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Jun 01, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Let me show you what the “climate of fear” in Hungary really looks like

So, this week The Telegraph published – in the news section, not the opinion column – an article about Hungary entitled, “A ‘climate of fear’, which refers to our country as a “dying democracy propped up by the EU.”

Thank you, Peter Foster, for this week’s installment of the journalism lite coverage of Hungary. Foster, who refers to Viktor Orbán as our “pugnacious prime minister” – how’s that for objective news reporting? – describes Hungary as a country where people live in a “climate of fear”. This is a “dying democracy” where there’s no level playing field. 

Let’s take a closer look at this “dying democracy” where people live in a “climate of fear.”

Since 2010, the number of marriages increased by a striking 43 percent in Hungary. In the same period, the number of divorces fell from 24 thousand to 18 thousand. The employment rate of women has hit an all-time high, while the number of abortions dropped by nearly a third. The fertility rate stands at only 1.49 – too low – but that’s up from 1.25 in 2010 and rising.

That reflects optimism and confidence. That’s not the kind of behavior typical of a population living in a “climate of fear”.

And no wonder. Hungary’s GDP growth leads the EU. Unemployment has reached historic lows. Interest rates remain low, and real wages are growing.

The Orbán Government detractors – the kind of sources that Foster relies on – like to claim that people are leaving in droves. Today, in fact, Hungarians are returning to Hungary. Following the 2008 financial crisis and an era in Hungary of high unemployment and low real-wages relative to western European labor markets, the brain drain is turning around. Statistics show that the upward trend in emigration of Hungarian citizens ended in 2015 and the number returning is now far outpacing those leaving.

In this climate of fear, Hungarians are so afraid that they’re coming back.

The Orbán Government, Foster learns from his sources, controls the media. Here’s what they didn’t tell him:

The biggest audience share on television by far belongs to RTL Klub – and 71 percent of Hungarians get their info from television. RTL Klub is clearly not government propaganda. Week after week, at least four out of the top five TV programs belong to RTL Klub.

Some 35 percent of Hungarians get their news and information from the Internet. Who has the biggest online audience? Index.hu, a news platform staunchly critical of the Orbán Government that is also the most popular Hungarian site on the Internet. Among the top 100 Hungarian websites, according to the DKT council that measures audience share, media that could be considered sympathetic to the government garner approximately 1.7 million pageviews daily. Online, liberal media critical of the government pull in 3.5 million per day – more than double. The free press is clearly under siege.

Last Sunday, we held elections for the European Parliament. Voter turnout in this “dying democracy” was 43.36 percent, the highest we’ve ever had for an EP election. That’s up from 29 percent in Hungary the last time around and compares to a voter turnout in the UK that was only 36.9 percent. An opposition party barely two years old took nearly ten percent of the Hungarian vote, which is weird in a dying democracy. Just sayin’.

We’ve seen literally hundreds of articles like this since the Orbán Government won a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010 in a landslide victory of historical proportions: a foreign journalist comes to Hungary and, enlisting a local fixer who is a staunchly liberal critic of this conservative government and who arranges their interviews and serves as their translator, rely almost entirely on leftist, liberal sources. The result is sensationally readable, but utterly devoid of balance, ignorant of facts, and not something we could call journalism.