Hungarian Christian Democrats and freedom of the press

The Parisian terrorist attacks will have, I fear, a negative effect not only on Hungary’s immigration policy but also on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the country. At least this is the way things are looking at the moment.

In an earlier post I recalled Viktor Orbán’s long-standing belief that Europe as a whole and Hungary as part of the European Union should remain “European.” European in this case means ethnically and religiously pure. Until last week, however, we didn’t know that this sentiment was actually reflected in current government practice.

It was on Sunday afternoon, before Viktor Orbán’s by now infamous press conference railing against immigration to Europe, that I realized that strict anti-immigration policies have been in effect ever since 2010. They were introduced quietly, under cover so to speak. Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, had an interview with Zoltán Balog on Friday afternoon, which didn’t air until Sunday, in which he admitted that the Orbán government has been conducting an anti-immigration policy all along.

Now there is an opportunity to put this unspoken policy into law. On Monday morning Antal Rogán seconded Viktor Orbán’s position on the undesirability of immigration. The next day the “international spokesman” of the Orbán government, Zoltán Kovács, followed suit and explained the Hungarian position on CNN, not with the greatest success. Richard Quest, the reporter, worried that the kind of debate the Hungarians are promoting will become a witch hunt. He ended his program (and this is a rough transcript) by saying that

What’s worrying is when politicians start whipping up the rhetoric. `Hungary for Hungarians,’ – when it starts to become immigration must be stopped. Then you go into you’ve crossed the line. It’s no longer a debate about whether immigration is good or bad, it becomes one to whip up a ferment. History is replete with examples where this has happened, and anybody who tries to deny an innocent-sounding comment for what it could turn into in the future is simply misguided.

As it stands, four out of ten Hungarians share Viktor Orbán’s and his government’s point of view. Tárki, a Hungarian polling firm, has been keeping track of Hungarian xenophobia for some time. In the decade between 2002 and 2011, 24% to 33% of the population were anti-immigrant. After that date the anti-foreign sentiment shot up to 40%, which is not surprising given the rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and his government.

I talked earlier about some right-wing journalists who intimated that the staff at Charlie Hebdo were responsible for their own fate. They provoked the followers of Islam by drawing crude caricatures of their prophet. This argument is now being taken up by the Hungarian Christian Democrats who are, on the whole, even more radical than Fidesz when it comes to religiosity. Their party is often described as the “political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church.” According to their whip, Péter Harrach, “neither freedom of the press nor freedom of speech can be extended to blasphemy.”

ShawFareed Zakaria, the American reporter who came up with the label “illiberal democracy” for countries like Turkey or Hungary, wrote an article in The Washington Post on the subject of blasphemy. In it he pointed out that the Koran “prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.” However, as we know, today many Muslim countries have harsh laws against blasphemy. It seems that Péter Harrach finds this practice attractive. But Harrach doesn’t have to look to current Muslim practice for a model. As Zakaria points out, only “one holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible.” The Old Testament is full of stories of blasphemers who receive harsh punishment for their sin. It seems that Harrach wants to lead Hungary all the way back to Old Testament times.

This morning representatives of five parties  (Fidesz, KDNP, Jobbik, MSZP, LMP, Együtt) got together to discuss the fight against terrorism. According to Antal Rogán, the parties agreed that “the European Union cannot defend its member states” and that therefore they must formulate and enforce their own strategies. “Political correctness by now is not enough.” Fidesz suggests that “certain public symbols and values should receive special protection.” Rogán made it clear that “religious symbols” would certainly be covered by the new law. I wouldn’t be surprised if among Hungarians’ “common values” we would also find national symbols. Or even political offices. Or high dignitaries of the land, like the president or the president of the house.

There are some analysts, for example, Gábor Török, who are convinced that the terrorist attack in Paris came at the right time for Orbán, whose party lost another 2% in support last month. According to Ipsos, some of the lost voters drifted over to Jobbik, and therefore the Fidesz top leadership decided to turn up the volume on far-right talk. With this strategy they are hoping to regain solid control of the right. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be so sure. According to some fairly reliable sources, Fidesz leaders are not panicking over their loss of popularity at the moment. In their opinion, the current level of support is still high enough for the party to bounce back. Demonstrations will end soon, and people will forget about their grievances over the introduction of toll roads and the Sunday store closings.

As opposed to Török, I don’t believe that Orbán’s outburst in Paris has anything to do with his party’s popularity. I think that he is convinced of the ill effects of immigration and is happy that he found an opportunity to take up arms against it, alone if necessary, quite independently of the European Union. He most likely explored how far he can go and came to the conclusion that he can introduce a law that would effectively stop immigration to Hungary and that he could also restrict freedom of the press as long as the law does not differentiate between religions. Therefore, I fear that Hungarian journalists can look forward to greater restrictions to their freedom.


  1. Peter Harach, the vice president of the Christian Democrats, is one of the most disgusting hypocrites I have ever seen in my long lfe. And, by the way, let me quote a real authority this time: a bumper sticker.

    “Blasphemy is a victimless crime.”

  2. Interestingly, “Válasz” took up Finland in this connection: in an article entitled “The most free country of the world has a law which forbids defaming Muhammad” ( they refer to the Finnish penal code which does have a paragraph about blasphemy or the like. This fact or, rather, factoid is presented together with a map published by “Reporters without Borders”, with a ranking of the countries of the world by the grade of freedom of the press – with Finland ranked first. After admitting that he doesn’t believe in these indexes or international rankings of press freedom, welfare or happiness and claiming that “drawing conclusions is left to the reader”, the author draws the conclusion: “in the debate about the idea of Europe, not the dark hordes of Mordor are facing the spotless freedom fighters”. Somewhat confusedly put, but obviously the author is just desperately seeking justification for new government measures against blasphemy.

    Now the unofficial English translation of the Finnish penal code ( does have, in its chapter about offences against public order, a section about “breach of the sanctity of religion”. But: the original text does not use the word “sanctity”. The Finnish expression is “uskonrauhan rikkominen”, literally “breaking the peace [or: freedom] of religion” (or more freely: disturbing free practice of religion). So, the focus is on respecting the freedom of religious conviction, not on protecting certain specific symbols.

    In fact, contrary to what “Válasz” claims, this paragraph is not “more than 100 years old”. In the old penal code which was amended in 1999, there was a paragraph about “blasphemy”, which already in the 1960s and 1970s was considered outdated. In the new penal code of 1999, this “breach of peace” was introduced.

    According to the inofficial translation:
    A person who
    (1) publicly blasphemes against God or, for the purpose of offending,
    publicly defames or desecrates what is otherwise held to be sacred by a
    church or religious community, as referred to in the Act on the Freedom
    of Religion (267/1922), or
    (2) by making noise, acting threateningly or otherwise, disturbs worship,
    ecclesiastical proceedings, other similar religious proceedings or a
    shall be sentenced for a breach of the sanctity of religion to a fine or to
    imprisonment for at most six months.

    To my knowledge, there have been no “pure” blasphemy cases in Finnish courts since 2000. This paragraph has been referred to, as an aggravating circumstance, in connection with hate crimes or hate speech against Muslim immigrants; that is, some people who have harassed Muslims have also insulted their religion. The most famous case was a right-wing populist (“True Finn”) politician who had to pay a few hundred euros’ fines because of an offending blog post.

  3. It is my opinion, that the viktor had lost his senses and he is isolated from the current EU politics. It is a fact, that Hungary has almost extremely few active, working, professional diplomats, no valuable diplomatic connections and their intelligence service is half blind without cooperation from the Western Intelligence Agencies. Hungary is NOT a trusted ally. So the little peasant viktor is just barking out the stupid dogmas he invented and on top of it, his timing is even worse. He is like a whisky salesman making a pitch at an Alcohol Anonymous meeting.

  4. Completely agree with Prof. Balogh’s view.

    Orban is dead serious.

    Fidesz’ popularity is an issue, but it is way overrated in the media, fuelled by hopes of the opposition. The next elections will be held in three years time and the fall of popularity of the governing party is automatic after the elections. The opposition consists of splintered urban intellectual types and the election system clearly favors Orban and the dominant party of the right-wing (if the opposition is ever to win even a simple majority with which it cannot govern in this system, it would have to win in places like Zalaegerszeg or Balatonfüred where no leftist party has ever won and the combined right-wing had some 85% popularity — beyond hopeless). The point is that Orban doesn’t care about current ratings and hates his underlings who do because that leads to compromises, backtracking, giving up one’s goals. So, yes, the immigration, religion issues are dead serious to him.

  5. Not totally OT re the new tax on solar panels:
    Shortly after the bill was passed, the President of Hungary, János Áder said in an open letter to the floor leaders of political fractions that the government, the Parliament, the ombudsman and the president made a mistake by voting in favor of the environmental protection levy imposed on solar panels.

    “I also made a mistake when I didn’t notice this nonsense hidden in an omnibus bill,” Áder added, calling for an end to omnibus bills, a practice often used by Fidesz MPs to mix unrelated topics in its legislation.

    They obviously voted yes and Áder signed that bill without even a glance at what it contained!

    These Fidesz guys are so stupid that they’d sign their own death sentence if Orbán presented it nicely ….

  6. “According to some fairly reliable sources, Fidesz leaders are not panicking over their loss of popularity at the moment.”

    Why would they? It doesn’t matter what they do or say, the EU is not going to take serious actions against Hungary. They are not getting further than being a bit unfriendlier towards Orbán….And about the loss of popularity: let’s not make ourselves happy with the loss of a few percentages support. There can be 100 elections this year and Fidesz will win them all hands down.

  7. @wolfi, in defense of Áder, the solar panel legislation was not presented to him as a comprehensible bill about panels, it was buried in what is known as a “salad law”, which is essentially a random mix of legislation on a host of topics, often hundreds at a time, and couched in obscure language. It is a regrettable practise that has been used by governments of all political persuasion in Hungary as a way of introducing laws below the radar. The opposition also failed to pick up on it, largely because the panels were not referred to as such but by a term that is not used in Hungary to describe them…

    Gönz, Solyom, Madl have all signed laws like this without appreciating what has been buried within them. And although Medgyessy and Gyurcsány promised to put an end to the practise, they couldn’t resist when in power either.

  8. “The French Government is very grateful for Orban’s attendance of the March. ”

    Orban long ago realized that the vapid and hopeless Europeans will even praise him in open even if he behaves like a jerk. I guess the French want to promote Areva (figuring that Orban will build Paks 2 no matter what, but at least Areva could provide some spare parts or whatever) or helicopters to him. Why wouldn’t be Orban an as****le, if this is what he gets in return? Poor liberals still think the “EU” or the European politicians care about values. Orban knows better and this is how he wins.

  9. Whenever Orban is in a sticky situation, his first instinct is to “cook up” some populist issue. This time, sadly, he did not need to cook it up, but just exploit it. It should work in the near term. Hungarians are pessimistic and xenophobic. Trying to explain away local problems on foreigners is popular in Hu and everywhere in Europe. But the notion that Hungary is at risk of some dangerous increase in terrorism is risible. The only terrorist type organization acting in and around Hungary seem to be entirely home grown.

  10. I agree with gybognarjr and with NWO. Orban’s whole carrier is composed by exploting every single popular issues. He come from the bottom of society, and while others in the same situation climber the latter up with grace, integrity and knowledge, Orban grabbed into anything that helped him sup and pushed everyone down who provided to be an obstacle to a fast climb. The man has no moral or integrity, and in fact I think he does believe that he is a saviour.

  11. According to several sources Orban on a private meeting “fired” all of his previous media supporters. Of course this is part of the fallout with Simicska as many of those media owned by Simicska. SO oRban threw all the people working for these employers under the train. HE staid that there ill be no government advertisements coming in their way… Does this mean that finally the HUngarian press mostly will start to print real news and the truth? Time will tell.
    On the cover of Magyar Nemzet (that used to be Orban’s main voice) is an article about TESCO closing down 13 stores (likely as the outcome of the government brilliant plan with the SUnday closing). Approximately 500 people ail loose their job. THe title of the article is Are we Tesco?

  12. gybognarjr “It is my opinion, that the viktor had lost his senses….”

    He seems to have something in common with Ludwig II of Bavaria. His football stadium is his Neuschwanstein.

  13. @Some1 re the “friendly talk” between Orbán and the editors of major pro-government newspapers. I hope that these guys will change their attitude toward the government. My first though after reading the interview with the deputy CEO of HírTV in Népszava was that Orbán may have made a mistake by taking on his until now faithful media. The normal reaction from the editors would be to say: OK, if you no longer pay we will write whatever we want.

  14. We have to confront the uncomfortable fact that Orbán is just a symptom, not the cause.

    The cause lies in Hungarian society, its inability to cope with modernity, globalization, transparency, tolerance and liberalism, the root cause being a majority mentality stuck in a sick and badly outdated national socialist value system.

    Hungary is of course far from being alone in this. Many other countries East of the Carpathians, in the Balkans and in the Third World also suffer from similar sets of ills.

    But until this cause is addressed and handled, Orbán will always prevail, and after him, there will always be just more and more Orbáns popping up to take their place at the helm of Hungary.

    Hungary’s brief flirt with liberal democracy is over for good, or at least for generations to come.

    And in reality, nobody can do anything about that until the Age of Enlightenment finally makes a much belated arrival in the Hungarian village, country town, and some of the suburbs of Budapest too.

    Fidesz has been mightily successful in entrenching itself because it realized this fact, capitalized on it and acted accordingly, and is consequently kept in power not just by its own very large support base, but by the just as large base of indifferent non-voters , as well as support on most issues by Jobbik.

    On the other hand, the small, highly fragmented, hapless and constantly bickering opposition splinter groups lack any kind of minimally coherent strategy that would be a necessary precondition for creating a chance for themselves to take the helm within a generation or so.

    That, I think, is the sad and pathetic long and short of it.

  15. I think that it is highly unlikely that the right-wing media will change course or that it will have any effect on politics.

    Orban doesn’t care about the print media (which reaches a minuscule fraction of the population and the readers of Magyar Nemzet will anyway vote for Fidesz no matter what) and the smaller stations like Lánchíd or Mária Radio, which have similarly minuscule audience.

    Orban was convinced by Arpad Habony and Andrew Vajna that he should concentrate on the (state) TV and radio and control other channels like Class FM and TV2. This is what brings real control as it does in Russia. He can then point to the “lively and critical print media” and Western observers will nod that indeed there’s press freedom, this is not like Russia or Belarus, Orban’s a real democrat, he lets a 100 flowers bloom.

    The issue is that Simicska as well as the right-wing media people need Orban for various reasons, so grudgingly (or not) they will continue to sing the praise of the Orban policies, whether it’s the loyal Russian orientation, anti-immigrant, anti-EU stances etc. The last thing these right-wing (ie. fidesznik) intellectuals want is a return of the “Liberals”. So the calculation is that they will continue to support Orban anyway (Magyar Nemzet has been 100% behind Orban’s policy agenda even during the disagreement with Simicska) and secondly, they don’t really matter. We’ll see.

  16. So for anyone or any group genuinely wanting to change this awful reailty, the following two questions should be thoroughly addressed:

    Why is the majority of Hungarians unable to cope with modernity, globalization, transparency, tolerance and liberalism, and why are they mired in a sick and badly outdated national socialist value system?

    What needs to be done to change this?

    And then do it, consistently, persistently, and over many decades.

    Ultimately it is the opinion leaders and opinion makers, the thinkers, teachers, economists, academics and media people of the Hungarian Christian and Jewish intellectual class who are responsible for the current mess, of which Hungarian politics and politicians are the most egregious symptom.

    But the intellectual class, the intelligentsia, is also the key to getting the Hungarians out of this mess, too.

    After all, they are the head and brains of any society.

    If only they were able get their act together and successfully make their way into the 21st century, instead of being stuck in the 19th.

  17. Clarification of point in
    @Mike Balint
    January 15, 2015 at 8:46 am

    In the reference to “Hungarian Christian and Jewish intellectual class”, “Christian” was just short hand for “of non-Jewish descent” and “Jewish” shorthand for “of Jewish descent”.

    This has nothing to do with religious orientation, in fact persons of Jewish descent in Hungary are overwhelmingly secularist and non-religious.

    The distinction is important however, because it broadly, if roughly delineates the fault line between politically left-liberal intellectuals in Hungary, and politically right wing intellectuals, whether they be nationalists, Christian nationalists or national socialists.

  18. But if Magyar Nemzet, HirTV etc are deprived of advertising revenue, they won’t necessarily change their tune. But they will go bankrupt. Because they were only ever sustained by state advertising and without that, they have no other source of income.

  19. This OT relates to an other date discussion here on GMO’s. Here is the European solution for the problem:

    MON810 maize is currently the only GM crop cultivated in the EU. The “Amflora” GM potato was banned by the EU General Court in 2013 after an initial green light from the European Commission.
    Buffer zones/cross-contamination
    Member states should also ensure that GMO crops do not contaminate other products, and particular attention should be paid to preventing cross-border contamination with neighbouring countries, says the text..
    Next steps
    The new legislation will come into force in spring 2015.”

  20. A bit OT – JeanP already remarked on it:

    The old Chinese curse manifested itself again today “May you live in interesting Times” – with the Swiss Frank being loosened from its coupling/limited range to the €, the Forint fell again, also against the € and of course even more against the CHF.
    Probably nobody knows what this will mean in the long run for Europe and especially for the weaker countries like Hungary. Has anybody any idea how many CHF are still due to be paid back by Hungarians?

  21. @wolfi
    January 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    The “unorthodox” economic genius, Mr. George Matolcsy, currently the Führer of the Hungarian National Bank, will probably step into the breach with another of his brilliantly “unorthodox” solutions.

    Thus, never fear, the cavalry is on its way!


  22. SF1 = 318 FT

    Explosive economical bomb.

    It will lead to violence. The have-nots will demand accountability from the rich corrupt leaders.

    No PR will sweep away this development.

  23. The Swiss Franc closed today on parity with the Euro.

    And the forint is now at its weakest against all the major currencies* for at least the last 10 years.

    (*there was a very brief spike in the value of the Swiss Franc against the forint which was slightly higher than today’s close, back on 2011, but it was very short-lived)

  24. Has there been another European country that, due to the corruption of its government, has allowed foreign banks the liberties that Hungary has granted?

    Mind you, who has told the juvenile Hungarian hordes that they should assume a huge, foreign-dominated loan just so they can brag to their neighbors about their new car…?

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