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How a Vacation Paradise Became an Empire of Darkness

People arrive at a temporary holding center for migrants in the early morning near the border between Serbia and Hungary in R
People arrive at a temporary holding center for migrants in the early morning near the border between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke, southern Hungary, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

There was once a time when I was in love with Hungary. I spent a total of five summers at Lake Balaton in Budapest or in the Puszta between my 6th and 16th birthday. And looking back, I wish I had spent all 10 summers there.

The warm waters of the lake. The smooth sand, as if created for my tiny feet. The most delicious crêpes in the world. (At the time -- in the late '80s -- they were still called pancakes.) And my first sailing experience.

And then: life in the capital. The Art Nouveau architecture. The steep metro escalators. And the elegant Elisabeth Bridge, which I recognized from the 50-Fillér coin. To me, Budapest was, at that time, the most beautiful city in the world. And, in fact, it still is.

But I can no longer vacation in Hungary. I wouldn't enjoy the country for a second. If I came across a friendly, amiable person -- like I used to -- I would immediately wonder whether they had voted for the right-wing populists or the fascists this past election.

How could I, a foreigner, travel to a country that is inundated with xenophobes? A country that plans to set up a transit zone on the border with Serbia for deporting migrants, under what will most likely be nightmarish conditions.

The whole world can see that, during the past five years, Hungary has transformed into an empire of darkness. Still, the country is not a dictatorship. But Hungary is no longer a true democracy either.

With more than 40 percent of the votes, Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, until recently, had secured two-thirds of the seats in parliament. It is all thanks to the electoral reforms, which Orban himself had initiated in his first term, that Hungary's constituencies are now assembled in a way that keeps the Hungarian left from gaining a foothold.

Imagine if this scenario took place Germany: Angela Merkel would have the power to allow conservative regions such as Bavaria, Hesse, and Saxony to have twice the number of representatives -- while cutting the political power of the left-wing regions, such as Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg in half. What a crazy idea, right? Yet, this has more-or-less become the reality in Hungary.

But that's not all. Freedom of the press is at risk, at least since the 2011 "media supervision" reform was enacted. Now, an Orwellian authority, dubbed the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) is tasked with making sure that the media is offering "balanced" coverage. The NMHH can impose heavy fines (up to the equivalent of 20 years' salary) on journalists and bloggers. They even have the power to issue new regulations. And, of course, the definition of "balanced" is determined by the NMHH. The president of NMHH, Monika Karas, is a jurist who had represented Fidesz media outlets for years. In her inaugural speech, she argued that the media should serve "the community."

A similar scenario took place in Germany in the past. From 1933 to 45, journalists had to answer to the government. A similar measure was imposed in the German Democratic Republic in the Eastern Bloc. There are a number of excellent reasons why such authorities don't exist in Western democracies.

Anti-Semitism has made a comeback under Orban. Roma, and their 'Romany' language are at risk, as are gay people. Last but not least, the Jobbik party rose to power; it makes legendary provocateurs within the European right, such as Jörg Haider or Jean-Marie Le Pen, look utterly harmless.

Jobbik is rising to nearly 30-percent popularity in the polls. In the next election, we are a few thousand votes away from experiencing what could be the first fascist seizure of power since the Second World War.

Seriously, Hungary: What kind of nation have you become?

A photographer named Petra László recently had the urge to trip a refugee. As the man, holding his child stumbled, she casually filmed the fall.

Until recently, people weren't particularly interested in the hatred that had been brewing in the heart of Hungary for years. But László, who was employed by a Jobbik-affiliated broadcast station, has finally put a face to the ghastly misanthropy in Hungary.

And from now on, no one can feign ignorance of the disturbing events in Hungary: people around the world can easily identify this woman in faded jeans, who tripped a grey-haired, burdened father. Thank God for that.

The reaction of her boss is worth noting: he fired her 20 minutes after the video was broadcast. Referring to the now infamous scene, he said, violence against others should not be tolerated, "even if they are refugees."

Such a statement provides a glimpse into this man's heart; for him, apparently, refugees seem to be deemed as third class humans.

There are countless other examples of hatred and inhumanity towards refugees in Hungary, including:

  • The hateful statements made by the Bishop of Szeged, who Pope Francis should excommunicate personally.
  • Passive Hungarian politics, which allowed the railway station Budapest Keleti sink into chaos, only to use this chaos to their advantage later on.
  • Abusive policemen are almost everywhere in the country now.

A stench rises from inside the heart of the political system. And that's downright shameful for a nation that was once mighty and courageous, a nation who stood up against Soviet tanks in 1956, and brought down the Iron Curtain in 1989.

I am especially sorry for the many people in Hungary who have sympathy for the refugees and who help those in need. They often take great risks to help others. In Hungary, good-hearted and decent people with good intentions have been in the minority for some time now.

The EU, whose political leaders still give a damn about European values, must make Hungary answer for all this.

Hungary, as it stands today, has no right to be in the EU.

Such drastic consequences would pain me personally, but I hope to live long enough to see the times change, so that I can return to Hungary some day without fear of running into xenophobes.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany and was translated into English.