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Hungary Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Developments in Hungary since 2010 have raised concerns around the world that democracy is being eroded. Freedom of speech and press are enshrined in the constitution, but the government has strengthened its control over both the judiciary and education as well as the media.

Although a parliamentary state with democratic elections has replaced a communist dictatorship that ruled Hungary until 1989, the country has witnessed a development where the government has become increasingly authoritarian. Under the leadership of the Fidesz Party, Hungary has adopted a policy of resistance to all forms of immigration. But not only the government's views, but also its actions - in many areas of society - raise fears:

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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has, with reference to the corona pandemic, acquired the right to govern by decree, indefinitely (see Calendar).

Penalty tax has been introduced for organizations that help immigrants. The UN considers that the areas in Hungary where asylum seekers are allowed to stay in some respects function as detention camps (see Calendar).

Anti-Semitic outcomes have characterized a campaign the government has run against the Hungarian-born Jewish investor and philanthropist George Soros, who has sponsored a prestigious university in Budapest (see Calendar).

The government has abolished science disciplines that it disapproves of, taken control of the research and carried out campaigns against individual researchers (see Education).

Democracy and Human Rights of HungaryThe government has also had plans to overhaul the judicial system and do so instead of the government, but those plans have been scrapped after much criticism, inside and outside the country. On the other hand, the opportunities for opposition parties to operate have been circumvented by new laws (see Calendar).

According to Amnesty International, violence against women often passes without legal recourse. Hungary, for example, has not adopted the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Control of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Native Roma are discriminated against, among others in school, healthcare and the housing and labor market, which has led to harsh criticism from human rights organizations and the EU.

The organization Transparency International gave Hungary the position 70 of 180 countries in its review of corruption in the world in 2019, see list here. It was a significant deterioration. Suspicions of Hungarian cheating with support money from the EU belong to what, according to EU parliamentarians, is not handled well (see Calendar).

Freedom of expression and media

A media law adopted in 2010 received stinging criticism from, among others, the EU. Although changes have been made since then, media freedom and diversity has continued to be limited. Part of the criticism is that the State Media Council does not represent different parties and groups, but consists of government-loyal members appointed by the parliamentary majority. The Media Council nominates heads of state-owned media and controls the content of the media. The council can impose high fines, journalists can be sentenced for defamation and it is common for politicians to make reports of slander.

The opportunities for journalists and others to access public documents have been limited. Media market scrutiny and diversity are also threatened by public authorities and other public agencies advertising in state-owned media or private government-friendly media companies at the expense of independent and opposition media. Investigative journalism, with revelations of, among other things, mutiny, has largely moved to the Internet. A site with the address atlatszo.hu revealed in 2019 that the government spent more than 30 million euros of taxpayers' money on a criticized poster campaign directed at EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and patron George Soros.

In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Ranking 2020, Hungary was placed 89, see list here. Developments in recent years have been in the direction of issuing proof of government-friendly interests. The media is often used to dirty the political opposition. Independent Népszabadság, formerly the Socialist Party's spokesman, was one of the country's largest daily newspapers until it was abruptly closed in 2016. When the owner Mediaworks was shortly thereafter purchased by a company linked to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, many felt that political reasons were behind the closure. In 2018, a significant portion of the privately-owned government-friendly media gathered in an organization called the Central European Press and Media Council (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány, abbreviated Kesma).

In the mid-1990s, the state TV and radio monopoly was abolished and private companies started. This led to about 200 new radio channels and almost 500 TV channels. But the public service offering is today government-friendly and the state TV channels for the fight against commercial channels.

State radio broadcasts in English, German, Romanian, Slovak and Russian, among others.

A Roman channel, Dikh TV, was launched via Youtube 2015 and is broadcast in 2019 on cable TV networks. Dikh ("Watch" in Romanian) has been able to expand and become more professional thanks to the support of a Romanian investor.

Judicial system and legal security

In the Fidesz-dominated parliament, several laws have been passed that give the government control over the courts.

A central judicial authority has been created, whose chief is appointed by a two-thirds majority in parliament on a nine-year term. The manager has the right to move judges and decide which judge should address a particular case.

The Constitutional Court, established in 1990, is to ensure that new laws do not violate the Constitution or the rights of citizens. But the government parties have increased the number of judges in the Constitutional Court and appointed party lawyers - by the middle of the 2010s, 11 out of 15 judges were appointed by the government parties. The Court has also been deprived of the right to review amendments to the Constitution and to comment on laws that may affect the state budget. Laws previously rejected by the Constitutional Court have nevertheless been implemented by being granted constitutional status and passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

In 2018, Parliament adopted a proposal from the government to set up new administrative courts (where, for example, building permits or tax cases are decided). The administrative rights would be directly subject to the government. But there, in November 2019, the government backtracked after the reform was scolded for notes. The criticism came from, among other things, legal expertise of the Venice Commission within the Council of Europe.

Trials are public unless otherwise provided by law. The defendants' right to defendants is constitutional. The judiciary has been criticized for long detention times and slow processes. Prison services are in turn criticized for overcrowded prisons.

The death penalty was abolished in 1990, but Viktor Orbán, as Prime Minister, has stated to reintroduce it.


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