Why Should Hungarians Care?

Szilas || Creative Commons

It had been written many times: something is not quite right in Hungary. But since it has been written many times it has lost its shock value. And it’s Hungary, right? Who cares? Recently, the operations of the newspaper Népszabadság in Hungary were suspended. So what’s the big deal? It was a left to centre newspaper anyway, you will read some other newspaper instead. It generated giant losses, and its numbers have plummeted – you will hear, so the private owners were right to kill it off.

Still, you must care, because not caring has lead to the point when the government can interfere with the free press. I am supposed to write allegedly but I don’t care.

Allegedly, the Hungarian government embezzels money. Allegedly, freedom of press is not doing all too well in Hungary and again allegedly, Prime Minister Orbán is building a Putinesque illiberal state.

But “allegedly” makes it less so, despite the fact that corruption is openly happening, taxpayers are bleeding money and the oligarchs are feeding off it, you will think twice before alleging this in a column as a journalist, and Orbán did, in fact, publicly declare his intentions to build an illiberal state modelled upon Russia. Not merely allegedly.

The journalists of Népszabadság, however, dared to point this out. They revealed uncomfortable facts about people close to Orbán and from one day to another they had to face the fact that it is not only allegedly that freedom of press is in shambles.

Lockout of the journalists of Népszabadság || Photo by Szilas via Creative Commons

I don’t want to get into too much trouble, so let’s play along: The new owner of Népszabadság (an Austrian businessman) accused of alleged embezzlement, who is allegedly quite close to Orbán, allegedly suspended the operations of the newspaper as a favour to his alleged friend.

The official story is that it had to be put on ice because of the financial losses. This, however, doesn’t explain why the online platform was shut down since it actually generated some money, why none of the employees were notified (they woke up to the news in the media) and why their email addresses were frozen.

Since last year the newspaper was not generating losses at all and it was still the most widely read daily. I could say it got suspended – which means, essentially, killed off because the government doesn’t tolerate critical voices, the cronies want to get their hands on the remaining smaller news outlets under the same owner, and the frozen email addresses of the journalists contain useful information for the government. Allegedly. But I really don’t want to get into too much trouble.

Allegedly”, however, won’t make people care. They will get used to essentially empty soccer stadiums springing up in their villages, built by friends of the government, vintage trains built to transport basically no-one only to tickle the Prime Minister’s fancy, politicians taking helicopter rides to parties and they will also get used to such outrages as the head of the central bank, who is afraid of the number 8, favouring his sweethearts and their advice over common sense. All this is, of course, funded from the people’s taxes and, in fact, by the EU taxpayers as well.

You may hear all over the place that the EU is bad – and according to the government, Hungarians  should fight against the EU despite the Hungarian government is lying in its anti-EU propaganda. But only allegedly, so who cares, right? Who cares when some of the people pointing out the obvious lies and corruption no longer have a platform because of their ongoing investigations. Allegedly. Who cares when the government can claim victory over a racist referendum bereft of any true statements which – despite of all the loads of taxpayer’s money – failed to be valid. Actually, not just allegedly – but who cares at this point?

Who cares when it’s only Hungary and who cares that Orbán inspires a lot of authoritarian figures throughout Europe who constantly gain popularity (see: Poland). And who cares that there are a lot of similarities between Orbán and Trump. It can’t happen outside Hungary, right?

Who will care when it happens, though? And who will care in Hungary when the public media, which only spread the governing party’s lying propaganda, will be the only media? Who will care when you won’t know how much of your freedom and liberty has been taken away due to the lack of independent news , if there’s any left? Will there be anyone left to care when it’s you personally whose property is taken away and your mouth is being shut? Who cares, you may asked then. Well, you should, now!

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation