By Markus Salzmann:
Thousands protest austerity measures in Hungary
7 December 2011
Several thousand people marched through the Hungarian capital Budapest on Saturday to protest against the austerity policies of the government led by Victor Orban. Held under the slogan “Your life is at stake,” the protest was organised by the Forum for the Cooperation of Trade Unions (SZEF) and was aimed mainly against the education and health policies of the government.
The call to demonstrate by the SZEF had been supported by four other trade union federations—the National Confederation of Trade Unions, the Autonomous Trade Union Confederation, the Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions and the Confederation of Unions of Professionals. At the same time, protests were carried out by police officers, firefighters and other public servants against the brutal austerity measures introduced by the government.
Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz party are facing increasing popular discontent due to the cuts the government has carried out at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Last year, the government raised taxes on small and medium incomes, and reduced or completely eliminated in some cases pensions and welfare benefits.
By Markus Salzmann:
Poverty and hunger on the rise in Hungary
27 October 2011
A social catastrophe is looming in Hungary. Immediate responsibility for this rests with the right-wing government of Viktor Orban, and the austerity program dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Orban came to power in 2010 following widespread disillusionment with the previous coalition government headed by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). The MSZP had begun its own program of social cuts in order to obtain IMF loans. In the autumn of 2008, the MSZP administration received a standby loan of 20 billion euros from the IMF and other institutions. In return, it commenced a wave of major public-sector cuts and other measures aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit. The discredited MSZP then suffered a debacle in the 2010 election.
In flagrant contrast to the demagogic promises of social improvement he made during the 2010 election campaign, Orban has continued and intensified the austerity policies introduced by the MSZP. This has had devastating consequences for the most vulnerable sections of Hungarian society.
Official statistics are not to be trusted since Orban’s national-conservative Civic Union (Fidesz) assumed power and proceeded to fill nearly every public institution with pro-government representatives. At the same time, critical media outlets and organizations have been suppressed by a new media law. Only a handful of public organizations and media reports deal with the increasingly perilous situation of many Hungarians hit by the austerity measures.
The previously approved cuts affect every area of social life. Education, health care, pensions and wages have been cut while working conditions have deteriorated considerably. The consequences of this policy are now evident.
Recently published reports indicate that more than 100,000 school children in Hungary are poorly or under nourished. Some 20,000 children do not receive enough food to live on. They are subject to permanent hunger. For many of these children, their nurseries and schools are the only places where they receive hot meals or other vital foods. Less than half the children drink milk at school, and two-thirds of students do without bread for their school breakfasts.
The public schools are in a disastrous condition. Due to the desperate financial situation in the region, the administrative district of Pest is unable to pay its outstanding bills. As a result, about 40 schools currently lack heating and hot water. The gas supplier TIGÁZ has accumulated over 100 million forints (335,000) in debt. The private company refuses to resume deliveries before its bills are paid.
Instruction is often no longer possible due to the increasing cold, and teachers are being encouraged to skip lessons or postpone them to the spring.
This trend will only be exacerbated by the plans of the Orban government to reorganise local government.