task Force to Deal With Drought

Agricultural Minister István Nagy announced the formation of an emergency task force on Thursday to deal with Hungary’s worsening drought. Nagy said that nearly half of Europe suffers from a lack of precipitation, and Hungary is facing an historic drought.

By now, the vast majority of the country has experienced a severe or major drought situation. Fighting this and guaranteeing a safe supply of food are priorities for the Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed István Nagy.

The drought is causing serious problems in the agricultural sector, with a 25% loss of wheat crops and the loss of the corn harvest in large parts of the Great Plain and Central Hungary. The continued lack of water is threatening crops in the Transdanubian region as well, said the Minister.

Grass in the Great Plains region have completely dried out, with farmers unable to have their livestock graze. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that there could be as many as one million hectares of arable land affected by the drought.

The minister stated that the task force would immediately start working on overcoming the challenges confronting farmers and Hungarian agriculture. [Magyar Hang]

U.S. Embassy Responds to Orbán’s Tusványos Speech

In a short statement, the United States Embassy in Hungary issued a short statement that appeared to be a response to Viktor Orbán’s comments at Tusványos on “mixed races” a few days ago:

The U.S. Embassy condemns all ideologies, policies, and rhetoric that give oxygen to the doctrines of hate and division. We must never forget that what began as racist and xenophobic rhetoric by 20th century leaders escalated, ultimately ending in the genocide of millions. Human dignity and equality know no national boundaries and we affirm that the diversity of our human family is one of its greatest strengths.

In his speech on Saturday, the Hungarian Prime Minister said, “We are willing to mix with each other, but we do not want to become a mixed race.”

Since then, the speech has been subject to criticism from many areas within Hungary and abroad. One of Orbán’s chief advisers, Zsuzsa Hegedüs, tendered her resignation on Tuesday over the matter, describing the Prime Minister’s words as an “openly racist speech… which even [Nazi propagandist] Goebbels would have liked. [Magyar Hang]