...in the last few months, Hungary has provided Europe with another example of how fragile democracy can be—even in a place where it works... Hungary is now cursed with a leader who is too popular—or, anyway, has too large a majority—and can change laws to keep himself in power without any violence at all.The rest of the story is at Slate.
Indeed, when the authors of the U.S. Constitution worried about the "tyranny of the majority," they might have had Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, in mind. Orban is no rogue. He is a former anti-Communist activist who has been prime minister before, and his center-right party, Fidesz, controls two-thirds of the Hungarian parliament for a good reason. For the previous eight years, the country had been run by one of the most incompetent governments in Europe. Hungary's Socialists ran up debt, evaded reforms, and squirreled away money in foreign bank accounts. At one point the former Socialist prime minister told colleagues he had "lied" to the voters and that only "divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy, and hundreds of tricks" had kept the country afloat during his years in office. After a tape of that speech became public, there were riots in Budapest. In April, Hungary's voters threw him out.
But victory wasn't enough for Orban, who used his years out of power to plot his revenge against the journalists who didn't support him, against the chattering classes who didn't vote for him, and, above all, against his corrupt and incompetent opponents. Since taking office less than a year ago, he has appointed a council to rewrite the constitution, deprived the national audit office of funding, and stripped powers from the supreme court.
More recently, his parliament passed a set of laws governing the media. It's hard to say how they will work, given how vaguely they are written, but that is precisely the point: A new, state-run media council, composed entirely of Fidesz appointees, now has the right to impose fines of up to $1 million for journalism it considers "unbalanced," whatever that means. The council is also tasked with protecting "human dignity," whatever that means. The law seems to aim to control not just Hungarian media but media available to Hungarians on the Internet or anywhere—a task that is impossible, as one watchdog points out, but that will require the creation of a massive system of surveillance and control anyway. There is even a government-mandated cap on "crime-related news," which cannot take up more than 20 percent of airtime—though the law does not define "crime" or state whether it includes government corruption...
Addendum: mborsik, one of the readers of this blog, has offered a more sanguine viewpoint of the political situation in Hungary:
As a hungarian voter and a regular reader of your blog, I can only say that western media is once again massively overreacting, and paints a far more negative picture of our conservative prime minister and his government then he deserves, just like they did between 1998 and 2002, the only period since 1990 in which the Orbán-lead country outperformed its neighbours and developed in a way our country supposed to be developing. The very same media which now bashes Mr. Orbán because of the new press legislation (of which the most element had been in place since 1996 btw), the planned change of the constitution (for which it has every democratic right at this majority, and this in fact was one of the main points of the ex-communist socialists in the campaign, so voters knew what they were voting for), and for all the other similarly semi-correct charges, the very same media had no concerns during the last 8 years, characterised by illegal police brutality against peaceful protesters resulting in several people losing their eyes and braking their bones, illegal arrestments and inprisonment, a never before seen level of immoral corruption, a complete devastation of our country's economy resulting in a bailout package from IMF, and so on. Sure, there are quite a few things this government does not right, but what's now happening is ridiculous, and the main reason behind it is that they want to put the country under more pressure before the upcoming takeover of the EU-Presidency. Apparently, they are doing it very effectively.
Second addendum: I just received the following comments from Hungarian journalist and TYWKIWDBI reader Mesterszakács, who believes mborsik (above) is wrong, because...
1. There is a constant opression over the Hungarian media by the actual goverment. This "center-right" party is the same immoral group as the center-left MSZP was for 8 years.Sensing that this may become a long - and likely acrimonious - debate, rather than append additional comments to this original post, I will leave them in the Comments section to be read by those interested in this subject matter. I would like to remind future commenters of the longstanding policy of this blog: you are welcome to speak freely on the TOPIC, but if you include "ad hominem" attacks (personal insults against the other commenters), then I will delete those comments.
2. The corruption and Goebbels-like propaganda was never so obvious like this days.
3. The "peaceful protesters" attacked and robbed the building of the state television, and they attacked the police during the riots of October 2008.
4. The western media is NOT "massively overreacting" this law - it's ridiculous to judge newspapers like The Times, Le Monde, or Der Spiegel.