Stories from Quick Reads and Hungary
Hungary's government monopolized the sale of tobacco goods in 2013, drawing criticism from all sides both for the monopoly and the restriction of the Freedom of Information Act that came with the secretive distribution of sales licenses for the goods. In a second round, Hungarian Parliament voted on Monday, December 15, 2014, to create a state-run national tobacco distributor. Trade unions protested against the law, arguing it would result in the loss of some 1600 jobs.
Ahead of the vote, a trade union group sent bars of chocolate to Hungarian members of Parliament with pictures of children and a message asking the MPs to vote against the parents of these children losing their jobs. Vastagbőr blog reported that Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also received a bar of chocolate, ate the chocolate, and then proceeded to vote in favor of creating the national tobacco distributor, which would leave hundreds of people unemployed. Photos of Prime Minister Orban consuming the chocolate bar before the deciding vote are included in the blog post and other local media.
A blog, ‘Kórházi koszt‘, was launched over the summer of 2014 in Hungary, exposing the poor quality and small rations of food in Hungarian hospitals.
The blog rose from the outrage among Hungarians who stayed at hospitals and received not only small portions of food, but often cheap and “disgusting” meals. The blog's Facebook page gathered almost 6000 followers within just weeks. In the meantime, Buzzfeed listed pictures of 22 hospital meals served in different countries, making Hungarian netizens envious of the quality of food served there.
A Roma Holocaust center is planned to be opened in the southern Hungarian city of Pecs by the end of 2014. The documentation center is the joint effort of the local municipality of Pecs and the Hungarian Roma minority, and will also collaborate with the Pecs University in teaching students about this often forgotten part of European 20th century history.
The Roma Holocaust, also known as Porajmos in Romani, was an attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate the Romani people in Europe. Approximately between 1933 and 1945, Roma citizens from many European countries were persecuted, imprisoned, stripped of their nationality, often transported to other Nazi-occupied or Nazi-collaborator countries, where many were killed. The numbers have mostly been downplayed by Nazi collaborators, but the estimated number of Roma killed during that period in Europe is between 220 thousand and 1.5 million.
West Germany recognized the Roma Holocaust in 1982, but formal recognition and marking of this Holocaust have generally proven to be difficult due to lack of recorded collective memory and documentation of the Porajmos among the Roma, a consequence both of their oral traditions and illiteracy, heightened by widespread poverty and discrimination in this day and age, all of which makes the opening of this center in Pecs paramount in commemorating this tragic portion of Romani and European history.
Hungary, like many other countries in the region, has an on-going corruption problem on almost every level of governance. A new project created by investigative website Átlátszó.hu and Transparency International, Fizettem.hu, has taken on the task of collecting reports from citizens about cases of bribery and corruption in the country.
How much cash do corrupt police officers in Hungary take to ignore a misdemeanour or traffic violation? What is the cost for doctors take better care of a pacient in hospital? How much does the average Hungarian pay to get something done faster in government agencies? The anti-corruption website that aims to answer these questions was launched in December 2013 and collected over one hundred stories from users in just days. The project's goal is not only to raise awareness and draw wider attention to cases of corruption on all levels, but also to collect enough specific data to generate a more concrete picture of corruption in Hungary, so that it can be used in fixing these issues. The website explains:
A Fizettem.hu oldalon megoszthatod a saját történetedet arról, hol, mikor, ki és mennyi kenőpénzt fizettetett veled, esetleg te önszántadból miért érezted úgy, hogy adnod kell. Sőt, azt is megírhatod, ha visszautasították, vagy te utasítottad vissza a felajánlott összeget. A beküldött történetek előzetes moderáció után kerülnek ki az oldalra és szükség esetén anonimizáljuk ezeket. A történetben bevallott összegek alapján folyamatosan nyomon követjük, hogy az egyes szektorokban mennyi kenőpénzt fizetnek az emberek. A történetedet a BEJELENTEM gomb alatt tudod megosztani.
The Fizettem.hu page lets you share your own story about where, when, who and how much in bribes you paid, or explain why you felt the need to give them. In fact, we accept reports if your bribe was rejected or you refused to pay the asked amount. The stories are set aside after moderation and, if necessary, some are posted anonymously. We monitor based on the amounts declared in the story, calculating on average how much people are paying bribes to each sector. The story of the notifier [user] can be shared using the button below.
On November 5, 2013, Hungarian Parliament adopted changes to the country's Criminal Code regarding potentially defamatory video or audio recordings. The new changes to this law include penalties such as imprisonment of up to three years for making such materials public. The longest prison sentence relates to materials published to a “wide audience” and, according to the OSCE and others, this directly targets the media. Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, made an official statement on November 6, 2013, stressing concerns regarding the new laws and how they will impact journalism and media freedom. Ms. Mijatović said:
These amendments to the penal code can further restrict media freedom. The penalties for publishing defamatory recordings are disproportionate and may lead to the silencing of critical or differing views in society.[…]
These measures are excessive as they can have a chilling effect on investigative journalism and prevent satirical expression and critical points of view from being disseminated.[…]
Hungarian legislation already includes provisions to protect human dignity and penalize the fabrication of facts. Instead of adding new ways to chill public discourse and curb media freedom, Hungary should eliminate existing legal obstacles to media freedom.
Hungarians have been rallying in masses against a proposed tax on Internet traffic that many in the country find to be outrageous.
The Hungarian government plans to introduce a tax of approximately 0.6 US dollars per gigabyte of Internet traffic. This proposal tipped the scales for many, and tens of thousands went to the streets of the capital Budapest on Sunday, October 26, 2014, and Tuesday, October 28. The protests in the capital were soon joined by protests in several other cities as well.
The Facebook page has been used to coordinate these events and has accumulated more than 200,000 likes so far. Protesters raised their mobile phones in the air as a symbolic demonstration to Hungary's prime minister that they do use the Internet and need it for learning about the world daily. Atlatszo.hu investigative site published videos with footage of drones flying over both protests in Budapest:
A group of far-right extremists occupied the exhibition opening of a Hungarian fashion designer on Friday, Kettős Mérce blog reported [hu].
The designer in question Koby's new fashion line was first withdrawn [hu] from a Hungarian sports brand shop in January 2014, after nationalist criticism rose against the t-shirt designs featuring some of Hungary's historical figures such as Lajos Kossuth, a leader of the Hungarian revolution of 1848. Photos of Koby's line of t-shirts can be found in a recent Funzine.hu article.
The public debate about Hungary's far-right groups and the far-right party Jobbik has become more tense as the 2014 elections approach, set for April 6. On March 15, the national holiday marking the 1848 revolution, a group of citizens dubbed “Vote against Jobbik” held a protest against-far right extremists in Hungary.
“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.
The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative – a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:
Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.
A short video presents the campaign:
With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:
Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[…]
Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[…]
The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.
Bloggers of Átlátszó Oktatás (Transparent Education) sued the largest Hungarian university ELTE's Law Faculty in winter 2012, in order to obtain documents on how state scholarships and bonus payments were distributed by the members of the faculty's student union. Because the university is entirely state-funded, the students demanded through a freedom of information request that the student union make its spending transparent.
The student union didn't reply to the request and the university rejected it. In response to this and with the help of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the student bloggers filed a lawsuit. In October 2013, a court of first instance in Hungary ruled in favor of the student bloggers.
There have never been before any freedom of information case against any student union in Hungary. [They] spend a considerable amount of public money every year, for example the student unions of the faculties of ELTE dispose of around 680 000 euro in a year, and this amount is millions of euros countrywide.