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A landlocked central European country, Hungary borders Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Serbia and Croatia. Since the fall of the Communist regime, Hungary has functioned as a multi-party democracy, with a largely ceremonial president and a cabinet selected and run by the Prime Minister. Recent constitutional changes have raised major concerns about media freedoms and the independence of the judiciary alongside an atmosphere of public intolerance, particularly directed against Jewish and Romani communities.
Hungary is landlocked central European state which shares borders with Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. The country's mostly flat, fertile and arable land gives way to mountains in the west around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe. The capital city is Budapest.
Population and language
Hungary is home to a little under 10 million people. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic (67.5 per cent), while there are substantial communities of Calvinists (20 per cent), Lutherans (5 per cent), Jews (5 per cent) and atheists (2.5 per cent). Hungarian is almost universally spoken.
History and politics
The ancestors of the modern day Hungarians occupied the Carpathian basin in the late 9th century, before forming a Christian Kingdom in 1000AD. The country came under Turkish control during the 16th and 17th centuries before its incorporation into the Habsburg empire. In the aftermath of the First World War, Hungary regained its formal independence though it lost two-thirds of its territory under the post-war Treaty of Trianon.
The country experienced a further political shift following the Second World War, as Communism took hold under the heavy influence of the USSR. From the late 1960s, Communist leader János Kádár instituted radical economic reforms unparalleled in the communist bloc, leading to improved relations with the west. The country also played an important role in the collapse of the USSR in 1989, when it opened its borders, allowing East Germans to enter Austria.
Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hungary underwent democratic reforms and held its first democratic elections in 1990. Subsequent elections have been held every four years. In the most recent national elections of 2010, formerly opposition centre-right Fidesz party, in alliance with the Christian democrats, won a landslide with 53 per cent of the vote. A new constitution came into force on the 1 January 2012, which has been widely criticised including for provisions that may serve to restrict human rights.
Hungary is a member of the European Union, the member states of which account for the vast majority of the country's trade (80 per cent). The economy faced significant problems following the global economic crisis of 2008, which led to an International Monetary Fund loan that year to prevent a run on the Forint. Negotiations with the IMF have continued in recent years with regards to a potential second financial agreement. Economic hardship has continued as the Eurozone crisis has developed. European banks have committed US$120 billion of credit to Hungary, which leaves the country very vulnerable to withdrawals of capital from the banking system. Unemployment reached 12 per cent in 2012 and inflation 6 per cent.
Media and civil society
Hungary has been criticised in many quarters for what has been perceived as a decline in the level of freedom accorded its press. In 2012, Freedom House rated the country “partially free” in its Freedom of the Press report for the first time in response to the establishment of the National Agency for Data Protection, evidence of politically motivated licensing procedures, the loss of anti-government radio coverage and increased reports of censorship and self-censorship. Under 2010 press reforms, the Media Council was empowered to enforce numerous provisions affecting media organisations, and has the power to levy fines or suspend outlets for “unbalanced” or “immoral” reporting. Any fines levied must be paid before the initiation of an appeal process.
The government also caused controversy in 2011, following the de-registration of religious organisations with fewer than 1,000 members and those that had not been organised in the country for more than 20 years. The measure was struck down by the Constitutional Court in December 2011, but has since been re-enacted with minor changes.
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 40th out of 179 countries in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index.
Human rights and children's rights
Constitutional reforms instituted on 1 January 2012 have given rise to a number of concerns about human rights standards in Hungary. The inclusion of measures to protect life from conception, define marriage as a union between a man and woman, those permitting life imprisonment without parole and the exclusion of sexual orientation from the protected grounds of discrimination have all led commentators to express concern. UN human rights mechanisms have also been widely, and persistently, critical of discrimination against Roma children, including with respect to access to education, housing and healthcare. NGOs such as the European Roma Rights Centre have also continued to report on attacks against Roma children throughout the country.
- ↑ UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2012"
- ↑ Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Hungary Country Profile" 1 October 2012
- ↑ Reuters, "Fidesz wins Hungary election with strong mandate" 11 April 2010
- ↑ BBC, "Hungarians protest against new Fidesz constitution" 3 January 2012
- ↑ Reuters, "Hungary sees IMF talks in second half of October" 19 September 2012
- ↑ BBC, "Hungary's dangerous dependence on Eurozone banks" 6 January 2012
- ↑ The Economist, "Sickness on the Danube" 89 June 2012
- ↑ Freedom House, "Freedom of the Press 2012: Hungary"
- ↑ Amnesty International, "World Report 2012: The state of the world's human rights"
- ↑ Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- ↑ Xpatloop, "New Constitution at odds with human rights" 5 May 2011
- ↑ CRIN, "HUNGARY: Persistent violations of children's rights" 20 November 2012
- ↑ European Human Rights Centre, "Attacks against Roma in Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic" 15 July 2012
- OHCHR, "Hungary Homepage"
- BBC, "Hungary Country Profile" 14 February 2012 and news items (see footnotes)
- Freedom House, "Freedom of the Press 2012: Hungary"
- CRIN, "HUNGARY: Persistent violations of children's rights" 20 November 2012
- Xpatloop, "New Constitution at odds with human rights" 5 May 2011
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Hungary Country Profile" 1 October 2012
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- Reuters, news items (see footnotes)
- The Economist, news items (see footnotes)