#25 2018

Reports from the corners of the pantry

“... A year later I left an online publication because of pressures from business oligarchs, and I said to myself, okay, they can occupy the kitchen but we still can work in the pantry, it’s still free. So, I went to work for an NGO. And now we are working in the pantry, and they are knocking on our door, they are coming”

Journalist Attila Mong reports on how government politics dominate the media landscape in Hungary, while independent media has become increasingly marginalized. 

The same old story, again

Writer Orsolya Karafiáth was fiercely attacked for her attempts to spotlight how Hungarian women are repressed and silenced in the wake of #MeToo. This is her story. 

"Almost nobody seems to care"

In an interview, philosopher G. M. Tamás tells the Dissident Blog why freedom of speech and democracy are in decline in his home country. 

Hungary's political culture of illiberalism

Eszter Babarczy sketches the background to the victory of illiberal politics in Hungary.

Starless Night

A piece of “flash fiction”  by Hungarian writer Krisztina Tóth, presenting a haunting  snap-shot of everyday life in Budapest today. 

Standing up for poetry

Krisztina Tóth's second short story for the Dissident Blog - a multi-layered tale of hierarchy and inequality.

Padded Cells

Art journalist Gergely Nagy on the shrinking space for independent art in Hungary: “Nothing has been forbidden, no one has been jailed.” But …

What's at stake

Attila Mráz, expert on political liberties, writes about the challenges facing social and critical Hungarian NGOs at the time of the general election campaign.

Hungary’s soft authoritarianism

The Dissident Blog on EU's black sheep, one month ahead of the parliament elections

A new expression has cropped up – a new political term – because the old ones aren’t enough. It refers to countries that are not totalitarian, not dictatorships, but not democracies either. Instead, they are soft-authoritarian.

  This term is used increasingly about Russia, and about Malaysia and Singapore, all countries with multiple parties and elections, but where the regime keeps the media and influential institutions on a short leash, exercising its power behind the ostensive freedom of choice. And this definition now includes Hungary.

Those who adamantly regard the glass to be half-full could interpret the analysis of Hungary’s form of government as an improvement. It all depends on what we compare it to. Not long ago, Hungary was a communist dictatorship, although it was wryly referred to as the “happiest barrack” in the East. The pálinka was abundant (a decision to prohibit serving this brandy in restaurants before 9 am sparked riotous disapproval), there were tomatoes, paprika powder, and sometimes even meat to make the family's pörkölt, what many of us call goulash. Poppy seeds could be bought for baking the moist Sunday cake. But this was a corrupt, heavily controlled society, with no liberty.

As in the former USSR, Poland and other communist dictatorships, the children learned Russian in school but not English, and they were commandeered to attend jolly marches on 1 May to demonstrate the right pioneer spirit. Religion was outlawed, dissidents were persecuted, imprisoned, sent to camps and blacklisted. Surveillance and informing was constant; people in Hungary could not speak, write, or meet freely. The repression ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Not thirty years have passed since then.

The traces of this past remain under the surface, under the words, under the government structure. This issue of the Dissident Blog, commendably compiled by Daniel Gustafsson, who ordinarily translates Hungarian prose, poetry and drama into Swedish, clarifies the situation.