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Sep 29, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

Here’s my response that Der Tagesspiegel refused to print

No one should be surprised at the factually flawed and sadly biased nature of the debate surrounding Hungary when “journalists” like this simply refuse to even listen to the other side.

 

In an article published last week in German daily Der Tagesspiegel entitled “Why nationalism doesn’t help against the pandemic,” Judith Langowski and Jonas Bickelmann claim that instead of organizing an effective defense against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Orbán and his government are using the virus to achieve ideological goals.

I asked for an opportunity to respond but was refused with the reply that “It will not be possible at this time, neither in the online, nor the print edition.” Langowski did also write that she would “gladly” talk to me the next time they cover the topic. How generous!

In their most recent piece, the authors recall that in late March, the Hungarian Parliament passed a piece of legislation, the so-called “Coronavirus Protection Act,” that allowed the government to “issue decrees indefinitely”; and while this law had already been lifted by the end of June, Tagesspiegel notes that it could be reintroduced “very easily.”

But there’s really no need to get into the details; we all know what these critics are trying to say: Instead of saving human lives, PM Orbán’s government allegedly harnessed the pandemic for political gains. This is not just overly biased, but also completely wrong.

Here are the facts:

This past spring, numerous mainstream, liberal news outlets were sounding the alarm over the “erosion of [Hungarian] democracy” (The Independent) and claiming that PM Viktor Orbán would supposedly “rule by decree, alone and unchallenged” (The Guardian).

These fears, however, were proven to be groundless.

Contrary to what these biased sources would have had you believe, the Hungarian government never received “unlimited powers.” The special powers the government did receive could be exercised only to prevent, treat, eradicate and remedy the harmful effects of the coronavirus. Similarly, the extraordinary measures were never intended to last “indefinitely”; they were meant to expire with the threat or be lifted by the National Assembly. And this is exactly what happened at the end of May, when the government proposed to hand back the extraordinary powers it had received under the state of emergency, which had been put into effect solely to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, we know that the Coronavirus Protection Act has, in fact, served the country well. It enabled the government to take swift action, closing borders, enacting movement restrictions, and equipping our national healthcare system and healthcare providers with the equipment necessary to treat all those who required care — all of which served to slow down the spread of the disease. Thanks to this legislative package, with 39.04 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants by early June, Hungary ranked among the top performers in Europe in terms of managing the pandemic. As Prime Minister Orbán has recently said on several occasions: In managing the first wave of the epidemic, Hungary scored among the top 20-25 countries globally.

Yes, it may be true that the number of active coronavirus cases and, sadly, the number of deaths have been climbing during the last few weeks in Hungary, but this is not due to any “populist strategy.” In fact, in a national consultation survey that ended on August 31, we collected the views of more than 1.7 million Hungarians. Based on this vast data, the Hungarian government concluded that while the defense against the coronavirus is a top priority for our citizens, we must simultaneously keep the country functioning.

This is why, in the middle of the second wave, we cannot adopt the same, strict restrictions that proved so successful during the first wave of the crisis. But don’t worry, Hungary will be fine. We have a war plan in place for managing the second wave of the crisis and our healthcare system has been properly prepared. We have all the necessary equipment, hospital beds, ventilators and healthcare professionals we need.

In Prime Minister Orbán’s own words: “Together we will succeed in defeating the second wave of the pandemic.”