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Biggest Stories of the Year in Hungarian Politics (part 2)

picture of 2021

“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 this second of a three-part series, we’ll highlight three more of Azonnali’s picks for the top nine stories of the year in Hungarian politics.

You can find part one of this series here.

The government comes out against the LGBTQ community

After Gábor Kaleta, the former Hungarian ambassador to Peru, received a suspended prison sentence for pedophilia, Fidesz promised in 2020 to increase penalties for sexual offenses committed against minors.

The political opposition initially supported the child protection law, but right before the summer vote in Parliament on the issue, Fidesz made amendments to the law that referred not only to protecting children from pedophiles, but also from homosexuality and gender reassignment.

The law, passed on June 15, ultimately said it would severely punish pedophilia and the dissemination of pedophilic pornography, as well as ban the educational, civic, and media roles of the LGBTQ community, classifying them as propaganda and thus harmful for children.

When the law was finally voted on by the National Assembly, it won the approval of MPs from Jobbik and those formerly in that party, in addition to MPs from ruling parties Fidesz-KDNP. Sándor Székely, a representative of Tibor Szanyi’s newly-formed ISZOMM party, was the lone “no” vote, with the remainder of the opposition simply leaving the building.

Since the law was passed, the government has been working to keep the issue alive in the public discourse. Viktor Orbán announced in one of his Friday morning interviews on Kossuth Rádió that a national consultation and even a referendum on the matter would be held.

Although the opposition legally challenged the questions on Fidesz’s “child protection” referendum, the Curia High Court eventually approved four of them. The government plans to hold its referendum on the same day as Parliamentary elections next spring.

Pegasus – Hungary’s spyware scandal

On July 18, one of the biggest wiretapping scandals in history was revealed when more than 16 media outlets simultaneously published articles on the use of Pegasus spyware in several countries.

Data showed that Pegasus, created by the Israeli NSO Group, was used to monitor nearly 50,000 telephone numbers around the world, including journalists, opposition politicians, and NGO employees and activists.

Journalists at investigative outlet Direkt36 exposed the Hungarian ties, showing in several articles whose phones the Hungarian government was able to access with the help of the spyware. Even Szabolcs Panyi, the author of the Direkt36 article on the subject, was himself one of the targets of the Pegasus software.

The government initially denied purchasing the surveillance software, but Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa accidentally spilled the beans in early November and admitted that the government had employed its use.

Although the opposition held a protest on the issue and polls show that it has hurt the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition, no one has had to resign because of Pegasus, and the case has not had any serious consequences thus far. Although Parliament’s National Security Committee interrogated Interior Minister Sándor Pintér on the matter in a private session, the discussions will not be disclosed to the public until 2050.

Tensions with Norway

Over the summer, Hungary lost money from the Norwegian Fund after the deadline expired for the Hungarian and Norwegian governments to agree on the disbursement of grants from the fund.

Between 2014 and 2021, Hungary would have been eligible for Norwegian Fund grants worth €214.6 million (US $243.2 million). As Norway is not a member of the EU but a part of the EU common market, it provides grants to less affluent states.

However, the Norwegian and Hungarian governments could not agree on the organization that would distribute some 4 billion HUF ($12.3 million) in aid to eligible NGOs – the Norwegians insisted that a civil organization manage the funds, while the Hungarian government wanted a say in allocating it.

As the agreement between Norway and the European Union requires that civic actors be a part of aid distribution, the full amount was not disbursed, and the Hungarian government announced on August 4 that it would be taking legal action for the matter.

Since then, the two countries have not been able to reach an agreement, resulting in Hungary losing the aid. The Hungarian government eventually set up its own fund to replace the Norwegian Fund, but a subsequent investigation by news outlet Átlátszó found that Fidesz politicians had direct control over half of the NGOs who received money from it.

...to be continued…

[Azonnali][Photo by Theo Eilertsen Photography on Unsplash]

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