Democracy Digest: Polish-Czech Feud Disturbs Orban’s Populist Bromance


Hungary opposition primaries allegedly hacked; FIFA levies punishment for racism

Outside of the population conference, Hungarian politics this week featured the beginning of the opposition primaries to elect their joint prime ministerial candidate for next April’s general election. It was not a smooth start. The system where voters were supposed to register and vote went dead in the early hours of Saturday and the voting had to be suspended until Monday, when it was resumed with a completely new IT platform.

What might seem an embarrassing incident for the opposition could in fact have been the work of hackers. Opposition politicians inevitably blamed the government for the attack, which they charged was launched from several Chinese IP addresses.

Gergely Karacsony, mayor of Budapest and one of the primary favourites, wrote on Facebook: “There seems to be some people who want to prevent us from exercising our democratic right: there are many signs that the system has been attacked from the outside… The vote will continue on Monday morning, perhaps even more resolutely, and the fact remains – change has begun, the primaries are the beginning of a change in government.”

The opposition later issued a joint statement saying they are repairing the system and would not be deterred. “The offensive of those in the Carmelite monastery [Orban’s office in the Castle] can only suspend the work for a while, but we will continue with renewed vigour. Let them understand our message: Stop, Orban!”

But not everybody was convinced. Government-allied media believe that blaming the government is just a PR tactic; there is no evidence of Fidesz’s involvement. They also quoted Gergely Tomanovics, an IT specialist who previously hacked Orban’s online National Consultation – himself not a Fidesz-fan – who called it pathetic that the opposition immediately pointed a finger at the government rather than assume responsibility for what could just as well be a lack of proper precautions taken to defend their site from outside attacks. “The least we would expect from a change of government is that finally there should be people held accountable if things go awry,” he was quoted as saying.

The opposition parties have extended the voting time to mid-next week amid greater-than-anticipated public interest in the primaries. For the position of prime ministerial candidate, a second round of voting is planned for October 4-10.

On the eve of the highly controversial Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit – with an A-list of pro-life and anti-LGBT speakers – some comments from Minister of Family Affairs Katalin Novak went viral and caused a stir.

Novak said she does not think it realistic to continue linking teachers’ salaries to the rising minimum wage. The salaries of Hungarian teachers are still indexed to the 2014 minimum wage of 101,000 forints (284 euros), but the government is currently discussing doubling the minimum wage to 200,000 forints to help tackle the labour shortage in a variety of sectors.

Yet, apparently, teachers won’t benefit from this rise. Young teachers with a college or university degree earn an average of 230,000 forints (648 euros) gross, slightly above the non-qualified minimum wage, which is barely enough to survive on especially if they have to pay rent. If calculated on the basis of the current minimum wage – 160,000 forints (450 euros) – teachers would earn at least an extra 70,000-200,000 (197-563 euros) depending on experience, experts say.

Novak’s somewhat unfortunate remarks triggered a huge debate, inside and outside the government, whether a pay rise should be put on the agenda before next year’s election.

Teacher pay is notoriously low in Hungary and some schools – especially in poorer districts – are already struggling with a shortage of maths, physics and science teachers. Teaching unions have been ringing the bell for years, warning that without serious financial incentives – a raise of at least 30-40 per cent – fewer and fewer young people will choose the profession, which would have a catastrophic effect on the education system.

Elsewhere, Hungary was ordered to play its next FIFA World Cup qualifier behind closed doors after racism from some supporters during the last game against England. The national team will now have to play its match against Albania next month with no fans in attendance. Hungary was also fined 200,000 Swiss francs (184,700 euros) by FIFA, one of the largest financial penalties ever handed out.

Hungary had already been ordered by UEFA, Europe’s governing body, to play its next two or three home games behind closed doors after discriminatory behaviour by home fans at the Euro 2020 Championships over the summer, but the ban had not yet been implemented by the time England came to visit.

Hungary’s football federation MLSZ – headed by Sandor Csanyi, CEO of Hungary’s biggest bank OTP and a close associate of Prime Minister Orban – wrote that the penalties are counterproductive and unfair, and it may appeal the decision.

“MLSZ still believes that punishing a crowd which creates a good atmosphere in a 60,000-capacity stadium and the organising association, which implements all reasonable measures, is not a fair move, and is instead counterproductive. The need to take action against racism is acknowledged and supported by the MLSZ, but it is also clear that the disciplinary rules and decisions of UEFA and FIFA do not penalise the real perpetrators and are not effective in their current form,” the organisation wrote in a statement.

The Hungarian government has generally tried to play down the instances of racism and engaged in whataboutery to defend the fans. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted to the criticism of the racist attacks on England players during the qualifier on September 2 (won 4-0 by the UK) – monkey chants were directed at Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham – by sending a video to the British government of this year’s World Cup Final in London’s Wembley Stadium of how the Italian national anthem could not be heard over the whistling of the England fans. Only later did Szijjarto admit that there was racism exhibited by some fans in Budapest.


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