“2021 wasn’t a quiet year by any means for Hungarian domestic politics,” writes Azonnali, which highlights its choices for the nine biggest political stories of the year.
In the first of a three-part series, we’ll highlight Azonnali’s picks for the top nine stories of the year in Hungarian politics.
Klubrádió loses its broadcasting license
The Hungarian media situation gets worse year-by-year, writes the news site. Whereas Reporters Without Borders ranked Hungary 56th out of 180 countries in 2010 in terms of media freedom, it dropped to 91st in 2021. Countries such as Albania, Hong Kong, and Kosovo now rank higher than Hungary in this area.
The NGO has also called Viktor Orbán an “enemy of the media” – the first EU leader to get this designation, and joining strongmen Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Alexander Lukashenko.
Perhaps it is not surprising then, that the media space narrowed even further when Hungarian courts dismissed Klubrádió’s legal action against the Media Council in February, thus effectively ending the radio station’s terrestial broadcasting.
Citing minor irregularities, the Media Council did not grant an extention of Klubrádió’s expiring broadcast license of the 95.3 FM frequency, a decision which was challenged by station management. Following this decision and its loss in court, Klubrádió continued as an online radio station, while its 95.3 frequency was given to the ATV-owned Spirit FM.
Fidesz leaves the European People’s Party
Almost exactly two years to the day after Fidesz had its membership in the European People’s Party (EPP) suspended on March 20, 2019, which it claimed it did so voluntarily, the party finally left the biggest party in the European Parliament (EP) on March 18 of this year, after Fidesz MEPs individually left the group in early March.
The relationship between Fidesz and the EPP had been strained for a long time, partially because of Klubrádió. However, the government-promoted billboard campaign in February 2019 insulting George Soros and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who had been nominated by the EPP, was the last straw for the transnational party grouping.
After leaving the European People’s Party, Fidesz embarked on setting up a new group in the EP, which was expected to be joined by neo-conservative and far-right parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, but these efforts haven’t come to fruition yet.
On December 3, Viktor Orbán said on Kossuth Radio that he hoped to take an important step in forming a new party in the EP at the Orbán-promoted Warsaw Summit, but the summit ended without creating anything durable or concrete. Viktor Orbán then said that no decision would be made on the matter until after the French Presidential election in April 2022.
Although Fidesz has left the EPP, Hungary is still represented in the party through György Hölvényi of KDNP, the smaller party in the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coaltion. The party’s communications director, István Hollik, has said that Hölvényi will try to reform the EPP from the inside.
Opposition rallies against Budapest campus of Fudan University
China’s Fudan University signed a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian National Bank in 2017 to establish a branch university campus in Hungary, and in 2018 the two countries agreed that the Hungarian government would support Fudan’s activities in Hungary.
The agreement turned into a scandal of sorts, however, when journalist Szabolcs Panyi from Direkt36 found out that Fudan would be built on the location designated for the Student City university project, leading to a major reduction in the size of the project and the number of dormitory rooms for students.
Following this development, András Jámbor, the founder and former editor-in-chief of media site Mérce, made Fudan into an issue for the opposition together with the Szikra Movement, which they linked to the increasingly critical housing crisis in Hungary. Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony and District IX Mayor Krisztina Baranyi organized protests and demonstrations against Fudan and to defend the Student City project.
Despite this, the government has not retreated on Fudan. It first voted to create a Fudan Hungary University Foundation, which would run the school, then named a director to the foundation in November.
In addition to demonstrating, the opposition has now begun collecting signatures on a planned referendum for the public to vote on the Fudan issue. They will need to get at least 200,000 signatures by mid-January for the referendum to be held at the same time as the Parliamentary elections in April 2022.
…to be continued…