In the shadow of the Corona crisis, Viktor Orban has de facto abolished democracy in Hungary. His party pushed through a new emergency law on March 30, which effectively disempowers the Hungarian parliament. For the duration of the coronavirus pandemic Orbán can rule like a dictator without democratic control. That threatens Human rights. The emergency status can only be lifted by the government itself or by parliament. There, however, Orbán’s FIDESZ holds a two-thirds majority. We spoke to Kata Tüttő, the social democratic vice-mayor of Budapest, about the situation in Hungary.
scoop: Viktor Orban just introduced a new state of emergency law. How does is change the political system of Hungary?
We don’t really know yet but our experience with Orbán tells us that whenever a law gives the government increased power, they always go far beyond the what law intended.
One example: On Tuesday, 31st of March, the government handed in an amendment that requires local authorities to seek the approval of the central government for every action that they take. Currently, the directly elected mayors in the cities and towns have extensive rights in the state of emergency. Once this amendment is adopted, and the will adopt it because they have a 2/3 majority in the parliament, every decision, even if it is about buying masks or other medical equipment, needs to be handed to this local office of the government. They then have 5 days to approve or disapprove the decision. This is outrageous.
scoop: So Viktor Orban is just using this new law to take over every decision-making power within Hungary?
Yes, exactly. Because normally in the case of emergency, the local authorities would get a lot of rights to take decisions but now they are taking that away. And I think that would be catastrophic, because the purpose of the emergency law is that everybody in his or her position can make quick decisions. That is its whole purpose, to take quick decisions to protect the population. Now they are introducing central government control over all decisions. This is complete nonsense and also very dangerous.
Also, because we get no information from the central government. No communication, nothing!
In Budapest, where we are handling 2 million people, including the people who come in everyday for work. There is no communication from the side of the government. We are doing our best to protect our citizens but we are doing it on our own.
Not just financially but in every aspect. The hospitals are controlled by the central government but doctors lack basic medical equipment in the fight against corona. They don’t get enough test kits or even masks. So what we are doing as local authorities, we are trying to buy masks and test kits for the healthcare system. We are trying to protect our healthcare workers but we are doing it on our own. By law it is not our duty but we do it anyway. With this new amendment, even this effort will stop. That is complete nonsense.
As I already said, we don’t know exactly what this new emergency law will bring but the first decision proves that it is not going anywhere good. It brings more control by the central government, which will actually hurt citizens. Because in no world the extra 5 days that the local office of the central government will take to evaluate any of our measurements will actually help in the fight against corona.
scoop: Is it valid to talk about the end of democracy in Hungary?
I hope not but the government gives no reason for that. I cannot believe that this is the end. We have seen a lot of things already with Orbán in government. We suspect that for Orbán this in not about saving people but about maintaining power. It is about the next elections in 2022. What we have seen from this government in all the crises we faced so far is that their actions were all about politics, power and winning the next election. All the measurements, all the communication, all the propaganda, it is always about staying in power and not protecting people. I’m really hoping that the state of emergency will end soon and everything will go back to normal. This is what I’m hoping but we don’t really know what to expect.
We don’t know how to stop it. Over the last years, FIDESZ got rid of all the checks and balances in Hungary and now there are none left. there is just the hope that in the end they believe in democracy and everything goes back to normal. But this is just wishful thinking, I’m afraid.
scoop: Do you think that Viktor Orban will end the state of emergency in the near future?
I hope that the corona pandemic will end soon and then it is harder for Orbán to keep up the state of emergency. But we don’t know what will happen in the next two to three months. We hope that once the corona pandemic ends, the government will lift the state of emergency. Though they can do whatever they see fit. There is no clear definition of emergency. So they might switch from the medical reason to an economic one to keep up the state of emergency. FIDESZ are the only ones who can decide when this is going to be over.
scoop: Are you afraid that Viktor Orban will just never lift the state of emergency?
We are still in the legal and political framework of the European Union. I hope this will prevent Orbán from maintaining the state of emergency infinitely. You cannot keep up the state of emergency, if all the other countries around you have long lifted it. So I am hopeful that due to our membership within the EU, Orbán will lift the state of emergency at one point.
scoop: What was the role of the EU in the conflict?
It does not have any. I see some European reactions and calls for Orbán to stop this process but that is it. I think the EU can just play a role in this conflict, once the corona pandemic is over. But I’m not sure.
Orbán tells the Hungarian people that his authoritarian path is the only way to solve the crisis. We want people to see that it is not. You don’t need to give your leaders all the power within in the state. There are democratic ways to handle this crisis. It is important that we talk about this because the government is using a very simple form of propaganda: This is the only way to protect our people and whoever disagrees, wants to kill people. These are the moments when I see that they do not have an honest motivation. For them, it is not about solving the crisis but keeping power. So today the role of the EU is to show that you can still protect the population while also protecting democracy.
pictures: European Committee of the Regions