Human Rights in the 21st Century

The State of Human Rights and Democratic Backsliding in Hungary: A Brief Summary of Recent Developments

Author: Erik Uszkiewicz

This paper examines the situation of human rights and democratic backsliding in Hungary and outlines the main shortcomings. Starting with the situation of the democratic public sphere, through a series of vicious attacks on academic freedom, to the deteriorating situation of minorities, the essay briefly provides
an overview of the recent developments. The topics were chosen for their relevance, and importance to international public opinion and the institutions of the European Union. The study makes recommendations for the future, which could serve as an orientation point for the executive power.



In Hungary, the democratic backsliding is well-documented, and European and other international institutions and democratic governments are well aware of the seriousness of the situation. Hungary can be seen as a laboratory of illiberal democracy and the creator of a new type of illiberal political regime within the European Union, and recently worrisome signals have been arriving from other Member States (MSs) as well. Consequently, democratic- and rule of law backsliding is thus on the rise in the EU and there is no guarantee that among others Hungary would not be joined by other MSs failing to adhere to the values of Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU). The international community must do everything it can to prevent these negative tendencies. Problems related to the judiciary system, lack of transparency and high level of corruption, attacks against independent institutions and bodies, other institutional issues related to checks and balances, and extreme media concentration are just some of the problematic phenomena in Hungary. The state of minorities and vulnerable groups and attacks against academic freedom, the arts and civil society organisations are seen by many as further deterioration of the common democratic values and principles. Moreover, during the past couple of years, illiberal and populist waves have emerged and become dominant in the country with their political and ideological narratives. Social turbulence, political tensions and everyday uncertainties are side effects of the Orbán regime. (Hegedűs, Nagy, Uszkiewicz, 2020) As a result of the systematic and serious breaches of democratic values and human rights in Hungary, and building on the previous Tavares and Sargentini reports, the European Parliament adopted a resolution for the very first time in the history of the European Union that Hungary has become an “electoral autocracy” and can no longer be considered a full democracy. (European Parliament, 2022)

In this chapter, the author elaborates on the major developments. It would be beyond the scope of this chapter to cover all relevant human rights and fundamental freedoms issues and to review developments after 2010, so here the author only briefly summarizes the most important developments of the past couple of years. The human rights aspects selected in this chapter are all those that have provoked greater international media interest, attracted international attention due to their significance or even their outrageous and shameful nature, or activated international human rights mechanisms.

The battle against media freedom and resistance against this phenomenon


One of the first measures of the Fidesz government which came into power in 2010 was to adopt a new media law, Act CLXXXV of 2010 on Media Services and Mass Media. This legislative piece provoked profound changes in the Hungarian media landscape. “After 2010, the dominant instruments of Hungarian media policy were the structural state interventions aimed at permanently instrumentalising a significant part of the media system for the ruling parties. During the 2010s, the Hungarian media landscape underwent a dramatic transformation.” (Polyák, Urbán, Szávai, 2022) Since then, structural problems of the Hungarian media system have been well-known and documented. Extreme ownership concentration, the distorted media market, captured media, concentrated state advertising, state propaganda, strongly polarized journalism and a low level of trust in the media are the most significant problematic phenomena. Hungary falls significantly behind in free media indexes: according to the latest Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, the country ranked 85th with one of the worst results in the European Union. (RSF, 2022) The following is only a sketch of some of these important phenomena, and the sources and references mentioned may provide a basis for more in-depth knowledge and further study.


Extreme media concentration

Foreign investors stepped into the Hungarian market in the 1990s. In turn, one after another left the country and government-friendly Hungarian oligarchs—first Lajos Simicska and later Lőrinc Mészáros—became the biggest media owners. Media ownership concentration intensified in 2018 with the establishment of the Central and Eastern European Media Foundation (KESMA), when most media owners related to the ruling Fidesz party transferred the ownership rights of their media holdings to KESMA without any type of compensation to the owners. Although almost 500 media outlets belong to this conglomerate, a government decree qualified this business transaction as a “merger of strategic importance at a national level” as such exempting it from any review by the National Competition Authority. The legality of this decision was reinforced later by the Hungarian Constitutional Court (, 2020). With the creation of KESMA, the media ownership concentration in Hungary has grown significantly (Bátorfy, 2019).

Next to the national public broadcaster, which clearly serves the interests of the Government, a significant part of the commercial media channels is also in pro-government hands. Furthermore, this extreme media concentration is financially subsidized by the state: “the state has become the largest advertiser, its advertising campaigns are disseminated almost exclusively through media companies with ties to the governing party” (Bátorfy, Urbán, 2020). Consequently, this distortion of the impact of state advertising has emerged as one of the most significant problems in the Hungarian media. Another embarrassing sign is that as the Hungarian Postal Services has ceased home delivery of daily newspapers, KESMA has become the one and only delivery chain even for government- critical outlets, which means that critical newspapers are obliged to create an agreement with this ruling-party-friendly conglomerate on the distribution of their products.


Party-driven media authority

The National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) and the Media Council are the two major bodies related to the supervision of the Hungarian media landscape and regulation. The independence and the functioning of the media authority were questioned by the European Commission in its annual Rule of Law Report, which stated: “Whilst the Media Authority has adequate resources, the independence and effectiveness of the Media Council is at risk. The Media Council is composed of a President and four members elected by Parliament. The rules on nomination are designed to favour political consensus in the appointment of the members of the Media Council. The 2020 Media Pluralism Monitor points to the fact that in practice these rules have not prevented the governing party from nominating all five members of the Media Council. The Monitor registers medium risk (53%) in terms of the independence and effectiveness of the Media Council.” (European Commission, 2020). This Media Council has a considerable role in building up a highly concentrated media market, mostly in two ways: firstly, the Media Council approved all mergers in the Hungarian media in the interest of Fidesz-affiliated businessmen, mostly without any reasoning and secondly, serving the interests of Fidesz-near radio networks at the local radio market level, resulting in a highly concentrated, monopolistic national commercial radio station network. The muting of Klubrádió (a Hungarian critical talk radio station) is another well-known example in the European arena.


Public service media

As has been evidenced, in Hungary, public service media has become the primary tool of state-controlled propaganda (Máris et al., 2017, Szabolcsi, 2021) and is heavily biased towards the governing party. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty dedicated a series of articles to these biased editorial practices using leaked audio recordings and other testimonies. Among other instructions, there was, for example, “material that shows reporters were instructed to take a critical stance in reporting on migrants, LGBT issues, climate change, and other issues”, and the word refugee was banned. Furthermore, there was a clear expectation to support the Government and discredit the opposition when a senior MTVA editor stated: “I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that it is not the opposition’s list that enjoys the support of this institution.” (Keller-Alant, 2020).

Beyond the fact that the public broadcaster has become one of the main propaganda tools in the hands of the Government, it has also become the main platform for spreading fake news and Russian propaganda. “Hungary is one of the few Member States where disinformation is very prevalent, but it cannot be attributed to external interference. The reason for this is that Russian propaganda is taken over by the domestic mainstream media, including the public service media, and featured as organic content. […] While Russian influence is notable in Hungary, the main disseminator of fake news is the government-friendly media, with the aim of gaining popular support and discrediting opposition parties. […] Hungary shows interiorisation of the Russian strategic communication into its captured media landscape, and governmental disinformation is strategically used to further domestic political aims.” (Bayer et al., 2021)

The state media is also a Kremlin Trojan horse with its pro-Russian and anti- EU narratives: its reportages often portray the EU and NATO as indecisive organizations, torn apart by internal ideological tensions and disagreements, the declining West is nothing but a hopeless and unpromising loss, captured by ‘liberal’ forces. On the contrary, pro-Russian messages are frequently broadcast that have been displayed since the beginning of the unprovoked and unjustified Russian war on Ukraine. Kremlin-friendly pseudo-experts, denouncers of Russian propaganda in Hungary and representatives of media serving Russian interests are often featured on state media programmes as genuine and expert analysts. (Chatterjee, Krekó, 2020). One of the frequently appearing experts “George Spöttle made the following astounding comments […] The last time we saw such madness [civils can get a gun] was in the final days of World War II when Hitler used the Volkssturm…” (Urbán, 2022)


Is it half empty or half full?

Unfortunate events have led to a positive example: in this distorted media environment, we can observe signs of solidarity, hope and professionalism. The entire editorial team of market leader and benchmark online newspaper resigned in 2021 due to changes in the ownership structure behind the portal. The reason for the collective resignation was that since the changes in the ownership structure, members of the editorial team have not seen guarantees for independent and quality journalism. The former full editorial staff of the left the online portal and established a new news portal under the name, exercising their own ownership rights. Launched with the help of micro-financing and international donors, it is now a leading player in its market segment, a credible and reliable news source and one of DW’s Hungarian partners.

Academic freedom


The situation of academic freedom in Hungary has had a challenging time lately. Several aspects prove that researchers and lecturers have not been free in expressing their thoughts, scientific results and opinions due to fear of repression or retaliation. However, academic freedom is a human right and serves as a basis for social development and justice.

According to the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) as cited by the Venice Commission, academic freedom requires, among others, the following: “[t]he enjoyment of academic freedom requires the autonomy of institutions of higher education. Autonomy is that degree of self-governance necessary for effective decision- making by institutions of higher education in relation to their academic work, standards, management and related activities. Self-governance, however, must be consistent with systems of public accountability, especially in respect of funding provided by the State. Given the substantial public investments made in higher education, an appropriate balance has to be struck between institutional autonomy and accountability”. (Venice Commission, 2021)

The Hungarian Government has been more or less hostile towards academic activities, especially toward those that have had unfavourable reasoning or opinion about certain activities of the Government. This phenomenon also includes self- censorship, and actors in the academic sphere do not feel free to express their thoughts or publish their scientific results, which is a serious problem to address. It is known already in the media and journalism, but it has a spillover effect in scientific circles too. (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, 2015) It is especially important in the field of social sciences because researchers in that field often publish their findings, recommendations and opinions on public processes, political activities and civil initiatives. In an illiberal and authoritarian state, this is unacceptable and several cases of retaliation have happened lately. (Fleck, Kovács, Körtvélyesi, Mészáros, Polyák, Sólyom, 2022) A notable case in the field of academic freedom was the banning of gender studies in the late 2010s. The Government launched a campaign against gender studies claiming that the subject is “too liberal” and serves no purpose in society. It was linked to the political will of the Government to discredit social scientists who deal with this issue in academic papers as well as to the case of the Central European University (CEU, discussed later in detail). The ban on gender studies was unquestionable in the case of Hungarian universities, but the US-accredited CEU could have launched academic programmes in this field freely and this was also something that was under attack at that time. (Gall, 2018) The case of gender was further escalated in the ninth amendment to the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which included issues of marriage and family, including sexual orientation, gender identity and the raising of children (Articles 1 and 3) – as for the Venice Commission’s report. (Venice Commission, 2021). The ninth amendment also stated that “Hungary shall protect the right of children to a self-identity corresponding to their sex at birth.” The Venice Commission argued that the amendment is not compatible with international human rights standards because “all individuals have a ‘right to a self-identity’ based not only on their ‘sex at birth’ (as the amendment suggests) but also on the basis of their ‘gender,’ the socially constructed characteristics and roles for women and men.” (Venice Commission, 2021) Therefore, it is obvious that the Hungarian Government has had a mission not just to ban but fully erase the concept of gender from society and, more importantly, from the academic sphere.

The case of the CEU has been widely discussed and debated since 2017, and it was one of the most serious breaches of academic freedom in Hungary. In spring 2017, the modification of Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education was passed by the Parliament and signed into law. It was a direct attack specifically against CEU and its operation in Hungary, and it was therefore referred to thereafter as “Lex CEU”. (CEU, 2021) The Venice Commission issued a lengthy opinion about the state of “national tertiary education” and the modified act that governs it. Taking into account the international fundamental rights standards and rule of law principles, the Commission concluded that “the law introduces stringent requirements for existing foreign institutions of higher education already operating in Hungary for many years.” (Venice Commission, 2017) The opinion also noted that a more inclusive and transparent legislative procedure with consultations of the concerned parties would have been beneficial. In February 2018, the European Commission sued Hungary over Lex CEU at the European Court of Justice. After months of direct talks, and negotiations in Budapest and New York, at the end of 2018 CEU was forced out of Budapest and in the spring of 2019, it announced the opening of its new headquarters in Vienna. (CEU, 2021) In an especially hostile move towards CEU, in 2018, after meeting all the requirements of the new higher education act (Lex CEU), the Hungarian Government simply did not sign the contract with CEU about the renewal of its accreditation. (Gall, 2019a) In September 2020, the first academic year opened in Vienna, followed by a “landmark judgement” by the European Court of Justice in October, which stated that Lex CEU “violates Hungary’s commitments under the WTO, and infringes the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union relating to academic freedom.” (CEU, 2020) President and Rector Michael Ignatieff claimed: “Each one of us should take pride in what we have achieved, not just for ourselves, but for the cause of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in Europe.” (CEU, 2020) Interestingly, Lex CEU was also one of the several cases when Prime Minister Orbán ran the risk of losing his party’s membership in the European People’s Party (EPP). Party leader Manfred Weber insisted that the Hungarian Government let CEU continue functioning in Budapest. (Zalan, 2018)

Another major attack on academic freedom was the case of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and its research network. The autonomy and independence of scientific research were annulled and the majority of funds (EUR 88 million of a total of EUR 124 million) was transferred directly to the Government (Ministry of Innovation and Technology – ITM). (Karáth, 2018) As part of its reasoning the Government cited the way that innovation and science policy could operate under common supervision, which could end the fragmentation of research budgets. The Eötvös Loránd Kutatási Hálózat (ELKH), which includes 15 research institutes (with 150 research groups comprising about 3000 scientific researchers) of the MTA, became the new “common supervision body”. The ELKH has a governing board appointed by the Prime Minister and has the power to decide about grants, funding and the appointment of directors to research institutes. It is merely another way for the Government to interfere with scientific projects and curtail the autonomy and independence of the MTA. (Gall, 2019b) The threat of “ideological filtering” was obvious with this move and political influence has been on the rise since then. (Fleck, Kovács, Körtvélyesi, Mészáros, Polyák, Sólyom, 2022) Then later, in February 2019, protests were organized when the ITM issued grant calls by means of funds transferred from the MTA and in this way, the funds became subject to the direct control of the ministry. Moreover, the call for proposals was not meant for the research network of the MTA, but beyond that, it was open to universities and government-run research institutes across Hungary. This move caused outrage, since the deadline was too close (within some weeks) and the ITM did not make public the evaluation and selection criteria. (Abbott, 2019) It is notable that academics at that time were quite worried that young talents in the academic sphere would pursue their career elsewhere – abroad and/or in other spheres. Nature magazine contacted some of these younger researchers, but they gave only anonymous interviews from fear of losing their career progress. Nevertheless, the MTA was widely supported by different actors and society, especially by CEU, which announced its move to Vienna exactly at that time. (Abbott, 2019)

Not only have there been problematic cases with the MTA and CEU, but also with state-owned public universities. Even in 2011, the then modified higher education act gave the Government the power to appoint rectors to universities, which resulted in a notable case at the University of Debrecen where in 2013 a new rector was appointed contrary to the two-thirds majority for an alternative candidate in the university senate. In 2019, the process of transforming state-owned public universities into private entities started. First, the prestigious Corvinus University of Budapest became a private-funded institute which was followed by leading public universities (University of Szeged, University of Debrecen, and the University of Pécs at the beginning of 2021. (Fleck, Kovács, Körtvélyesi, Mészáros, Polyák, Sólyom, 2022) The process was called “model change” and in that way, universities were given just a few weeks to decide whether they wanted to become a private university (that is to become a private university controlled by a public foundation). It was not explicitly stated, but the message was obvious: accepting the offer would result in gains, while refusing it would result in negative consequences. All the universities decided to accept the offer. (Fleck, Kovács, Körtvélyesi, Mészáros, Polyák, Sólyom, 2022) The Venice Commission also dealt with the situation of public universities in Hungary. During their hearings, the Hungarian authorities “described the board of trustees as an organ initially composed of persons appointed by the government”. The Commission expressed concerns over the political dependence of these organs and the possible interference in the management of the university as well as “the lack of criteria and safeguards for the nomination of the trustees (no rules on conflict of interest, no incompatibility with public functions or political affiliation, etc.). Furthermore, they stressed that the newly installed boards of trustees would be outside the scope of democratic oversight. […] The submission of public universities to the management of a board of trustees, initially appointed by the government and subsequently released from democratic supervision, risks threatening their academic freedom and weakening their autonomy.” (Venice Commission, 2021)

There was one particular case among the universities that went through the above-mentioned “model change”. The whole community at the University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE), including teachers, lecturers, professors, students and even the alumni community protested for weeks against the transformation. In August 2020, the entire SZFE management resigned after the Government appointed a board to the institution. The Government and its loyalists argued that it was high “time for a shift in culture towards conservative values to end what they call the domination of the arts in Hungary by liberals and left-wingers.” (Reuters, 2020) Protests and demonstrations for the autonomy of the university launched a bottom-up initiative, called freeSZFE, that was initially led by SZFE students, but was later joined by professors, university staff and alumni. Participants then occupied the university and blocked its entrance. The new board of trustees (led by Attila Vidnyánszky, an ideological friend of Orbán who is the director of the National Theatre and the Government-friendly Hungarian Theatre Society) thus could not enter the university building. The board of trustees consisted of persons close to the Government and exclusively selected on an ideological basis. (Frenyó, 2020) The support was widescale, with even Hollywood celebrities showing support with the hashtag #freeSZFE on their hands. It is important that the university community at the SZFE wanted reform too, but without the unacceptable ideological pressure from Attila Vidnyánszky, who declared that he wished to transform the education to be based on “national and Christian” values. The students protested tirelessly and also represented a new generation that very much insists on its freedom and rights. (Frenyó, 2020) Contrary to all these efforts, the “model change” at the University of Theatre and Film Arts was successfully implemented; however, the freeSZFE movement still functions, providing courses as an alternative university.

It is now clear that academic freedom in Hungary has been and is under direct and severe attack by the Government of Viktor Orbán and in that way, Hungary has been systematically tearing down this human right.

State of minorities


The Government’s attacks have been targeting several people, organisations, and groups, including some minorities. Problems have arisen in connection with traditionally marginalised groups, like the Romani community or women, and new pseudo-enemies, such as LGBTQI+ group and refugees, and migrants, have been created by the Government and have become hot topics on the political agenda. Troubling signals could even be detected in the field of the state of minorities, and the Hungarian Government has therefore been heavily criticised by many international organizations, human rights defenders, the institutions of the European Union, and some other democratic governments.



As we are witnessing, the majority of MSs are following a more and more liberal path to the recognition and expansion of LGBTQI+ rights. Despite this political progress, the Hungarian Government has implemented restrictions on gay rights by means of which the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have become even more difficult and/or unsustainable within the country. As one of the first restrictive measures marriage was defined as a civil union exclusively between a man and a woman—thus excluding same-sex couples from the opportunity of this legal institution. (Hegedűs et al., 2019) “Although registered partnership still exists, this cannot be considered a competitor to marriage or an equivalent solution. In addition, nothing guarantees its survival in the future, given that its rules are contained in a simple law. A further restriction is that marriage has been declared the foundation of the family, thereby implicitly excluding members of the LGBTQ community from the concept of family.” (Hegedűs et al., 2019) The ninth amendment to the Fundamental Law in Hungary stipulated that “the mother shall be a woman, the father shall be a man” thus banning same-sex couples from adopting children and further strengthening the language of gender stereotypes. “[…] this provision implies that only heterosexual married couples can adopt children, whereas single adoptions and adoptions by same-sex couples are prohibited.” (Venice Commission, 2021) This was expressed in Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code as follows: in the interests of the minor child, the guardianship authority shall primarily authorise adoptions by adoptive parents living in marriage.

Previously, in some cases after 2010, it occurred that the police did not acknowledge the Budapest Pride March in Budapest city centre (as part of the annual Budapest Pride Festival) even though the event could have been held by the rulings of the Hungarian courts. For many years participants of the Pride March had to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly on a route lined with fences because the Police insisted that this was the only way to guarantee the safety of the participants. This practice has changed for the better: during the past couple of years, the small group of extremist counter-protesters was isolated by fences.

A specific restrictive act targeting the transgender community was passed on 29 May 2020, namely Act XXX of 2020 on Changes of Certain Administrative Laws and Free Donation of Property. Article 33 of this act made it impossible for a transgender person to have their gender legally recognized and to request the official documents of a transgender person containing their gender and name in accordance with their gender identity. This clearly violates the country’s international human rights obligations. (Háttér Society, 2020)

In addition, in recent years, an increasing number of government or close-to-the- government actors have made extreme statements about the LGBTQI+ community that grossly violate human dignity. The latest scandal arose in connection with a book of fairy tales. Labrisz Lesbian Association was the publisher of a book titled “Meseország mindenkié” in which numerous minority characters appear, for example, a prince falling in love with another prince. A far-right MP shredded this book publicly with reference to the “homosexual propaganda”. (Hungary Today, 2020) In relation to the matter, Orbán said in a radio interview that “Hungary is a patient, tolerant country as regards […] homosexuality. But there is a red line that cannot be crossed, and this is how I would sum up my opinion: Leave our children alone.” Later, the publisher was obliged to put a disclaimer on the published copies that the book contains fairy tales with “behaviour inconsistent with traditional gender roles.” (Cain, 2021) After the autumn of 2020, the topic of “homosexual propaganda” remained an important topic on the agenda of the Hungarian Government. In June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament adopted an act similar to the Russian gay propaganda law. (Háttér Society, 2021) In this legislative piece, controversial features were introduced, such as “sex education in schools, materials must not contain anything aimed at changing gender or promoting homosexuality.” (Hungary Today, 2021) As a further step, on the same day as the 2022 general elections, a referendum on “child protection” instigated by the government was held, but thanks to the coordinated efforts of some of the most prestigious Hungarian NGOs and opposition parties, the referendum turned out to be invalid. (Választá, 2022) The referendum asked manipulated such as “Do you support giving children information about gender reassignment treatments?” to which the vast majority voted with two Xs—resulting in invalidity. At the time of writing this essay, the Rainbow Coalition, the initiative responsible for the invalidity campaign, is among the shortlisted nominees for the 2022 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, and the winner will be announced on 10 October 2022.

It is of the utmost importance to fundamentally change this discriminatory constitutional and legislative framework. Diversity should be respected and people belonging to sexual minorities must be acknowledged equal in all areas of life by a complete change of attitude.



The Romani group is the largest minority living in Hungary. When the accurate size of the Roma population is to be defined, problems of principle as well as practical issues arise, but it is definitely the minority with the largest number of citizens. In connection with the exact number of the Roma population, the scarcity of data on national and ethnic origin and affiliation was emphasized by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in one of its latest reports. (CERD, 2019) “The Committee recommends that the State party provide updated statistics on the ethnic composition of its population disaggregated by ethnicity, national origin and languages spoken, and socio-economic indicators on the enjoyment of rights by various ethnic groups disaggregated by sex, gender and ethnicity, including through dialogue with ethnic minorities and through diversifying its data collection activities by using various indicators of ethnic diversity and by allowing respondents to report anonymously and to choose self-identification, in order to provide an adequate empirical basis for monitoring the enjoyment of all the rights enshrined in the Convention.”

Although the size of the Roma community is not precisely measured, its marginalized position, their vulnerable life situations, their disadvantages with regard to economic-social-financial dimensions, their discrimination in the labour market, education, housing and health care, and their disadvantaged social position passed down and inherited through generations have long been in the focus of various social science research projects. Equal access to public assets and public services (Csomor, Simonovits, Németh, 2021) as the fundamental pillar of the democratic operation of the rule of law is the subject of such research. (Uszkiewicz, manuscript, 2022)

An anti-Roma attitude is a widespread, permanent and ongoing phenomenon in Hungarian society, across political camps and social groups, which is difficult to change, multifaceted and multi-dimensional. At the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, far-right groups became active again, following their previous crisis of thematic, communication, identity and public appearance. Although new images of enemies (e.g. homosexuals, refugees) have been added to their worldview following their reactivation, topics such as “Gypsy crime” or “ethnobusiness” remain part of their rhetoric. Meanwhile, the ruling Fidesz party has also reinforced anti-Roma sentiments, including in the case of the compensation awarded as a result of the Gyöngyöspata school segregation case, when it referred to the undeserved income of Roma and announced a new national consultation on this issue, which was swept away by the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Women’s rights

The United Nations developed a strategy called Women Count which aims to transform how gender statistics are used, created and promoted in order to better reflect the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDG). At the end of 2020, Women Count published a progress report on the state of women’s rights and gender equality in Hungary. (UN Women, 2021) In this country report, Women Count states that “work still needs to be done in Hungary to achieve gender equality. 75% of legal frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor gender equality under the SDG indicator, with a focus on violence against women, are in place. As of February 2021, only 12.6% of seats in parliament were held by women. In 2018, 5.7% of women aged 15-49 years reported that they had been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Also, women and girls aged 15+ spend 18.3% of their time on unpaid care and domestic work, compared to 7.9% spent by men. As of December 2020, only 46.8% of indicators needed to monitor the SDGs from a gender perspective were available. In addition, many areas—such as gender and poverty, physical and sexual harassment, women’s access to assets (including land), and gender and the environment—lack comparable methodologies for regular monitoring. Closing these gender data gaps is essential for achieving gender-related SDG commitments in Hungary.” (UN Women, 2021)

In May 2020, the Hungarian Parliament (where the ruling party Fidesz has a two-thirds majority) blocked the ratification of an international treaty on violence against women. The Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the so-called Istanbul Convention) defines basic rules and steps to prevent domestic abuse and recognizes “everyone’s right to live free from violence, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, or other characteristics.” Hungarian MPs claim that the Istanbul Convention promotes “gender ideology” as it threatens traditional Christian and family values and “encourages homosexuality.” Hungarian politicians claim that the protection of “migrant and refugee women contradicts Hungary’s efforts to crackdown on irregular immigration.” (Margolis 2020) Amnesty International reported in 2021 that women in Hungary were still widely discriminated against based on their gender and it mainly stemmed from gender stereotyping—highlighting and emphasising the importance of domestic roles for women while gender equality was left out of the narratives. It is also noteworthy that the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated negative impacts on women’s situations, including the growing number of domestic violence cases. (Amnesty International, 2021)

Demography and family policy should also be considered when discussing women’s rights in Hungary. Two prominent political figures explicitly claimed that women needed to give birth in order to be regarded as “worthy”. László Kövér, President of the Hungarian Parliament, said that “when our girls give birth to our grandchildren, we want them to regard it as the defining moment of their self- realization” and Szilárd Németh, Fidesz’s vice president urged women “to give birth for the country” in order to “produce population growth.” (Verseck, 2018) But apart from men, even women in politics spread outdated and discriminatory views on women’s roles. In 2020, the then family minister Katalin Novák was featured in a video in which she claimed that women should not always compete with men for equal wages and that their roles as caregivers and child bearers are more important than the “misguided fight for emancipation.” (Gall, 2020) Soon after the video with Novák’s message aired, the Hungarian Parliament adopted new amendments to the Fundamental Law of Hungary including the section on the discriminatory definition of parenthood. (Gall, 2020) In 2020, Hungary reached 53 out of 100 points in the EU’s gender equality index, placing it 27th in the EU. There is some slight progress in this field, but since 2010 the overall score has only increased by 0.6 points and the country has dropped three ranking places since 2010. Furthermore, statistics published by Eurostat “reveal that the average pay gap between men and women in Hungary was 18.2% in 2019”, but it was 14.2% in 2018 and 15.9% in 2017, while there was a 17.6% difference in 2010. It is clear that the gender pay gap was higher in 2019 than in 2010. (Ismayilzada, 2021)

Then, in March 2022, Katalin Novák was elected as the first-ever female President of Hungary, but it has been hardly a triumph for women’s rights in Hungary. As mentioned above, Novák is a firm supporter and policymaker of the “traditional family values” that are propagated by the Government. Although she is a talented and experienced individual and politician, she has deep ties to the ruling Fidesz party and in this way, she has had relatively low—if any—autonomy as president. (Bakó, 2022) At the end of August 2022, Novák visited Pope Francis in the Vatican City and in an interview, she noted that “it’s not worth giving up having children just because you love your job and want to be fulfilled in your profession” and that “the harmful ideology which aims to subvert traditional families must be rejected.” (Nagy, 2022) In addition to this, just a day before Novák’s interview in the Vatican, the State Audit of Hungary published a report claiming that “the significant over- representation of women in higher education may cause demographic problems, as it makes finding a partner more difficult, as well as potentially leading to the risk of a reduction in childbearing.” (Aradi, 2022)


Migration issues

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have always been the main targets of Viktor Orbán’s government. Knowing the tendencies of measures taken or planned by populist states, building a fence on the southern border of Hungary could be seen as a major step toward creating an unfavourable environment for refugees. In the late 2010s, the Hungarian authorities placed asylum seekers in so-called transit zones and the European Court of Human Rights ruled against this practice in 2021 as unlawful detention. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) withdrew its activities in Hungary in January 2021 after Hungary failed to implement the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) on asylum law and practices – as the ruling stated that Hungary did not meet its “obligation to ensure effective access to international protection for asylum seekers. In 2021, more than 71,000 pushbacks took place at the Serbian-Hungarian border.” (Amnesty International, 2021) However, after the CJEU ruling, Hungary “dismantled the transit zones and transferred approximately 400 asylum seekers to the only two open reception centres in Hungary.” Due to border closures, transit zones and the treatment of migrants, Hungary experienced a sharp decline in asylum applications in 2020. “By July, 95 people had filed for asylum, down from 266 people in the first 7 months of 2019.” (Human Rights Watch, 2020)

According to the European Commission’s website on integration, migration to Hungary has historically been high, predominantly from neighbouring countries and since the middle of the 1990s from China. Although the “number of migrant students and workers has increased since 2015, the presence of third-country nationals (TCNs) remains marginal and increasingly politically contested in Hungary.” (European Commission) As of 1 January 2021, 118,400 TCNs and 75,719 EU citizens lived in Hungary at the time. There was a migration strategy for the period between 2014–2020 that defined procedures for migrant integration into Hungarian society. The document focused on support, legal assistance, rights and obligations and had an emphasis on vulnerable persons. However, this strategy prescribed “the introduction of a more comprehensive integration programme, this did not happen during the course of its run.” Currently, Hungary does not have an integration programme for migrants. (European Commission) The most important legal basis for asylum law in Hungary is Act LXXX of 2007 on Asylum which “was adopted to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of displaced persons. The most recent major amendment was adopted in June 2016, March 2017, and May 2020. The first cancelled the Integration Contract and Support scheme for beneficiaries of international protection, and the second established special ‘transit zones’ – places for asylum seekers to stay in while their status was determined by the authorities. Finally, the third amendment cancelled these zones, making it impossible for a person to ask for asylum unless they had already submitted a declaration of will at the Hungarian consulates in Belgrade and Kyiv.” The funding of migrant integration projects is also problematic as “non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds; however, funds administered by the government are not open for integration-related projects.” (European Commission)

The Hungarian Government created a practice of pushbacks along its southern border with Serbia but that violated significant international treaties to which Hungary is a signatory, such as the Geneva Convention. Hungary has also been violating the above-mentioned ruling of the ECJ on its unlawful treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. The ECJ ruling was announced on 17 December 2020 and in the period from then until February 2021, 5000 refugees were sent back to Serbia. Prime Minister Orbán and members of his government claimed that Hungary will continue to practice these pushbacks. (Verseck, 2021) It is nonsensical from a legal point of view that Hungary has defied the ECJ ruling while EU law is binding on it too, but of course, from a political perspective, the motives are obvious. Nevertheless, the ECJ ruling is binding and sooner or later the Hungarian Government has to implement it. The Hungarian Government defended its standpoint before the ECJ arguing that the fence on its southern border was placed on Hungarian territory (a few metres from the Serbian border), therefore pushing refugees back to the gate on this fence was not deportation, since they were still in Hungarian territory. However, at the end of the day, many families and couples were separated and only babies could stay together with their mothers. The accommodation (transit zone) was very crowded and very much similar to a prison and moreover, refugees got almost nothing to eat. Hungarian civil rights campaigners and organisations “criticized these practices, which they described as ‘wearing them down and starving them out’. The Hungarian government argued that the refugees had not been imprisoned and could leave the transit zone at any time in order to get provisions. However, according to Hungarian asylum law, leaving the transit zone automatically resulted in the termination of the asylum process, with the refugee banned from reapplying.” (Verseck, 2021)

Then on 16 November 2021, the ECJ again made an important judgment in the case of Hungary. Act VI of 2018, amending certain laws in relation to measures against illegal immigration, the so-called “Stop Soros Act” was the subject of the judicial procedure and it turned out that it violated EU law in ways such as criminalizing legal and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers, restricting refugees’ rights to communicate with lawyers and hindering the work of human rights defenders. The ECJ ruled that the “Stop Soros Act” must be rescinded as it violates international and EU law. (Lynch, 2022) On the other hand, Hungary—or at least its population—had a quite different approach to migrants coming from Ukraine. After the Russian-Ukrainian war started in late February 2022, a significant number of refugees fled Ukraine for Hungary. Presumably, around one million people arrived in Hungary from the neighbouring country (on 30 May 2022 it was around 800,000 people). Only less than 30,000 asylum applications have been submitted and only approximately half of them have been approved. (SchengenVisaInfo, 2022) Refugee reception facilities have been absent in Hungary due to the massive anti-migration campaign by the Government; however, NGOs and many volunteers who showed up at the border and in bigger cities from the Hungarian-Ukrainian border to Budapest did their best to assist and help refugees in numerous ways. The central administration did nothing more than the bare minimum and provided funds for charity organizations. The Hungarian people’s goodwill and mobilization to help those in need were a sign of European solidarity. (Bakonyi, 2022)


Positive impacts on the fight against hate crimes

Taking into account all the negative impacts and backsliding that are described above, it is hard to find an area which gives a reason for hope. However, considerable progress can be detected in the field of the fight against hate crimes.

The number of hate crimes in some countries, including Hungary, which is officially registered by the competent authorities and as such taken into account by the official statistics is relatively low. On the other hand, alternative databases and victim surveys conducted amongst members of the potential victim groups provide us with a more realistic and devastating picture. As is now apparent, just a small number of these criminal offences are officially reported and numerous personal and institutional causes identified behind the high latency. Well-known and documented reasons behind this are, among others, statistics when evaluating law enforcement agencies’ performance; prejudice of members of the police and public prosecution services towards members of typical victim groups; lack of knowledge on the law enforcement’s side and lack of training. “As a result of these issues, even if a crime eventually comes to the attention of the law enforcement authorities, there are still many obstacles that jeopardize an efficient investigation and due prosecution of the crime.” (Uszkiewicz, 2021)

Having realized the necessity of improving the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, every Hungarian county police department has had a professional hate crime expert (‘rendőrségi szakvonal és szakvonal tag’) since 2011 who is supposed to pay attention to criminal cases where there is a likelihood that a hate crime has occurred. (Dombos, Udvari, 2014) As an additional positive measure, the National Chief of Police order no. 30/2019. (VII. 18.) on the tasks of the police in relation to responding to hate crimes (revised Investigative Protocol) was issued in 2019.

This order compiles numerous bias indicators that should be taken into consideration during hate crime investigations in order to raise the professional standards of application of the law. The protocol prescribes that a so-called mentor must be assigned to each police headquarters who assists in detecting hate crimes and draws attention to the possibility thereof. Bias indicators should be familiar to members of law enforcement and criminal personnel as stipulated in the protocol and also “county hate crime experts and the National Police Headquarters’ line manager should monitor the ongoing criminal proceedings, media coverage related to hate crimes and the activities of organized hate groups. The order also talks about the professional training of Hungarian police officers, the annual meeting of hate crime specialists, the relevance of the victim support system and the importance of objective, victim-friendly communication.” (Uszkiewicz, 2021) Another progressive development in the Hungarian protocol is that it requires police officers to be obliged to communicate calmly, objectively, professionally and in a way that supports victims. Police officers must not display personal judgment in relation to the victim’s behaviour, culture, origin and community, and must refrain from using words and phrases that are stereotypical, prejudicial, or suggestive of blaming the victim.

However, the implementation and the impact of the protocol can only be evaluated at a later stage.



The measures and legislative changes of the post-2010 Orbán governments have not only been against the European mainstream but have undermined the common values and principles on which European integration is built. By 2022, the situation had deteriorated to the point where Hungary is the only EU Member State that can no longer be considered a full democracy, with serious shortcomings in terms of both fundamental human rights and checks and balances. Attacks against democratic institutions, human rights and the pillars of liberal democracy have become immanent phenomena of everyday life. These actions have affected individuals, groups, institutions and entire sectors. Abusing the constitutional power guaranteed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, the governments have not only shaped the legislative and institutional environment to their own liking, but have also used it, ignoring EU and international legal requirements, and blocking Hungary’s liberal democratic progress. The purpose of this study was to briefly summarize the most important shortcomings and problematic situations that have come to the forefront of the international public sphere and to draw attention to the seriousness of the situation. The upcoming governments must do their utmost to counter these negative trends and return the country to the democratic status it deserves in the international arena.


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