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“Opposition media closed down, moves to make the justice and banking systems dependent on the government. The President of the European Commission expressing concern about a decline in democracy, what exactly is happening in Hungary? Your chance now to ask questions to Hungary’s Minister of State for Government Communication, Zoltan Kovacs who is joining us from Budapest. Hello from Budapest Mr. Kovacs.
‘Just one question isn’t it already rather alarming that your job exists. Most governments have a spokesperson but a minister for communication doesn’t speak volumes about the problems?
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well this office exists basically from the very beginning of our governance that is from May 2010 and there is a good reason for that, political communication is just one element of my job.”
Euronews: “Ok well let’s have a first question here on I talk for Budapest.”
“Hello Mr Minister. My name is Timo Macala I come from Finland, a country that you certainly know all about because of our relations. Being a former journalist I’m interesting to know whether any progress has been made in connection of freedom of speech and freedom of expression; the problems raised last year, by the Commission for example. Could you elaborate on that please? Thank you.”
Euronews: “There was a big debate last year already about Club Radio. We saw many reports about that being closed down does the opposition have any right of speech in Hungary at the moment and if so where?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well the question itself is bizarre. The freedom of speech and the plurality of the media is alive and kicking in this country. As a matter of fact a year ago we have passed a new law and that was after 14 years of deadlock concerning the public media and also the implementation of the so called audio visual standards introduced by the European Union.”
Euronews: “But why is the European Parliament so worried about your policies and why are certain journalists on hunger strike?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well you can always get one or two examples of extreme formulation of opinion but I really would like to object to making any kind of generalisation of that. So as a mater of fact pointing out the Club Radio issue or the hunger strike, they are just two misleading examples of extreme expression of opinion. If you look around in this country you will experience that it is absolutely free in speech. We as the government receive as many criticisms as is possible, so you look around and you see that the freedom of speech is alive and kicking in this country.”
Euronews: “Ok lets have another question to Mr. Kovacs in Budapest.”
“Hello, my name is Alessandra. I am a Belgian student. A friend of mine has been in Hungary and she has explained me about her trip, about the discrimination against the Roma people in your country and we were wondering what you are doing with the Human Rights Charter, with the respect to the people in your country.
Euronews: “ When your prime minister came to the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit talked of a return to a totalitarian state and said the Jewish people, the Roma people have reason to be afraid of the 47 members of the extreme right in your parliament.”
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well there are so many other countries in Europe where the extreme right, or far right parties are present. I would like to remind you the Roma issue is not a new phenomenon in Hungary neither in central Europe as a matter of fact in Europe at all. We have been living together with the Roma for about five, six centuries and certainly after the fall of communism a lot should have been done to be able integrate these people in the way Western European society would expect. That is why last year in the first half of the presidency when the Hungarian government was given the presidency we have introduced our initiative for having a European Roma strategy and as a matter of fact we were the first country among the 27 member states who have already submitted our ideas about how to proceed with this kind of Roma strategy.”
Euronews: “But why do you think that the President of the European Commission, why has Hilary Clinton both written to your prime minister expressing concerns about democracy and the treatment of minorities?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “That is a curious question. Raising general concern is again to be considered a kind of political opinion. As a matter of fact we were the government after eight years of mis-management and mis-government who introduced measures that were against the far right. We forbade the parading of para-military organisations. We have introduced a Roma strategy that is giving the Roma people prospect to integrate and as a matter of fact it is Budapest and Hungary where the biggest Jewish community lives in central Europe and as a matter of fact one of the biggest in Europe. There is a flourishing Jewish culture here which is an integral part of Hungarian culture.”
Euronews: “Ok lets have another question for Mr. Kovacs in Budapest.”
“Paul McPowell, Liverpool, Merseyside. I’m just enquiring what role do you see Hungary having in the eurozone in the future?”
Euronews: “Do you want join the euro? What is your position do you think you will be able to with the current financial problems?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well it is not a matter of wishes or intentions. When we joined the European Union back in 2004 the country had decided that it is going to join the eurozone as soon as possible and of course there is the procedure that we should go through. As a matter of fact this is not an immediate prospect for Hungary to join the European currency and as we see around us there are lots of questions that should be answered not only by those who are about to join the European currency but also by those who already members.”
Euronews: “Don’t you feel in some way that your government is humiliated that you are forced to accept conditions in order to receive money from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, you have been forced to change your politics in some way isn’t that a bit humiliating for you?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “Again its very interesting the vocabulary you or even those who are asking are using. No way is it a humiliation in this matter. It should be sorted out as a pragmatic matter. Two years ago, a year and a half ago the country was on the brink of collapse. In a year and a half we managed to cut the state deficit to below three percent. We already produced some basic figures that are solid that are showing that we are proceeding in a better direction. As a matter of fact there are a lot of volatilities in the fiscal markets not only in Europe for the eurozone but all around the world and of course Hungary cannot really be exempt from them. So what we are asking for at this moment is a safety net and insurance in the background that we are able to continue with those structural reforms those measures that are putting the country on a sustainable track.”
Euronews: “Ok lets have one final question for Zoltan Kovacs in Budapest on Italk.
“My name is Berta from Austria. I attended a very interesting congress on religious freedom in the European Parliament, where I work and I heard there that the religious schools in Hungary are now supported more than public schools. I wanted to congratulate you for that and I wanted to ask you if it’s your government, your new government which has caused this new legislation?”
Euronews: “Tell us about the funds. Are you giving more funds to the religious schools and if so why?”
Zoltan Kovacs: “We are not giving more funds, we are giving equally the same amount of money supporting education as for non religious schools. I mean these measures which we have achieved in the last year and a half are to get rid of the discrimination that existed between state run and religious run schools, that basically is the essence of the measures.”
Euronews: “Just one final question Mr. Kovacs if your policies are right why is your party losing much support in the recent opinion polls? “
Zoltan Kovacs: “Well if you look at the by-elections which show you or give you the result that we were able to win all the by-elections by the same result we have won the general election back in 2010. If you look at the general picture of course this is mid-term and we have been through some very tough decisions and it is a kind of general phenomenon that mid-term there is a decline either in the interests of people in politics or in the figures that are going for the government or those governing parties. So we are confident those measures we have introduced in the past year and a half are going to result in a sustainable path and again we are going to regain those votes that are have been lost in mid-term.”
Euronews: “Zoltan Kovacs from Budapest thank you very much for answering those questions. As you see, you ask the questions I am here to make sure you get the answers on Italk from the European Parliament here in Brussels. See you soon.”