By John Geddes - Friday, December 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
The fate of Roma migrants trying to escape Hungary was the pressing issue in the air as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney gave one of his typically forceful performances today at the National Press Theatre, just off Parliament Hill, announcing new refugee rules. His critics, however, said his air of confidence covered a misleading portrayal of the real options open to the Roma in Europe.
Kenney released a list of 27 countries or origin that will be considered “safe” for the purposes of assessing would-be refugees claiming to need asylum in Canada from persecution in their homelands. All 25 European Union nations, including Hungary—the source of thousands of the ethnic Roma refugees in recent years who have filed refugee claims in Canada—are on that new list of safe countries.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 7:50 AM - 0 Comments
A ‘Gypsy’ jazz man on why so many of his people flee to Canada
More than a thousand spectators packed Koerner Hall, the opulent concert theatre on Bloor Street in Toronto, for Robi Botos’ birthday concert earlier this month. Botos was turning 34. When he came onstage the audience broke into a raggedy chorus of Happy Birthday. Botos wheeled around on his heel and bent over the piano keyboard so he could accompany the last line of the song with a bluesy phrase. “What key was that in, Robi?” somebody shouted from the back of the hall. “D flat,” he said. Perfect pitch.
There followed three hours of extraordinary jazz. Botos was born in 1978 in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary. Since he moved to Toronto 14 years ago he has become one of the city’s most prominent musicians. His guests for the concert’s second half included the great saxophonist Branford Marsalis and the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, two of the most demanding musicians in the world. Before the first tune was half done, Watts was leaning forward over his drum kit, his eyes locked on Botos’, a wide and satisfied smile on his face. I can do business with this guy, the smile said. The music sounded like a freight train.
But there was a special spirit about the concert’s first half, when Botos played with members of his family: his father Lajos Botos Sr. on drums, brother Lajos Jr. on bass and first cousin Jozsef on guitar. Here the music was more casual, often based on folk themes. Robi Botos, who befriended Oscar Peterson before Peterson died, often played in ways that specifically recalled Peterson: the way he tapped his foot, the way he dropped his right hand onto the keyboard from high altitude to kick off long phrases. I’ve been hearing about him for years, but this concert gave me a chance to confirm for myself that Robi Botos is a tremendous jazz pianist. Continue…
By Anna Porter - Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Will controversial prime minister Viktor Orbán be forced to back down?
Democracy did not come easily to this part of the world. There were centuries of feudalism, a monarchy, a right-wing dictatorship, a Communist dictatorship, then the 1956 revolution when many died, many more were imprisoned, and some executed. And then there was silence.
Things began to improve during the 1980s. In 1989 Hungary decided it wanted to be a democracy. Since then, there have been several different governments, but none quite like the present one led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In 2010, his FIDESZ party won an easy victory over the seriously incompetent and admittedly mendacious socialists, and formed a new government with 53 per cent of the popular vote. Given electoral laws, that translated into two-thirds of the seats in Budapest’s spectacularly grand turn-of-the-last-century parliament. That is absolute power. Since then, with increasing velocity, the Orbán government has rewritten or created almost 300 laws, culminating in a new constitution, called the basic law, that came into force in January 2012.
Among the first were the draconian new media laws, whose original purpose, says Géza Jeszenszky, Hungary’s ambassador to Norway, had been to eliminate racism, hate speech, “excessive violence and improper language” from the airwaves. But their real consequence has been to silence most critics of the government. A new media board—composed of FIDESZ loyalists—can assess what is balanced reporting and can, should it choose to, levy substantial fines on those not meeting its hard-to-define standards. Its chair is to enjoy an extraordinary nine-year term. One of the board’s recent decisions was to deny a licence extension to Klubrádió, a radio station that has often aired views critical of government.
By Richard Warnica - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán boasts a strong majority, but vast national debt may be his undoing
On Dec. 23, opposition lawmakers in Hungary chained themselves to a barrier outside Budapest’s parliament building in a bid to stop a vote. Their protest was for naught. After two hours, police carted the politicians away. And inside, Viktor Orbán got on with the business of remaking his country.
Since coming to power in 2010, the prime minister and his right-wing Fidesz party have used their two-thirds majority in parliament to ram through a series of restrictive new measures. Judicial independence has been compromised and media freedoms curtailed, critics charge, while Fidesz party loyalists now occupy most of the country’s nominally independent posts. As the new year dawned, meanwhile, thousands took to the streets of Budapest to protest Hungary’s new constitution, which came into force on Jan. 1.
Many of the protesters were calling for Orbán’s ouster. But his real problems could be external. Hungary’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status last year, and national debt sits at 80 per cent of GDP. By passing a law in December that restricts Hungary’s central banker, however, Orbán may have alienated his country’s lenders of last resort: the EU and the IMF. If things don’t change soon, Orbán could find himself unable to pay Hungary’s bills.
By Richard Warnica - Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Hungary is now Canada’s top source for refugee claimants, but success rates are dropping
Robert fled his native Hungary in the winter of 2010. At 36, he had a job and a home in Budapest. He was doing well where many were not. (The economy in Hungary crashed in 2008 and has yet to recover.) But Robert—who did not want his last name used for fear of what might happen if he’s ever sent home—is also Roma. And for the Roma, life in Hungary, which was never easy, has become much more difficult of late.
Robert, who is working part-time as a caretaker in Toronto, says he was attacked and beaten three times by gangs of Hungarian nationalists. Not long ago, someone scrawled the word “cigány”—a nasty slang for Roma—on his apartment wall. Later, a Molotov cocktail exploded against his door. Robert flew with his wife and young son to Canada. There he joined a growing queue of Hungarian Roma seeking political asylum.
Since 2008, refugee claimants from the former Communist country have soared. From a paltry 34 in 2007, the number of Hungarian applicants climbed to 2,297 in 2010. That made Hungary the top source for refugee claimants in Canada that year (it continues to lead the category in 2011).
By Jacob Richler - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 7 Comments
Prized for its richness, a delicacy from Hungary makes an appearance in Canada
There is a small community of Canadian gourmands who worry that duck foie gras is simply not rich enough, and that something better exists elsewhere that is unavailable here. We have no support group but each other. And this close-knit relationship explains why rumours spread so quickly this spring that a Quebec distributor was importing fresh whole lobes of foie gras from Hungary—not small ones, sourced from elegant, svelte little ducks, but the Brobdingnagian stuff, plucked from fat, lumbering geese.
Finally, one happy afternoon a few weeks ago, a cab rolled up to my front door with nothing in the passenger seat but a plump, yellow, one-kilogram goose liver, sporting a label from an importer in Laval, Que., called Cunico (about $55 a pound, if your butcher can get it for you). The foie gras was a gift from my friend Arpi Magyar, a wonderful and passionate chef who, in 2003, after 20 years in charge of some of the better restaurant kitchens in Toronto, turned his hand to catering and opened Couture Cuisine.
Magyar grew up in Hungary, which is the second-largest producer of foie gras in Europe after France, and its largest exporter (primarily to insatiable France). And unlike France, where most foie gras comes from moulard ducks, Hungarian foie gras is almost always sourced from geese.
By Alex Derry - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 0 Comments
Europe’s highest court bans the hammer and sickle from being trademarked
The Cold War is long over, but a recent intellectual property ruling by the European Union’s highest court shows Communism and capitalism are still at war, even in the world of contemporary fashion. The EU’s Court of Justice has ruled that a Russian designer cannot trademark the coat of arms of the former U.S.S.R. in the EU, on the grounds that it is “contrary to public policy and to accepted principles of public morality.” The decision looked at the case of Hungary, where the hammer and sickle is considered a symbol of despotism, with consideration for “the relevant public living in the part of the European Union which has been subject to the Soviet regime.”
The court’s decision was met mainly with accusations of historical revisionism in Russia, where the coat of arms is considered an unavoidable symbol of Russia’s past. But Oleg Smolin of Russia’s Communist party agrees with at least part of the ruling. “I believe it’s incorrect to exploit the [emblem] as a trademark,” Smolin told Voice of Russia. “A person has to earn money using his or her intellectual capabilities rather than those of the creators of the Soviet emblem.”
By Richard Warnica - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
Easy on the paprika
In the land of goulash, paprika has long been king. Hungarians obsess over their national spice. Guards sometimes paw through travellers’ bags at borders, hunting for illicit batches of the burnt-orange flavouring. But new tastes have come to dominate Hungary in recent years. The Western trio of salt, fat and high-fructose corn syrup has moved in, adding inches to the average Hungarian waistline. Hungary is not Europe’s fattest country. That remains the United Kingdom. But its people are getting larger. Nineteen per cent of Hungarians are considered obese, according to numbers compiled by Der Spiegel magazine. That compares to just eight per cent of Romanians and 10 per cent of Italians.
But beginning on Sept. 1, Hungarians will pay a steep tariff on packaged junk foods and sugary drinks. The government expects to raise about $97 million annually from the levy, which has been earmarked for Hungary’s cash-strapped health care system. But researchers differ on how effective so-called “sin taxes” are at changing behaviour. Hungarians, as a result, may be as chubby as ever after the tariff comes into force—they’ll just be a little poorer, too.
By Alex Derry - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
A far-right group in Hungary is cracking down on what it calls “gypsy crime”
In the Hungarian town of Tiszavasvári, members of the far-right Jobbik party have taken it upon themselves to combat what they call “gypsy crime.” Mayor Erik Fülöp has formed a “gendarmerie”—a band of 10 unarmed vigilantes, half of them paid by the city council, who patrol Roma areas and can detain suspects until the police arrive. Fülöp has defended the “gypsy crime” term: “[There are] certain types of criminality which are unfortunately especially prevalent among the Roma—extortion by loan sharks, and robberies from homes and gardens.”
Jobbik’s support is rising just as tensions between the country’s Roma and non-Roma communities are also escalating. Nine people, including two children, were killed in 49 attacks on Roma communities in Hungary between January 2008 and April 2011, according to the European Roma Rights Centre. And the historical allusions are troubling—the original Hungarian gendarmerie was a nationwide force that played a key role in rounding up Hungarian Jews for the Nazis before being disbanded in 1945. Hungary’s conservative Fidesz government has discredited the new gendarmerie as rogue vigilantes who are violating laws prohibiting citizen-led paramilitary groups from targeting ethnic or religious communities.
By Anna Porter - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 5 Comments
Hungary’s crackdown on the media sparks a backlash at home and away
The European Union’s rotating presidency is hardly the stuff of international headlines. Few could name the last two countries presiding (Spain and Belgium). The position is largely honorific, lasts only six months, offers a few opportunities for self-promotion and the occasional memorable moment for the president’s home team.
Not so with Hungary. Perhaps not even the 1956 revolution attracted so much ink and airtime than the weeks leading up to Viktor Orbán’s accession to the EU’s presidential chamber. From the venerable Financial Times to South Africa’s New Age, the press has been on the attack; most of the German, Italian and Spanish papers have been fulminating since early November, and even the China Times has made disapproving noises. The Süddeutsche Zeitung went so far as to accuse the Hungarian government of “murdering” the free press.
The fuss is about new media legislation that sets out a series of rules that apply to all media, including online, and threatens one of democracy’s most cherished hallmarks: freedom of the press. The document is 180 pages long, most of it standard officialese, but it does contain a couple of doozies. Article 13, for example, states that “all media providers shall provide authentic, rapid and accurate information on local, national and EU affairs and on any event that bears relevance to the citizens of the Republic of Hungary and members of the Hungarian nation.” It goes on to demand that all media “provide comprehensive, factual, up-to-date, objective and balanced coverage of local, national and European issues.” It fails to mention according to whom. One viewer’s “balanced” can be another’s “biased.”
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 8:58 AM - 114 Comments
In Hungary, which takes over the European Presidency on Jan. 1, the parliament has passed a media law that some in Canada would dream of: it gives a government-appointed board the mandate to seek out unbalanced news coverage and levy massive fines for those deemed to transgress.
“Media can be forced to reveal their sources, the media authority can search editorial offices, can copy reporters’ notes and mandate that publishers hand over confidential business information and levy serious fines on those that refuse,” according to one account. “Immoral” reporting, involving sex, violence or alcohol, would be policed too. Hungarian newspapers have run blank front pages in protest. Poland’s Adam Michnik, a hero of the anti-Communist resistance and a great newspaper proprietor, is pretty angry.
The government of one-time pro-democracy darling Viktor Orban says its hands are tied: the bill was introduced as a private-members measure, so government members have no responsibility for it, although they all, surprise surprise, wound up voting for it.
So now a panel of government appointees will decide what’s fair, balanced and nice, and punish transgressors. How could this possibly go wrong?
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
If a Canadian researcher has his way, the red mud that caused disaster last week could turn very useful indeed
The Danube River is famously blue, but after a recent toxic waste spill in Hungary, parts of it were flooded with a sickly red slurry. On Oct. 4, a reservoir wall had collapsed at an alumina plant near the village of Kolontar, releasing over 750 million litres of red mud—a byproduct of turning bauxite to alumina, which is needed for aluminum production. The disaster forced hundreds from their homes and left nine dead. The red mud was waist-deep in some places, locals reported; one witness said it smelled like blood.
A chemical soup of heavy metals and minerals (including iron oxide, hence its colour), red mud is highly corrosive; workers in Hungary measured the pH level and found that, in some places, it was as caustic as bleach. It can even be slightly radioactive. (Rio Tinto Alcan’s alumina processing plant in Quebec is the only one in Canada; it has withstood flooding and an earthquake without incident, a spokesman noted, adding that it’s “highly unlikely” such a spill could occur here.) We end up creating 63 million tonnes of red mud each year worldwide, but we still don’t know what to do with it: red mud is typically stored in reservoirs, dried out and buried, but it’s so chemically stable it won’t really break down. Marcel Schlaf, a chemistry professor at the University of Guelph, has a better idea. Red mud, he believes, could help transform bio oil derived from plant waste into fuel.
By Katie Engelhart - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7:10 AM - 165 Comments
The troubling resurgence of his ideas and manifesto, ‘Mein Kampf’
On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler took his own life with a simultaneous bite into a cyanide pill and gunshot to the temple. The day before, he dictated his will from the dank confines of the Führerbunker, a concrete shelter buried some eight metres below the old Reich Chancellery, as Soviet forces encircled Berlin. What exactly happened next is still ﬁercely contested, but by most accounts, the bodies of Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, were carried upstairs to the garden by SS devotees, doused in gasoline, and burned to pieces—then buried, then later unearthed, and then buried again in an unknown location, or perhaps just scattered to the wind.
Almost 65 years later to the day, the man and the totalitarian regime he established continue to fascinate us. In just the last few years, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler’s poorly written, 700-page magnum opus, “turgid, verbose, shapeless,” to borrow from Winston Churchill, has earned bestseller status in some unlikely markets: India, Turkey and the Palestinian territories. His paintings are fetching record-setting prices, and trade in anything the Third Reich leader touched, or might have touched, is thriving. In some cases, the fascination is trivial, even absurd, such as the “Nazi chic” clothing that has been popular in Asia: T-shirts with Hitler portraits and swastikas. In others, though, it is more pernicious: the 65 years that have passed since Hitler’s death have not dulled the allure of the Führer, or his ideology, for the now-burgeoning extreme right.
Take the lead-up to last Sunday’s national elections in Hungary, which saw the far-right Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Movement for a Better Hungary) rake in 16.7 per cent of the national vote. In just a few years, Jobbik has grown from almost nothing, winning over a disenchanted electorate with its stark anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric. Party ofﬁcials have been careful to dismiss any direct links to Nazism; anti-Semitism is masked in attacks on Israeli investors and hatred of the Roma is justiﬁed with talk of “gypsy crime.” But members of Jobbik’s paramilitary wing, the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), have not been so cautious. Neither have its supporters, who gathered by the Danube River last week to lash out at “Jewish pigs” and to unite in a common cry against foreigners on Hungarian soil: “They should leave!” Jobbik’s leaders, now at the helm of the opposition, are ready to take their country forward—away from all that “commotion over the Holocaust.”
By Anna Porter - Monday, October 26, 2009 at 3:20 PM - 49 Comments
Discrimination of Slovakia’s Hungarian minority is on the rise
On Aug. 25, 2006, an ethnic Hungarian student named Hedvig Malina was severely beaten and robbed in the city of Nitra, Slovakia, after she spoke Hungarian on her cellphone. “Slovakia without parasites” was written on her clothes when she first reported her injuries to authorities. A two-week-long police investigation ended without charges, while at the same time the minister of the interior stepped in front of TV cameras to announce that Malina’s claims were baseless and accused her of making up the whole incident. In May 2007, Malina was indicted for perjury. Amid cries of outrage and charges of political interference, Malina appealed her case at the Constitutional Court. And in 2008, she took her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
On Sept. 12, 2009, ignoring the laws about presumptions of innocence, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, a former stalwart of the pre-’89 Communist party who now heads the Smer (Direction) party, accused Hedvig Malina of inflicting her own injuries in order to create an anti-Slovak atmosphere. (Oddly enough, from 1994 till 2000, Fico represented Slovakia at the European Court of Human Rights, a fact that says as much about that judicial body as it does about the task of monitoring human rights offences by member states.) But Fico’s comment should come as no surprise—the bad blood goes back centuries. The Hungarian monarchy ruled the Slovaks for a millenium until the end of the First World War, while the Hungarian minority that was left in what became Czechoslovakia suffered discrimination throughout the last century. “We are victims of an accident of history,” says one Hungarian member of the Slovak parliament. “For about 1,000 years, until 1919, this was all part of the kingdom of Hungary, and since then Slovaks have been seeking new ways to deal with that fact.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:10 PM - 59 Comments
AFP tallies the walkouts.
Delegations from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and the United States left the room as Ahmadinejad began to rail against Israel, a European source said.
Israel had already called for a boycott of the speech, and was not present when the Iranian leader began his address. Canada had already said it would heed the boycott call.
Judging from photos such as this, it might’ve been easier to figure out who didn’t leave.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 3:40 PM - 7 Comments
A suspect in a string of racist murders leaves a Budapest court
Hungary’s Roma population is so afraid of attacks by right-wing groups that they have started protecting their neighbourhoods through nighttime patrols. Their fear is justified: six Roma have been murdered in violent assaults since last November. After a huge police investigation, four men, alleged Roma haters who carefully planned their crimes, were detained for the deadly attacks in late August.
One of the worst attacks occurred in Tatárszentgyörgy last February. Erzsebet Csorba woke up to the sound of gunfire outside her house. She discovered her mortally wounded son not far from his firebombed house. Her grandson was nearby. “His whole small body was full with holes from the bullets,” she told Voice of America. The child soon died. Continue…