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Opposition says farmland auctions favor oligarchs

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Parliament held a heated debate yesterday about government plans to privatize farmlands starting next month. The opposition claims the land will be sold to government friendly oligarchs, while the government insists the sale is meant to favor Hungarian farmers over foreign investors.

Addressing lawmakers before the debate, Farm Minister Sándor Fazekas said plans were to put 20% of state land into the hands of farmers, which the government claims would strengthen family farms, help make farmers more competitive, strengthen the position of small farms against big companies and protect Hungarian land from foreign buyers.

The size of land to be auctioned is capped at 300 hectares, Fazekas said, adding that some 80% of state land now up for auction is 10 hectares or smaller in size. Representing the government’s point of view, the minister said the aim is to help local farmers increase the size of their existing land holdings.

Critics say the land will be handed to friends of the ruling party. For example, origo.hu reports that, through the auctions, Felcsút’s forint billionaire mayor Lőrinc Mészáros, a close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, will have a chance to buy HUF 1 bln worth of farmland.

Opposition parties criticized the government’s move as an attempt to “play land into the hands of friends and oligarchs”. LMP’s Benedek R Sallai said at a press conference yesterday that all Hungarian elites in the past have been “stealing whatever they could put their hands on” and now they are stealing what is left: the country’s most important natural resource. He said the move would not serve the interests of small farmers at all.

Opposition Együtt (Together) party said “Fidesz’s land reform” went against Hungarian laws, and vowed that all “stolen land” would be returned after a change in government when Fidesz “friends” would be held to account. The far right Jobbik party said it would be “standing guard” by each and every land auction in the country.

The Socialists argued that the government’s plan to auction off farmland would not prevent foreigners from obtaining estates in Hungary, calling the program the “greatest swindle of the past 25 years”. The Democratic Coalition (DK) said the land to be auctioned would not go to local farmers but to new owners who “never touched a hoe”.

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