Each October 23rd, Hungarians commemorate and celebrate the heroes of 1956 who led the country’s revolt against communist rule and Soviet influence. Unfortunately, this year’s anniversary celebration wasn’t the dignified event worth of the memory of the people who gave their lives for liberty. The freedom fighters of yesteryear wanted a free and independent press. Yet, a few days before the anniversary, the largest nationwide independent daily newspaper, Népszabadság, suspended operations. The nationalist Hungarian government, which venerates the revolt of 1956, ironically desecrates the memory of its heroes by trampling on freedom speech.
The publisher claims it shut down Népszabadság because of declining sales. However, the manner it was done raised suspicions that the Hungarian government was involved since the paper uncovered corruption scandals involving the ruling party, Fidesz. It is not unheard of in Hungary for journalist to get fired for unearthing sensitive information on Fidesz. This monopolization of the media is in line with Viktor Orbán’s vision of an illiberal state, which he claimed he wants to build, modelled upon Russia.
Recently, the newspaper’s owner, Heinrich Pecina, sold Népszabadság to a company affiliated with Orbán’s close friend, Lőrinc Mészáros – a former gasfitter who became a billionaire under shady circumstances during Orbán’s regime. Yet, Orbán has the audacity to stand in front of a crowd of his ardent followers on at the anniversary celebration of 56 and praise heroes who fought against everything Orbán is standing for. Despite the fact that Fidesz claims to be an anti-communist, conservative party, they are nationalizingprivate assets, tamper with civic liberties, and have only weakened the system of check and balances.
As another blow to freedom of speech in Hungary, the security guards hired by the government for the rally didn’t let certain opposition politicians enter the public celebration. Furthermore, anyone who brought a whistle was barred from entry lest they dare make a sound while the Great Leader was speaking. An independent member of the parliament, Zoltán Kész, wasn’t let into the square while walking with his son hours before the celebration.