Thursday, July 2, 2020

COVID-19 and Hungary’s steep slide towards Authoritarianism

This article is by

Share this article

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban | Source: European People's Party via Wikimedia

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has used the pandemic of coronavirus to turn Hungary into an authoritarian system. This undermines the fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law in a way that is hard to reconcile as necessary for public health. On 30th March 2020, the Hungarian government passed a bill in the parliament which approved granting his government emergency powers.

Critics have said that the emergency of the coronavirus pandemic has turned Hungarian democracy into a dictatorship. This bill, which turned into a law, diminishes the Parliament’s check on the executive power. This means that elections and referendums will be delayed indefinitely.

Political commentator Zoltan Cegledi told BIRN, “Hungary’s already run as an illiberal democracy, the government’s will to destroy, limit and exhaust democracy is permanent. Its future victims will be the remnants of autonomy. Even before the pandemic threat, they [the government] tried to besiege cultural institutions and representatives while attacking judicial independence.”

The legislation under the law also allows up to five years of imprisonment for anyone who publishes false or misleading information that alarm or agitate the public or undermine the government’s “successful protection”. This also means that it is easy for the executive powers to jail the journalists for doing their job. Political Capital Institute, a Budapest-based think tank also wrote “The remaining checks and balances in Hungary will cease to exist and the country will likely witness a new wave of attacks against the free press,” while analysing the bill.

Crucially, the Bill on Protection Against Coronavirus, now a law, does not have any sunset clause. This means the law allows the government to decide when (or if) to end the state of emergency. Hungary’s democratic opposition said that even though they had concerns over a number of elements in the bill, they were willing to overlook it in the emergency situation as long as the sunset clause was introduced. However, the ruling party had made it clear that it was not willing to back down over the sunset clause.

Lydia Gall, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch said that Orban had already “weaponized coronavirus to stoke xenophobia” after claiming that coronavirus was imported to Hungary by Iranian students.

The question now arises is why Orban is doing this? There are two reasons. One, this labels the opposition as the “supporters of the coronavirus”, instead of supporters of the people, which will win his government the political debate in advance. Two, Orban sees this as the perfect time for a power grab. Every country is dealing with how to save the lives of its citizens and avoid a total economic collapse- this makes the country more inward-looking, which means that the foreign policy, in general, becomes less important and human rights and the rule of law in other countries become issues of less importance for most politicians and citizens, even though that should not be the case. When there is a death threat, the citizens of a country have a more narrow view. This is how Orban’s strategy of a power grab would work perfectly in the time of an emergency like a pandemic. Rights groups and government critics have said that while it is clear that coronavirus brings extraordinary challenges, there need to be checks and balances in place for the government, especially given Orban trying to challenge the democracy of Hungary since the past ten years since he has been in power.

Orban is not alone in seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to invoke emergency powers and turn a democratic state into an authoritarian one. But this enabling act represents his latest step along the autocratic path he embarked on a decade ago.

Support us to bring the world closer

To keep our content accessible we don't charge anything from our readers and rely on donations to continue working. Your support is critical in keeping Global Views 360 independent and helps us to present a well-rounded world view on different international issues for you. Every contribution, however big or small, is valuable for us to keep on delivering in future as well.

Support Us

Share this article

Read More

October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

Read More