What can a journalist do when a prime minister hasn’t given an interview to the independent press in 13 years? Approach him in front of a church. And what does a prime minister say when he sees such a reporter moving up to him?
“Man, don’t you see I’m coming from church?”
This was the answer by Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán to a well-known journalist, which became an instant meme, mocking everything from corruption to press freedom.
Approaching someone after mass may seem rude, but Hungarian journalists have no other option. Being excluded from press conferences and not receiving replies is everyday reality for reporters who are not aligned with the ruling party, Fidesz. Some have been targeted with the surveillance software Pegasus.
As to why this is necessary, the political director of the prime minister once argued: the one who controls the media is the one who controls the country. But there is one thing they cannot control: jokes.
How many years does it take to repeal a law that forces NGOs to register as foreign agents? In Hungary: four years and a court ruling.
In 2017, the Hungarian Parliament passed a bill that obliged organisations receiving at least 7.2 million HUF (18,500 EUR) annually from abroad to register with the courts or face a fine.
Civil society protests went unheard, but not by the European Union. Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice and pressure from the European Commission, the law was revoked in 2021. No NGO has ever been fined. But Georgia, which followed in Hungary’s footsteps with a similarly controversial bill, lacks the EU’s legal umbrella. The Hungarian case proves the rule of law can be upheld in the EU, even if one country does not like the decision.
Soaring energy prices have turned firewood into a precious commodity in Hungary. To manage this crisis, the government continued its trend of putting a price cap, this time on firewood. Households could buy 10m3 at a subsidised price of 30 to 76 Euro – roughly enough to heat an average family home during winter.
But when prices are cheaper, demand is higher. The state forestry companies ran out of logs for sale, while private sellers tripled their prices. The government came up with a solution: easing regulations to cut down the nation’s forests.
Thousands protested, forcing the ministry to backtrack and prove that even in times of emergency, the environment always comes first.
“Invitation to governmental press conference at 22:30. Please register by 22:00 today” – such emails are not uncommon for journalists. But when Hungarian newsrooms received the above invitation last Monday, it was already 21:46.
Having only 10 minutes to register and 45 minutes to reach the ministry in the middle of the night was new even by the standards of the Orbán government, which has made a habit of announcing bad news at the very last minute.
This time, it was the scrapping of the fuel prices cap, but from the abolishment of taxes to the raising of household utility prices, Hungarians often have only a day, or even minutes to prepare. No wonder Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister’s office, who holds weekly press conferences, is the subject of numerous jibes.
While Hungarians know laughter is the best medicine, this time they are wondering how long till the joke wears thin?
In Hungary, all married couples can access an interest-free loan of 24,500 Euro (or 10 Million HUF). No repayments are due for three years after the first child is born, 30 percent of the debt is waived after the second, and the entire debt is waived after the third.
Backed by the government slogan “family-friendly country”, this financial benefit is only valid as long as citizens fulfill their ‘domestic’ obligations.
If the couple divorces or has no children before their fifth anniversary, this support turns into a penalty: not only is the loan at market rate, but the couple must pay back the subsidized interest rate to the state.