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Latest News – May 19, 2022

Bősz Announces Pregnancy as She Becomes Budapest Deputy Mayor

“I carry my young son under my heart while I not only become a mother, but also a deputy mayor of the capital,” wrote Anett Bősz on Facebook.

The DK-affiliated politician was the democratic opposition’s nominee in the Budapest suburb of Érd in the April 3 election, but came up short against András Aradszki of Fidesz.

Although Bősz didn’t win a seat in Parliament, she ended up snagging the role of Budapest deputy mayor when current deputy mayor Erzsébet Gy Németh was chosen to take the parliamentary seat of Gergely Karácsony, who won a mandate from the joint party list but decided to keep his current job as Mayor of Budapest instead. [Azonnali]

Coincidentally, tabloid Blikk reported yesterday that Momentum President Anna Donáth was also pregnant, although the politician did not make a public statement about it.

The MEP decided to share the news privately with members of her party after the elections, although some of them began to suspect it before then, according to Index. [Index]

Hungary Has Online Troll Army Pushing Pro-Kremlin Disinformation

Together with its regional partners, Political Capital examined unusual online behavior in the V4 countries between February 21 and March 31 regarding the war in Ukraine and announced the results, reports Átlátszó.

The vast majority of unnatural patterns of behavior in the V4 countries promote Kremlin propaganda, with the only exception being Slovakia, where “trolls” have been detected promoting pro-Western themes.

One striking feature that the study revealed was that dozens, and at times hundreds, of users will repeat identical phrases in post comments, suggesting a coordinated network of activity.

The strongest presence of this online troll army is in Hungary, the study found. During the election campaign, the most common refrain by these posters was to tell people to vote for Fidesz if they wanted peace in the shadow of the Ukrainian war.

The report points out that Facebook is not really doing anything to curb such trolling in the V4 countries, which are considered small markets to the social media giant. [Telex]

Stummer and Jakab to Battle for Jobbik Presidency Tomorrow

Jobbik is holding its party congress on Saturday, where it will elect new officers, writes HVG. Three party members originally declared their candidacy for the role: current President Péter Jakab, János Stummer, and Rudolf Nagy.

Nagy, however, didn’t garner enough support to make it to the final ballot, so tomorrow’s election will come down to Stummer, who was the chair of Parliament’s National Security Committee in the previous term and declared his candidacy back in April, and Jakab, who has led the party for the past two years.

12 candidates are running for the role of vice-president, writes the news site. [HVG]

Opposition Politicians Want to Question Justice Minister Varga in European Parliament Over Pegasus

Representatives from Hungary’s political opposition in the European Parliament have initiated the process to request that Justice Minister Judit Varga appear before the committee investigating the use of Pegasus surveillance software in EU Member States.

Momentum MEP and party President Anna Donáth said at a plenary session of the European Parliament on Wednesday that Varga should be questioned by the committee in a public hearing that would be broadcast live, as “politicians, civilians, and investigative journalists were surveilled and eavesdropped with her knowledge and permission.”

At the same time, Donáth will also have the committee request and examine wiretapping warrants, “as it very much seems that a significant number of them were not needed at all – they simply eavesdropped on their political opponents so they could stay in power.”

As the vice-chair of the Pegasus committee in the European Parliament, DK’s Sándor Rónai will likewise request a hearing for Judit Varga and her state secretary Pál Völner. [Magyar Hang]

Gov’t Still All-In on Russian-Backed Paks II Nuclear Power Plant Project

“Nuclear power has the biggest potential for us to create our own capacity for energy production, so constructing the next two reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant is in our national economic and security interest,” said Péter Szijjártó after talks in Turkey with representatives of Russian state nuclear power company Rosatom.

Hungary’s Foreign Minister stated that Rosatom representatives “have assured us that they will continue to be technologically capable of carrying out this investment project.”

In a video posted to Facebook, Szijjártó mentioned that the uncertainties around Russian gas and oil supplies justified building the Russian nuclear reactor.

The Foreign Minister also wrote of “self-sufficient energy production” in the Facebook post, despite the fact that Russia will have to continually provide reactor fuel for the next 50-80 years or so. [444]

Dialogue Wants Gov’t to Make Fudan Referendum Unnecessary

The opposition’s planned referendum on Fudan University and unemployment benefits is expected to be held in October or November, but Dialogue is also attempting to resolve the issues on the referendum through legal amendments.

Politicians Bence Tordai and András Jámbor told Magyar Hang that they would be completely satisfied if Fidesz made the referendum unnecessary by resolving the relevant issues to their satisfaction, similar to what previously occurred with the proposed “Nolimpia” referendum.

Dialogue’s Tordai said that they were now hoping that “Fidesz will sober up” and save the cost of having to hold a national referendum on the opposition’s two issues. After all, he said, the referendum itself is not the point, as their goal is to solve the problems it represents.

The government has submitted documents to the parliamentary Justice Committee estimating that holding the referendum would cost 13.59 billion Ft. (US $37.6 million). [Magyar Hang]

Tabloid Reports Attempted Sexual Assault at Jobbik Event Last Year

Borsonline has accused a former, unnamed mayor of attempting to sexually assault the partner of Jobbik Vice-President György Szilágyi at a Jobbik event attended only by party leaders in rural Hungary at the end of last year. The tabloid claims that party President Péter Jakab and cabinet head Enikő Molnár then tried to hush up the affair.

Péter Jakab and the party reacted quickly to the news. A Jobbik statement did not deny the fact of an attempted sexual assault, only that the party tried to cover it up.

Jakab wrote on Facebook that the story from the pro-government media had been timed to coincide with Jobbik’s party congress over the weekend, where they will be choosing party officers. The party leader claimed that they would be taking the necessary legal steps to refute the untrue news.

However, György Szilágyi confirmed to Telex that the incident had occurred, and suggested that the party’s presidency did not want to deal with the matter. The injured party then felt obliged to turn to Jobbik’s ethical committee, which occurred 10 days ago. [Telex]

Poll: Few Hungarians Follow the War or Have Sympathy for Ukraine

Hungarians are not particularly interested in the war taking place in Ukraine, and do not sympathize much with the besieged Ukrainians, according to a new Eurobarometer poll taken in the 27 EU Member States.

Regarding how frequently they follow the news of the war in Ukraine, only 30% of respondents from Hungary stated that they follow it regularly. This was the fourth-lowest proportion of all EU countries, with only Slovenia, France, and Belgium showing less interest.

The poll also found that only 34% of Hungarians “totally agreed” with the statement “I feel sympathy towards Ukrainians,” which was the lowest percentage among all 27 EU countries. On the other end was Sweden, with 79% of respondents in total agreement with the statement. [Azonnali]

Hungary Does Not Support New Russian Sanctions in Current Form, Says Szijjártó

On Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó posted a video on Facebook from Uzbekistan, in which he said that the government could not responsibly support the latest sanctions package from Brussels.

Hungary’s energy supply is currently secure and rests on solid foundations, but the sanctions would completely undermine this secure supply, said the Minister, by making it impossible for Hungary to obtain the crude oil needed to operate the country’s economy.

The Foreign Minister believes that this is not a matter of political will or intent, but a physical, geographical, and infrastructural reality. Hungary would therefore only be able to agree to a new set of sanctions if pipeline-delivered oil were taken out of it.

On Wednesday evening, State Secretary Zoltán Kovács said that the government would veto the latest sanctions. [Magyar Hang]

Justice Minister Calls Rule of Law Procedure Against Hungary a “Witch-Hunt”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday showing a picture of many empty seats in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Justice Minister Judit Varga mocked the proceedings taking place against Hungary over the state of the rule of law in the country:

Look at how many people were concerned about the state of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Speaking to ca. 10-20 people in a room usually packed with hundreds of them, Commissioner Didier Reynders said: ‘I cannot report positive developments on the state of the rule of law in either Hungary or Poland.’

As previously reported, the conditionality mechanism on the rule of law was officially launched against Hungary at the beginning of April. The European Commission continues to express concerns about Hungary and Poland, primarily regarding the independence of the judiciary and corruption.

The Justice Minister then expressed her own thoughts on the nature of the proceedings in somewhat conspiratorial tones:

It’s time to admit that the rule of law witch-hunt is in fact a tool of ideological pressure, serving only the interests of a narrow circle in the Brussels bubble to discredit Member States committed to a strong Europe of strong nations who say no to imperial ambitions.

[Index]

Health Care Could Be Transferred to Interior Ministry

It could take two more weeks for the final list of names in the fifth Orbán government to become official, but a recent bill in Parliament confirms previously-leaked news that authority over health care in the new cabinet may be transferred from the Ministry of Human Resources to the Ministry of the Interior, which is expected to continue to be headed by Sándor Pintér.

The amendment to the law was posted on Parliament’s website at almost the same time as the tenth amendment to the Fundamental Law, which was submitted by Justice Minister Judit Varga.

The government has cited the war in Ukraine and its humanitarian effects to justify the latest amendment to Hungary’s constitution, extending the state of emergency to cover this situation and thereby permit the Cabinet to continue to govern by decree. [HVG]

Prosecutors Ask for Community Service for Man Who Attacked Momentum Politicians

The Prosecutor’s Office for Budapest Districts II and III charged a 48-year-old man with disturbing the peace after he attacked several opposition Momentum politicians in October 2021.

The man attacked, among others, then-Momentum President András Fekete-Győr and kicked over a microphone stand at a party press conference. No one was physically injured in the attack. A statement released by prosecutors wrote that the accused attacker had disturbed the press conference, held in Budapest’s District II, with yelling and loud cursing.

The prosecution requested a substantive ruling in the case without requiring a trial, and asked the court to sentence the man to community service. [Telex]

Hungary, Slovakia May Be Exempt From Russian Oil Embargo Until End of 2023

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a proposal for a sixth sanctions package against Russia on Wednesday morning, according to which the EU will stop buying Russian crude oil within six months and refined oil by the end of the year.

EU member states need to discuss whether certain countries can get a postponement of the EU oil embargo, a European Commission spokesperson told Magyar Hang on Wednesday. However, Eric Mamer rejected the argument that “Hungary and Slovakia are in a structurally-different situation, as they have no sea and are highly dependent on Russian natural gas through pipelines, which require special attention.”

However, non-official sources informed Euronews that Hungary and Slovakia could be exempted from any Russian oil embargo until the end of 2023.

The Hungarian government has repeatedly said that it does not support any sanctions that affect the oil and gas sectors. Ambassadors from member states to the EU debated the subject on Wednesday, with a decision expected in the next couple of days. [Magyar Hang]

Press Freedom Getting Worse in Hungary, Says RSF

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders – RSF) published its 20th annual report on the state of press freedom in 2022.

While Hungary declined eight points on various indicators reflecting the state of press freedom in the country, it actually rose from 92th place to 85th place on the list of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Hungary’s rise in the rankings despite worsening conditions suggests that the scores of other countries declined even further.

Last July, Viktor Orbán was the first leader in the EU to appear on RSF’s list of “enemies of press freedom,” which includes 37 heads of state and government such as Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, who the organization claims “in a particularly drastic way embody ruthless repression of the freedom of the press.” [Telex]

Hungary Struck Deal with Russia to Get Ukrainian Land, Says Ukrainian Official

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on a television show that Hungary knew in advance about the Russian attack on Ukraine, and in addition to openly cooperating with Russia, it expected to get a part of Ukraine for itself.

Danilov claimed that some countries in NATO do not respect the democratic values expected of the organization:

Hungary, for example, openly agrees to cooperate with Russia. In addition, Russian President Putin warned Budapest in advance that he was planning an attack on Ukraine.

-he said, accusing Hungary of revanchism by desiring to regain the territories in Ukraine that used to belong to the country.

You see how Hungary behaves, and for some reason they expected to be able to reclaim their lost territories. But this will never happen, as we will win.

-said Danilov.

Tamás Meczer, the state secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to the allegation on Facebook:

Our decision is clear: we will not transport arms to the war in Ukraine. Hungarians decided this issue quite clearly on April 3. We understand that the Ukrainian government is not happy about this decision, but this decision will change even if they come up with ever-harsher lies and nonsense day by day.

[Magyar Hang]

NGOs Ask Gov’t to Set Up Separate Environmental Ministry

In an open letter, 180 non-governmental organizations have jointly requested the Prime Minister to set up an independent ministry on environmental and climate issues in the newly-forming government, according to a press release sent to Telex by WWF Hungary.

WWF’s statement points out that, in addition to dealing with challenges such as the war in Ukraine, the economic and energy crisis, and the climate emergency, the next government needs to adopt responsible policy that puts much greater emphasis on protecting the environment. [Telex]

European Parliament Wants to See Deadline-Based Recommendations Given to Orbán Gov’t

The ministers for European Affairs in EU member states will hold a hearing with Hungarian government representatives on May 23 on the state of the rule of law in Hungary, as a part of the Article 7 procedure that may end up suspending Hungary’s rights within the EU.

This will be the fourth hearing since the European Parliament adopted Judith Sargentini’s report in September 2018, which launched the process that has to prove that EU values are in serious jeopardy in the country. While the process may end up recinding Hungary’s voting rights, the EU27 continues to only hold discussions on the relevant problems.

The European Parliament would like member state governments to take the next step and set deadline-based recommendations for the Hungarian authorities.

In Tuesday’s plenary debate, representatives of Christian Democrat and left-liberal groups urged a panel of ministers to get moving on the matter, as they believe that serious attacks on the rule of law and democratic values remain prevalent in Hungary. [Népszava]

Gov’t Spent 5 Billion Ft. of Public Money on Promoting “Child Protection” Referendum

From January, an estimated 5 billion Ft. (US $13.8 million) was spent on billboards promoting the so-called “child protection” referendum that was held together with parliamentary elections on April 3, reports Napi.hu from calculations by Kantar Media.

This sum included public service commercials that similarly served the government’s preferred narrative: a dramatized scene of a young girl telling her mother that instead of their regular lessons at school, students listened to a lecture about gender transitioning.

Kantar estimated that the Prime Minister’s Office spent nearly 3 billion Ft. ($8.29 million) just in March on traditional media advertising (print, TV and radio commercials, and public billboards) for the campaign.

Despite the campaign and vast sums spent on it, none of the four questions on the government-proposed referendum reached the required threshold, and were therefore delcared invalid. [HVG]

Dozens of Small Gas Stations Sue Hungary in Strasbourg Court Over Price Cap on Fuel

Hungarian gas stations are turning to the European Court of Human Rights over the official price cap placed on regular fuel and diesel oil in Hungary, lawyer Dániel Karsai told Szabad Európa.

Karsai said that close to 50 filling stations had joined the class action lawsuit in the Strasbourg-based court, telling the news source that since gas stations lose money on every single liter of fuel sold in Hungary, this harms their property rights and their expectations of making a profit.

The lawyer also said that filling stations had never received any substantial compensation for their losses, as the state subsidies of 20 Ft. per liter they receive do not cover their losses. [Magyar Hang]