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Late February, on an otherwise quiet Tuesday morning, a group of thugs occupied the Hungarian National Election Office. They were there to stop members of an opposition party submitting their referendum proposal.
Such congregations are never a good sign in Hungary. They highlight the growing influence of the far-right, which openly venerates the Nazi regimes of world war II.
But these thugs weren’t connected to the neo-fascist Jobbik party, they were acting on behalf of the governing Fidesz party, which is increasingly taking an authoritarian approach.
This is a serious threat to Hungarian democracy, and if the Hungarian people don’t unite against it, their democracy may be gone for good.
It’s well known that Fidesz opposes western style democracy, defined by rule of law, checks and balances, and civil rights. In 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán openly declared his plan to turn Hungary into an “illiberal democracy”, based on Russia, Turkey, and China – a statement that lead Senator John McCain to describe Prime Minister Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator”.
Orbán and Fidesz have been strenuously implementing this plan since taking office in 2010. They have tampered with election laws, tailoring the process and gerrymandering constituencies to retain their two-thirds majority in 2014. They have centralized power throughout society, creating new government bureaucracies and nationalizing private industries. Worst of all, they have curtailed the powers of the constitutional court, so that nothing can challenge the government’s frenzy.
This approach is already causing problems.
Thousands of students and teachers are protesting the new national curriculum, which has placed schools under the control of a centralized government agency, eliminating their autonomy and leaving them without basic supplies of pens and paper. The country’s healthcare system is crumbling; hospitals are in disrepair, and patients are more likely to die from an infection in hospital, than in a car crash. And corruption has become so ingrained that even the EU’s anti-corruption funding was embezzled.
Fidesz is still the most popular party, but their proposed laws are increasingly meeting resistance. Plans to tax the internet, for example, were abandoned after tens of thousands took the the streets in protest.
But this resistance hasn’t altered their approach. The government has continued to clamp down on private industry, proposing to ban Uber, and forcing shops to close on Sundays.
It was this Sunday trading issue that caused the latest thuggish tactics.
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