A media storm has engulfed the front pages of Hungary’s media outlets after it emerged that the recent death of a prominent member of the opposition, who himself has actively campaigned against the government’s vaccination drive, was caused by the COVID-19 virus.
The death of the liberal opposition politician, a member of the executive board of the Democratic Coalition (DK), has been analyzed in the Hungarian press with some lack of sensitivity, yet the political connotations of the tragedy are difficult to ignore.
András Penz, a local government representative of the largest Hungarian opposition party, was a vocal critic of the government’s effort to secure extra doses of the coronavirus vaccines from Russia and China due to the lack of available medicine from European-Union-approved sources. As Remix News reported earlier, the failure of the European-Commission-led initiative to secure enough vaccines for EU member states in time has resulted in unacceptable delays and a higher death count.
The Orbán government’s efforts to secure life-saving vaccines from the East was met with sharp criticism and resistance home and abroad. Opposition members have accused the government of trying to undermine the authority of the EU and playing into the hands of authoritarian regimes in Russia and China, with whom Orbán has kept friendly ties in recent years.
The strongly pro-EU Hungarian opposition has gone so far as to actively campaign against the introduction of the two Eastern vaccines. The Democratic Coalition, of which the late councillor was a member, had even launched an online petition to block the Eastern vaccines, and the party has spread misinformation about their effectiveness and safety to friendly media outlets.
András Penz, who himself has spoken out against the non-EU approved medicines, was reportedly offered Chinese Sinopharm vaccines but turned it down. He has now passed away shortly after the offer was made due to a COVID-19 infection. After his death, his anti-vaccine posts have quickly been removed from his social media accounts, and his statements airbrushed in the left-wing media. Within a few days, even the petition to block Russian and Chinese vaccines were removed from the DK’s homepage, and party leader Ferenc Gyurcsány has made a volte face now urging his followers to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Furthermore, it had transpired that the anti-vaccine petition was designed to collect personal data about voters who have signed the campaign, which is against Hungarian and European data protection laws. The petition can only be signed by supplying sensitive personal information such as date of birth, and does not comply with European GDPR data protection laws in case the signatory would wish to have his or her personal details deleted. The data has reportedly been shared with foreign data processing firms with links to the Hungarian liberal opposition.
Despite the fact that with the help of Eastern vaccines, Hungary had seriously outpaced the European Union’s vaccination drive, and is currently in second place in the EU with approximately a quarter of the population having been immunized with the first dose (the current EU average stands at 13 percent), many opposition parties are continuing to aggressively smear the Orbán government’s initiative. The reason behind this anti-vaccine movement is a recognition that during the approaching 2022 national election the success or failure of the fight against COVID-19 will most likely play a crucial part in voter preferences. The more infections and deaths are reported among the Hungarian population and the more economic disruption the country may experience, the stronger the opposition parties’ position could be at the polls.
To date, a number of other EU member states have ordered the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and France and Germany have signaled their intention to acquire it. The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, has also reported that the Sputnik V “trial results show a consistent strong protective effect across all participant age groups.”