Tag Archives: Viktor Orban

Corruption in Hungary

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.

Képtalálat a következőre: „Corruption in Hungary”

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Hungary suspends gas supplies to Ukraine

Darshava gas facility in Ukraine, man with manual wheel operating valve

Hungary’s gas pipeline operator, FGSZ, says it has suspended delivery of gas to neighbouring Ukraine “indefinitely”.

Ukraine has been receiving gas from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia since Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine in June in a dispute over unpaid bills.

Ukrainian state gas firm Naftogaz confirmed the stoppage, saying it was “unexpected and unexplained”.

FGSZ said it had acted to raise the flow of gas to Hungary, due to an expected increase in demand.

With winter approaching fears are mounting that Ukraine will be unable to heat homes and power industry without Russian gas.

Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers are meeting in Berlin for EU-brokered talks, aimed at heading off such a crisis.

Relations between the former USSR’s two most populous countries soured after the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, in February.

Europe's pipeline network

Russia subsequently annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine and was accused of fomenting a bloody insurrection in two of its eastern provinces.

Earlier this year Gazprom and Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of consequences if EU member states went ahead with deliveries to Ukraine to replace Russian supplies.

Russia says EU states are contractually forbidden from re-exporting gas to Ukraine while Brussels insists that such “reverse flows” are legal.

‘Energy blackmail’

Hungary’s move came three days after a meeting in Budapest between the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, and Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.

Prime Minister Orban has been critical of EU sanctions on Russia and has maintained a closer relationship with Moscow than his western European neighbours.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller (L) and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak wait for the start of gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin, 26 SeptemberGazprom CEO Alexei Miller (L) and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak wait for the start of gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin

Gazprom agreed on Friday to boost supplies to Hungary, Reuters news agency reports.

“Hungary cannot get into a situation in which, due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it cannot access its required supply of energy,” Mr Orban said on Hungarian state radio.

European Commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns said on Friday: “The message from the Commission is very clear: we expect all member states to facilitate reverse flows as agreed by the European Council

“There is nothing preventing EU companies to dispose freely of gas they have purchased from Gazprom and this includes selling this gas to customers both within the EU as well as to third countries such as Ukraine.”

Naftogaz urged its “Hungarian partners to respect their contractual obligations and EU legislation”.

“Neither EU countries nor Ukraine should be put under political pressure through energy blackmail,” Naftogaz said on its website.

Russian warning

It is hoped that Friday’s talks will establish a basis for an interim deal over energy.

The deal could involve the EU buying enough Russian gas to safeguard Ukrainian and European supplies during the winter months, at roughly market prices, according to Reuters.

However, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak insisted in an interview published on Friday that re-exporting Russian gas to Ukraine is illegal and could lead to some EU states going without fuel shipments from Gazprom.

“We hope that our European partners will stick to the agreements,” he told Germany’s business daily Handelsblatt (in German).

“That is the only way to ensure there are no interruptions in gas deliveries to European consumers,” he said.

In June, Russia cut off all gas supplies to Ukraine after Kiev failed to settle its debt with Gazprom.

Gazprom had sought $1.95bn (£1.15bn) out of a total claim of $4.5bn.

The Russia company said Ukraine had to pay upfront for its future supplies.

The issue of gas supply has dogged relations between Russia and Ukraine since the break-up of the USSR, with Russia seeking new export routes for its gas which would bypass Ukraine. EU supplies have been hit twice in the past decade because of the dispute.

The Kremlin has been accused of using Russia’s leverage as a major gas supplier for political ends in its international relations.

What it looks like when 100,000 people rally for Internet freedom

Swarms of protesters took to the streets of Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday night, waving their smartphones in the air to demonstrate against a planned tax on Internet use. The protest, which was the second in about a week, was largely organized through a Facebook page.

Oligarchs of Eastern Europe Scoop Up Stakes in Media Companies

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Across Eastern Europe, local oligarchs and investment groups — some directly connected to their countries’ political leadership — are snapping up newspapers and other media companies, prompting deep concerns among journalists and others about press freedom.

It is just one of an array of developments across the region raising questions, a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, about progress toward Western standards of democracy and free speech.

As in Russia, there are increasing worries about a potentially dangerous concentration of power in the hands of people who have managed to acquire both wealth and political influence and are increasingly extending their control to media outlets.

Here in Slovakia, a German media company sold a substantial stake in the nation’s last serious, independent newspaper to a well-connected investment group that had been among its investigative targets.

At a time of similar developments across the region, what stood out in the investment in Petit Press and its prominent SME flagship newspaper by the group, Penta Investments, was the reaction of the paper’s staff.

Matus Kostolny, 39, editor in chief for the last eight years, walked out the door. Four of his deputies followed. And 50 members of the paper’s 80-person staff submitted notice to leave by the end of the year.

“I think Penta intends to misuse the newspapers for their own purposes,” Mr. Kostolny said. “Their idea of free speech is entirely different from mine.”

But the situation in Slovakia is just the latest in which owners, often Western European or American, have chosen to sell Eastern European media properties and powerful local interests have stepped forward and snapped them up.

Andrej Babis, an agriculture and fertilizer tycoon, not only owns the Czech Republic’s largest publishing house and several important media outlets, he is the government’s minister of finance.

In Latvia, opaque disclosure laws obscured who controlled much of the country’s news media until a corruption investigation of one of the country’s richest businessmen revealed that he and two other oligarchs were the principal owners.

In Hungary, beyond outright state ownership of much of the news media, top associates of Prime Minister Viktor Orban control significant chunks. Chief among them is Lajos Simicska, who went to school with the prime minister and whose construction company has profited lavishly from state contracts, although the two are said to be feuding of late.

In Romania, the leading television news station, the right-wing Antena 3, is only part of the vast media empire owned by the billionaire Dan Voiculescu, the founder of the country’s Conservative Party. In August, Mr. Voiculescu was sentenced to 10 years in prison on money laundering charges.

Several oligarchs control the media companies in Bulgaria, regularly ranked in last place among European Union nations in the World Press Freedom Index. That includes a former lawmaker, Delyan Peevski, whose New Bulgarian Media Group — ostensibly controlled by his mother, though opponents charge that he holds the real power — has been closely linked to governments controlled by several parties.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of Communism, most media outlets were either owned outright by the state or utterly dependent on government advertising. When foreign owners — most notably from Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States — subsequently bought up local newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, journalists found that the distant owners had no interest in local politics. That was a relief for a time.

“For us, it was perfect,” Mr. Kostolny said of the German conglomerate that owned SME. “We had very professional owners who never picked up the phone and tried to influence the newspaper. Not once.”

But when the economy sank in 2008, most of these foreign owners decided to retreat to their core businesses back home and put their media companies in Central and Eastern Europe on the block. At that point, the distance between their Western owners and the political realities in their countries began to seem like a drawback, especially as the owners began selling to local interests with a direct stake in the coverage.

“It turned out that as much as they didn’t care about Slovak politics, they also didn’t care about who they sold the papers to and the impact of the sale on Czech and Slovak society,” Mr. Kostolny said.

The end result, said Marian Lesko, a commentator for Trend Magazine, a Bratislava-based business journal also owned by Penta Investments, is that “in Slovakia, independent media is no more, basically.”

Alexej Fulmek, the chief executive of Petit Press and one of the founders of SME, said he was troubled by Penta’s stake in the company but decided to stay on to protect SME and the other Petit Press publications, including the most important network of regional papers in the country.

“I am not happy with the situation,” he said. “We don’t like Penta. They have too many economic interests with the government.”

For its part, Penta bristles at being compared to politically connected oligarchs in the region, instead presenting itself as a fairly standard, Western-style investment company with interests in hospitals, retail outlets, real estate and other industries that now happens to include media.

Officials of the company, led by its dominant principal, Jaroslav Hascak, said they were interested only in keeping their media investments profitable by consolidating them and had no intention of meddling in the newsrooms.

“We do not have any direct businesses with the state,” said Martin Danko, the group’s chief spokesman. “We are not providing any services, not participating in any state competitions to supply something. But we are definitely operating in regulated businesses.”

Penta got into the media business after other entities controlled by local oligarchs — Mr. Babis, the Czech finance minister, as well as Ivan Jakabovic and Patrik Tkac, who control the J&T Finance Group in Slovakia — had already started investing in the industry.

Penta’s 45 percent interest in Petit Press prevents it from dominating the newsroom, even if it wished to do so — which, Mr. Danko said, it does not, because it understands that the credibility of the news is the core of the company’s profitability.

Mr. Kostolny doesn’t buy it. “Penta’s real interest is in influence, in controlling their critics,” he said. “They will make back their investment with one state contract, and nobody will bother them by writing about it.”

Mr. Kostolny is now working on a plan under which his deputies and as many former SME staffers as he can afford to hire will produce Projekt N, a web portal and a print paper, perhaps weekly, perhaps daily. His plan is to offer breaking news for free online, but to charge for longer and investigative pieces.

For the moment, though, they have no office outside of the Next Apache cafe — the name, said aloud, sounds like “nech sa paci,” which means “here you are” in Slovak — where Mr. Kostolny and many former employees now hang out.

Bulgaria: NY Times: Several Oligarchs Control Media Companies in Bulgaria

“I still don’t have investors,” he said. “I don’t have computers. I don’t have printing machines. I don’t have anything.”

For his part, Mr. Fulmek said he intended to spend the next several weeks trying to talk some of those who put in their notice to stay at SME with him and fight the good fight there. He even hopes to persuade Mr. Kostolny and his deputies to return, but he is not optimistic.

“They are very pure,” Mr. Fulmek said. “And that’s good, because the country needs such people.”

Hungary’s Orban: Migrant crisis is German, not European problem

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban insisted Thursday the migrant crisis was a German problem, not a European one as he defended his government’s handling of thousands of refugees flooding into his country.

“The problem is not a European problem, the problem is a German problem,” Orban told a press conference with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels.

“Nobody wants to stay in Hungary, neither in Slovakia, nor Poland, nor Estonia. All want to go to Germany. Our job is just to register them.”

Orban’s comments came as hundreds of refugees and migrants stormed a train at Budapest’s reopened main international railway station, which has become a flashpoint for people trying to head to western Europe via Hungary.

“We have clear cut regulations at the European level. German Chancellor (Angela Merkel) … said yesterday that nobody could leave Hungary without being registered,” he added.

“If the German chancellor insists that we register them, we will, it is a must.”

Orban has taken a consistently hard line on the migrant crisis engulfing Europe, refusing to accept an EU plan for compulsory quotas for asylum seekers and building a razor wire fence along the border with Serbia in a bid to halt the influx.

Syrian refugees and migrants walk along a railway line as they try to cross from Serbia into Hungary...

Syrian refugees and migrants walk along a railway line as they try to cross from Serbia into Hungary near Horgos, on September 1, 2015

The fence has done little to stem the flow and Hungary remains a key arrival point for tens of thousands of migrants entering the European Union, with some 50,000 arriving in the country in August alone.

Orban was due to hold talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and with EU president Donald Tusk, who warned earlier Thursday that divisions between EU member states threatened to scupper efforts to find a common response.

Schulz also warned that the 28 member states had to act as one.

“The European idea is of solidarity; what we see at the moment is egoism and to my mind, this is a real threat to the EU,” he said.

A Test for the European Union — The Opinion Pages

In a speech on Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary said his country was done with liberal democracy. Mr. Orban cited Russia, Turkey and China as “successful” examples of the kind of “illiberal new state based on national foundations” that he wants Hungary to be.

He boasted that European Union membership was no bar to building such a state. Long an admirer of Vladimir Putin, Mr. Orban has been thumbing his nose at the European Union since his Fidesz Party won election in 2010.

Since then, Mr. Orban’s government has taken steps to undermine the rule of law, gut press freedom, attack civil society groups and increase executive power. When Hungary’s Constitutional Court in 2012 struck down some of the laws that Mr. Orban’s government introduced, the government simply brought them back as constitutional amendments.

A new law imposing up to 40 percent tax on advertising revenue is aimed squarely at crippling the Hungarian unit of the RTL Group, one of the few channels in Hungary that does not parrot the government line.

In June, Hungary’s Government Control Office put more pressure on civil society groups, seeking financing data from them. The government has also criminalized homelessness and stripped some 300 religious groups of their official status.

President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy (left) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (Photo: EPA)

The European Union has condemned these actions, and the Venice Commission, an advisory body on rights to the Council of Europe, published a scathing report on Hungary’s constitutional amendments last year.

On Monday, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission who is responsible for the digital agenda, harshly criticized the advertising tax, calling it a threat to a free press that is the foundation of a democratic society. Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, has said that the European Union should consider suspending Hungary’s voting rights in the European Council, a measure the union has been reluctant to take.

Mr. Orban clearly believes he runs no risk. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, needs to respond with more than the usual admonitions and hand-wringing. The commission could start by reducing the 21.91 billion euros (about $29.33 billion) the European Union has allocated to Hungary to finance infrastructure development from 2014-20.

It should also begin proceedings to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which allows the suspension of voting rights of a member state that is at serious risk of breaching the values listed in Article 2, including the rule of law, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

The commission would diminish its credibility if it fails to take steps to sanction Hungary for systematically breaching these values.

Hungary erects border fence to plug migrant flow

Hungarian Defence Force prepared to begin border fence construction Photo: Gergely BOTÁR/Prime Minister’s Office

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.

Hungary border fence map Migration
Local police say many of the migrants they round up are reported by local residents and farmers.

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.

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