Daily Israel Report

Hungary, Romania Head Toward 'E. Europe Winter'

Could last year's Arab Spring have led to an Eastern European Winter? The warning signs may be there, the EU and the US fear.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 1/22/2012, 1:07 PM

Planetary popular unrest has far from ended with the discontent fostered by last year's “Arab Spring” but rather instead may have led to a new eastern European Winter.

In the smaller nations that were satellites of the former mighty Soviet Union, economic difficulties have compounded struggles faced by troubled governments, causing frustration in the populace. In Budapest, 100,000 flooded a central square near the parliament building, and Romania was hit with the worst street violence in 10 years as a political winter whirlwind appears to have hit eastern Europe.

Local media reported that over the weekend, the worst street violence in more than a decade left nearly 60 people injured in cities across Romania. The furious protests that erupted in the former Communist stronghold were due in part to the widening gap between the rich and the poor – a situation not uncommon in numerous other nations around the world at present.

But the further deterioration in the standard of living in Romania, where people expected an improvement with a move to democracy after the 1989 downfall of dictator Nicolai Ceaucescu, has just seemed to add salt to the wounds of those who did not expect cronyism to exist after the revolution was over.

In Hungary, meanwhile, people have also taken to the streets, albeit not with quite the ferocity of the Romanians. Over the weekend, more than 100,000 gathered in a Budapest square near the nation's parliament building during a Peace March in support of the center-right government.

The European Union has expressed increasing concern over a new constitution and laws enacted in Hungary that appear to present a risk to civil liberties, and has launched a legal challenge against the legislation. The lawsuit, filed January 1, claims the new laws do not respect data privacy principles and undermine the independence of the judiciary and the national central bank.

The U.S.-based group “Freedom House” said in a statement issued by Christopher Walker, vice president for strategy and analysis, that “Hungary has shown a bent towards 'illiberalism' [a term apparently referring to extreme rightists] which is really inconsistent with the European idea.” The group's annual global survey of political freedom and civil liberties was published last Thursday, and warned that in Hungary, threats to the independence of news media and judiciary could ultimately mean a threat to democracy.