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Orbán government takes victory lap, despite party's worst-ever performance in EU parliament race

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Orbán government takes victory lap, despite party's worst-ever performance in EU parliament race

The day after Hungarians voted in the European Parliament elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government declared a big win, but missing from the victory speeches was an acknowledgement that it was his party’s worst performance in an EU election since Hungary joined the bloc 20 years ago.

The lackluster showing can largely be attributed to the emergence of a new political force in Hungary — Péter Magyar, a former insider in Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP coalition, who broke with the party and declared his intention to build a popular movement to defeat Orbán and sweep away his autocratic system.

Eleven of Hungary’s 21 delegates to the EU’s legislature will come from Fidesz — more than any of its domestic competitors. After tallying 44% of Sunday’s vote, the government said the result clearly signals overwhelming support for Orbán’s hard-right nationalism.

GERMANY’S CONSERVATIVES FINISH FIRST IN EU ELECTION, AS FAR-RIGHT MOMENTUM SENDS FRANCE’S LEADER SCRAMBLING

“Never before have so many people, 2.015 million, voted for Fidesz-KDNP in an EP election,” spokesman Zoltán Kovács wrote Monday on the social media platform X. “The message is clear: Hungarians say no to war, migration, and gender ideology.”

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Nonetheless, Fidesz has never performed so poorly in a European Union election since it joined in 2004. Votes for the party were down sharply from its 52% support in the 2019 polls, and it lost two of its European Parliament seats.

András Bíró-Nagy, an analyst and director of the Budapest-based think tank Policy Solutions, said the power of Orbán — who returned to office in 2010 — has never been more at risk.

“We are in an unknown territory because previously it was not imaginable that a single political party could mount a serious challenge to Viktor Orbán,” Bíró-Nagy said.

FILE – Viktor Orbán waves after his annual state of the nation speech in Varkert Bazaar conference hall of Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi, File)

Magyar’s new party, Respect and Freedom (TISZA), won nearly 30% of the vote on Sunday, earning seven delegates in the EU legislature. He has said the election would propel his movement into a stronger position to challenge and defeat Orbán in the next national ballot, scheduled for 2026.

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Late Sunday, thousands of Magyar’s supporters gathered next to the Danube River to await the election results. Addressing the jubilant crowd, Magyar said his party’s performance was a “political landslide” that would usher in a new era of “useful, fair and, especially, honest” governance.

“Today marks the end of an era,” Magyar said. “This is the Waterloo of Orbán’s factory of power, the beginning of the end,” he said, referring to the battle that ended the Napoleonic Wars.

Magyar campaigned less on a specific party program than a structural critique of Orbán’s system, which he characterized as rife with corruption, nepotism, intimidation and propaganda.

He derided the condition of Hungary’s education and health care systems, accused Fidesz of creating a class of oligarchs enriched with lucrative public contracts, and vowed to form a more constructive relationship with the EU.

Hungary’s traditional opposition parties, through pressure from Orbán’s government and their own fractiousness and infighting, have been unable to mount a serious challenge to Fidesz in the past 14 years.

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“The Péter Magyar phenomenon is the symptom of a deep crisis in Hungarian politics,” said Bíró-Nagy. “This reflects not only some disillusionment with the Orbán regime, but it shows the complete disillusionment with the established opposition.”

“Many people in Hungary are craving for something new, are craving for change, and they are willing to support basically anybody who shows potentially some strength against the Orbán regime,” he said.

Magyar’s rise followed a series of scandals that rocked Orbán’s government and prompted the resignation of the president and justice minister. A deep economic crisis, compounded by the highest inflation in the 27-member EU, also led to a drop in popularity for the bloc’s longest-serving leader.

Meanwhile, the EU has frozen more than 20 billion euros ($21.5 billion) to Hungary over its violations of rule-of-law and democracy standards, and Orbán’s friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have pushed him further into the margins from his EU and NATO allies.

Ahead of the elections, the five-time prime minister campaigned on an anti-EU platform, and cast the ballot as a contest that would decide whether Russia’s war in Ukraine would engulf Europe.

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He relied heavily on culturally divisive issues such as migration, LGBTQ+ rights and fears that the war could escalate to involve Hungary directly if his political opponents were successful.

But Fidesz’s weakened position suggests Orbán’s hopes that the EU election would consolidate euroskeptic parties and deliver him a bigger role on Europe’s far-right have likely been dashed.

“Orbán has already taken the place of the radical right in Hungarian politics,” Bíró-Nagy said. “But the breakthrough that Viktor Orbán was hoping for didn’t materialize at the European level.”

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Why These Chinese Working Mothers Don’t Want More Babies

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Why These Chinese Working Mothers Don’t Want More Babies

One leads a team at a financial firm and earns more than her husband. Another is pursuing her dream of becoming a civil servant. A third is a budding influencer who aspires to be the family breadwinner.

Each woman is raising one young child and doesn’t want another — no matter what their husbands say, or what incentives the Chinese government, worried about an aging population, is dangling.

Gone are the days of China’s one-child policy. At a recent political forum, President Xi Jinping urged women to take on greater familial responsibilities and “play their unique role in carrying forward the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation.”

These women see a different role for themselves. This generation was born into small families, with many girls growing up as only children — and getting opportunities that used to be given only to boys. Their own mothers, who didn’t have multiple children to care for, typically worked outside the home and set examples for their daughters to do the same.

“I must have my own career.”

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Joyce Zhao, 29, Project manager

Joyce Zhao had worked for three years as a project manager at a small tech company in Beijing and was expecting a promotion. But when she became pregnant with her son, Ming, her prospects dimmed.

Her boss, a woman who had been advocating for her to be given a leadership role, left the team while Ms. Zhao was on a five-month maternity leave. When she returned to work, her new boss told her that she was behind and needed to work harder.

I was drowning in self-doubt, wondering whether having a child at this point in time was the wrong thing to do,” Ms. Zhao said.

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But, she said, she never once thought about quitting her job and staying at home.

“I only have myself to rely on,” Ms. Zhao. “I must have my own career and not give it up for anything.”

A few months after Ming’s first birthday, Ms. Zhao, who is 29, decided to leave her company, and landed a job at one of the biggest tech companies in China.

Her husband would like a second child, but Ms. Zhao is not interested. Her days are already grueling enough. Her four-hour commute to work and long hours mean she gets home way past Ming’s bedtime. She rises at 6:30 a.m. to have one hour to herself to read and exercise, and one hour to play and have breakfast with her son.

After college, Ms. Zhao set aside her dream of becoming a civil servant to pursue a higher-paying job. Now, having checked off marriage and childbearing, she plans to study for the notoriously difficult civil servant exam.

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“I divide my time, energy and money into different parts, saving the biggest part for myself, then the rest go to my parents, husband and son,” Ms. Zhao said. “I can’t let them take all of me.”

“I see no benefits to having two children.”

Guo Chunlei, 32, Influencer

Before Guo Chunlei got married, she worked at a bank in the eastern city of Hangzhou, making about $2,000 a month, decent by Chinese standards. Her parents bought her a small apartment and a car, so she spent most of her paycheck on beauty, fashion and traveling.

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When she decided to have a baby in 2022, her husband and in-laws, who ran a booming family business in construction, encouraged her to switch to a less demanding job to have more time for the child. Ms. Guo agreed and joined a publicly traded company as an accountant. But the work was repetitive and unfulfilling, and she was earning only about a third of what she used to make.

The steep pay cut became a bigger and bigger problem. As her daughter, Tianyi, grew up, expenses began soaring. Early education classes alone ate up a third of her salary.

Seeking extra money, and a sense of purpose, Ms. Guo started a mom-influencer account on the lifestyle app Xiaohongshu last year. A post she composed about planning a traditional Chinese birthday party for her daughter got tens of thousands of views and opened the door to brand collaborations.

She now spends weekday evenings writing captions, editing photos and doing product research. Photo shoots with Tianyi in nearby parks have become a weekend family activity.

Ms. Guo’s account has amassed more than 10,000 followers and brings in more money from product sponsorships than her day job. She’s considering becoming an influencer full time, and would like to take over as her family’s main provider.

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Ms. Guo recalls her own parents sacrificing to provide for her and her younger brother. It made her determined to follow a different path.

“I see no benefits to having two children, for either myself or for Tianyi,” she said.

I want to make something of myself.”

Tang Pingjuan, 36, Financial manager

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Like many working women in China today, Tang Pingjuan, 36, has higher expectations than did many of the women who came before her.

Growing up under the old one-child policy, she got the undivided attention of her father, a train driver, and her mother, a teacher, she recalls. And like many girls in her generation, she was given opportunities that had once been reserved for boys.

When it came time to attend college, Ms. Tang went hundreds of miles away from home to pursue a degree in mathematics, a field dominated by men. (Nearly a third of Chinese women have college degrees now, up from fewer than 1 percent in 1990.)

After graduating, Ms. Tang landed a job in finance and then, at age 25, took a year off and used her savings to travel to more than a dozen countries. Now 36, she leads a team at a private financial company in Guangzhou, the bustling metropolis where she lives with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Ning.

Ms. Tang earns more than her husband and makes investment decisions for the family.

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Six months after Ning was born, Ms. Tang returned to her office, leaving the baby in the care of a grandmother. On weekends, the family likes splurging on “staycations” at luxury hotels.

Lately, she has been considering a promising job opportunity in the nearby city of Shenzhen, which could mean being separated from her family. Her husband and in-laws oppose the move, but Ms. Tang doesn’t want to be held back. She has not ruled out a second child altogether, she said, but it is not something she is considering now.

“I feel selfish for putting myself before my family, but life is long and I want to make something of myself,” she said.

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Greece denies report alleging coast guard's widespread abuse of migrants

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Greece denies report alleging coast guard's widespread abuse of migrants

Greece on Monday denied a new report that accused its coast guard of brutally preventing migrants from reaching Greek shores, which also alleged that the practice had resulted in dozens of deaths.

A BBC report said it had been ascertained that 43 migrants drowned — including nine who were thrown into the water — in 15 incidents off Greece’s eastern Aegean Sea islands in 2020-2023. It cited interviews with eyewitnesses, following reports from media, charities and the Turkish coast guard.

Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis insisted that there was no evidence to support the allegations.

64 MISSING, AT LEAST 11 DEAD, AFTER 2 SHIPWRECKS OFF ITALIAN COAST

“Our understanding is that what is reported is not proved,” he told a regular press briefing when asked about the claims. “Every complaint is looked into, and in the end, the relevant findings are made public.”

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Greece is a major gateway for migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia seeking a better life in the affluent European Union. Thousands slip into the country every year, mostly in small boats from neighboring Turkey. Relations with Turkey are often tense, and the two countries’ coast guards have repeatedly traded accusations of mistreating migrants.

The Greek flag is photographed cast against a clear sky. (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Migrant charities and human rights groups have repeatedly accused Greece’s coast guard and police of illegally preventing arriving migrants from seeking asylum by surreptitiously returning them to Turkish waters. Greece has angrily denied that, arguing its border forces have saved hundreds of thousands of migrants from sinking boats.

The country’s reputation took a further knock in June 2023, when a battered fishing vessel with an estimated 750 people on board sank off southwestern Greece. Only 104 people survived, despite the Greek coast guard having shadowed the vessel for hours, and survivors claimed the trawler sank after a botched attempt by the coast guard to tow it. Greek authorities again denied these allegations.

The new BBC report included a claim by a Cameroonian man that he and two other migrants were picked up by masked men, including policemen, just after landing on the island of Samos.

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The man claimed all three were put in a coast guard boat and thrown into the sea, and that the other two men drowned as a result.

The report also quoted a Syrian man who said he was part of a group picked up at sea by the Greek coast guard off Rhodes. He said the survivors were put in life rafts and left adrift in Turkish waters, where several died after one life raft sank before the Turkish coast guard came to pick them up.

Marinakis said “it is wrong to target” the Greek coast guard. “In any case, we monitor every report and investigation, but I repeat: What is mentioned (in the BBC report) is in no case backed up by evidence,” he said.

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Concentration camp museum director joins campaign to ban AfD

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Concentration camp museum director joins campaign to ban AfD

The German far-right party AfD finished well in the European elections, but has also suffered serious legal setbacks.

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The director of the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial has warned that the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is too dangerous to be allowed to continue in German politics, citing lessons from the rise of the Nazi Party as a warning.

“AfD repeats the terminology of Nazis,” German historian Jens-Christian Wagner said on Monday during a press conference calling for a ban on far-right party.

“The party, i.e. the AfD and its officials and functionaries, represent positions against human dignity,” said Wagner. “They repeatedly make ideological and terminological use of the programmes and practices of historical National Socialism.”

His remarks came after the AfD finished second in the European Parliament elections in early June with around 15.9% of the vote. That put the party ahead of Germany’s ruling Social Democrats, who reached just 13.9% — their worst post-World War II result in a nationwide vote.

“The fact that the Nazis were able to come to power at all was due to the Weimar Republic allowing them to abuse democracy in order to bring down democracy according to their own rules,” Wagner explained. “Anti-constitutional parties must be deprived of the opportunity to use the means of democracy to abolish it.”

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While the AfD’s strong performance in the European elections has alarmed its opponents, the party has also faced major setbacks over its alleged links to the extreme right. Regional leader Björn Höcke was recently fined for using a Nazi slogan at a party event, while a court upheld the party’s designation as a “suspected extremist organisation“.

The AfD was also ejected from its European Parliament group, Identity and Democracy, after former candidate Maximilian Krah told an Italian newspaper that not all members of Hitler’s SS were war criminals.

“The warnings, demonstrations and actions against the AfD have not helped so far,” said Julia Dück, a campaigner from the group AfD Ban Now. “That’s why we need an AfD ban procedure that hinders and stops this party.

“We are at a turning point that could tip authoritarian. Once the AfD has reached a position where it can translate its inhuman goals into state policy, it will no longer be so easy to turn it around. In other words, time is pressing. That means we have to act now,” she said.

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