Hungary is the first country in the EU to give preliminary approval to the Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V.
On January 21, PM Viktor Orban’s chief of staff confirmed both the Russian vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been given the green light by the health authorities.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is travelling to Russia for further talks, where he is expected to discuss a shipment and distribution deal.
Early results from trials of the Russian vaccine have shown promising results.
Hungarian health officials are also in Beijing for talks with the Chinese authorities over the approval and immediate delivery of one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, which is already being used in neighboring Serbia.
Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company, announced last month that phase three trials of its vaccine showed that it was 79% effective – lower than that of Pfizer and Moderna.
However, PM Viktor Orban has said the only way Hungary can satisfy the demand for vaccination, given the “frustratingly” slow delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, is by buying from Russia and China.
At least 140,000 Hungarians have already been vaccinated. But government efforts to popularize the Russian and Chinese vaccines have already run into opposition.
The skepticism and suspicion among Hungarians is, in the public imagination at least, related to the Communist domination of the country from 1948 to 1989.
The move has also drawn criticism from the EU, which is wary of yet another example of Viktor Orban’s government going its own way and undermining EU solidarity.
Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian biochemist who left the country for the United States in 1985, played a key role in developing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Some polls suggest only seven percent of Hungarians would accept the Sputnik V vaccine, while acceptance of the Chinese version has been measured as low as one percent by some surveys.
Russia is funding and building a major expansion of Hungary’s nuclear power station at Paks. The Chinese Fudan University is also due to open a campus in Budapest in 2024, and plans are advancing for a high-speed Chinese railway that would link Budapest to Thessaloniki and bring Chinese goods to Europe.
According to recent reports, 6,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine will be administered to 3,000 paid Hungarian volunteers in phase three of a clinical trial in the coming weeks.
In a speech to supporters on the night of election, Viktor Orban said his victory gave Hungarians “the opportunity to defend themselves and to defend Hungary”.
Leaders of the second and third-placed parties have resigned in light of the result.
Polling stations were meant to close at 19:00 local time, but some stayed open hours later due to long queues. Voter turnout reached a near-record 69% – an outcome some believed would favor Viktor Orban’s opponents.
However, with almost all votes counted, the nationalist Jobbik party is in second place with 20% of the vote. The Socialists are in third with 12%, and the LMP, Hungary’s main Green Party, is in fourth with 7%.
Jobbik’s chairman Gabor Vona resigned on the night of election, telling a news conference: “Jobbik’s goal, to win the elections and force a change in government, was not achieved. FIDESZ won. It won again.”
Socialist Party President Gyula Molnar also resigned, saying: “We regard ourselves as responsible for what happened [and] we have acknowledged the decision of voters.”
The protesters took to the streets both to defend the CEU and protest against attempts by the government to pressure human rights and environmental groups which support refugees.
The government passed amendments to the Higher Education Act last week which would make it impossible for the CEU to continue working in Budapest – 26 years after it was set up by Hungarian-born billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros.
Image source Flickr
The Hungarian government opposes the liberal outlook of both the university and many non-governmental organizations.
The CEU has vowed to fight the legislation. The English-speaking university is ranked among the top 200 universities in the world in eight disciplines.
Viktor Orban recently claimed Hungary was “under siege” from asylum seekers.
However, the prime minister won a scholarship sponsored by George Soros to study at Oxford University and the pair were allies in the days immediately following the fall of communism in 1989.
The Central European University was founded to “resuscitate and revive intellectual freedom” in parts of Europe that had endured the “horrific ideologies” of communism and fascism. It occupies a building that began as an aristocrat’s palace before becoming state-owned offices for a planned socialist economy.
The university has 1,440 students – 335 from Hungary and the rest from 107 other countries and presents itself as a champion of free speech, with links to universities in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Kazakhstan.
Hungary is voting in a referendum on accepting mandatory EU quotas for relocating refugees.
PM Viktor Orban opposes plans to relocate a total of 160,000 refugees across the bloc.
Under the EU scheme, announced after 2015 refugee crisis, Hungary would receive 1,294 asylum seekers.
Image source Wikipedia
According to opinion polls, strong support for a rejection among those who say they will vote. To be valid, turnout needs to be over 50% of voters.
During the refugee crisis, Hungary became a transit state on the Western Balkan route to Germany and other EU destinations.
In an effort to curb the influx, Hungary sealed its border with Serbia and Croatia. The measure was popular at home but criticized by human rights groups.
Voters are being asked: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?”
In December 2015, Hungary filed a court challenge against the EU plan, which would see relocations over two years.
In a TV interview on September 29, Viktor Orban said: “If there are more <<no>> votes than <<yes>> votes, that means Hungarians do not accept the rule which the bureaucrats of the European Commission want to forcefully impose on us.”
“The more refugees there are, the greater the risk of terror,” the right-wing prime minister added, according to excerpts published by Reuters.
The EU proposal was meant to ease pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points for refugees into the bloc.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban says the migrant crisis facing Europe is a “German problem” since Germany is where those arriving in the EU “would like to go”.
He said Hungary would not allow migrants to leave its territory without registering.
Viktor Orban’s comments came as Hungarian authorities opened Budapest’s main rail station to hundreds of migrants after a two-day stand-off.
One train left, but then stopped near a migrant reception centre.
Migrants resisted efforts by police to get them off the train at Bicske, about 25 miles west of Budapest. Some were banging on the windows and shouting “Germany, Germany”.
EU rules place responsibility for assessing asylum claims on the country where a migrant first arrives.
Many of the migrants currently in Hungary have been refusing to register there, in order to continue their journeys to Germany before seeking asylum.
The migrants stuck at Budapest’s Keleti station were prevented from boarding trains on September 1 and 2. Some were involved in scuffles with police.
They had bought tickets after Hungary briefly appeared to abandon efforts to register migrants on August 31, allowing huge numbers to board trains to Vienna and southern Germany.
After the station opened on September 3, rail staff said international trains were indefinitely suspended, but international tickets would be accepted on internal trains.
The number of migrants entering Europe has reached record levels, with 107,500 arriving in July alone. Germany expects to take in 800,000 migrants this year – four times last year’s total.
The surge in numbers has created tension and disagreement over EU migration policy. Germany has been prepared to accept large numbers of asylum seekers, but other countries have not.
Viktor Orban, who heads the anti-immigrant Fidesz party and was in Brussels for talks, said border control was “the number one issue”.
During a tense press conference with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, PM Viktor Orban said that “nobody would like to stay in Hungary, neither in Slovakia nor Poland nor Estonia”.
“All of them would like to go to Germany,” he said.
“Our job is only to register them.”
Martin Schulz countered: “What we are seeing for the time being is egoism instead of common European sense.
“To say <<yeah, you know we have refugees all over in Europe but they all want to go to Germany and therefore we are not concerned>> is effective, but wrong. And therefore I think we need a fair and just distribution.”
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has been welcomed as “the dictator” by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Latvia.
“The dictator is coming!” Jean-Claude Juncker was overheard saying as Viktor Orban approached him. He then repeated the word to Viktor Orban’s face, following it with a warm handshake and a slap on the cheek.
Viktor Orban’s reaction was a smile and a bit of friendly shoving.
PM Viktor Orban is no stranger to controversy. From his less than subtle views on subjects ranging from immigration to the homeless, he has been on the receiving end of a fair share of finger pointing.
Last month, Jean-Claude Juncker vowed to “battle” Viktor Orban’s possible intent to restore the death penalty, saying it goes against EU rules.
Thousands of people have protested in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, ahead of talks between PM Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Today’s visit is Vladimir Putin’s first to an EU leader since June 2014.
Hungary wants to negotiate a new agreement for Russian gas supplies.
Russia has been largely shunned by EU member states because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, although it denies accusations of fomenting the violence.
Protesters rallied in Budapest on Monday night carrying banners saying “Putin No! Europe Yes!”.
Much of the city centre was closed to traffic on February 17 as security was stepped up ahead of the visit.
Vladimir Putin’s trip comes less than two weeks after German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Budapest before embarking on a week of intense diplomacy, which resulted in the announcement of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
He is keen to demonstrate that he has allies within the EU and NATO, observers say.
During his visit, Vladimir Putin is due to visit the graves of Soviet soldiers.
Hungary has backed EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the situation in Ukraine, but has been vocal about their negative impact.
In 2014, Viktor Orban said the EU had “shot itself in the foot” by restricting trade with Moscow.
Hungary relies on Russia for more than half of its gas supplies and wants to negotiate a flexible long-term deal to succeed the current agreement which expires later this year.
Viktor Orban, who rose to prominence with a strong anti-communist and anti-Russian stance as a student leader, told Hungarian radio on Friday that there were psychological tensions with Russia, but he wanted to overcome them.
He is considered to be among Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe.
Many of the demonstrators who marched through Budapest on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit said they were wary of closer ties with Russia.
Hungary has summoned US charge d’affaires Andre Goodfriend after Senator John McCain described PM Viktor Orban as a “neo-fascist dictator”.
The Hungarian government rejected the remarks, which it said were totally unacceptable.
Republican John McCain was speaking in the Senate on December 2 before a vote on the appointment of former TV soap opera producer Colleen Bell as ambassador to Hungary.
Colleen Bell was “totally unqualified” for such a role, he said.
John McCain had been unimpressed with Colleen Bell this year when he questioned her during her confirmation hearing about what she planned to do differently from her predecessor as ambassador to Budapest.
The former The Bold and The Beautiful producer was widely seen as giving a faltering performance.
Colleen Bell, John McCain said, was a political appointee who had contributed $800,000 to President Barack Obama’s last election campaign.
However, it was his next comments that most riled the Hungarian government and prompted Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto to summon US charge d’affaires Andre Goodfriend.
“I am not against political appointees,” John McCain said.
“I understand how the game is played, but here we are, a nation [Hungary] on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator, getting in bed with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, and we’re going to send the producer of The Bold and The Beautiful as our ambassador.”
Viktor Orban has in recent months adopted closer relations with Russia, opposing EU and US sanctions imposed on key officials in Moscow because of the conflict in Ukraine. He has also advocated turning Hungary into an “illiberal democracy”.
The foreign ministry state secretary in Budapest said Hungary rejected John McCain’s remarks, both about Viktor Orban and relations with the government in Moscow.
Peter Szijjarto added that voters had three times backed the ruling Fidesz party’s vision of “how they imagine the future of the country”.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has declared victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election, winning a second consecutive term.
Viktor Orban’s centre-right Fidesz has polled 45%, with most of the votes counted.
A centre-left opposition alliance is trailing with 25%, while the far-right Jobbik party is credited with 21%.
The Hungarian left has never fully recovered from its heavy defeat in the 2010 ballot, in which Viktor Orban swept to power with a two-thirds majority.
Sunday’s election has been mainly fought over the state of the economy, correspondents say.
“No doubt we have won,” Viktor Orban told supporters gathered in the capital, Budapest, late on Sunday evening.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has declared victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election, winning a second consecutive term (photo Reuters)
“This was not just any odd victory. We have scored such a comprehensive victory, the significance of which we cannot yet fully grasp tonight.”
Viktor Orban said the election results showed that Hungarians wanted to stay in the EU, but with a strong national government.
“I’m going to work every day so that Hungary will be a wonderful place,” he declared.
Fidesz is predicted to win around 135 of the 199 seats in parliament.
It now also seems likely that Jobbik will become the second-largest party in parliament.
Although the Socialist-led opposition is in second place, the five parties making up the alliance plan to form their own factions after the elections.
Observers say Jobbik’s adoption of a softer image has paid dividends, as a recent opinion poll found leader Gabor Vona to be the most popular opposition politician.
Fidesz supporters say Viktor Orban’s victory is a tribute to his leadership powers. But opposition parties have accused the prime minister throughout their campaign of undermining Hungarian democracy.
They have also accused Viktor Orban of curtailing civil liberties and harming free speech.
Fidesz has insisted that reform was needed to complete the work of eradicating the legacy of Communism from the country, and reduce the budget deficit to below the EU’s required 3% of gross domestic product.
Viktor Orban’s populist and Eurosceptic approach has proven popular with many Hungarians.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party are seeking another term in office in elections on Sunday.
Fidesz is expected to win between 45 and 50% of the vote, polls suggest.
The centre-left opposition is facing a close race for second place with the far-right Jobbik party.
The Hungarian left has never fully recovered from its heavy defeat in the 2010 ballot, in which Viktor Orban swept to power with a two-thirds majority.
The election is mainly being fought over the state of the economy, correspondents say.
Socialist leader Attila Mesterhazy, who heads an opposition coalition of five parties, said he could still defeat Viktor Orban, despite trailing behind in opinion polls with around 25%.
Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party are seeking another term in office in elections on Sunday (photo Daily News Hungary)
“I don’t care about the polls, people are afraid of expressing their views,” Attila Mesterhazy said Saturday at a small rally in the capital, Budapest.
“I believe I will be prime minister.”
Critics say the state of democracy in Hungary has been eroded under Viktor Orban’s premiership.
The opposition – composed of five leftist and centrist parties – also accuses Viktor Orban of curtailing civil liberties and harming free speech.
But Fidesz has insisted that reform was needed in order to complete the work of eradicating the legacy of Communism from the country, and reduce the budget deficit to below the EU’s required 3% of gross domestic product.
Viktor Orban’s populist and Eurosceptic approach has proven popular with many Hungarians.
“The left had eight years to show what they can do, and they showed us all right,” Viktor Orban told Hungarian media on Saturday.
“Why on Earth should we believe that the same people and the same parties would not do the same if given another opportunity?”
Jobbik is also expected to do well in Sunday’s election, potentially receiving up to 20% of the vote.
Observers say the far-right party’s adoption of a softer image has paid dividends, as a recent opinion poll found leader Gabor Vona to be the most popular opposition politician.
People in Hungary have been warned to prepare for their country’s worst floods ever as the Danube is set to reach record levels this weekend.
“We are facing the worst floods of all time,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Europe’s second longest river is set to hit unprecedented levels in the capital Budapest in the next few days.
A state of emergency has been declared, and thousands of volunteers worked overnight to reinforce the banks of the swelling river.
Water levels are set to reach reach 8.85 m (29 ft), some 25 cm (10 in) higher than the Danube’s previous record high in 2006.
Emergency workers have set up camps along the river as residents packed sandbags around their homes amid an atmosphere of concerned expectation.
Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, tweeted: “Hungary well prepared for highest ever measured water levels on Danube. We are monitoring & ready to assist.”
Budapest Danube is set to reach record levels this weekend
Viktor Orban, who spent the night at a military barracks in the flooded western city of Gyor, said recent dry weather in Austria and Germany, as well as a hot forecast for Hungary over the weekend, gave reason to hope that Europe’s worst river floods for more than a decade could soon be over.
The Danube peaked on Thursday in the Slovak capital Bratislava, where the main flood defenses held firm.
In northern Germany, workers piled sandbags along the banks of the River Elbe as waters rose, after widespread flooding further south.
As flood waters receded to the south and east, defense work continued apace near Lueneburg in Lower Saxony.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from at-risk areas in Germany, where the flooding is worse than that recorded in 2002.
On Thursday the Elbe flooded parts of Dresden as it peaked nearly 7 m (22 feet) above its normal level, but the city’s historic centre remained unscathed.
Upstream along the Elbe in the Czech Republic, emergency workers used boats to shuttle supplies to stranded people as large areas remained under water.
Widespread flooding in central Europe has inundated swathes of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, killing at least 15 people.
Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party has staged a rally in the center of the capital in protest at the Budapest’s hosting of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Sunday.
Several hundred supporters took part, despite attempts by the government to prevent it going ahead.
Jobbik said the rally was a protest against what it said was a Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary.
The party, which says it aims to protect Hungarian values and interests, is the third largest in parliament.
It regularly issues anti-Semitic statements.
The event in Budapest on Saturday was billed as a tribute to what organizers called the victims of Bolshevism and Zionism.
Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party has staged a rally in the center of the capital in protest at the Budapest’s hosting of the World Jewish Congress
“The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale,” party chairman Gabor Vona told the rally, according to Reuters news agency.
Marton Gyongyosi said Hungary had “become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonization while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras”.
Last year, Marton Gyongyosi had sparked outrage by saying all government officials of Jewish origin should be officially listed, as they might be a “national security risk”.
Some of those taking part in the rally were wearing the black uniform of Jobbik’s banned paramilitary wing, the Hungary Guard, which has been accused of vigilante action against Roma (Gypsy) communities.
PM Viktor Orban had ordered police to ban the march, but a Budapest court overruled the ban, saying it had been based on “unfounded presumptions”.
Viktor Orban instead instructed the interior ministry to use all lawful means to prevent the event, which goes against the constitution”.
Security was tight around the rally, with police blocking several streets, but there were no reports of unrest.
The WJC usually hosts its assembly in Jerusalem, but has chosen Hungary this year to highlight what it says is growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
The focus of its summit this year will be on the “alarming rise of neo-Nazi political parties and anti-Semitic incidents in several European countries, including Hungary”, it says on its website.
Spokesman Michael Thaidigsmann said the Jobbik rally was a “worrying sign that these people express their anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli ideology in such a public way”.
Hungarian parliament has adopted a package of constitutional changes proposed by the ruling conservative Fidesz party which critics say undermine democracy.
Fidesz has two-thirds of the seats in parliament, but the measures were approved overwhelmingly as opposition MPs boycotted the vote.
The amendment tightens up the laws on higher education, homelessness, election campaigns and family rights.
It defies constitutional court rulings.
The EU and US had urged Fidesz to respect democratic checks and balances.
In response, Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused the EU of interfering in Budapest’s domestic affairs.
The lengthy amendment overturns earlier constitutional court rulings and limits the court’s right to challenge laws passed by parliament in future. It also includes:
Restrictions on political adverts in the publicly run media during election campaigns
A rule that university students can only get state grants if they pledge to work in Hungary after graduation
Fines or prison terms for homeless people who sleep on the streets.
It is the fourth amendment to Hungary’s new constitution since it came into force just 14 months ago – a fact which helps underpin criticism that the new constitution was both hurried and flawed.
Critics at home and abroad say the amendment dismantles the architecture of democracy established since the fall of communism, and allows Fidesz to cement its own ideology at the heart of the state.
Several thousand people protested in Budapest on Saturday against the proposed changes.
Hungarian parliament has adopted a package of constitutional changes proposed by the ruling conservative Fidesz party which critics say undermine democracy
Fidesz argues the changes are necessary to make a clean break with the previous constitution, which was adopted in 1989 when Hungary threw off communist rule.
But Viktor Orban is under pressure at least to postpone Monday’s vote until experts from the Council of Europe – Europe’s main human rights watchdog – can examine the amendment.
German MEP Alexander Lambsdorff urged the European Commission to investigate a possible “systematic violation of European values” by the Hungarian government ahead of the vote, the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reports.
In a separate development, Viktor Orban described as “scandalous” a court decision against the government over state-imposed gas price cuts.
He said he would not accept the ruling scrapping recent 10% price cuts and would instead submit a new proposal to lower prices even further.
The government’s measure is popular with many Hungarians who are struggling to pay their bills, but energy companies have complained that they have to foot the bill.
The European Commission warns Hungary that it faces legal action if it fails to change reforms to its central bank, data protection and judiciary.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban was given a month to respond, Reuters news agency reports.
Critics say the new central bank law puts the bank’s independence at risk. It allows Viktor Orban to install a new deputy governor.
Viktor Orban’s conservative Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.
The European Commission launched an “infringement procedure” against Hungary on Tuesday, the first stage of which is a warning calling for changes to the controversial laws.
“We do not want a shadow of doubt on respect for democratic principles and values to remain over the country any longer,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
There are fears that a new data protection authority will come under Fidesz influence and that a plan to make hundreds of judges retire early will undermine the judiciary’s independence by enabling new pro-Fidesz appointees to replace them.
The European Commission can go as far as imposing fines and taking Hungary to the European Court of Justice.
Thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated over what they see as Fidesz authoritarianism. A new media authority set up by Fidesz is also highly controversial.
The changes are part of a new constitution which took effect on 1 January.
Viktor Orban says the criticisms are politically motivated. He argues that partisan bickering has for too long handicapped Hungarian politics and that the last vestiges of communist influence need to be rooted out.
Correspondents say a compromise may be found because Hungary is struggling to service its debts and wants to reach a new deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund on a standby loan.
Hungary’s total debt has risen to 82% of its output, while its currency, the forint, has fallen to record lows against the euro.
The EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, has already warned that Hungary could face a suspension of EU cohesion funds – support for regional projects.
Nearly a year ago a row between Hungary and the Commission was defused when Viktor Orban’s government agreed to amend the wording of the new media law, in the sections on balanced reporting, country of origin and media registration.
Over 30,000 people have been protesting in Budapest over Hungary’s controversial new constitution, a day after it came into force.
The country’s governing Fidesz party pushed the law through parliament in April after winning a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections.
Opposition say the new constitution threatens democracy by removing checks and balances set up in 1989 when Communism fell.
The EU and U.S. had also asked for the law to be withdrawn.
The dispute has cast doubt over talks on a new financing agreement with the EU and IMF, seen as vital for market confidence in the central European country.
But the economic crisis facing Hungary overshadows both the government’s policies and the opposition protests.
Over 30,000 people have been protesting in Budapest over Hungary's controversial new constitution, a day after it came into force
Fidesz party won the elections promising to create a million workplaces – but there has been no growth so far.
As the public mood worsens, so do the country’s ratings, the chances of attracting foreign investment, and creating more jobs.
Several centre-left opposition parties joined in the protests, held near a gala event organized by the government to celebrate the new constitution.
Protesters chanted slogans denouncing the centre-right Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, and carried placards denouncing his “dictatorship” as officials arrived for the event.
“Viktor Orban and his servants turned Hungary from a promising place to the darkest spot in Europe,” said Socialist MP Tibor Szanyi, quoted by AFP news agency.
Aspects of the new constitution and accompanying laws which have come in for criticism include:
• A preamble committed to defending the intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation, which experts warn could be a future source of tension;
• The inclusion of social issues – like the rights of the unborn child, marriage between a man and a woman, and the definition of life sentences – which experts say should be left to ethical debates within society;
• The rewriting of the electoral system, in a way which opponents say favors Fidesz;
But Fidesz says the new constitution, or basic law, improves the legal framework of life in Hungary.
“Despite political debates we think it is an important value that for the first time, a freely elected parliament created the Basic Law,” said Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyas, quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Gergely Gulyas co-wrote the new law and shepherded it through parliament.
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