Hungary | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



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The year 2001 in Hungary was marked by efforts to meet accession requirements for membership in the European Union (EU), to prepare for important parliamentary elections in spring 2002, and to grapple with allegations of high-level corruption. The passage of a law granting substantial rights to ethnic Hungarians residing outside the country generated controversy both at home and abroad.

King Stephen I, who ruled from 1001 to 1038, is credited with founding the Hungarian state. In the centuries that followed, however, Hungarian lands passed through Turkish, Polish, and Austrian hands. In the mid-nineteenth century, Hungary established a liberal, constitutional monarchy under the Austrian Hapsburgs, but two world wars and a Communist dictatorship in the twentieth century forestalled true independence.

By the late 1980s, Hungary's economy was in decline, and the Hungarian Socialist Worker's Party came under intense pressure to accept reforms. Ultimately, the party congress dissolved itself, and Hungary held its first free, multiparty parliamentary election in 1990. The new parliament made Jozsef Antall, a member of the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum, the new head of state. Since then, government control has passed freely and fairly between left- and right-leaning parties, and the country has followed an aggressive reform path. Hungary joined NATO in 1999.

In 2000, Hungary celebrated a millennium of statehood. Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared the end of Hungary's post-Communist transition when output and real wages reached 1989 levels. When President Arpad Goncz completed his second and final term in 2000, parliament elected Ference Madl, a professor of international law, to fill the largely ceremonial post.

Efforts continue apace to secure Hungary's place as a first-round entrant into an enlarged EU. In 2001, for example, the country became the first candidate to close negotiations on the free movement of labor and capital, and on justice and home affairs. To date, it has closed more chapters on accession than any other candidate.

Political parties began a showdown in 2001 to parliamentary elections that will take place the following year. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) chose Peter Medgyessy, a former finance minister and deputy prime minister, as its candidate. Prime Minister Orban will top the national list of the Federation of Young Democrats (FIDESZ). FIDESZ and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) agreed to propose joint lists at the national, regional, and district levels. FIDESZ also concluded a cooperation agreement with Lungo Drom, a Roma group.

The Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), a member of the ruling coalition, was the target in 2001 of multiple allegations of bribery and corruption. Jozsef Torgyan, the party's leader, stepped down from his post as agriculture minister amid charges he used ill-gotten funds to build an expensive private home, offered slots on the Smallholders' election list in exchange for donations, and improperly diverted public funds to his son. In related news, the Financial Action Task Force of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development placed Hungary on its list of states that are "non-cooperative in the fight against money laundering" for its policies on anonymous bank accounts.

At the same time, though, the Hungarian government approved a new anticorruption strategy in 2001. The plan calls for, among other things, strengthening penalties for corruption, extending asset-declaration requirements to more public servants, and making rules on parliamentary immunity more rigorous. Parliament also approved amended banking legislation that is aimed at curbing money laundering.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Hungary is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Citizens age 18 and older enjoy universal suffrage and can change their government democratically. They elect 386 deputies to the unicameral national assembly under a mixed system of proportional and direct representation. Parliament elects both the president and the prime minister.

Post-Communist elections in Hungary have been free and fair. In June 2000, parliament elected Ference Madl president in a third round of voting. President Arpad Goncz had completed a maximum two terms in office. After parliamentary elections in 1998, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised Hungary's "strong electoral process" and the media's balanced coverage. Twenty-six parties registered for the first round of elections; six received a mandate.

The 1998 election resulted in a change of government when the opposition Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) formed a center-right coalition government with the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). These parties took 213 out of 386 seats in the national assembly. The ruling Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) captured only 134 seats. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2002.

The constitution guarantees national and ethnic minorities the right to form self-governing bodies, and all 13 recognized minorities have exercised this right. In 2000, forty-six Roma from the village of Zamoly filed a complaint against Hungary with the European Court of Human Rights. They lodged charges of discrimination for actions committed by local authorities, who tore down Roma homes that had been damaged in a storm and placed the affected Roma in temporary housing. In 2001, when France granted refugee status to nine of the Roma, Prime Minister Orban stated that Hungary had "no reason to feel shame."

In 2000, the government announced an $8.2 million program to provide vocational training and other programs for Roma youth. In 2001, Hungary implemented a legal rights protection network that will provide legal aid services to Roma. Parliament also passed a controversial law that will grant special status, or rights, to ethnic Hungarians who reside outside the country. Among those rights are the ability to work in Hungary for three months every year and to have access to certain health and education benefits. Domestic opponents, including the MSZP, fear the massive costs associated with an influx of workers. Foreign opponents, especially the leaders of Romania and Slovakia, consider the law, which is scheduled to take effect in 2002, discriminatory. Late in the year, Hungary and Romania signed an agreement that will extend the right to work in Hungary to Romanian nationals.

Independent media thrive in Hungary, but oversight of state television and radio remains a controversial issue. A 1996 media law requires ruling and opposition parties to share appointments to the boards overseeing state television and radio. However, critics charge that the current government has manipulated the law by approving boards composed solely of its supporters and has thereby gained undue influence over hiring and reporting. Others believe the law itself is fundamentally flawed. In 2001, the National Radio and Television Licensing Board granted Radio C, Hungary's first all-Roma radio station, a permanent broadcasting license. At year's end, a panel of judges announced that 44 of the 1,830 members of the electronic media that it had screened had connections to the Communist-era secret service. The panel will investigate print media next.

The constitution guarantees religious freedom and provides for the separation of church and state. There are approximately 100 registered religious groups--primarily Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews--to which the state provides financial support for worship, parochial schools, and the reconstruction of property. A 1991 law requires the state to provide restitution for church properties that were seized under communism. In 2000, the constitutional court deemed that a law on compensating Holocaust victims was discriminatory because the amount of recompense was significantly less than that awarded to victims of the 1956 anti-Communist uprising. In 2001, the Calvinist Church prohibited its pastors from belonging to political parties or running for parliamentary office. The move came in response to the controversy surrounding Lorant Hegedus Jr., the Calvinist pastor and deputy chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party who published an anti-Semitic article in a party magazine.

The government respects citizens' rights to form associations, strike, and petition public authorities. Trade unions account for less than 30 percent of the workforce. There are more than 60,000 registered nongovernmental organizations. In 2001, the constitutional court ruled that parliament must pass legislation that guards better against delays in the registration of organizations.

Hungary has a three-tiered independent judiciary and a constitutional court. The constitution guarantees equality before the law, and courts are generally fair. In an effort to improve judicial efficiency, more than 90 new judges were appointed in 2000. Legislation designed to reduce the length of civil court procedures also came into effect. In 1999 the national police agency set up an internal affairs division to deal with corruption in its ranks.

The constitution states that the Hungarian economy is a market economy in which private property, free enterprise, and competition are all respected. The country boasts one of the fastest-growing and freest economies in the region, and approximately 80 percent of state-owned enterprises have been privatized. Small- and medium-sized companies make up approximately 90 percent of all enterprises and employ more than two million people. In 2001, the government raised the minimum monthly wage to 40,000 forints (about $140).