Hungary has been in the international news lately. The New York Times ran a piece with the headline: As West fears the rise of Autocrats, Hungary shows what’s possible. In it, Patrick Kingsley talks about the eight years of Orbán’s rule:
Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture. He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc. European Union officials did little as Mr. Orban transformed Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy.”
It’s a long and detailed article and well worth a read. I knew things were bad, but I hadn’t realised how bad, embarrassingly bad. There’s no shame at all it would appear.
“A company belonging to the prime minister’s son-in-law was already meeting with mayors about a future public procurement before an E.U. grant was even announced — and then he ended up as the main contractor.”
Across the pond, The Guardian was having similar thoughts. It ran a piece headlined Orbán allies could use EU as cash register, says MEP. Jennifer Rankin talks of how Hungary isn’t the only one getting rich off the back of poor EU control and almost non-existent accountability. But, as is pointed out, none of this is technically illegal.
“Getting public contracts now in Hungary is a matter of friendship and not a matter of merit,” Engel said. While “not technically materially illegal, where else in the European Union would you have a system where public contracts of significant size go to family members of the head of government?”he said. “I don’t think that happens anywhere else.”
Is Hungary going to become an example for other countries in the region?
Strangely though, these dire accounts of what’s going on here didn’t bother me nearly as much as reports last week of the mayor in the village of Gödre advertising the local töpörtyű és forralt bor fesztivál as being migránsmentes (migrant free). I read it on an English-language site and immediately thought: Fake News! Has to be. I asked some Hungarian friends to do my due diligence for me and scan the Hungarian-language press to make sure it wasn’t some sort of early April Fool’s joke. But no. It was real alright. Shamefully real. And the justification?
“Firstly, let’s make it clear: the term has only come up regarding our pork greaves [crackling] event, not any other events. I don’t think I need to explain why we can call it – jokingly – migrant-free. And guess what, we have achieved our goal! Hopefully, we have managed to pique the interest of many, that was exactly the point of promoting the event. Please don’t see politics or provocation into this, because the event is not about that! It is, however, about building a community, keeping gastronomical traditions alive, as well as fostering personal relationships!”
I’m all for building communities and keeping traditions alive. I’d even go as far as giving the nod to fostering personal relationships – but to exclude migrants? I’m a migrant – an economic refugee from a country I can’t afford to live in. I know plenty of others like me. Does the migrant-free banner include me?
I asked around – just to see – and guess what? Apparently I’m okay. I might be a migrant, but I’m not a Muslim. There but for the grace of God, eh?
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just me. I know I was cursed with a hair too much consideration for others to the point I’m borderline obsessive about making sure that, for instance, the neighbour lady living below me isn’t kept awake because I fancy doing dishes after 10pm (her bedroom is beneath my kitchen) or letting the chap behind me in the checkout queue with only five items can go ahead of me because I have a trolleyload and he shouldn’t have to pay for my extravagance with his time or offering my seat on the bus to anyone who looks 10 years older than me. But maybe I’m just supersensitive. Maybe when they tell me that I’m okay because I’m not Muslim, they’re joking. Maybe they don’t really mean it. Maybe they’re only saying it to get a rise out of me. Like the Mayor of Gödre, this migrant-free thing might be one massive joke that no one takes seriously. Except me. Have I lost my sense of humour?
Yet I remember my boss in Alaska and his near constant refrain when it came to such matters: If no one is laughin’, then maybe it ain’t that funny.