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Biggest stories of the year in Hungarian politics (part 1)

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 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…

[Azonnali][Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash]

KDNP miffed that EPP leader Tusk met with Péter Márki-Zay

picture of György Hölvényi

The leaders of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) expressed their concerns to Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), in a letter regarding Tusk’s recent meeting with Hungarian prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay in Warsaw on Thursday. The letter was written by Zsolt Semjén and György Hölvényi (pictured), the sole Hungarian MEP remaining in the EPP, the largest party group in the European Parliament.

As previously reported, Donald Tusk and Péter Márki-Zay held a joint press conference after their meeting, where Tusk said that the European People’s Party welcomed the Hungarian opposition leader, and agreed that the Polish and Hungarian opposition were in very similar situations, facing similar opponents, and would have to stick together.

In the letter addressed to Tusk, the KDNP leaders stated that the Hungarian left-wing opposition is a political opponent of the KDNP, an EPP member party, and that this opposition and its candidate continuously insult their party, which is one of the EPP’s oldest members from the Central and Eastern European region.

Semjén and Hölvényi’s letter also pointed out that Donald Tusk was negotiating with a man who did not have his own party, and was only a candidate of a political platform. Jobbik, the letter reminded Tusk, is another member of that platform, a party which had until recently been part of the anti-Semitic far right.

They were also aggrieved that the president of the EPP, a group that brings together more than 80 member and partner organizations, held a meeting with Márki-Zay without consulting with the group’s membership beforehand.

The letter admitted, however, that Donald Tusk could meet with anyone he saw fit. However, the statements of the President of the EPP in the joint press conference, suggesting that the European People’s Party intends to work together with the left-wing Hungarian opposition, are completely contrary to the rules and traditions of the European People’s Party, according to the authors of the letter.

The KDNP has been a member of the EPP for decades, but they say no similar thing as this has ever happened in the group until now, and they expressed hope that it would not happen again.


Péter Márki-Zay meets EPP President Tusk in Warsaw

picture of Péter Márki-Zay and Donald Tusk

“The European People’s Party is looking forward to Péter Márki-Zay’s movement,” said Donald Tusk, the president of the group in the European Parliament, following talks with the joint prime ministerial candidate for the Hungarian opposition in Warsaw.

At a press conference with Donald Tusk, Péter Márki-Zay spoke about the fact that there is a particularly strong bond between Hungary and Poland, as their fates coincide in many respects and their historical situations have been similar.

Both nations have had to fight for their freedom many times over, and have proven to be freedom-loving people. The Hungarian opposition’s prime ministerial candidate believes that a mutual fight against repressive regimes is still needed.

Back in Budapest, Gergely Gulyás said at a Government Information Session that “movements” cannot be in the EPP, only parties, and Péter Márki-Zay’s Everybody’s Hungary Movement is not a party.

However, the Fidesz minister also noted that an MEP from the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), the smaller party in Hungary’s ruling governing coalition, is still a part of the EPP party group.

The KDNP, therefore, has veto power over the EPP’s decisions, meaning it could block the admission of any new members, Gulyás stated. However, he doesn’t believe that there will be either enlargment or veto in the biggest group in the European Parliament.

[Magyar Hang]

Fidesz nemesis running for President of European Parliament

picture of Othmar Karas

Othmar Karas, a member of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in the European Parliament, officially announced on Tuesday that he would run for the presidency of the European Parliament, as reported by Euractiv and Politico.

Italian Socialist David Sassoli is the current President of the European Parliament, but under the an agreement between the large party groups, a politician from the European People’s Party (EPP) could succeed him halfway through the Parliamentary cycle.

Although Robert Metsola of the Maltese People’s Party has been mentioned in the press as a possible successor, Karas is thus far the only officially-declared candidate for the position from the EPP.

The Austrian politician has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999, as well as one of Fidesz’s loudest critics in the European Parliament, according to Index. He initiated the expulsion of Tamás Deutsch from the EPP group after the Fidesz MEP compared a remark by group leader Manfred Weber to something that might be said by the Gestapo or the Hungarian Secret Police under the communist regime.

When Fidesz left the European People’s Party group in March, Othmar Karas expressed no disappointment, writing on Twitter that “Fidesz’ exit from the EPP is the result of Orbán’s failed attempt at blackmail.”

A decision by the EPP on its choice for European Parliament President is expected by the end of the month.


European People’s Party showing interest in Péter Márki-Zay

picture of Péter Márki-Zay

Euronews reports that Hungarian opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay will be meeting with European People’s Party Leader Manfred Weber as well as EPP President Donald Tusk on his trip to Brussels next week.

Weber spoke about the success of Márki-Zay at an EPP meeting in Brussels following the Hungarian politician’s victory in the primary elections last month. The European People’s Party is the largest group in the European Parliament.

Zoltán Kész, international relations officer for the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, did not comment on any possible future relationship between Márki-Zay’s Everybody’s Hungary Movement and the European People’s Party. However, considering that the mayor of Hódmezővásárhely defines himself as a center-right, Christian Democrat politician, a relationship between the two groups would appear to be a natural fit.

After all, the news source writes, EPP’s standing in the European Parliament weakened with the departure of Fidesz from its caucus in March. At the moment, only one Hungarian political party, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, is a member of the EPP, with a single MEP in Brussels.