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Senator Ben Cardin’s statement on Hungary (Congressional Record–Senate)

July 13, 2012

HUNGARY — (Senate – July 12, 2012)

[Page: S4944]

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, a year ago, I shared with my colleagues concerns I had about the trajectory of democracy in Hungary. Unfortunately, since then Hungary has moved ever farther away from a broad range of norms relating to democracy and the rule of law.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland

On June 6, David Kramer, the President of Freedom House who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for President George W. Bush, summed up the situation. Releasing Freedom House’s latest edition of Nations in Transit Kramer said: “Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances. They appear to be pursuing the `Putinization’ of their countries.”

The report further elaborates, “Hungary’s precipitous descent is the most glaring example among the newer European Union (EU) members. Its deterioration over the past five years has affected institutions that form the bedrock of democratically accountable systems, including independent courts and media. Hungary’s negative trajectory predated the current government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but his drive to concentrate power over the past two years has forcefully propelled the trend.”

Perhaps the most authoritative voice regarding this phenomenon is the Prime Minister himself. In a February 2010 speech, Viktor Orbán criticized a system of governance based on pluralism and called instead for: “a large centralized political field of power . . . designed for permanently governing.” In June of last year, he defended his plan to cement economic policy in so-called cardinal laws, which require a two-thirds vote in parliament to change, by saying, “It is no secret that in this respect I am tying the hands of the next government, and not only the next one but the following ten.”

Checks and balances have been eroded and power has been concentrated in the hands of officials whose extended terms of office will allow them to long outlive this government and the next. These include the public prosecutor, head of the state audit office, head of the national judicial office, and head of the media board. Those who have expressed concerns about these developments have good reason to be alarmed.

I am particularly concerned about the independence of the judiciary which, it was reported this week, will be the subject of infringement proceedings launched by the European Commission, and Hungary’s new media law. Although there have been some cosmetic tweaks to the media law, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has argued that it remains highly problematic. Indeed, one expert has predicted that the most likely outcome of the new law will be to squeeze out reporting on corruption.

Hungary also adopted a new law on religion last year that had the stunning effect of stripping hundreds of religions of their legal recognition en masse. Of the 366 faiths which previously had legal status in Hungary, only 14 were initially granted recognition under the new law. Remarkably, the power to decide what is or is not a religion is vested entirely and exclusively in the hands of the legislature, making it a singularly politicized and arbitrary process. Of 84 churches that subsequently attempted to regain legal recognition, 66 were rejected without any explanation or legal rationale at all. The notion that the new framework should be acceptable because the faiths of most Hungarian citizens are recognized is poor comfort for the minority who find themselves the victims of this discriminatory process. This law also stands as a negative example for many countries around the world just now beginning tenuous movement towards democracy and human rights.

Finally, a year ago, I warned that “[i]f one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home.” I am especially concerned by an escalation of anti-Semitic acts which I believe have grown directly from the government’s own role in seeking to revise Hungary’s past.

Propaganda against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which defines the current borders of Hungary, has manifested itself in several ways. Most concretely, the Hungarian government extended citizenship on the basis of ethnic or blood identity–something the government of Viktor Orbán promised the Council of Europe in 2001 that it would not do and which failed to win popular support in a 2004 referendum. Second, the government extended voting rights to these new ethnic citizens in countries including Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. This has combined with a rhetorical and symbolic fixation on “lost” Hungarian territories–apparently the rationale for displaying an 1848 map of Greater Hungary during Hungary’s EU presidency last year. In this way, the government is effectively advancing central elements of the agenda of the extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma Jobbik party. Moreover, implicitly–but unmistakably–it is sending the message that Hungary is no longer a civic state where political rights such as voting derive from citizenship, but where citizenship derives from one’s ethnic status or blood identity.

The most recent manifestation of this revisionism includes efforts to rehabilitate convicted war criminal Albert Wass and the bizarre spectacle of the Hungarian government’s role in a ceremony in neighboring Romania–over the objections of that country–honoring fascist writer and ideologue Joszef Nyiro. That event effectively saw the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover; the Hungarian State Secretary for Culture, Geza Szocs; and Gabor Vona, the leader of Hungary’s most notoriously extremist party, Jobbik, united in honoring Nyrio. Several municipalities have now seen fit to erect statues honoring Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s wartime leader, and the writings of Wass and Nyiro have been elevated onto the national curriculum.

It is not surprising that this climate of intolerance and revisionism has gone hand-in-hand with an outbreak of intolerance, such as the antiSemitic verbal assaults on a 90-year-old Rabbi and on a journalist, an attack on a synagogue menorah in Nagykanizsa, the vandalism of a Jewish memorial in Budapest and monuments honoring Raoul Wallenberg, the Blood Libel screed by a Jobbik MP just before Passover, and the recent revelation that a Jobbik MP requested–and received–a certificate from a genetic diagnostic company attesting that the MP did not have Jewish or Romani ancestry.

[Page: S4945]

We are frequently told that Fidesz is the party best positioned in Hungary to guard against the extremism of Jobbik. At the moment, there seems to be little evidence to support that claim. The campaign to rehabilitate fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is dangerous and must stop. Ultimately, democracy and the rights of minorities will stand or fall together.

Hungary is not just on the wrong track, it is heading down a dangerous road. The rehabilitation of disgraced World War II figures and the exaltation of blood and nation reek of a different era, which the community of democracies–especially Europe–had hoped was gone for good. Today’s Hungary demonstrates that the battle against the worst human instincts is never fully won but must be fought in every generation.

* * *

The original in the print version can be viewed in the Congressional Record for the Senate.

A few words about Ben Cardin, U.S. Senator for Maryland. To quote from Senator Cardin’s official website, “Ben Cardin has been a national leader on health care, retirement security, the environment and fiscal issues as a member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  In 2006, he was elected to the Senate where he currently serves on the Environment and Public Works (EPW), Finance, Foreign Relations, Budget and Small Business & Entrepreneurship committees.  In the 112th Congress, he chairs the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of EPW and he chairs the International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“The Washington Post has said Ben Cardin has a ‘command of issues, proven integrity, formidable intellect and an unstinting work ethic,’ and that he ‘is sensible, tough-minded and independent.’  The Baltimore Sun has said, ‘He has been able to work both sides of the aisle’ to help workers save for retirement and to champion the expansion of  Medicare benefits.”

And let me add, Senator Cardin also pays close attention to Hungarian developments.

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  1. wolfi
    July 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm | #1

    Another well-reasoned critical statement – whether it will help ?

    Today on politics.hu it is described that on the official government site in English there is a statement on the “Gay Pride”: http://www.kormany.hu/en/prime-minister-s-office/news/7th-budapest-pride-event-in-budapest

    But there is nothing on the Hungarian site …

    And the comments from Fidesz-fans are quite clear:

    “Apparently Orbán caters for the foreign “mainstream” a bit. It’s his job to do that sometimes. And surely he wouldn’t want to lose votes among the Hungarian speaking electorate who, by and large, have a healthy thinking about fags.
    This is doubletalk indeed. And I’m not losing sleep over it. Performing his job includes ploys like this. I can afford to voice my sincere opinion. He cannot.”

    Ain’t that beautiful …

    So when he told people in Brussels/Washington that he couldn’t say some things at home, he meant it the other way round:

    Don’t believe what I write in English …

  2. July 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm | #2

    wolfi :

    Another well-reasoned critical statement – whether it will help ?

    Today on politics.hu it is described that on the official government site in English there is a statement on the “Gay Pride”: http://www.kormany.hu/en/prime-minister-s-office/news/7th-budapest-pride-event-in-budapest

    But there is nothing on the Hungarian site …

    And the comments from Fidesz-fans are quite clear:

    “Apparently Orbán caters for the foreign “mainstream” a bit. It’s his job to do that sometimes. And surely he wouldn’t want to lose votes among the Hungarian speaking electorate who, by and large, have a healthy thinking about fags.
    This is doubletalk indeed. And I’m not losing sleep over it. Performing his job includes ploys like this. I can afford to voice my sincere opinion. He cannot.”

    Ain’t that beautiful …

    So when he told people in Brussels/Washington that he couldn’t say some things at home, he meant it the other way round:

    Don’t believe what I write in English …

    I just took a look at the video Orbán put up on Facebook. He announced that Hungary won against the European Union on all fronts. You should see the comments!!! They call him everything, mostly a liar. There were only very few positive notes. Not like half a year ago when it was adoring crowd. Now one can hardly find a few who are behind me. Real crazies, like someone who claims that Orbán will have to defend the Hungarians from all those foreigners who want to destroy them.

  3. Sackhoes Contributor
    July 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm | #3

    As a member of the Foreign Relations committee, Sen. Cardin’s comments should be taken seriously. He has serious influence affecting US-Hungarian relations. It is also worth noting that he starts his statement by quoting David Kramer, a member of George W. Bush’s cabinet. In other words, the supposedly right of center Orban government does not have support from the American right wing either.

    I do disagree with Sen. Cardin statement on one topic. He seems to criticize Hungary for tying citizenship to “blood line”. He is correct in his statement, but he should realize that the majority of the countries around the world do the same. In fact there are two divergent legal concepts recognized around the world. Jus soli and Jus Sanguine. The US for the most part practices the former, but also recognizes the second. –Jus soli – Citizenship by Birth in the Country: All persons born in a country (like the United States) are citizens (with some exceptions). –Jus sanguine – Citizenship by Birth outside the Country: Children born outside the U.S. to citizen parents are U.S. citizens, with certain restrictions Hungary practiced (even during the Communist years) Jus Sanguine, although it was quick to strip citizenship from people who defected (but not all).

    After 1990 many Hungarians living in the West applied at Embassies and Consulates to have their Hungarian citizenship “activated” or restored, if the lost it. Many Western Hungarian are proud to travel with their Hungarian passport. They are also passing the citizenship on to their foreign born children, even grandchildren. (I speak from personal experience). The problem that quickly arose in western Hungarian communities was that many ethnic Hungarians, who were born in post-Trianon neighboring countries (Romania, Czechoslovakia, etc) were specifically excluded.

    It seems that the Treaty of Trianon required every citizen of Austria Hungary to opt for and declare a single state for citizenship. Since most people choose to continue to live where the grew up, where they own property, where their family and friends live, stayed put and reluctantly accepted the new citizenship. But when they came to the West, it was their ethnic ties that were more important and not their old legal status. This was no problem, until, as I said, they found themselves separated from their fellow Hungarians. In the meanwhile, most European countries, Hungary’s neighbors included, accepted the act that there are many people living outside their boundaries and somewhat reluctantly acknowledged the existence of dual citizenship. In the US there are hundreds of thousands of Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Romanians, etc. who are both naturalized US citizens and yet have an active claim on their original citizenship. This was the source of the original impetus to accept any citizen, who could prove a Hungarian bloodline, to become a citizen.

    Of course, Orban and his government made the whole process into a political spectacle, offending every neighbor in the process. Of course it is always a touchy matter when one country establishes legal ties to another country’s citizens.. The US tolerates it, Canada accepts, most European countries accept it. During the Cold War, West Germany was well known for their policy of accepting anyone who simply declared their German roots and their desire for citizenship. The Volga Germans, who have lived in Russia since the 1700′s took advantage of this, to escape from the Soviet Union. The Saxons in Romania mostly left Romania, after a ransom was paid for them by West Germany.

    So – to return to Sen Cardin – I agree with most of criticisms of Hungary, but he is off target on the citizenship issue.

  4. Karl Pfeifer
    July 14, 2012 at 1:48 am | #4

    Sackhoes Contributor the problem with according the citizenship is, that it was decided in Budapest, without consulting the neighbors.
    Austria does not tolerate double citizenship.
    My parents both borne in Hungary came 1908 to Austria. If I would get a Hungarian passport without asking the Austrian authorities, I would loose my Austrian citizenship.
    Hungarian foreign policy was from 1990 and until 2010 a very realistic one. Since the second Orbán Gov. things have changed and now they provoke conflicts. In my opinion not an intelligent policy and the Hungarians in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia do not like it, when Budapest is telling them what to do.
    All the same I believe Sen Cardin made a very good statement.

  5. gdfxx
    July 14, 2012 at 1:55 am | #5

    Karl Pfeifer :
    In my opinion not an intelligent policy and the Hungarians in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia do not like it, when Budapest is telling them what to do.

    You are right, they do not like it. On the other hand large numbers of Hungarians from Romania applied for Hungarian citizenship.

  6. July 14, 2012 at 7:35 am | #6

    gdfxx :

    Karl Pfeifer :
    In my opinion not an intelligent policy and the Hungarians in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia do not like it, when Budapest is telling them what to do.

    You are right, they do not like it. On the other hand large numbers of Hungarians from Romania applied for Hungarian citizenship.

    My feeling is that the Orbán government was hoping for much greater numbers. There must be at least 2 million Hungarians living in the neighboring countries and the last figure I heard was 250,000 new citizens. And that number includes also children. Naturally, not all these people will vote. And not all of those who vote will vote for Fidesz. So, all in all, these numbers are not large enough to make such a difference Fidesz was hoping for.

  7. Sackhoes Contributor
    July 14, 2012 at 8:15 am | #7

    Karl Pfeifer writes: “the problem with according the citizenship is, that it was decided in Budapest, without consulting the neighbors. Austria does not tolerate double citizenship.”

    You are right, of course, it’s always better to discuss your planned actions with your neighbors. But at the end of the day it is Hungary’s business how it defines and awards citizenship. West Germany did not ask the Soviet Union’s permission to declare ethnic German right to citizenship.

    Dual citizenship is tricky business. No country likes it, because because it clouds jusrisdiction over its citizens. But it exists, just like families do with divorced and remaired parents and children with ties to both parents. Not ideal, but real.

  8. An
    July 14, 2012 at 9:13 am | #8

    Sackhoes Contributor, most of those Russian/Romanian Germans moved back to live in Germany as the German practice emphasized the “right to return”. The German practice of granting citizenship based on bloodline had no hidden agenda of increasing one’s political influence outside the country’s border.

  9. Kuner
    July 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm | #9

    The dual citizenship as such is not an issue. It has exists in SVK before Orban law and even exists at the moment. What SVK saw as not standard is its granting without any link to permanent residence or similar internationally standard condition. Naturaly in SVK behind is aswell security concern. Imagine situation if half a milion of SVK citizens would happen HUN citizens in relatively homogennous teritory close to HUN borders. People in central europe are thinking and if it makes economical or any other advantage – they would apply for.I do not believe from Orban it was political calculation to get additional votes from abroad. Just another expression of his philosophy reunite nation over borders and come back to good old days… So nationalistic action targeted to gain Jobbik voters rather then voters from abroad. And naturaly diverge focus from economy challenges.

  10. July 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm | #10

    Kuner :

    Imagine situation if half a milion of SVK citizens would happen HUN citizens in relatively homogennous teritory close to HUN borders. People in central europe are thinking and if it makes economical or any other advantage – they would apply for.I do not believe from Orban it was political calculation to get additional votes from abroad. Just another expression of his philosophy reunite nation over borders and come back to good old days… So nationalistic action targeted to gain Jobbik voters rather then voters from abroad. And naturaly diverge focus from economy challenges.

    A few months ago I pointed out that very fact in case of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia that lives mostly alongside the border. A very different situation from the Romanian where the solidly Hungarian areas are in the middle of Transylvania.

    There are more and more signs that this crew has a dream that one day there will be a Hungarian “élettér.” Orbán used this word although it has a very bad connotation. It is a mirror translation of “Lebensraum.” Or, someone, perhaps Zsolt Semjén, talked about “benépesíteni a Kárpátmedencét” “to fill the Carpathian Basin with people.” But not just any people. From the context it was clear that he meant Hungarians.

    Mind you, I don’t know how they are planning to do that. The population of Hungary is steadily shrinking. This government is leading in one thing: there never were fewer births in Hungary than since Viktor Orbán took over.

  11. Karl Pfeifer
    July 15, 2012 at 10:36 am | #11

    “Magyarként a génjeinkben hordozzuk a történelmi Magyarországot,”

    “As Hungarians we bear in our Genes the historical Hungary”
    http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/nyikto_nye_atszsusztvujet_.html

  12. Sackhoes Contributor
    July 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm | #12

    Kuner writes: “What SVK saw as not standard is its granting without any link to permanent residence or similar internationally standard condition.”

    There is no international standard for granting citizenship. Each country defines it’s on standard. Permanent residence, owning property, paying a hefty fee, these may be all valid requirements.

    For countries like Hungary or Slovakia, that accept the “in sanguine” – blood line – principle all that is required is proof that the person wishing to affirm his/her citizenship has at least one parent, who at the time of the applicant’s birth was a Hungarian citizen.. It does not matter where the person lives, if they speak Hungarian or drink palinka. In effect, they inherit Hungarian citizenship.

    There are also many Hungarians or Slovaks, who without officially renouncing the citizenship, become citizens of another country, the US, for instance. These people (I am one of them) have no permanent residence in Hungary remain Hungarian or Slovak citizens and can get a Hungarian or Slovak passport (I have one). Their children, although born in a foreign country, like the US, can also affirm their Hungarian citizenship and receive a Hungarian passports. Indeed, their grandchildren – as long as the sons/daughters have gone through the process – can also affirm citizenship and get passports (my son and my grandchildren do).

    Please note: I am not talking about applying for citizenship, of being “naturalized”, as an immigrant.

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