With his huge eyes, his emaciated face and his complexion beyond the grave, Mate Szabo seems straight out of a painting El Greco. Co-chair of Tasz, the Hungarian Human Rights League, the forty-year-old strives to organize a free concert … At a time when the most basic rights are torn apart by the all-powerful Viktor Orban, the choice of a concert is puzzling.
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Why not protest? Why not challenge the media? " Certainly, launches Mate, except that, since this winter, a law strictly regulates the right to protest. As for the media, they are almost all in the orbit of power. The last time a big TV channel interviewed me goes back to … 2015. " Hence the idea of the concert: "Under cover of music, we fight by distributing leaflets". It is said with a smile, kind of a snub to a reality too dark. A smile from the front, betrayed by a weary look.
An authoritarian drift condemned by the EU
How not to be faced with the authoritarian drift of the power in place, a legal drift (endorsed by Parliament), methodical, relentless? Brussels does not ignore it anymore. The time when Jean-Claude Juncker launched, laughing, at a summit a "Hi, dictator! " to the Hungarian prime minister seems over.
Last September, the European Parliament published an alarming report on the rule of law in the country – denouncing the questioning of the independence of the judiciary; endemic corruption at the top of the state; attacks on academic freedom, the end of pluralism of information; unfair restrictions on freedom of association.
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In the process, the European Union triggered "Article 7", a procedure likely ultimately to result in the withdrawal of the right to vote of Hungary. A unanimously acclaimed decision by human rights NGOs. Only problem: Viktor Orban has not changed his speech. Even less his policy.
The end of pluralism of information
Last provocation: the creation, at the end of November, of a giant consortium serving the executive, comprising 476 media – press, TV, radio, Internet – within a foundation intended to "Showcasing the Hungarian national consciousness". Ideal for centralizing information and shaping opinion. Opposite, the opposition media are alive. "Companies are afraid, by buying advertising pages from us, to alienate the authorities … and lose markets", sighs Peter Erdelyi, journalist of the opposition website 444. hu, a sort of Hungarian Mediapart.
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Investigating corruption corrupting power, the journalist is regularly prosecuted: "I win all my lawsuits, but it's time-consuming and expensive for the paper. " Or how to close an information site by suffocating it financially … European convinced, Peter Erdelyi expects little election campaign. Even less after the decision of the main TV channels to broadcast no campaign spots. A surprising choice, but egalitarian? Not really, "Because the government can communicate in the name of" the public interest ". He will be able to guide the debates ". QED.
A corseted civil society
Is it in the name of "the public interest" that Budapest bends, at the beginning of spring, under the posters of Fidesz – presenting Viktor Orban as the absolute antidote against the influx of migrants – and of him alone? Perhaps. Apart from this flashy visual propaganda, nothing distinguishes the city from European capitals. As elsewhere, young people in jeans and basketball cross the city by bike, self-service, tourists chained selfies in front of the Danube.
Nothing to report: no militia in the streets, nor arresting opponents. The democratic collapse of a country is devious to the fact that it does not show itself. And yet. Civil society lives corseted. Not repressed, just dissuaded from raising the tone. The collusion between political and economic power is no stranger to it: oligarchs close to power hold the major sectors of the economy. From then on, one keeps a low profile to keep one's job, to get a market.
Do not talk politics to avoid getting into trouble
Red-haired mane and brazen look, Blanka Nagy hopes she can join the university despite his harangue against Viktor Orban. At a rally in December, she treated him of all the names, denouncing in passing "The contagious disease that travels the country, which is neither the plague nor Ebola but looks like it: a contagion called Fidesz".
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Strangled by the media who treated her of "Prostitute" and of "Shabby little proletarian", the schoolgirl saw her private life thrown into pasture … until the publication of her report cards. "I did not imagine such reprisals, but I do not regret anything. " She has won friends on Facebook but now has to deal with the hostility of some of her teachers and high school students. "To inflict such treatment on an 18-year-old girl is intended to deter others from speaking", regrets Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Helsinki Committee.
"Under the Soviet yoke, we did not talk politics to avoid getting into trouble. We renew this reflex, except that today we no longer fear Soviet tanks … but an elected and even re-elected power. It's surreal! " decrypts a judge, targeted by the reform of Orban automatically retiring judges over 62, an effective way to purge the judiciary. Condemned by the Court of Justice of the European Union, Budapest agreed to review its copy by raising this age to 65 years.
Condition the aid for respect for human rights
Unyielding in 2015 when Orban spoke of a possible restoration of the death penalty, the EU seems to have since hesitated between a call to order and a wait-and-see attitude. Several infringement proceedings against Hungary – on the law on higher education, the financing of NGOs, the sacking of judges – have certainly been initiated … but without affecting the illiberal tendencies of the master of Budapest.
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NGOs, who were demanding political condemnation of the regime, and not just the judiciary, welcomed the launch of Article 7, as did the suspension of Fidesz from the European People's Party (EPP). But after months of unsuccessful talks, they are now demanding more. "We owe a lot to the EU: without it, the rule of law would be further attacked. But we can not be satisfied with the current situation, Sandor Lederer of the anti-corruption NGO K-Monitor. What is needed now is to make the payment of European aid conditional on respect for human rights. This is the only way to bend power. " Will the EU go so far?
"A beginning of resistance, right? "
For his part, Mate Szabo is all about organizing his concerts. In parallel, he fights against the campaigns of permanent defamation targeting his NGO. The most violent was last April when a pro-government newspaper published the list of 200 people presented as "Mercenaries" George Soros – this philanthropist of Hungarian origin subsidizing many associations across the country. "My name would appear there, like that of my wife, who is a lawyer in a laboratory of ideas. We thought: with two black-listed parents, our children start well in life! " he says with, always, that sad smile barring his face.
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The sole merit of these repeated denigration campaigns, they gave a new visibility to his NGO. "By being attacked, we have gained notoriety and donations of Hungarians are increasing. A beginning of resistance, no? " It's said with a smile. A real, this time.
Creation of HungaryOctober 31, 1918.
EU membership : 1st May 2004, like Poland. It had joined NATO in 1999 (together with Poland) and joined the Schengen Area in 2007.
Population: 9.8 million in 2018.
Capital city: Budapest.
In the European Parliament, the country has 21 deputies. It has twelve seats in the European Economic and Social Committee.
Change: the forint. Hungary could join the euro area in 2020.
Prime Minister: Viktor Orban since 2010, reelected in 2014. President of the Republic: Janos Ader.
Foreign tradeis dominated by trade with the EU: 79.46% of exports and 76.58% of imports (2017, Ministry of Economy).
According to the latest Eurobarometer79% of Hungarians consider that their country has benefited from their membership of the EU. They perceive 58% "illegal immigration" as the main threat.
A two-way interest
• "Our economic survival depends on the EU"
Robert Laszlo, political scientist at the Political Capital Institute
"Hungary has every interest in remaining a member of the European Union. Our economic survival depends very much on it. First of all, our privileged links with several large German companies having chosen to subcontract part of their production to us. Because of all the European funds allocated to us which have allowed our economy to modernize. We also have every interest in remaining in the EU for the survival of our rule of law … or what is left of it. Without reminders to the order of Brussels, Viktor Orban would go further. Moreover, if he remains in the EU despite the obstacles it imposes on him, it is precisely because he knows that we can not do without it economically. "
• "Excluding Hungary would strengthen nationalism in Europe"
Jacques Rupnik, specialist in central and eastern European issues
"The maintenance of Hungary in the European Union is fundamental geopolitically. The integration of Eastern European countries after the fall of the Wall in 1989 stabilized the eastern part of Europe, both democratically and economically. The EU does well to activate the Article 7 weapon, to put pressure on Viktor Orban. The European People's Party (EPP) was also right to suspend Fidesz. They are means of pressure infinitely more intelligent than outright expulsion. Excluding Hungary would only strengthen nationalism in Europe. And after how many would follow? Poland ? Italy? This would be purely and simply the end of the EU. "
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