Guest Post

Fear and Loathing in Hungary

There is a recurrent theme in Hungary. People are afraid to resist and voice their discontent of the current political regime. They fear they will get blacklisted by the government, they fear that they (or their loved ones) will lose their jobs, and they fear that the authorities will harass them on bogus charges.

Below are a few examples. Due to the obvious reasons I will also be unspecific when writing about individual cases, to protect people who were afraid to give their names.

Students and young people…

Some young libertarians and classical liberals feel so ostracized that they are afraid to speak about their ideologies in crowded places fearing they would be overheard. I talked with students who actually requested that we speak in a foreign language as to minimize the chance of eavesdropping.

Young people have a lot to lose. A student organization, collecting signatures for an EU-wide petition, was interviewed by a journalist of a major daily newspaper. Most of the activist didn’t dare to give their names as they were afraid they would have problems at the university or they simply won’t find jobs if they were involved even in a remotely political activity.

At another instance, someone with a political aspiration wanted to talk to students about strictly about non-political issues, such as basic economic principles and the need to openly talk about money. Students in their final years organized the talk, then cancelled at the last minute because they were afraid the university won’t let them pass exams because of their activities. The event were held at an external location, but students didn’t dare to turn up.

NGOs are better avoided…

These are unfortunately not standalone instances. Many students and young professionals do not dare to attend events of NGOs, even if the events are about anti-racism, or sports, because NGOs are deemed foreign agents and the enemies of the state, so by attending their events they fear they could lose their jobs. For the same reason many don’t even dare to like content on social media if it is posted by civil organizations, or to follow people connected to them. They fear the government spies on them and they will get on a list.

It is not only young people though. Parents discourage their adult children from attending events, protests, or posting anything critical on social media – out of fear they will be photographed and it will ruin their future, or the parents will lose their jobs.

It is more and more common to hear people hush their voices on the phone when they express their dislike of a policy or the rampant corruption – just as it was during communism.

Anonymous donations – out of fear…

For a while, the media investigated and criticized government, even though journalist were getting fired. The government and the oligarchs have, however, extended their influence over most of the press in Hungary, which now spreads government propaganda, lies, hate campaigns, and Russian propaganda – and it attacks the few remaining critics. They mostly do it on taxpayers’ money.

When the largest opposition daily newspaper was killed off on government orders because of its investigative journalism and uncovering corruption (politicians using taxpayers’ money to feed their luxurious lifestyles), a few people helped the journalists with donations, but they asked to remain anonymous.

The colleagues of the ill-fated newspaper published a booklet containing the writing of famous Hungarian writers on the freedom of the press in Hungary. The expenses of the publication were paid for by an anonymous donation. Not just out of modesty, but also out of fear.

Businesses at the mercy of government prefer to steer clear…

Businessmen and corporations, who support civil society in other countries, don’t want to get on the wrong side of government, because they are its mercy. There is no telling when their business will be ruined by a tax audit, which will certainly find something. Most big businesses can only strive with permission by the government and often by cronyism – such as the oligarchs. Out of these reasons Hungary is at the 134th place out if the 140 countries in the World Giving Index.

Some of the fears are justified

People do lose their jobs for being critical. Teachers, for example, can lose their jobs for privately criticizing the government. Some opposition politicians, whistleblowing businessmen, and critical journalists have died in mysterious circumstances.

It is immaterial whether they were actually killed. What matters is that people think that they were – and it instills fear. For the same reason it doesn’t matter if people would really be fired in great numbers – the looming threat is enough to keep them at bay.

 

As Yoda once said:

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Hungary is a more and more pessimistic country where people live in fear and hatred. So they suffer. “Fear is the path to the dark side” Yoda also said, but he forgot to tell you that it can also lead to inactivity. And inactivity will strengthen the dark side even more.

This was a guest post. Send stories and emails to meanwhileinbudapest (at) mail.com 

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4 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Hungary

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