George Soros, the billionaire investor, has denounced a campaign waged against him by the Hungarian government, accusing Viktor Orban, the prime minister, of casting him as an “external enemy” in a bid to mislead voters and cling to power.
Mr Soros, who has allocated billions of dollars to his pro-democracy and human rights foundations, told the Financial Times he had resisted responding publicly to the attacks from Mr Orban but it was time to speak out. He said he now fears for the safety of civil society groups that his foundation supports after Mr Orban said he would press the country’s spy agencies into monitoring their activities.
Lorinc Meszaros is no ordinary mayor. He runs a village in Hungary. He also owns publishers, hotels, a nuclear engineering firm and a bank. His shopping list is believed to be written by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The stock price of Opimus Global Nyrt., the owner of Hungary’s biggest media empire has been rising steeply and steadily. Shares bought for 40 Hungarian forints a piece (€0.13) last December, are now worth 328 forints, an eight-fold increase.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Several hundred people rallied Saturday outside an office of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party after a journalist said she was assaulted at a party meeting by a government official.
Julia Halasz, a reporter with the 444.hu news site, said a meeting organizer took away her cellphone and dragged her down several flights of steps and out of a school by the arm while she was covering a Fidesz public forum.
Economy Minister Mihaly Varga and Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko spoke at Thursday’s forum promoting the government’s “Let’s Stop Brussels” campaign, which claims the European Union wants Hungary to raise taxes and energy prices and take in large numbers of migrants.
Halasz said Laszlo Szabo, who is also in charge of the government office arranging celebrations and remembrances, accused her of making a video during the forum, which she denied, and erased several photographs she took with her mobile phone.
Halasz reported the alleged assault to police, while Fidesz said it would file its own report, claiming libel.
Fidesz denied her claims, saying she failed to follow press rules at the meeting, disrupted the forum and argued loudly with audience members.
“It’s very frightening that they attack me just because I work for a medium which the government can’t influence,” Halasz told The Associated Press. “I have witnesses who can corroborate that none of their accusations are true.”
Participants at Saturday’s rally in Budapest shouted slogans in support of press freedom.
Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s return to power in 2010, his allies have greatly increased their ownership of newspapers, broadcasters and online media, turning the outlets into unquestioning supporters of the government. Hungary’s state media is also under strict political control.
The government has “clearly turned public service media into a tool of government propaganda,” media analyst Agnes Urban said at the rally.
Pressure is mounting on Hungary’s right-wing government after it adopted a law that would effectively shut down Central European University, an institution founded by the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros shortly after the fall of Communism.
An American official and a United Nations expert on Tuesday joined European Union officials in expressing grave concern about the law, which was rushed through Parliament by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Budapest on Sunday to urge President Janos Ader not to sign the law, but on Monday he did just that.
Corruption is a harmful, but widespread phenomenon in Hungary, which is part of the everyday life and the politics. It affects the government’s relationship with the EU, the USA and Russia too. But why is it growing nowadays? What is the role of bribery in Hungary, a country led by the prime minister Viktor Orbán since 2010?
Corruption or “mutyi”- a term recently popularised by the Hungarian media – is no longer considered an outstanding phenomenon in Hungary. With a silent consent of the Hungarian society, bribery became a part of everyday life during the soft dictatorship of the Kádár-era; people still pay additional sums to receive better service in hospitals or faster administration in offices.
In a dry clearing of woodland in southern Hungary, there is the drone of wood-chippers and rumble of earth movers. Dozens of men are clearing the ground for what Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, believes will be a solution to the country’s worsening migration crisis: a 175km steel and barbed wire fence along its flank with Serbia.
More than 80,000 migrants have crossed this stretch of land into Hungary — and the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone — so far this year, placing the country on the route of a trail that begins as far away as the fields of Kunduz in Afghanistan and the bombed-out streets of Aleppo in Syria.
But Hungary’s Balkan borderlands are now set to become the choke point for what has become Europe’s most heavily travelled migration route. Many expect the €20m fence — which should be finished by November — to trap thousands in neighbouring countries such as Serbia and Macedonia, where migrants say they face police violence and extortion.
The fence has attracted criticism from migrant rights groups, the UN’s refugee agency and the European Commission. Serbia’s government, which was not notified of the plans in advance, reacted with alarm to the decision to seal the border but has pledged to boost border security co-operation.
“I am not sure whether the fence between Serbia and Hungary will help that country protect itself against mass influx of asylum seekers,” said Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s minister of the interior. “However, we cannot interfere with decisions of neighbouring countries that are within their exclusive competence.”
Mr Orban, who has linked unmanaged immigration to terrorism, insists border security is a national obligation. But since the plan to build the fence was announced, the numbers detected crossing the border have only increased, sometimes reaching more than 1,500 a day.
Even though the vast majority of those have left to try to reach Germany and other more prosperous countries, daily arrivals are straining Hungary.
The surge has become especially noticeable outside train and bus stations in towns such as Szeged in the country’s south, where city authorities have set up a makeshift help centre complete with fresh water taps, stocks of sandwiches and power sockets for migrants to charge their phones.
But not all are so welcoming. Anti-immigrant vigilantes have begun patrols along the border, in search of migrants who have escaped the attention of border police who use heat-seeking cameras, dogs and sometimes helicopters to monitor the area.
Just a few kilometres away, on the other side of the planned fence, dozens of Afghan migrants appear at an abandoned brick factory near the town of Subotica to receive food from Pastor Tibor Varga, who runs the Eastern European Mission, a Christian charity.
“I don’t know what will happen with this fence; I don’t think it will help Hungary stop the situation. It may mean more people being trapped here in Serbia and I don’t know how that will end,” says Pastor Varga.
One of the men at the factory, which migrants call “the jungle”, is Muhammed Bilal, a network engineer, who says he left Kunduz in Afghanistan because of violent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.
Mr Bilal and his friend Tlha Jan from Jalalabad have travelled for more than a month in the hope of reaching Germany. Mr Jan says Bulgarian police stole his phone and $500 in cash before breaking his ribs and beating his feet with hammers. His toes are black and swollen.
“Now our journey has gotten more dangerous,” says Mr Bilal. “This morning, a person told us the Hungarian government plans to make a fence along the border. But that takes time; we will get across in the next few days.” he adds.
Hungarian ministers say the country has less than 3,000 residential places for asylum seekers, while the number arriving this year alone is more than 20 times that figure.
Very few applications for asylum are completed as most abscond to continue their journey. Lawmakers in Budapest last week approved measures that could see asylum applicants pushed back to neighbouring countries such as Serbia.
But Amnesty International has warned that illegal migrants deported from Hungary face multiple human rights violations in Balkan countries.
Although the new rules and the planned fence have yet to stem the flow of migrants, observers say the government’s rhetoric has hardened the public’s attitude towards migrants.
A recent poll commissioned by conservative magazine Heti Válasz, showed 63 per cent of respondents believe immigration poses a threat to Hungary’s security.
Opinion polls also indicate another trend: since Mr Orban announced the planned border fence, support levels for his governing Fidesz party have risen at the expense of the radical rightwing Jobbik party, ending an eight-month trend of declining approval ratings.
Environmentalists in Hungary are hoping the European Commission will scupper a €12.5bn (£9bn) Hungarian-Russian deal to build two new 1,200 megawatt (MW) reactors at the Paks nuclear power station on the River Danube.
The expansion, they argue, will produce expensive energy, far beyond market prices, plunge Hungary into debt, and deepen dependence on Russia.
Viktor Orban’s Fidesz government insists the reactors are necessary to cover growing energy demand, and will actually increase the country’s energy independence.
The government also defends its decision to make the contracts for the new reactors secret for 30 years.
The existing four reactors at Paks generate 1,900 MW and cover 40% of Hungary’s electricity needs.
Mr Orban based his 2014 election victory on promises to keep utility prices low.
Months earlier he struck a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that saw Russia agree to loan Hungary around 80% of the estimated construction cost of the new reactors at Paks. Hungary will pay Russia back from the electricity generated.
By the time Hungary has to start paying for this next generation of reactors, in 2025, Mr Orban should be in comfortable retirement.
Nevertheless, the decision to sign a deal with Russia took even his own Fidesz party by surprise.
Built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the working life of the four existing reactors at Paks will run out between 2032 and 2037.
That means that no new decision on replacing them would actually be necessary until 2020 at the earliest.
Experts are also concerned that the overlap period, when old and new reactors are operating, will overstrain the Hungarian grid, and drive renewable and conventional energy producers from a market distorted by what they see as the overproduction of nuclear energy.
“Hungary is denying itself the opportunity to take into consideration at least six years’ scientific development” by opting for nuclear expansion now, the Universities Student Committee established to debate the Paks expansion has just concluded.
The falling cost of renewable energy sources could make the cost solar energy comparable with that from nuclear and fossil fuels very soon, opponents of Paks expansion believe.
“Hungary’s energy needs can be supplied in 2030 without the ‘Paks2’ reactors,” says Zsuzsanna Koritar of Energieaklub, a Budapest-based think tank.
“Nonsense,” counters Attila Aszodi, the nuclear ‘tsar’ appointed by the Orban government, who says the expansion decision is both sensible and timely.
Hungary’s electricity demands can be expected to grow by 1% each year, he says. And 7,300 MW of the current 9,000 MW capacity of the country’s 18 power stations will need replacing by 2030.
Meanwhile his own figures suggest that electricity from Paks would be 10 to 15% cheaper than solar.
Balazs Felsmann of the Corvinus University Research Centre says electricity prices would need to triple on the European market to make the new reactors economically feasible.
And there are concerns that the project deadline might slip, meaning Hungary would have to start paying interest on the €10bn loan to Russia from 2025, while the project is still a building site.
Mr Aszodi says there are agreements in place to stop this happening, and he rejects claims that the decision to expand the power station was made largely in secret.
“The expansion of Paks was debated and agreed in the Hungarian parliament many times,” he says.
His opponents hope the European Commission will rule that Hungary’s 20% share of the construction costs will be judged to be a direct subsidy, which is illegal under competition rules.