Why do Hungarian voters fearing climate change continue to elect Viktor Orbán?

Jutka Bari is a Roma activist from Sajószentpéter in the northeast of the country.

“Roma people generally live in a separate and segregated environment with no infrastructure,” Bari tells me on Facebook chat. As the droughts intensify, these communities will suffer the most: last year I visited a Roma village in eastern Hungary that only shared one tap between them.

For Bari, climate degradation adds to existing environmental injustices.

“I come from a Roma community [in] a town where we had a glass factory, and it was closed because of the plastic lobby and the whole town was out of work in no time. The glassworks were over 100 years old, the whole Roma community worked there. And now the whole city is full of plastic waste, a sad and ironic case, ”she said.

It is “not just the climate crisis” that his community is facing. It has to be understood in a larger context: “environmental injustice is a huge problem among the Roma”.

The solutions to climate change that are proposed, she says, also do not take into account the conditions of Roma communities. Renewable energy is not accessible to these communities, nor is better and more fuel efficient housing. “New economic approaches, green jobs, need higher education, a better trained workforce. Roma, she said, tend not to have access to such education and training, “and green NGOs are not in close contact with Roma and pro-Roma NGOs”.

While people across Hungarian society are concerned about climate change, Orbán has made it clear that he is not. In 2019, one of his ministers called Greta Thunberg “Sick” and said the Fridays for Future movement was “repulsive” to ordinary Hungarians. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister himself blamed EU climate policies for soaring gas prices.

“The Poles, the Czechs and we Hungarians are calling for the rules to be withdrawn,” he said.

“On paper,” says Bari, “Hungarian politics are trying to adapt to EU regulations and commitments. But in practice, [it] is usually totally different. It is a sort of reorganization of the ownership of the energy sector: the implementation generally serves the party and its oligarchs.

As a member of the EU, which has historically been seen as the most progressive of the great powers in climate negotiations, but which relies on the consensus of its members, Hungary has significant power to make damage during the COP26 processes. And by teaming up with his right-wing allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, he succeeded in preventing the EU from taking a firm stance on carbon reduction deadlines ahead of the UN conference.

In 2018, Hungarian CO per capita2 emissions sitting about 4.7 tons, after collapsing from a peak of 8.5 tonnes in 1984, due to the impoverishment of the country which came with the transition away from communism. It is only in the last six years that emissions have started to rise again.

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