FP: Could you tell me what happened exactly, why were you expelled from the political forum?
Júlia Halász: The Hungarian government (and the Fidesz party, it’s hard to separate the two these days) started a campaign called ‘Stop Brussels’. As part of this campaign they organized 130 public forums around the country, they call it “National consultation civil forums”. I attended one of these forums on the 4th of May in the Budai Ciszterci Szent Imre High-school. I was planning to make a video report about the event. The organizers banned me to shoot, but we agreed that I could take part as an observer. István Simicskó (Minister of Defence) and Mihály Varga (Minister of National Economy) repeated the Fidesz propaganda against the EU, György Soros and independent organizations such as our portal 444.hu. They highlighted an article about Asylum seekers as proof of our harmful influence and they tried to portray us (and many other organizations) as “foreign agents”.
As others from the audience, I took photos of the slides with my mobile phone. I spent more than one hour in the forum without any problems. During the Q and A session one of my colleagues called me, so I went out to the corridor. László Szabó (head of the organizers) followed me and attacked me, after my call. He took my phone and accused me of fimling with my DSLR camera without permission, which wasn’t not true. So I asked him to call the police immediately to clarify the situation. When he started tossing me I shouted for help. Everyone inside (including the ministers) heard this, but they shut the doors and László Szabó grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the building. He didn’t want to give me back my phone until I gave him my DSLR camera, obviously, I refused. Some of his colleagues joined him and they tried intimidating me. Finally, the doorman of the school helped me, I could use his phone to call the police. As I notified László Szabó about the police, he deleted my photos from my phone and fled.
Júlia Halász: As many times before, Fidesz is trying to manipulate the country with hate propaganda. This time their narrative is that the EU is threatening Hungarians’ independence and Brussels wants to force Hungary to let in illegal immigrants. At the same time, they stigmatize NGOs or any other public figures who could point out their lies.
FP: What do you see as being the main reason for the attack?
Júlia Halász: I was attacked because I work for a news portal, which Fidesz can’t influence. They try to create enemies to keep their power and they try to silence everyone who talks about their lies and consequences of their populism.
FP: How did the Hungarian media report on this incident?
Júlia Halász: I got a lot of support from the media. Fidesz has a huge media empire, but their big sites hushed up the incident; only their small sites tried to accuse me with lies.
FP: What’s your opinion of today’s political structure of the country?
Júlia Halász: In my opinion Fidesz is trying to build a party state, which is the most frightening future for all of us in this country. They created a new constitution, modified the voting system and increased corruption to an extreme level. Meanwhile the opposition parties are quite fragmented.
FP: Could you refer to the collusion of politics and the media in Hungary? How hard is it for journalists to work for independent media?
Júlia Halász: Fidesz has an enormous influence over the media, the closing of Népszabadság, the hidden public funds for VS.hu, the acquisition of Origo and TV2 or the 192 newspapers of Orban’s favourite oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros are just the most recent examples. Meanwhile the increasing advertising taxes force independent companies into a more and more hopeless situation.