Monday, April 29, 2013

Hungary slips but Europe still focuses on Austerity.

For the past few years Europe is focusing on its economic crisis. Countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others that received a bail-out package from the EU/IMF, as well as those that might need the same measures in the future are always on the spotlight.

But apart the crisis in the Euro-zone, there is another danger that lurks in Europe: the rise of nationalism and the fall of democratic standards in certain states. In the debt-stricken Greece for example, the rise of populist and far-right parties is a worrying case.

But some countries escape the spot-light: Hungary being one of them. The situation there started with the efforts to control the media. In the beginning I was not as alarmed for certain reasons. Comparing for example the reality of the Greek media where there is absolute freedom and multiple news channels, papers and other media, the quality of information is rather poor.

Although I am a journalism student, sometimes I despair with the Greek media and I would wish  for some kind of reform or intervention. Despite the plurality of the opinions and voices, what we actually get is a cacophony of opinions but very few actually give any constructive contribution.

The stronger voices are those of the vested interests of the ruling rich elites, while others are being muted. Then I witnessed the Murdoch scandals in the British media, where they used disgraceful practices to create a vile form of populist news agenda. Or the situation in Ireland where there are very few television channels and most of them belonging to the sate, offering a limited point of view, it was natural for me to wish for a reform in the European media.

But Hungary now went way beyond the tolerable progress of "reforms" and it is a wonder how it escapes any sanctions from the EU.

Under the latest implementations of the current Hungarian Parliament, the Constitutional Court is no longer allowed to give its opinion about the content of laws and to refer to its own case-law  which results in the loss of almost all monitoring power on the legislature and the executive.

That according to some, wipes out what was left of opposition forces against the government. Together with the restriction of the freedom of the press, political direction of the Central Bank, inclusion in the Constitution of Christian religious references and condemnation of homosexuality,Hungary is slipping back to its authoritarian past. 

Of course we should not forget that Hungary is also currently repaying a bailout loan to the IMF and the European Union which it received in 2008 at the height of the global financial crisis. Hungary still has around 3 billion euro in repayments to complete this year to the IMF.

So like many other countries (Greece), that are under an IMF/EU bail-out program and the austerity that is linked to it, it is no wonder that the country's past is re-emerging and a more radical political reality is being established. But how it can co-exist with the current status of the country, being an EU member and coordinating its policies with those of other European countries? 

How can they justify limiting the freedom of movement of their higher education students, obliging them to stay in the country? 

Europe's stance towards Hungary is scandalous. The European elites are focusing too much on the Euro-zone crisis and the countries engulfed by it, while they are not as hard liners against the situation in Hungary. Europe uses the crisis to impose austerity and promote reforms in Greece, thus using politics to tackle the problems in the Mediterranean country. 

But why don't they do the same in Hungary? It is clear to me that the European elites still view the EU as an economic project of theirs, not a political one. They are forced to use political meddling in the Euro-zone countries in crisis, just because the situation there was a clear danger in their economic pet-project the Euro. 

But since Hungary is not a part of it, they let the country slip into a more authoritarian political reality. The Hungarian Government and its Prime Minister Mr. Viktor Orban, also belong to the most popular and powerful European political party, the EPP (European People's Party).

The center-right alliance of European parties, should technically place sanctions against Orban and his government, or at least become more vocal against what is going on in the country. But they remain curiously quiet, for the moment at least. 

Of course it is not the first and only time. They tolerated Italy's Silvio Berlusconi for years in power and they still do nothing about FYROM's Prime Minister Mr. Gruevski and his nationalist megalomania. They accept him in their ranks, despite what he stands for and the harm he is doing to his country and the Balkans. 

As a whole Europe is doing little to tackle the rise of nationalism and extremism throughout the continent, especially in countries like Greece that struggles to contain the rise of the Golden Dawn Party. 

If our leaders do not want to intervene to another country's internal affairs unless it affects their economies, then the message they give us is that the EU is still an economic block with little hope of becoming a political one. 

If the EU and parties like the EPP remain passive while witnessing the political costs of the economic crisis, then there will be a time when all the efforts to fix the European economy will be in vain. Because the political reality in Europe will be so badly damaged, that no economic measures will be able to contain the continent's political and as a result, economic disintegration. 

(Some extracts for the above article were taken by the NewSatesman and the Wall Street Journal.) 



Since this post has attracted some controversy in my Facebook page I would like to explain better the goal of this article. My aim is not criticize the Hungarian people as a nation, rather their current Government's policies.

I admire the Hungarians and their country is incredibly beautiful. But the voices that state some alarming developments in the country are coming both from outside and inside the country, from Hungarians themselves.

If it is a smear campaign, well I would love to see more Hungarians getting involved and give us more facts from within the country. My aim is not to analyze how democratic Hungary is, rather to make a statement that if the country is indeed slipping, what must Europe do to prevent it.

My view is that this is a case of "Hungarian solutions to a Hungarian problem". For example it does not make sense to restrict the free movement of young people even if the state provides for the education. In Greece the state provides for our education too for free with the only condition that you have to pass the exams. But Greece does not restrict our free movement, just because it gave us education.


 If you can not find a job in Greece, why should you remain unemployed and receive benefits from the state, thus be for longer then dependent to it? I understand of course that the economic and social situation of Hungary is different from that of other states. So it needs to find its own solutions. But it is a member of the EU now and it must comply with some laws. I guess Europe instead of accusing should start understanding and assisting.

If Hungary does not agree with the fee movement of people, then why did they join a Union that encourages it?The problem of course should not be dealt by Hungary alone and that is where I side with Hungary.

There should be some kind of European reaction to the Central and Eastern European countries that all face the same problem of emigration to Western countries. Europe should try harder to harmonize the economies of the continent so there won't be an one way immigration from East to West, but a more even one.

Sorting Hungary's and Europe's economy is the solution in my opinion. When the country's economy will do better then many Hungarians will return, plus more from other EU countries will want to come and live in Hungary because the living standards there will be good.


 Hungary just wants to go it alone. And that is what baffles many and see it as "authoritarian" or a more conservative ethnocentric solution if you like this word better. Time will tell if Orban's policies will be proven wrong or right. For the moment I guess we will just have to watch..

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