Hungarian News Digest – Oct. 28 2011

The spirit of protest seems to be a dominant theme in Hungarian politics recently: the opposition demonstration held on Oct. 23, which drew 100,000 participants according to organizers, was only its most direct manifestation. In this week’s Hungarian News Digest, more about protests and other possible reasons for being dissatisfied in Hungary.

1. Protest against Appointments at New Theater

A crowd of over one thousand gathered outside of Új Színház (New Theater) on October 22 to protest the appointment of the theater’s new director, György Dörner.

Dörner, an ultra-nationalist far-right sympathizer was appointed to lead the theater by the mayor of Budapest, along with István Csurka, an anti-Semitist writer - in spite of the recommendation of a professional panel. Dörner plans to limit the theater’s repertoire to Hungarian plays (and to commission plays on the 1920 Peace Treaty of Trianon, the history of privatization in Hungary, and the story of ex-prime minister Gyurcsány). Demonstrators demanded a new round of applications for the director’s post, this time to be evaluated by professional standards and considerations for democracy.

Demonstration in Front of New Theater; October 22, 2011

2. Hungarian Economy in Worst State Since December 2009

Hungary’s gross total government debt reached 20,626 billion HUF; 2,000 billion more than the deficit at the time of the Fidesz government’s takeover of the country’s economic policy. The 2,000 billion HUF was added to the country’s debt in spite of the central budget’s expropriation of 2700 billion HUF worth of private pension assets last November.

While the Hungarian government still promises to maintain a 1.5% growth for the country in 2012, András Simor, president of the Hungarian central bank projected this number at 1% early in October, and at merely 0.6% a week ago. But foreign analysts currently project that the Hungarian economy is going to contract by 0.5% in 2012.

In the meantime, the country’s currency hit its lowest to the euro since April 2009. Even according to finance minister György Matolcsy, there is a “realisistic” threat of a downgrade by Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s, rating agencies which are to visit Hungary in November. Currently, both agencies grade Hungary’s credit one level above junk bond status for investments.

3. Mandatory Work Project Participants Paid 20-30% of Wages in Gyöngyöspata

Disconcerting details are being reported about Gyöngyöspata’s “model mandatory work project.” Four out of the 40 workers had been fired: for two days, they accepted seasonal work (at three times the wages they would have been paid by the government) and were terminated from the program for non-attendance. One of the consequences of their termination is that they also forfeited their eligibility for unemployment-related social benefits for the next three years.

The remaining workers have had their wages garnished for “public dues.” Most of these debts were incurred as penalties issued for violating various rules of the town. Next to a portion of the sidewalk impassable with a baby carrier, Roma women had been issued tickets for 12, 20 or 50 thousand HUF for pushing their strollers on the street. Another woman whose nine-year-old girl picked up “a twig suitable to serve as a weapon” from the street was fined 25,000 HUF. Most Roma families owe more than 100,000 HUF for similar violations in the town currently under the governance of the far-right.

The Hungarian government introduced a mandatory labor program in which unemployment benefits are earned by physical, non-mechanized agricultural labor this summer – the program currently employs about 4,000, almost all of whom are from the country’s Roma minority. The participants in the program are the only workers in Hungary who are legally paid under the minimum wage (78,000 HUF a month gross, 62,000 net) and, in Gyöngyöspata at least, they are also the only employees who have as much as 70 to 80% of their wages taken out of their earnings.

4. New Parliamentary Party Might Have to Wait Six Months for Recognition

Parliamentary rules might be used to prevent 10 members of the Hungarian parliament to draw upon the operational funds, the time allotment and committee representation normally afforded to other political parties in the legislature.

Last weekend, ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and nine more representatives of the Hungarian Socialist Party left behind their fellow socialists to found their own “Democratic Coalition” and its parliamentary caucus.  The terminology used to describe the party split is important, however, because house rules require MPs who had “exited” their caucus to sit as independents for a minimum of 6 months. The ten MPs therefore prefer to say that they “separated” from the socialist party. The only precedent comparable to their case occurred in 1996, when a group that split from a right-wing party was recognized as a new caucus without the 6-month waiting period.

5. Student Protest Against the Government’s Higher Education Concept

An estimated ten thousand participants attended a demonstration organized by the National Conference of the University Students’ Self-Government (HÖOK) on Thursday of this week. The protesters demanded greater say in the government’s reform of Hungarian higher education. They are opposed in particular to two features of the government’s proposal: to the hidden tuition, and to the government’s plans to forbid them from leaving Hungary for a set number of years after graduation. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Rózsa Hoffman, the government’s deputy minister for education, and held a symbolic burial of a coffin labeled “Hungarian Higher Education, 1367-2011.”

University students protest on October 27, 2011 in Budapest, Hungary.

6. Photographers Should Not Have Been Banned, Ombudsman Says

According to ombudsman András Jóri, László Kövér had no basis for banishing the photographers of Index and Origo from the Hungarian parliament. The president of the Hungarian legislature prohibited access to the photo journalists of the two internet news portals press (and to photographers of the tabloid newspaper Blikk) after they had taken pictures of notes used by prime minister Viktor Orbán in a September speech. The ombudsman concluded that the prime minister’s speech to the parliament is public information, and therefore it was not illegal for the photographers to take a picture of the notes, and for the media organizations to publish these pictures.

Viktor Orbán is carefully guarding his notes in the Hungarian parliament on Oct. 24, 2011.

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11 Responses to Hungarian News Digest – Oct. 28 2011

  1. Gretchen Dunn says:

    Thanks! The information from Gyöngyöspata is more than sad and extremely grievous: what were your sources?

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks for the update, much appreciated. The Gyöngyöspata situation is awful, but I fear this is the beginning of a long, painful future for the Roma, rather than a one-off.

    Goos news re the Ombudsman though, I didn’t think anyone would have the guts to stand up against Fidesz. I suspect it will not be long before Jóri is replaced though.

  3. Paul says:

    PS – just posted a link to this update on Hungarian Spectrum. I ended my post with this paragraph, which is as relevant here as it is there:

    “And I still fail to understand why the two blogs don’t link to each other. Blogging ‘etiquette’ be damned, the situation in Hungary is far too important for us to worry about such niceties. Those of us on the anti-Fidesz side, especially those who do not speak Hungarian, need as much information as we can get. We should be working together, not worrying about such nonsense as ‘etiquette’.”

    • GW says:

      Paul, it’s simple. Prof. Balogh, fairly, only does exchanged links, in which both blogs list each other in their links lists. The Contrarian doesn’t have a links list so no equal exchange can take place. Let’s encourage the Contrarian to add a links list.

  4. Pthalo says:

    Thanks for providing these summaries. I speak Hungarian, but English is my native language, and I also like having something I can link my english speaking friends to.

    I do have one question, because I’m not sure what you meant. In othe title of the section, you wrote:
    “Mandatory Work Project Participants Paid 70-80% of Wages in Gyöngyöspata” which means that they were paid 70-80% because 20-30% was taken out of their wages by the government.

    and then later you wrote:
    “the only employees who have as much as 70 to 80% of their wages taken out of their earnings.” — which means that they were paid 20-30% because 70-80% was removed from their wages.

    I wasn’t sure which one you meant, a dolgozok a bérük 70-80%-át kapják vagy a bérük 70-80%-át nem kapnak (azaz csak 20-30%-át kapnak).

    • Sorry, that was an oversight on my part. I meant that the workers in the mandatory work project have 70-80% of their wages garnished, which means that they get as little as 20-30%. Though there is no general rule for this, it depends on the arbitrary circumstances described above. I fixed the title above, I am thankful that you pointed it out.

      • Pthalo says:

        No problem. It’s terrible what’s happening in Gyöngyöspata.

        I also wanted to thank you for explaining what the students are protesting about. I read Délmagyarország every day, and they have written daily articles about the student protests, and a hunger strike one weekend here in Szeged but all they write is that they’re protesting a new law and they want to have a say in matters that affect them. Your news digest is the first I have read that explains what it is about the new law that upsets them.

  5. nice says:

    Tisztelt the Contrarian Hungarian! A linkek melyekre hivatkozik, mind az ellenzéki oldalhoz tartoznak kivétel nékül. Mivel Ön is megszállott üldözôje egy demokratikusan megválasztott kormánynak, mint a stop.hu és a nol.hu szerkesztôi, hát persze, hogy szórja szét a világban azok üzenetét. Bizonyára Önnek nagyon fájhat a Magyarországon végbement változás. Gondolom a kétharmadot sem tudja megemészteni. Valószínû, hogy tavaly márciusa óta egyre jobban érzékeli, hogy az eddigi politikai hatalom alatt meginoktak a bársonyszékek, és ezentúl nem tudnak ugyan olyan felhôtlenül élvezkedni a közös tortából mint az elmúlt 40-50 év alatt ezt tették. Tehát kedves blogg-tulajdonos, megértem keserûségét, csak azt nem értem, hogy miért gondolja, hogy az írásai tényszerûek. Az akadémikus világ kritériumát és szintjét nem látszik még érinteni sem. Maga pontosan ugyanolyan szubjektiv véleményt hangoztat, mint amit a pártelkötelezettek kiszolgálói, azt. amit az ellenzéki sajtó Magyarországon másfél éve egyfolytából próbál szétfröcskölni a világba. Csodálom a hazaszeretetét, önnek kitûntés járna. Maga hol volt a Gyurcsány kormány ideje alatt? Akkor nem aggódott a demokráciáért? Hát csak most fedezték fel gyurcsányék a tehetségét? Milyen kár!

  6. Pete H. says:

    Nice, you ask where the blog writer was during the Gyurcsány kormány? He didn’t have a blog yet. I have never read one word of praise regarding Gyurcsány from the author of this blog. He focuses on the present, as he should.

    While OV was democratically elected, that is not enough. While the right to vote is a necessary part of a democratic system, it is not sufficient by itself. In a strong and mature democracy an elected leader respects and maintains a system of checks and balances, seeks substantial input from the opposition, and acts in much more mature manner. OV does none of these things. He is not only an embarrassment to Hungary, but also a danger to Hungary’s democratic institutions. His soft stance and strategic embrace of the far-right is very alarming to those of us who are aware of Hungary’s history. While Gyurcsány may have been corrupt, he did not act to dismantle the institutions of democracy to cement his rule, nor did he open the pandora’s box that has led to the reemergence of the far-right.

    And waiting in the wings is the even greater threat of Jobbik. The Contrarian does Hungary a great service by spreading the news of events in Hungary to the English speaking world.

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