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HomeBalkansDemocracy Digest: Photo Exhibition in Hungary Finds Any Press Is Good Press

Democracy Digest: Photo Exhibition in Hungary Finds Any Press Is Good Press

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The Hungarian far-right politician Dora Duro managed to provide some unintended publicity for this year’s World Press Photo exhibition currently being held in Budapest. Duro – who gained notoriety in 2019 for publicly shredding Fairyland is for Everybody, a children’s book that includes LGBT stories – calledfor a ban on those under 18 from visiting the prestigious exhibition at the National Museum in Budapest because they would fall foul of the 2021 “Child Protection Act” – dubbed an anti-LGBT law by critics – that stipulates minors should not be exposed to LGBT content. One of the photo series in the exhibition depicts an LGBT community in the Philippines, with elderly men wearing women’s clothing and make-up. The politician of the Our Homeland Movement called for immediate action, prompting the culture minister to order that tickets for the exhibition should not be sold to anyone under 18. This caused much hilarity around the world, especially when local media pointed out that tickets could still be bought from vending machines and cashiers don’t ask for ID, allowing families with children to enter. Laszlo Simon, the museum’s director and a long-time Fidesz loyalist, thanked the far-right politician in an irony-laden Facebook post for promoting the exhibition, posting pictures of long queues of people on the stairs waiting to get in, many of them suspiciously young. He also wrote to AFP that “the museum cannot legally enforce the government order because it cannot ask for ID” and that “the museum relies on the cooperation and compliance of visitors”. The affair highlights how some of the laws passed by the Fidesz majority in parliament, despite being full of lawyers, are often difficult or impossible to enforce.

Hungary’s Pancho Arena will host the Israeli national soccer team for its upcoming European championship qualification matches. Israel cannot play the next matches at home due to the conflict in Gaza, and has been looking for alternatives in Europe. “In light of the challenging security situation faced by Jewish people worldwide, the Israeli national football team will play their upcoming matches in Felcsut, Hungary, at the stadium of the football academy…,” PM Viktor Orban’s political director, Balazs Orban (no relation), announced on X. He added that liberals who often accuse the Hungarian right of anti-Semitism “would now be wise to remain silent”. Hungary, whose PM has a close personal relationship with his Israeli counterpart and is a staunch ally of Israel in the current conflict – will host the Israel vs Switzerland and the Israel vs Romania matches on November 15 and 18, respectively. The Pancho Arena was built in 2014 across from the street from Orban’s house in his hometown of Felcsut and also hosts a soccer academy that helps serves the PM’s dream of making Hungarian soccer great again. The stadium is a bit incongruous with a capacity of 3,500 in a village of only 1,600 inhabitants. Orban has been actively promoting Hungary as an ideal location for international soccer events, offering its state-of-the-art Puskas Arena in Budapest to host several European matches even during the COVID-19 pandemic when other countries still had strong lockdown policies and refrained from holding mass events.

Slovakia’s new government begins police purge; migrant operation ends in a fiasco

Slovak Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok announced the day after his appointment on October 26 that he had dismissed the police chief. Stefan Hamran, under whose command the police began to investigate high-profile corruption cases linked to the Smer party during its previous governments, said before the September 30 election he would retire from the police by the end of October as he could not imagine working under a Smer-led government again whose members have repeatedly attacked and threatened investigators and prosecutors. In a final humiliation, Sutaj Estok ordered Hamran to move from one end of the country to another one to spend his remaining days with the police far from home. Hamran decided to go on sick leave instead. Sutaj Estok also dismissed Hamran’s two deputies, and suspended a group of National Crime Agency investigators and undercover operatives who had worked on sensitive cases linked to Smer. The interior minister did not specify the reasons other than the six policemen are facing criminal charges; a court ruled in 2021 the charges were groundless, yet they have not been scrapped to date. Sutaj Estok suspended the group despite them being granted whistleblower status, which means their employer cannot fire or suspend them. Sutaj Estok’s decision is thus seen as invalid. However, these policemen were denied access to their workplace several days ago. The Interior Ministry could face a fine of several hundreds of thousands of euros for the minister’s decision. Sutaj Estok has long called this group of policemen a “mafia” and “cowboys”, questioning the legitimacy of ongoing investigations.

Sutaj Estok, hogging the headlines this week, on Mnday announced a massive overnight police operation to fight illegal migration along the border with Hungary. The topic helped Smer win the September election to an extent and the action this week was strongly supported by PM Robert Fico. Sutaj Estok has repeatedly said his top priority is the country’s security, often accusing the previous technocratic government and ex-police chief Hamran of ignoring the problem with migrants transiting the country on their way further west. However, the costly operation ended in a fiasco with no illegal migrant being detained by Tuesday morning. Soldiers and police officers spotted only two groups of transiting migrants who did not actually cross the Slovak-Hungarian border. Even so, the government on Thursday approved the extension of its border checks with Hungary until November 23. This week, Czechia and Poland announced they would extend border checks with Slovakia until November 22.

Call for Czechia to quit UN; nuclear bids in

The Czech defence minister said this week the country should quit the United Nations. Jana Cernochova from the conservative, coalition-leading ODS party made the demand last weekend after Czechia and 13 other states failed to block a non-binding UN resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Claiming the resolution makes the UN an organisation that supports terrorism and does not respect the fundamental right to self-defence, Cernochova declared she was ashamed that her country is associated with it. “Let’s withdraw,” she tweeted. However, her outburst attracted little support. Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said he does not expect any government deliberations regarding UN withdrawal, while even Cernochova’s party boss, PM Petr Fiala, another stalwart supporter of Tel Aviv, confirmed Czechia’s commitment to the global body. Even so, the conflict in the Middle East continues to cause waves in Czechia, a fervent supporter of Israel, with the government this week drawing up a resolutioncalling for, among other things, the Iranian and Palestinian ambassadors in Prague to be expelled.

France’s EDF, South Korea’s KHNP and the US-based Westinghouse Electric this week submitted their final bids to CEZ to build a new 1,200 MW reactor at the Dukovany nuclear plant. The Czech state has nuclear at the core of its long-term energy strategy, and the tender – for which Russian and Chinese competitors are barred – includes an option to add three further units. That’s quite an ambition given that Czechia has been trying and failing to add to its nuclear fleet for over a decade amid arguments over who should foot the bill. No comment was made regarding the costs included in the bids, but the price tag on the first unit at Dukovany, estimated at 6 billion euros back in 2020, is now likely to be significantly higher. With the government hoping to have contracts signed in 2024 and the unit operational by 2036, Prague must quickly resolve its stuttering bid to restructure CEZ if it doesn’t want the objections of minority shareholders to once again wreck the nuclear drive. However, a controversial plan to implement legislation that would allow the state to split the company without discussion – dubbed “Lex CEZ” – was this week yet again delayed in parliamentary committee. Prague is also eyeing plans to build small modular reactors, a technology still under development.

Maintaining Poland’s defence spending; student’s sign of the times earns suspension

A new Polish government formed by the opposition is likely to stick to the ambitious defence spending plans of the current PiS government, Tomasz Siemoniak, a former defence minister for a previous Civic Platform government, told Politico Europe. “We won’t cancel any contracts. We don’t want our allies to view Poland as unpredictable,” Siemoniak said, who has maintained a high profile as a defence expert during PiS’s eight years in power and could be picked to be defence minister in the next opposition government. Siemoniak did concede that a new opposition government will review spending priorities of PiS, which would include defence. He also previously disputed the need for a doubling of military personnel to 300,000 as planned by PiS, arguing a 200,000-strong force made up mostly of professional (and less volunteer fighters than envisaged by PiS) would be a more realistic goal. In the context of fighting in Ukraine, Poland has launched a massive round of defence spending, committing 3.9 per cent of GDP this year to it, with the aim of building Europe’s largest modern land army.

A Norwegian student who made global headlines with an antisemitic banner at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Warsaw last month was this week suspended from the Medical University of Warsaw, where she was studying. “There is no place for any form of hate speech or violence at the Warsaw Medical University,” the rector wrote in a statement. During the pro-Palestinian rally on October 21, the student, Marie Andersen, carried a bannerthat said “Keep the world clean” and included a drawing of a Star of David being thrown in the trash. Interviewed by Nexta during the rally, the woman tried to argue her poster was “about the Israeli government not the Jewish people”, but it caused outrage in the Jewish community in Poland and elsewhere, especially given the Nazis carried out much of the Holocaust on Polish soil. Andersen has since posted a statement on social media in which she apologised, saying: “The sign…was merely to represent the Israeli government and their actions towards innocent Palestinians. This was not an expression towards any person of Jewish background or religion… Antisemitism and hate towards any religion has no place in this world… I would also like to apologise to the pro-Palestinian movement for the damage this misconception has had on the movement.” Such ugly, reactionary and racist displays have blighted other pro-Palestinian rallies elsewhere in the region, with the Czech police looking for one female protestor who was wearing a t-shirt purportedly glorifying the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympics team at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.

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