ELTE Law School

Rape at a freshman camp in Hungary

On August 30 an incoming freshman was raped at one of the many weekend camps organized by the student associations of ELTE. I have written several times about these students associations, or Hallgatói Önkormányzatok (HÖK). They were organized right after the regime change when they received powers unheard of at universities west of Hungary. In many ways they resemble the former KISZ, the communist youth organization, since they have a very large budget and some of their leaders are paid employees of the university. These associations can spend money with little supervision. They can also decide on such important matters as the allocation of dormitory rooms. Most important, they have a say in faculty appointments since they have a 25% representation on the university senates. Corruption is apparently rampant in these HÖKs. In addition, they are breeding grounds for future leaders of Jobbik. Unfortunately, university administrators either don’t have the guts, the power, or the will to reform and curtail these associations.

Among other things, these student associations are responsible for the organization of “freshmen camps” prior to the opening of the fall term. I guess the original idea was to give freshmen an opportunity to get to know each other as well as to meet savvy upperclassmen. A recent headline, however, described these camps as “szesz és szex” (alcohol and sex).

The scene of the crime was Fonyódliget at Lake Balaton where the freshmen of ELTE’s teachers’ college were supposed to get acquainted. It turned out that the organizers, leaders of the school’s HÖK, hired a 38-year-old photographer who they knew had raped someone else earlier and had in fact spent five years behind bars. The rapist first beat the freshman and then tried to strangle her, all the while taking at least 100 pictures of the act.

The picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This time at least the university administrators acted immediately. They suspended the responsible HÖK leaders and promised a full investigation.

And this wasn’t the only problem the ELTE administration had to deal with, although it was by far the most serious. Reports also poured in about the law school’s freshman bash, although the activities there seemed to have been nothing new. For years the organizers have made the freshmen sing a particularly obscene ditty. Index found the text of the obscene song and published it. If you swear that you are over 18, you can have the pleasure of reading it.

It seems that a tragedy had to occur to prompt ELTE’s administration to act. They decided that from here on these freshman camps will be organized centrally and will take place under the university’s supervision. This should have been done much earlier.

While the news was full of the rape case, the three guys who shoot the breeze on Class FM’s Morning Show, a popular program, talked about the freshman camps in a rather light-hearted manner. They called the rape of the freshman “an unfortunate event,” chatted at length about the general licentious atmosphere of these camps, adding “let’s not be hypocritical, we know what’s going on there.” There was even some inappropriate reference to gay people. The media’s reaction was outrage and apologies followed. However, these three guys’ reaction at Class FM is not at all unique, even in media circles. There is a new television reporter at ATV who did not think that his fellow radio journalists said anything particularly objectionable. And a few days later when he was interviewing a representative of an association involved with sexual abuse and domestic violence, he first skirted the issue and, when he had to say something, he brought up violence against men as also being a problem. He added that the trouble is that “women don’t talk about the assaults.” Perhaps if they just talked more, these assaults could somehow be prevented.

Even the director of communications at ELTE, György Fábry, seemed ambivalent to me. Of course, he admitted that it was a terrible tragedy and there will be serious consequences. But he tried to minimize the atmosphere that prevails in these camps. In his conversation with Olga Kálmán he kept repeating that no one forced the participants to sing the obscene song and that, in fact, this year the song was not included in the repertoire. He kept saying that some of the stories are exaggerated. From an earlier conversation on Egyenes beszéd I gained the impression that he is a great defender of HÖK. Indeed, it turned out that he, as a student at ELTE’s faculty of arts, was one of the first HÖK leaders in the early 1990s. The faculty of arts’ HÖK has been solidly in the hands of Jobbik, whose leaders use these freshman camps to recruit members for the party. When probed about the Jobbik connection, Fábry defended the group and said that the problem was not as serious as the media made it out.

Although the commissioner in charge of education who works under the general ombudsman will be investigating freshman camps nationwide, the problem is not with the camps per se. The problem lies with the almost exclusively male composition of the HÖKs. At ELTE women make up 75% of the student body, yet they are barely represented in HÖKs. Ninety-four percent of the student body at the teachers’ college are women, one man heads the college’s HÖK. These fellows often use their prominence as organizers to intimidate freshmen women. Details of what’s going on right under the noses of the university administration are well described by a recent article in Index.  Of course, the problem is not restricted to rowdy university students letting off steam. What happens at these freshman camps is part and parcel of the Hungarian male attitude toward women.


The new Hungarian ombudsman: László Székely

The news of the day in Hungary, aside from record temperatures over 40ºC, is President János Áder’s announcement that the next ombudsman will be László Székely, an associate professor of civil law at ELTE’s Law School. Just as today’s record temperature was not a great surprise given the weather forecasts, Székely’s nomination for the post wasn’t exactly unexpected.

As in almost all facets of the administration of the country, Fidesz made fundamental changes in the function and position of the Hungarian ombudsman. Earlier there were several ombudsmen, each with a specific field of expertise: environmental issues, data protection, minority rights, etc. Viktor Orbán obviously decided that he didn’t want to be bothered by too many nosy ombudsmen and therefore completely reorganized the system. Today there is only one ombudsman who has to handle all complaints. Moreover, this new position became a great deal more important than before with the introduction of a new constitutional provision that gives only the ombudsman, in addition to parliament and the president, the right to ask the constitutional court for a review of laws passed by parliament.

The sole ombudsman who kept his job when Orbán came into power was Máté Szabó who earlier, in my opinion, didn’t distinguish himself. Most of the issues that interested him sounded petty to me. I guess at the time of his reappointment it was this  aspect of Szabó’s activities that actually appealed to Viktor Orbán. He most likely thought that Szabó would get bogged down in picayune issues and would be too busy to spend much time on the constitutionally questionable legislative work of the Fidesz voting machine. To everybody’s surprise Szabó became a very active ombudsman who resolutely fought to salvage Hungarian democracy. By now he is the only man in an important position who can be called independent. Since Szabó’s tenure ends on September 24, János Áder was required by law to nominate someone to replace him by August 10.

A couple of days ago Áder, emphasizing that he is not obliged to listen to the heads of the parliamentary caucuses on his choice of ombudsman, declared his willingness to get together with the parliamentary leaders, including András Schiffer whose party just lately regained its right to form an official caucus. In addition to Schiffer, there were leaders of Fidesz, KDNP, MSZP, and Jobbik. Neither PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) nor DK Demokratikus Koalícíó was represented because of the parliamentary rules introduced by László Kövér according to which they couldn’t form a separate delegation.

Fidesz-style consultations shouldn’t mislead anyone, especially if they are initiated by János Áder. It’s true that occasionally he makes gestures to demonstrate his “independence,” but by and large he is faithful to Fidesz dogma. There is no question in my mind that the person was already picked after some consultation between Viktor Orbán and his closest associates way before the leaders of the parliamentary delegations were invited to Sándor Palota. During the consultation no name was mentioned. Áder only wanted to know what kind of a man his visitors had in mind. The laundry list included such characteristics as independent, highly qualified, not someone too closely associated with one party, etc.  At the end of the meeting Áder announced that they had agreed on an ideal candidate. He will act accordingly.

Today Áder emphasized that Székely “was never a member of any party either before or after the change of regime.” Every time I hear someone proudly announce on talk shows that “I have never been a member of any party,” I know full well what’s coming next: an emphatically right-wing assessment of the present political situation. As if lack of party membership would ensure political independence. Of course this is not at all the case.

László Székely the nominee for the position of ombudsman

László Székely, the nominee for the position of ombudsman

What we know about László Székely is that he held government positions in both the first and the second Orbán governments. Otherwise, he is a professor of civil law and, according to his students, is a good lecturer, a fair grader, and “if you’re prepared you have nothing to fear at his exams.” He also makes his lectures interesting. Otherwise, at least according to Áder, he is no stranger to international law because in 1984 he received a diploma from the “Seminar of International Comparative Law of the University of Strasbourg” which sounded a bit strange to my ears. How can you receive a diploma from a seminar? I managed to find a Regent University School of Law at the University of Strasbourg which offers a six-week  course for international students as part of the Strasbourg Study Abroad program. Perhaps this is what Áder had in mind, but if this is the case this mini-course can’t really be called a proper grounding in international law.

András Schiffer, who was most likely a student of Székely, admits that he is an excellent teacher and a good theoretician but claims that his knowledge of constitutional law is scanty when under the present circumstances the ombudsman is “the last bastion of constitutionality.” Schiffer also objected to Székely’s constitutional philosophy. Székely’s last government job was to coordinate the work done by several scholars on the new civil code where he had no objections to discrimination against people not officially married. Or, perhaps even worse, Székely’s main field of interest is the media. But he approaches this subject not from the point of view of freedom of expression and freedom of the press; rather, he is much more interested in regulating the media. Not a good omen.

Fidesz and KDNP leaders are naturally delighted with the choice. Gábor Vona was less polite than Schiffer. He announced that “László Székely’s ties to Fidesz are well known” and therefore his party will formulate its opinion on the subject on this basis.

MSZP was very restrained. Pál Steiner, a member of the parliamentary committee on the constitution and justice, announced that “they will take the President’s suggestion seriously and the MSZP caucus will decide on the issue at its first meeting of the fall session of parliament.”

For the time being it is hard to say what kind of ombudsman Székely will be. After all, Szabó turned out to be excellent despite earlier indications and predictions to the contrary. It may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.