It’s that time of the year again: The three + one most ridiculous storylines about Hungary in 2022

It has become a sort of New Year’s Eve tradition. Calling out the mainstream media for their silliness. With a war raging on our eastern borders, and an energy crisis aggravated by Brussels’ failed sanctions, along with increased migration pressure from the south, this year, unfortunately, has brought us some extraordinary news stories, and the international media served up some exceptionally unprofessional, sloppy reporting about Hungary in 2022. Let’s take a look at the 3+1 most ridiculous stories published this year:

1. Hungary’s opposition united and selected an exciting candidate and they still lost, so Hungary’s elections must be rigged!

2022 was a year of general elections in Hungary, and PM Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP alliance won a fourth consecutive two-thirds mandate in parliament with the highest number of votes any party has ever received in Hungary’s post-communist democratic history.

That came as a surprise to some who were openly rooting for a motley alliance of opposition parties ranging from former communists to the far-right. The media ignored the fact that the leftists and liberals had teamed up with the far-right. And when their candidate had a habit of making some rather offensive remarks – jokes about blacks and flippant remarks about the number of Jews in the ruling party – the mainstream media remained silent. So with such great candidates and parties, how could they have possibly lost? It must have been rigged!

While the expectation of international, left-liberal circles was that the army of election observers present in Hungary on election day, headed by OSCE, would find grave violations of democratic freedoms and election rules, in reality something radically different happened.

The joint observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) concluded in a statement that they found Hungary’s 2022 parliamentary elections to have offered voters “distinct alternatives” and “were well administered.”

While it’s refreshing to read that our election system, long criticized by our friends among mainstream media and NGO groups, “provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections,” that’s exactly what we’ve been saying all along.

Remember our first reaction to the news about the sizable OSCE observation mission? We said we’d welcome them with open arms. And that’s what we did.

The fact that OSCE experts take issue with “the absence of a level playing field,” media bias and “an opacity of campaign funding” can be considered business as usual. We couldn’t have possibly expected them to go down without putting up at least a little fight.

With a small army of observers, surely the OSCE had a keen grasp of the electoral environment in Hungary.  Or maybe they were looking in the wrong place?

2. Liberal media ignores Hungary’s biggest campaign financing fraud to date

The next story on my list is actually not one that got ridiculous coverage, but one that got completely ignored by international media, particularly considering its gravity.

The story is twofold.

A few days before the April 3 elections, an investigation revealed that the colorful post-communist-far-right coalition ordered nearly one million text messages through an Austrian company linked to former PM Gordon Bajnai, which were sent to voters without any respect for the recipient’s political affiliation or consent. All of this was carried out through illicitly obtaining personal data and abusing it for political purposes, which is a major violation of Hungarian campaign regulations and an egregious breach of the EU’s general data protection regulation, or GDPR.

The response from the OSCE-led observation mission? Crickets. But wait, there’s more.

Months later, in late November, an intelligence report prepared by Hungarian secret services revealed HUF 3 billion (EUR 7.3 million) in illicit foreign funding behind the election campaign of Hungary’s opposition.

The thing is that, before the elections, Hungary’s liberal-far-right coalition kept awfully quiet about foreign money, and later even denied that they were ever linked to foreign backers. Once it was revealed that the opposition had in fact received foreign money, they tried to cover up half of it.

To be clear: In Hungary, as in many countries, the law on the operation and financial management of political parties prohibits parties from accepting financial contributions from foreign organizations and non-Hungarian citizens, and also prohibits anonymous donations.

Could the OSCE or the army of other election observers be bothered to comment? You guessed it.

The same week the story broke, Human Rights Watch published a report about the illicit use of personal data in political campaigns. As I was reading through the report, I was honestly looking forward to a mention of the opposition campaign financing fraud, but…somehow in the eyes of HRW it did not merit mention

3. Fake news about Hungary’s position on the war in Ukraine

In early March, just a week after Russia attacked Ukraine in an act of aggression, the first fake news reports appeared in international media trying to desperately paint us, Hungarians, once again, as the bad guys.

In what could be best described as an endless flow of fake news reports, certain international media outlets have been spreading lies about Hungary: about our handling of refugees coming from Ukraine, our stance on sanctions against Russia, and our policy on prohibiting the transit of weapons through Hungary.

Some outlets even published reports on a referendum allegedly organized by ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia to, wait for it, join Hungary. It goes without saying that this is pure nonsense.

A couple of days later, German state media ZDF - I cannot stress this enough: this is financed from German taxpayers’ money – published reports claiming to have encountered certain cases where individuals fleeing Ukraine without a biometric passport had been denied entry to Hungary’s territory at the Hungary-Romania border.

According to the rules and policies in force at the time, such a situation simply could not have occurred. Here’s why.

All third-country nationals who fulfill the Schengen entry conditions may enter Hungary from Romania. In addition, entry will not be refused to Ukrainian nationals and third-country nationals who can prove that they were legally present on the territory of Ukraine at the time of the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

At the Romania-Hungary border, third-country nationals are NOT required to hold a biometric passport to enter Hungary. According to Government Decree 56/2022 (24.2.22), persons fleeing from Ukraine, including via Romania, may enter with any document or even without a document, while persons wishing to enter for other purposes are subject to the Schengen Borders Code.

This is not the first time that ZDF or other German broadcasters made it to the year-end review of most ridiculous stories. Remember when ZDF compared the Hungarian prime minister to fictional, cannibal, serial killer Hannibal Lecter? Or when the same “funnyman,” Oliver Welke, called PM Orbán an “idiot” and proposed to set up an EU “without the stupid Hungarians and Poles”?

If only we had one year when hard-earned German cash were to be spent elsewhere instead of beating up anti-Hungary sentiment…

In May, BBC’s HARDtalk sank to similar depths when they tried to claim that we do not support Ukraine’s right to defend its territory.

+1 MSNBC goes dumpster diving

This one’s my personal, er, favorite.

While you should know that I read a lot of terrible journalism about Hungary, there are some gems every year that are just trash. In a blog post entitled “CPAC Hungary is a brazen embrace of white nationalist authoritarianism,” blogger Ja’han Jones at MSNBC filed one from the dumpster.

In eight short paragraphs, Jones calls Hungary and the Orbán Government “white nationalist,” “white supremacist,” “fascist-friendly” and “proto-fascist” not once, not twice, but a total of six times. He then claims that Hungary “bears only a slight resemblance to democracy,” and that our country is “one of the most repressive right-wing countries in the world.”

Clearly, this, uh, journalist has never set foot in Hungary and doesn’t know anything about his subject. But why should that stop him?

Firstly, “white nationalism” and “white supremacy,” thankfully, are not issues in Hungarian political discourse. Bringing these otherwise very dangerous, twisted ideologies into a conversation about Hungary makes a fool of the author.

Secondly, on Hungary’s “slight resemblance to democracy,” we consistently have higher voter turnout here than in many western democracies, have multiple parties seated in the National Assembly, and, unlike in some great democracies, Hungarian voters respect the outcome of our elections.

Really this rubbish isn’t worth the time, other than to call my readers’ attention to the fact that this kind of thing actually gets written. And it’s published by media organizations – in this case, MSNBC – that claim to be professional, respectable sources of news.

Here's to a better year in 2023, one where international journalists finally check their facts, refrain from politically motivated and biased journalism. If not, let’s at least hope that 2023 brings peace to Europe.