Hungary’s sealed borders – The Weekly 20
The Hungarian government’s announcement to seal the country’s borders as of 1 September on account of the coronavirus pandemic is deeply concerning for several reasons. It goes beyond this post to demonstrate how many sections of the Schengen Code are violated by the Hungarian government’s hastily announced decision, which is so reminiscent of the Iron Curtain from the bad practices of cold war times.
It is clear for the European Commission and the general public alike that to order the restriction of free movement, which is considered as one of the EU’s greatest achievements, with such drastic haste and without any transitionary period violates the obligation of cooperation within the EU and the principle of proportionality since you are expected to use such ultimate measures with respect to the principle of graduality, even in emergencies.
As far as graduality and consistency is concerned, it is enough to say that just a few days before sealing the borders, Hungary labelled most European countries as green (i.e., safe), while Viktor Orbán was urging Hungarians to spend their holiday at the Adriatic…
Hungarian citizens rightfully feel injustice about how their government, true to the tradition of Hungarian legislation, made sure to plant some loopholes in the restrictive measures to exempt certain individuals involved in some favoured activity. Besides the privileged persons with diplomatic passes, football players and hunters were granted the feudal prerogative of exemption from the ban, thanks to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s football mania and Deputy PM Zsolt Semjén’s enthusiasm for hunting. The exemption is also extended to the citizens of a few Central European countries which the Orbán government maintains good relations with.
This resulted in the odd situation that a Czech tourist can now travel to Hungary but a Hungarian citizen working in Germany cannot, for example.
After already maxing out on authoritarian executive practices, the government no longer has any concern as to how much these exemptions from the drastic bans will undermine the already shaking foundations of the rule of law in Hungary. Apparently, neither do they care how the Hungarian tourism and hospitality industry or shipping and trading companies could survive this year that has already put them through so much ordeal. Although it is harder to show in numbers, but blocking the movement of Hungarian workers who were forced to take a job abroad because of the low wages in Hungary will cause enormous social tensions, especially in the western part of the country.
The travel ban tears apart and endangers the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of families, with an immeasurably negative economic and social impact.
There is perhaps only one thing the Orbán government destroys more than the rule of law: public morale. While the former can be restored with proper legislative work after a favourable turn in politics, the latter is permanent. Regardless of their chosen coping strategy to contain the pandemic, governments generally took the emergency in consideration and opted for national unity, offering to cooperate with the civil and science sphere as well as their political opposition. They did so because any healthy nation, when faced with an emergency, puts aside the differences and cooperates while their governments focus on crisis management and sharing the responsibilities instead of gaining further political grounds.
The only European exception was the Orbán government (Bolsonaro and Trump are perhaps the only ones in the world to outdo the Hungarian PM in this regard), which decided to ignore cooperation and use its two-thirds parliamentary majority to adopt a law allowing for a rule by decree for an indefinite period, curbed the freedom of the press, put its hands on municipal assets and incomes as well as the state subsidies that provide the only income for opposition parties.
This government had already done away with the academy of sciences, the NGOs and the independent media when it eliminated their financial independence or reorganized their operational structure. Due to Orbán’s years-long confrontational policies that have kept capitalizing on the external and internal conflicts even after the pandemic outbreak, the largest crisis of our era found Hungary in a state of extreme tribal division. The ad hoc government measures, ignoring the professional opinions, the inconsistent governmental communication and the leaders’ bad examples have torn the country into two extremist camps: one denying even the existence of the virus and another prepared for pandemic management until the end of the world. There is no middle ground between the two camps. Only conflict and hatred.
Based on the above, there are two possible explanations here: Hungary is ruled by chaos and the government is no longer in control of the situation or, even worse, Orbán has entered the next level to use the virus for extending his power and we are witnessing the preparations for yet another anti-EU campaign.
Either way, Hungary will lose.