• Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán made an unexpected topless appearance in the local media: a civilian paparazzo in the seaside resort of Opatija, Croatia, caught him stepping out of the sea and into a luxury villa on the beach.

    The photo took the Hungarian public by surprise, but there were also more revealing details about Oban’s holiday. The footage was obtained by opposition journalist Balázs Gulyás, who revealed that the luxury villa belonged to the Ungár family, whose companies have won lucrative state contracts.

    The prime minister, whose father, children and son-in-law are known for their various businesses, was joined by members of his family. Also, he did not pay for accommodation and, according to official information, he was not even on holiday.

    It is not only the Prime Minister who is of interest in this case. One member of the hosting family, Péter Ungár, is a well-known figure in the Hungarian opposition to Orbán. The circle of influence appears to be closing.

    Romania has come to Ukraine’s aid after Russia broke a wartime shipping agreement that allowed the safe passage of grain via the Black Sea. 60 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports will now access the world markets through Romania.

    In August, Kyiv and Bucharest reached an agreement to increase the war-torn country’s grain exports and improve river, rail, road and maritime transit infrastructure, including border crossings.

    At the same time, Ukraine’s neighbour is acting as a transit country, because it has been protecting Romanian markets from Ukrainian grain imports, along with Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland. Last year before this ban, Romania bought 13 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports, worth $1.2 billion.

    This summer will be hot and bloody for bears in Romania. The last act of the outgoing minister of the environment, Barna Tánczos, was  authorising the shooting of 426 brown bears.

    Romania is home to 60 percent of Europe’s bear population (excluding Russia) with numbers of between 7,500 and 8,000. Deforestation, more agricultural areas, poor waste disposal and a changing climate contribute to the growth of the bear population.

    As the number of bears increases, so does conflict between humans and bears. Rising temperatures are also disrupting their hibernation patterns. The only official response is to order a bear hunt.

    “Rather than make this banner, I’d rather prepare a lesson. I can’t afford to go on strike and not get paid. But I can’t afford to not strike in the long term either.”

    These are the slogans held up by a teacher on strike for almost a month, showing the dilemmas faced by frontline workers in the Romanian education system.

    The majority of teachers are so underpaid they are forced to take second or third jobs. Often, they work as a maths or biology teacher in the morning, and deliver food on a bicycle in the afternoon. That is why the biggest teachers’ strike in 20 years, which involved 300,000 people, kicked off in May. The strike was halted in mid-June, when the government partially accepted the demands.

    Prison workers have also stopped work for higher pay, and health workers have gone on a Japanese strike in recent days, wearing a white stripe as a sign of protest.

    Art historian András Rényi on the tough conversation about WWII memory in Hungary.

    The Hungarian state and society is shirking its responsibility for the Holocaust – this is one of the most frequent criticisms of the memorial to the Victims of the German occupation, erected in Budapest in 2014.

    This disapproval of a memorial which makes no mention of Hungary’s role in one of the 20th century’s darkest chapters has even developed into a grassroots protest. For almost ten years, civil members of the Living Memorial movement have regularly gathered near the memorial to talk about their memories, such as the role of Hungarian authorities in the holocaust, and family deportations and mass killings.

    András Rényi talks about this initiative.

    How does this debate affect the memory of the Second World War?

    Symbolic politics is one of the most important playing fields of the Hungarian regime of today. Under the current constitution, Hungary was not sovereign for 46 years due to the German and Soviet occupations, and everything that happened during this period was down to collaborators.

    In the controversial statue, a German eagle swoops down on the Archangel Gabriel, who drops the orb (part of the Hungarian crown jewels) from his hand. The same Archangel leads the conquering Hungarians towards the Carpathian Basin on the monument in Heroes’ Square.

    These two works of art in Budapest mark the beginning and the end of Hungary’s thousand years of history, and the beginning of a new Viktor Orbán era, which takes no responsibility for the sins of the past.

    Has it been possible to counterbalance this message?

    The Living Memorial movement is one of the few initiatives that forced the Orbán government to a symbolic defeat. The occupation memorial – which attracted such criticism – has never been officially inaugurated.

    What is the status of the memory of the Second World War today?

    The knowledge and experience accumulated during the Second World War becomes more and more distant and impersonal. And now it is being reactivated, because of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The images of the massacre in Bucha shocked the whole European public, for example. Putin’s aggression has reinforced the sense of danger in the liberal world.

    András Léderer, head of advocacy at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on a recent attack against the LGBTQ community in Hungary.

    “Here’s some good news. Uganda’s parliament has passed an anti-LGBTQ law so that pansies who marry will be executed” – a prominent Hungarian pro-government journalist András Bencsik recently made this comment on one of the most watched Hungarian pro-government TV channels.

    In Hungary, homophobic propaganda has a long history, how did we get here?

    Bencsik’s remarks are the latest in a series of choreographed narrative and legislative attacks against the LGBT community. This began with a threatening statement by the Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the international day against homophobia in 2015, where he spoke about “us, Hungarians” and “them, having a different lifestyle”.

    The next seven years saw a war on gender studies, constitutional amendments that bring exclusionist positions into key laws, banning legal gender recognition in practice and same-sex couples’ right to adopt children, mixing paedophilia with belonging to the LGBT community, banning the discussion and portrayal of LGBT content for under 18s, and organising a national referendum on questions such as whether voters support the promotion of gender-reassignment for minors.

    What could be the purpose of Bencsik’s statement?

    Bencsik is testing how far the rest of the state’s propaganda machine is willing to go in attacking LGBT rights.

    What are the consequences of such a statement?

    Whether he manages to expand the limits of what is acceptable to say as propaganda partially rests on the public response to such statements. The normalisation of hate can only happen when the rest of society is silent.

    Secondly, there are people who are beginning to understand their identity, and where they orientate their affections. It matters greatly if they hear that people like them are worth executing, and that is all they hear.

    “Corruption kills” – hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Romania for weeks during the cold winter of 2015-2016, echoing this slogan. The #colectivrevolution was sparked by the tragedy at the Colectiv night-club in the capital Bucharest, where 64 people died in a fire in November 2015.

    When the protestors realised the disaster was caused by irregularities overlooked by authorities, they turned against corruption with rage. As the expected results from years of a so-called war against corruption failed to materialise, the government of Victor Ponta resigned.

    Since then, Romania is often cited as a positive example of anti-graft measures, which is both true and false. The judicial reform has transformed Romania step by step. Anti-corruption institutions have been set up. Over the last decade, corruption perception in the country has shown an upward trend. Following the protests, Romania’s corruption ranking has clearly improved.

    Unfortunately, this is not necessarily because of the country’s outstanding performance, but because of increased levels of corruption in neighbouring countries. Tellingly, at the end of 2022, Austria vetoed Romania’s Schengen accession due to the level of corruption.

    Most corruption cases still concern public procurement procedures in Romania, and there are still serious problems with Romania’s border controls, but vetoing Schengen is counterproductive.

    Corruption cuts across borders. It is our common European problem. Whether we like it or not: we are bound together. Romanian society has a unique commitment to corruption-free politics and this needs European support.

    The veto, on the other hand, is hurting the people, not the criminals. While several central European countries show a growing indifference to corruption, it would be wrong to punish a society that does not think that way and still resists.

    Three men caught my eye in 2014 after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s annual summer speech on a sunny Transylvanian afternoon, in the spa town of Băile Tușnad (Tusványos). They were eager political pilgrims. I’ve seen a lot of strange things here, but this was really disturbing.

    Orbán gives a State of the Nation address in Romania every year, targeted at the country’s 1.2 million Hungarian minority. More than 500,000 of these have dual citizenship and the right to vote in Hungarian elections. Over 90% of those voters support Orbán’s Fidesz party. Orbán’s annual litany is truly an election-decider.

    The embarrassing detail was on their T-shirts: Orbán’s men wore Putin’s portrait.

    Since then, the bigger picture has become clearer. The Hungarian-Russian political alliance has now blossomed. At the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, this cooperation took on its own Transylvanian topicality.

    This war is about minority rights – as the Hungarian voters in Transylvania are told on a daily basis by the Hungarian state media and meme factories. And Russia and Putin personally (as well as Orbán) are the real champions of these minority rights. Putin is giving the Russians back their territories.

    Are Transylvania or Ukrainian Transcarpathia, also inhabited by the Hungarian minority, next? The propaganda offers no explicit promises but only floating, informal hopes.

    The Romanian majority in the polls is more in favor of the Ukrainian cause. Hungarian revisionism scares them. The war between Russia and Ukraine has a Hungarian-Romanian shadow.

    On a hot October evening last week here in Transylvania a Hungarian right-wing extremist announced that Hungarians must be prepared for the annexation of Transylvania, for the oppression of the Jews and the Roma, and one of the local journalists should be hanged.

    Romanian reactions to this were swift and fierce. Even the Prime Minister condemned the call for murder.

    The journalist who they demanded to be hanged was me. I don’t know what kind of T-shirt would protect people like me in this time of war.

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