Hungary's political reforms have sparked angry unrest and are also causing the European Union serious problems. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of the Federation of Young Democrats-Christian Democrat People's Party combine (Fidesz-KDNP) is using his two-thirds parliamentary majority to make sweeping constitutional changes, with extra support from the far-Right Jobbik party, the paramilitary wing of which has been involved in racist murders and other violence against Roma. Mr. Orbán said in 2006 that the “republic is only a cloak for the nation,” and the new constitution has a preamble that asserts the country's spiritual and intellectual unity. Other new laws define marriage as solely between a man and a woman, state the rights of the unborn child, and create a new electoral system, which critics say favours Fidesz. In addition, several Christian denominations lose tax exemptions, as do Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Above all, judicial independence has been undermined by powers whereby the government can replace judges; the public prosecutor will also choose judges for hearing cases. The press, for its part, will come under a government-appointed body with which all media outlets have to register and which has powers to fine or close them and to make them reveal sources.

These changes flagrantly violate EU law as well as universal principles of human rights, and are a huge embarrassment for Hungary's post-Cold War associates. The country held the EU presidency for the first half of 2011; it is also a member of the Council of Europe and of Nato. Yet the EU, not for the first time in a major political matter, looks helpless, as it is reluctant to apply sanctions under the Lisbon Treaty's Article 7 for serious breaches of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Budapest is ignoring all criticism, whether by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or by EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes. Even prospective financial sanctions are making no impression. If there are signs of hope, they are that tens of thousands of protesters have been out on the streets, and that highly developed internet use and broadband in Hungary are helping citizens to organise. Mr. Orbán, by exploiting a form of ethno-nationalism with fascist undertones, is exposing the hollowness of triumphalist proclamations of democracy, prosperity, and freedom that were made when the Soviet Union and its allies collapsed. No less than the core values of the European Union are on test and all those Hungarians who resist the Orbán-led onslaught deserve the world's support at this time.

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