TORONTO (Reuters) – Less than four years ago, Viktoria Mohácsi enjoyed the life of an international politician, eating at pricey restaurants in Brussels and winning awards as a human rights activist.
Today, the 38-year old mother of three sleeps on the floor of a one-room basement apartment in Toronto and faces deportation. As a political asylum seeker, she hopes to convince Canada that the life of a former member of the European Parliament could be in danger in a democratic country like Hungary.
A Hungarian TV journalist is nearing Mahatma Gandhi’s limit of 21 days for a hunger strike. 44-year-old Balazs Nagy Navarro has been sitting at the doorstep of Hungary’s Public Television Bureau for 19 days in below-freezing temperatures.
The protests that have swept through the world over the last year have finally reached Hungary. Christmas found thousands of Hungarians on the streets chanting DE-MOC-RA-CY! and FREEDOM-OF-THE-PRESS! at demonstrations against Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Navarro, a television journalist and vice president of one of the largest unions of broadcast journalists sees himself fighting for basic democratic rights such as fairness in public media.
It was early March and Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner of International Cooperation Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, was traveling in Asia. Her plan was to attend a 7.5 magnitude earthquake simulation that would hit Indonesia and generate a tsunami. A few things, however, changed in her itinerary: The destination turned out to be Japan, the earthquake was 9.0 and it not only generated a huge tsunami, but also a nuclear catastrophe. Plus, it was real.
“Usually our fears are bigger than reality. In this case our reality was worse than our fears,” Georgieva said recently at a World Bank panel on the climate, food and financial crises the world is facing today and the way they all intertwine. Georgieva’s strong Slavic optimism brightened the gloomy panel, but the data she threw in didn’t back up her positive view:
I wish it were the awarding of its 14th Nobel Prize that is putting my country in the news these days.
Instead, Hungary is back on the world stage because of a disastrous chemical spill. An avalanche of a highly alkaline mud that could fill 440 Olympic-sized swimming pools has broken through the shoddy containment walls at an aluminum plant not far from the Lake Balaton region. As a result, nine people have died and 250 were injured. Wild and farm animals have perished, and lands and little summer gardens that were the villagers’ food and staple for winter have been ravished.
When my editorial assistant, Mirjam Donath, traveled to her native Hungary recently, I asked her to look into some of the ethical issues faced by journalists there.
In a coincidental piece of timing, Hungary’s president this week signed into a law controversial media legislation that has drawn criticism from constitutional law experts and press freedom advocates. So Mirjam’s interviews in Hungary are all the more newsworthy now.