20 January 2011

Hungary's Censorship

image from unitedpersons.org*

It's time to highlight another place I am particularly fascinated by: Hungary.

Part of what I always loved about Hungary is that it has an air of mystery and fierce independence. Their failed revolutions, based far more on principle than the ability to win, have been an example of how Hungarians make their thoughts known and don't compromise. The equally interesting part is how submissive they are after being beaten. For all I can tell, there is simmering resentment and defiance, but nothing outright. Hungary is different from its Slavic neighbors and they have a pride in their uniqueness. Hungary is an intoxicating place and I loved it more after 4 months there, though I have my reservations about their bureaucracy (which I have with most countries, actually). Currently, it's also considered one of the most westernized nations, along with the Czech Republic and people from more eastern European nations always said this to me. The recent events have made me wonder how westernized Hungary really has become and if they have lost their dedication to higher principles.

It was all fine and dandy that Hungary voted for a more conservative government. I was there right after the election and when I asked my ReMax agent about it, he was wary about the new change in power. I think most people were a bit wary because it was the first political shift since 1990. This was good news, I thought, because it meant that citizens were finally ready to move away from the ideology of the Russian oppressors (Russik háza, as they would say). I wasn't proclaiming that the new government signaled a better change, but it indicated a certain comfort with the democratic process––enough to switch the party in power. Now who would have thought that the center-right would go ahead and do some media censorship? This issue has become bigger now that Orbán is taking his position as a president of the EU Parliament. Europe, still trying to be the Big Brother Democracy for the nations still shaking Russia off their boots, is not so pleased with his seeming attempts to consolidate power.

When I saw the picture on this article, I wondered if these politicians had been protest kids (or for the few who didn't have political freedoms as teenagers, wished they had been). Please note that one MEP is holding a piece of paper that says "Figyelő", which is Hungarian for "lookout man" or "observer". I don't know Hungarian that well, but those were the two closest definitions I found. Either she is Hungarian or she consulted a Hungarian MEP. [*Note: on second viewing, the photo was changed and the sign cut out, but the far left shows an O at the end of the word and SÁG at the very top, probably for Szabadság (freedom)] It's also worth noting that the paper says "Magyar Narancs" at the top, which is a satirical newspaper in Hungary. But if the photo doesn't make sense quite yet, follow this link. Then sit back and say, "Ah! That's it!"

I found this article from the Prague Post to make a very interesting point at the end. Orbán may be after the media because he blamed it for his failures. I hate to keep dragging American politics into these discussions, but I feel like this is a European version of Sarah Palin, who complained that the "liberal media" was out to get her and make her look stupid. Even if she was right, she certainly didn't stop feeding them hilarious material. Anyway, this is a more sinister spin on the "liberal media is out to get me" routine. Go after the media to make yourself look good? I'm sorry, but that move doesn't make you look good no matter what the media says while under your thumb. Once again, it's a move that thumbs your nose against the democracy that elected you. It's like they took classes on Communism. Wait...

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not asserting he is Communist or turning Hungary into a dictatorship, but when someone starts digging in the ground, I'm going to call it a hole. As this British MEP, Nigel Farage, so cuttingly points out, Orbán seems to be setting the stage for a controlled state. (I still don't know if Farage is sarcastic...) It doesn't matter if Orbán intends to or not: he's mimicking the political maneuvers. True, Farage says that other European nations have socialist tinges to their policies, but media control is a pretty powerful weapon. In the digital age, information is power and everybody knows it. Like China, if you control the information, you control everything.

I am interested to see what happens with all of this. The MEPs are excited for Orbán's 6 month plan for the EU, but they are appalled at his domestic affairs. If the judicial branch of the EU picks up the case and pushes Orbán to change the law (which may be subject to revision in the Budapest Parliament though no one expects a radical change), what will happen? I think it will create another situation in which the EU needs to prove its efficacy and ability to yield power. Euroskeptics are undermining the EU's ability to act and the lack of collective effort is a self-fulfilling prophecy. With Orbán in his position as president of Parliament and the Court of Justice on his tails, what will go on in Brussels? I don't know. Maybe it will be implosive or anticlimactic. All I know is that I'll be keeping a watch on this and following the action.

*The newspaper above is a left leaning paper that stems from Szabad Nép, a newspaper that was targeted by 1956 revolutionaries.