|Orbán’s Animal Farm|
|Monday, 14 February 2011|
Curious Westerners often travel for days to get to autocratic Central Asian nations of the former Soviet Union. They no longer have to go that far. On New Year’s Day, Hungary became “Orbánistan”. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his rightist government now control all the nation’s media. His media authority can fine broadcasters nearly USD 1 million and websites or newspapers over USD 100,000 if their political coverage is deemed unbalanced or unmoral.
They even reach out to international media based in Hungary. My own Budapest-based online news agency, BosNewsLife.com, has now been ordered to register with Hungary’s media watchdog, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH).
“As the website is already working, it will have to meet the conditions” of relevant paragraphs of the new media legislation, wrote NMHH’s Ditta Boncz, who heads the authority’s tenders and legal department. Boncz made the announcement in an e-mail exchange with BosNewsLife. As we are not planning to register, we’re now awaiting sanctions.
And Orbán’s hand-picked officials are the nation’s editors. They ensure, for instance, that key news programmes dedicate a maximum 20 per cent of their airtime to crime stories. If there’s breaking news, presenters soon have a problem. “Sorry, we interrupt our coverage on the serial killers being detained and quickly move to traffic and weather... We’re over our 20 per cent...”
It’s not just media. Orbán and his cronies already supervise key financial institutions, including the State Audit Office. They have changed the Constitution so Orbánistan’s Constitutional Court no longer issues rulings on budget matters. It allows them to nationalise billions of dollars in private pensions of millions of Hungarians.
The Orbán administration effectively turns back the clock over 20 years when Hungary was still a communist state. Ironically, in 1989 the young ambitious Orbán publicly demanded that the Soviet Union’s Red Army leave Hungary. Now we learn why: to make way for him and an army of Orbán loyalists, united in his Fidesz party with its trademark orange colours.
Orbán spoke of a “voters revolution” when he reclaimed the prime minister’s post last year. The partly Oxford-educated Orbán may have received his inspiration from Animal Farm, written by late British writer George Orwell about animals taking over a farm thinking it will be the start of a better life. Their dreams of a world where all animals will be equal, and all properties shared, turn into a nightmare. Soon the pigs take control and one of them, Napoleon, becomes the leader of everyone.
One by one the principles of the revolution are abandoned. Until the animals have even less freedom than before. Orwell’s book remains more actual than ever. In the words of author and philosopher Ágnes Heller: “Orbán wants to become the chief of the tribe.”
Pressured by the European Commission, the government promises alterations, whatever that means. It took time and unprecedented international media attention for Europe to wake up. European officials seem often more concerned about wine and cheese imports than the benefits of democratic values.
Hungary will be at least half-through its European Union presidency before the media law is changed. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of Europeans will be chaired by a country that Luxembourg compares to Belarus. Europe’s last dictatorship.
– Stefan J. Bos is the founder of Budapest-based online news agency BosNewsLife providing international news stories on Christian persecution and related issues. The Dutch journalist also covers Central and Eastern Europe for other media, including Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Vatican Radio as well as Dutch and Belgian radio, television, newspapers and Dutch News Agency (ANP).