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Weeklies on the state of emergency

March 23rd, 2020

Weeklies and weekend editions of dailies ponder the economic and social implications of the coronavirus emergency, including discussion of the extension of the state of emergency.

In 168 Óra, Péter Somfai suggests panic shopping is due to the lack of trust among Hungarians. The left-wing columnist believes that the Hungarian government has not done a good job in reassuring the population. As for the broader implications of the epidemic, Somfai suspects that our lives will change for good, and we will need to rethink what we really value.

In Magyar Demokrata, Miklós Panyi, Vice-Director of the pro-government Centre for Fundamental Rights asserts that what he calls Hungary’s economic and political ‘immune system’ is relatively strong, which he believes will help the country get through the pandemic. The conservative analyst underlines that the economy is in a good shape, and the government enjoys broad support and strong democratic legitimacy. Public authorities and hospitals are prepared to handle the pandemic, he adds. He hopes that Hungarians will also keep strong and will not lose the optimism and calm which are essential to prevail in times of crises.

On Portfolio.hu, László Szabó and Viktor Zsiday call on the government to use their fiscal weapons to save the Hungarian economy. The two investment bankers calculate that it will cost hundreds of billions in Forints to help Hungarian entrepreneurs and defend jobs. The only way to avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of workplaces is to use drastic means in addition to the announced loan repayment moratorium (see BudaPost March 20), Szabó and Zsiday write. They believe that if the government and the National Bank act fast and announce a massive and unprecedented quantitative easing program, they can avoid the complete meltdown of the economy.

In Mandiner, Barnabás Heincz dismisses suggestions that the European Union will collapse as a result of the coronavirus emergency (see BudaPost March 21). Heincz admits that national governments can act faster in times of crisis, but this, he believes, does not mean that the ‘European dream’ is over. The conservative pundit notes that the EU could only act if it was a highly centralized federation rather than a  group of sovereign nation-states. Rather than giving up on the European Union, we should reform it and make it a proper union of nation-states, he suggests.

Neokohn’s László Seres lambasts anti-globalist and anti-capitalist greens and leftists who ‘cherish the virus’ for its implications for the environment. The libertarian pundit writes that the meltdown of production and a steep decline in the volume of international travel will lead to a massive recession and increase in poverty. He adds that modern medicine would also be unimaginable without capitalism. Rather than turning globalization back, one should use its achievements to fight the epidemic, Seres concludes.

In Magyar Narancs, Balázs Váradi writes that the virus emergency poses a huge dilemma for Hungarians, particularly liberals. He thinks that Hungarians have a low level of trust towards the government – with good reason. The liberal analyst accuses the state of leaving citizens to fend for themselves in most major crises in the past two centuries. He also finds the Orbán government guilty of not spending enough on the health care system and of trying to blame the epidemic on migrants. Nonetheless, Váradi acknowledges, severe emergency situations can only be managed by a strong state. He thinks, therefore, that liberals should support all government policies that are in line with international practices, but protest if the government tries to impose measures beyond those widely applied in Western Europe.

In an interview with the same weekly, László Majtényi fears that the government will misuse the emergency to introduce unnecessary and restrictive measures and suspend the rule of law. The left-liberal constitutional lawyer contends that reasonable emergency measures, including the closure of schools and shops, could be implemented within the existing legal framework. The emergency regulations would grant unnecessary power to the police to curtail individual freedoms and would allow the government to use its power to silence critical opinions in the name of public safety.

Mérce’s András Jámbor shares the same fears. The alt-left blogger acknowledges that the government needs extraordinary powers to manage the crisis, but warns against giving the government indefinite emergency powers. (The government proposes to extend the state of emergency indefinitely rather than extending it every 15 days. The bill needs a four-fifths majority to pass.) Jámbor recalls that the so called ‘migration emergency’ has been in place for five years. He also fears that emergency powers would allow the government to silence its critics. Jámbor believes that the government could implement all regulations necessary to combat the epidemic without allotting itself extraordinary powers for an unspecified period.

Abnormal times require extraordinary powers and measures, Miklós Szánthó claims in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government lawyer accuses the critics of the extension of the state of emergency of trying to use the crisis to create an even bigger panic. Szánthó suspects that they fear for their ‘globalist, anti-state vision’ which might lose its relevance as the government carries on with its crisis management policies to protect public interest.

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