hungarian parliament

Sexism in the Hungarian parliament

I have written a number of times about female members of the Hungarian parliament and their treatment by male colleagues. I’ve also written about the attitude, especially of Fidesz MPs, toward women in general.

As a reminder, here are a few statistics about the minority status of women in Hungarian politics. Today there are only 35 women in a 386-member parliament (9.06%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed Hungary ranks 118th! Among the countries that are doing worse are Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen.

Although the number of women parliamentarians is low across the board, Fidesz has the smallest percentage of women in its parliamentary caucus. It is also noteworthy that the credentials of Fidesz female MPs are less impressive than those of their colleagues in the opposition. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Some finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of  a classical “liberal arts education.” Keep in mind that all the members of the Fidesz delegation were handpicked by Viktor Orbán.

If an attack is launched against female members of the opposition, the Fidesz-KDNP women are silent. They don’t even show solidarity privately with the victims of Fidesz testosterone. If they are asked about sexist incidents that unfortunately occur quite often, the brave Fidesz-KDNP women keep looking at the floor and remain silent. Not the slightest sign of female solidarity.

But, as I said, Orbán himself picked men and women who would be rubber stamps in parliament. Orbán most likely cannot abide independent and outspoken women because he thinks in terms of traditional gender roles. Just lately, in connection with his daughter’s wedding, he talked about the women who will cook and who will cry at the wedding and made it clear that he wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a tear or two at his daughter’s wedding. I’m also sure that he didn’t want to choose people who were too brainy to be the representatives of the people; the Fidesz delegation has an awful lot of people who, under normal circumstances, would never have found themselves in such a position.  According to Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who wrote about the qualities of the ideal Fidesz MP, most of the current officeholders are incapable of answering the opposition’s questions. They become frustrated and hence behave in an unacceptably aggressive manner. Moreover, as a result of the practically unlimited power of the Fidesz politicians and government officials, they feel omnipotent. The result is boorish behavior. The few women in the opposition are the prime targets, it seems.

On September 9 Bernadette Szél (LMP) rose to inquire from Zoltán Illés, undersecretary in charge of the environment in the Ministry of Agriculture, what the Hungarian government was planning to do about the Romanian gold mines and their possible use of cyanide, pointing out that until now not much has been done about it. This is how the gentleman answered:

Just because you are good looking it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are clever. I have to refute one by one all those stupidities and imbecilities that you talked about here in the last five minutes.

I was there together with others, … when Viktor Orbán took a great number of steps in connection with the cyanide pollution in Nagybánya [Baia Mare, Romania]. I take my hat off to him. This is not brown nosing on my part. I was there, I heard it, my hat off again for all that he did there.

Honorable … ah, dear madame member of parliament.

Madame member of parliament, don’t dare to utter a word about the Prime Minister. And my last comment: it is not the clothes that make a person. Your having a T-shirt on doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Shame.

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy seems to enjoy the exchange

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right, Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy

The whole exchange can be heard on the parliamentary radio. Both Szél and András Schiffer wore a T-shirt over their normal clothes to emphasize their interest in the environment. LMP is a left-green party. As for Szél’s qualifications, she has a Ph.D. (2011) from Corvinus University.

Well, that was too much even for some members of the Fidesz delegation. Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy president of the parliament, instructed Illés to take back the epithet of “imbecilities,” but it seems that the “stupidities” or the reference to physical appearance and brains didn’t bother him. Illés obliged. At the same time Máté Kocsis apologized in the name of the Fidesz delegation right on the spot. Eventually, Illés did apologize to Szél, not in person but via sms, an act greatly criticized in the media.

Perhaps the most politically objectionable part of Illés’s answer was his effort to forbid Szél to utter the name of Viktor Orbán. An article in Magyar Narancs rightly pointed out that it is written in the Old Testament that one cannot mention the name of God. What kind of a political community is it when the leader cannot be criticized? What kind of political culture exists within Fidesz? As for Illés’s reference to the brave steps Viktor Orbán took in connection with the gold mine in Nagybánya, I suspect that he was talking about the 2000 cyanide pollution of the Tisza River and Viktor Orbán’s efforts at that time and not about the current situation.

Illés in his answer accused Szél of ignorance when the LMP MP claimed that the European Union should ban the use of cyanide. Didn’t she know, asked Illés, that the European Parliament already passed such a resolution? Yes, such a resolution was passed by the European Parliament a few months ago, but for such a resolution to become law the European Commission must endorse it, which it failed to do. So, if someone is ignorant it is the undersecretary for the environment.

Of course, members of the opposition were eager to hear from László Kövér, who is such a stickler for manners in parliament. It seems that he is much fussier when he detects irregularities in the ranks of the opposition. Bernadette Szél herself was already fined by Kövér because she held up a poster on which there was a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Kövér didn’t think that Illés’s behavior was unacceptable. He didn’t think that Illés’s answer was “flagrantly offensive” and added that offensive comments more often come from the opposition than from his own side. Even Bernadette Szél said some very offensive things in the past, he claimed.

I should add that this is not the first time female members of parliament have had to endure this kind of talk–and worse. You may recall the story of Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP) when she asked for a lift home. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. And finally György Gyula Zagyva (Jobbik) got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy. At that time I wrote that, although the present parliament is lopsided given Viktor Orbán’s personal preferences, the trouble goes beyond the walls of the Hungarian parliament. The problem is in Hungarian society as a whole.

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László Kövér’s ideas about the ideal democracy: Governance by decree

I really didn’t think that László Köver, president/speaker of the Hungarian parliament, could still surprise me. Yet he manages. Here is his latest.

By way of preface, I should note that there are some commentators who say that one ought not take Kövér terribly seriously. He is just this kind of a fellow. Perhaps his bark is worse than his bite.

Well, I don’t belong to the camp of those who take him lightly. He is the alter ego of Viktor Orbán. He always was. In reminiscences about the early days of Fidesz participants often describe him as the man who had an enormous influence over young Viktor Orbán. Kövér took his sweet time graduating from law school and therefore was four years older than Orbán. According to those who shared their recollections of Kövér in the book compiled by György Petőcz (Csak a narancs volt), Kövér was a cantankerous, hard-to-get-along-with fellow who was utterly devoted, body and soul, first to the college that he, Orbán, and others ran and later to the party. To those who didn’t particularly like him, he was Viktor Orbán’s evil spirit. If Kövér wasn’t around, it was easy to come to an understanding with Orbán. Some even claim that there is a cowardly side to Orbán; if he feels threatened, he is ready to give in. Not so Kövér. He often propped up Orbán, and thus there could be no compromise in the party leadership.

I don’t know whether it was clear to his fellow college students that the man was an ardent nationalist even then. Apparently Kövér’s real interest was in history, not so much in the law. Therefore he attended classes in the university’s history department. His references to modern Hungarian history reveal his deep-seated nationalism, which leads to historical distortion. In the center of his historical universe stands Trianon. I suspect that in this respect Kövér didn’t change much. As far as his politics are concerned, he did change from ardent socialism to fierce anti-communism with a good dose of right-wing extremism mixed in. On his way from extreme left to extreme right he never managed to feel at home in a democratic republic. The very idea of democracy is alien to the man, as we will see from his latest pronouncement.

Yesterday afternoon Kövér gave an interview to Aréna, a political program on Inforádió, a right of center radio station.  In it he covered many issues dealing with the Hungarian parliament. During the course of the interview he said: “I would find it normal, quite independently from what kind of governments we will have in the next few years, if the parliament would lay claim only to the creation of the most fundamental legal guarantees and would otherwise hand over its mandate to the government for the next four years.” When pressed, he explained that this would mean a kind of governing by decree. In his opinion it is no longer necessary to have a government whose functioning depends on laws enacted by parliament. The present system was worked out in 1989-1990 because of the fear of a return of dictatorship. This fear was justified until 1998. But by now this danger is gone.

An incredible statement demonstrating a complete ignorance of the role of parliament in a democracy. The parliament enacts laws not because it is “afraid of dictatorship” but because the representatives of the electorate thus have the opportunity to discuss the laws proposed by the government and can have a measure of control over them.

Kövér also has peculiar views on the essence of democracy. If there is no fear of dictatorship, the government can do whatever it pleases. Earlier on this blog we discussed Kövér’s willingness to get rid of the Constitutional Court because then, he claimed, parliament would have the final, irrevocable say in matters of policy. But now he would be willing to emasculate the parliament of which he is the speaker and empower the government to govern by decree.

Kövér also seems to believe that once democracy is firmly established it needs no improvement or even much oversight. According to this static view, the democratic political system cannot slide back into dictatorship. It would be amusing, were it not so sad, that Kövér believes that this perfect state of democracy arrived in 1998, when Fidesz won for the first time.

I doubt that Kövér learned much about modern Germany while dabbling in history. Otherwise he might have been more cautious in advocating governance by decree. It was in March 1933 that an amendment to the Weimar Constitution took effect which gave power to Chancellor Adolf Hitler to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The act stated that this arrangement was to last four years unless renewed, which subsequently happened twice. This so-called Enabling Act (Ermächtigungesetz) gave Hitler plenary powers and made him the dictator of Germany. What did Hitler himself say at the time of the enactment of the Enabling Act? It will sound familiar to us: “after the methodical destruction of the nation” the age of renewal has arrived. “The most important question is the handling of the short- and long-term foreign indebtedness. One must save the German peasantry, and the national government will also assist the middle classes.”

The resemblance between the German Enabling Act and what Kövér proposed in this interview was first picked up by János Avar and seconded by György Bolgár on ATV’s UjságíróKlub last night. It has since been repeated by many bloggers. It is one of the most frightening suggestions I have heard in the longest time. And let’s not fool ourselves. This is not some kind of off-the-cuff remark that Kövér hasn’t thought through. Already in February he was talking about giving more power to the government at the expense of the parliament.  In the interview he complained about the current practice which requires that every piece of legislation be enacted by the legislature and long debated. What a bore! Let’s cut out the middle man.

MSZP and Együtt2014-PM made a joint statement in which Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy found it “appalling that the president of the Parliament wishes to enlarge the authority of the government at the expense of the Parliament.” They considered the very suggestion “threatening.”

This man isn't joking!

This man isn’t joking!

I guess the Fidesz leadership decided that Kövér revealed more of the party’s plans than was advisable and immediately announced that naturally the opposition completely misunderstood what Kövér was getting at. Gergely Gulyás, the constitutional expert of Fidesz, in fact claimed that Kövér said the exact opposite of what we all heard from Kövér’s mouth. In fact, said Gulyás, he was talking about “the extension of the opposition’s rights and the greater oversight of the government by the parliament.”

Some observers, including one of our commenters, suggest that Fidesz here is working on a devilish plan that would allow the party and Viktor Orbán to continue their present policies in case after 2014, as they suspect, they don’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament. By curtailing the powers of parliament and enabling the government to rule by decree, the unfettered governing by the third Orbán government could go on despite a stronger parliamentary representation by the opposition. This hypothesis sounds plausible to me.

Of course, if the opposition wins, the big loser in this scheme will be Fidesz. But Viktor Orbán and his alter ego like to gamble. If I were an opposition politician I would double, triple my efforts to unseat this government. Otherwise Hungarians may end up living in Fidesz’s perfect democracy, known to the rest of the world as a dictatorship.

In the last minute, Hungary’s teachers received a modest raise

An extraordinary parliamentary session had to be convened because a 2011 law mandating a substantial increase in teachers’ salaries was in need of modification. The law was supposed to take effect on September 1, 2013, so time was in short supply. Yesterday the honorable members conducted an abbreviated version of the usual parliamentary debate and today came the vote. All went smoothly: 257 people voted for it, 34 against it, and 2 abstained. MSZP, LMP, and PM had great reservations but in the end voted for it. DK announced early on that their members would vote against it. One of the abstentions was Zoltán Pokorni, former Fidesz minister of education, who has had a longstanding battle with Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education in the current Orbán government, over this government’s ideas about education in general.

Why was it necessary to modify the bill? The answer is simple. The original law that was enacted in December 2011 promised a substantial increase in teacher’s salaries. But then came 2012 and the first six months of 2013 and it became obvious that there was no money for it. But some boost in compensation had to be given to the teachers who by and large were Fidesz supporters in 2010. And the next election is not so far away. Thus came the “solution”: 150,000-160,000 teachers will receive 60% of the promised amount. The rest will be handed out in 10% increments until 2017. That, of course, is just another promise; the final decision will depend on the state of the budget. So Dóra Duró (Jobbik) was right when she complained that the extraordinary session was convened not to discuss “the increase in teacher’s  salaries” but rather their decrease.

Mrs. István Galló, leader of the Teachers' Union, Zoltán Balog, and Rózsa Hoffmann, January 2013

Mrs. István Galló, leader of the Teachers’ Union, Zoltán Balog, and Rózsa Hoffmann, January 2013

Moreover, the extra salary will entail more work. Instead of 21-22 hours of teaching a week, teachers will have teach 26 hours after which, whether they have formal obligations or not, they will have to spend an additional six hours inside the school. As Hoffmann said, it is not right that teachers can go home after they are finished teaching. I must say that one doesn’t expect such a stupid remark from someone who was trained as a teacher although admittedly she didn’t spend much time in the job. A teacher must correct tests, essays, and homework which he can certainly do at home. A conscientious teacher must prepare his lectures for the next day or write a study plan. I would say that one can do all this better at home than in the teachers’ room where most of the teachers don’t even have a separate desk. School teachers are not in the same position as university professors who normally have offices where they can work in peace surrounded by their books.

All in all, teachers will have to spend 32 hours a week or almost 6.5 hours a day inside the school building. Until now those who taught more than the base 22 hours got extra pay. This will no longer be the case. Under the new system only those teachers who have “homeroom” duties (osztályfőnök) or who supervise students who live in dormitories attached to the schools will get added compensation.

According to calculations, on average teacher salaries will grow by 34 percent.  There will, however, be significant variations. For instance, a twenty-seven-year-old teacher will get a larger raise than will a 53-year-old who had extra pay because he was also a vice-principal. As one teacher’s union leader said, the new system doesn’t reward more work, more diplomas, or better quality teaching because for none of these will a teacher receive extra remuneration.  Moreover, some teachers will receive even less money than before. According to estimates, there might be as many as 4,000-5,000 such individuals. Yesterday Zoltán Pokorni (Fidesz) tried to remedy this situation by offering an amendment that would have kept some of the extra pay for extra work, but by last night he withdrew his suggestion, most likely because of pressure from party and government officials. At that point Gergely Farkas (Jobbik) turned in the same amendment, which naturally the government majority voted down.

Fidesz used this partial fulfillment of the promised salary increase for teachers as an occasion to boast about its fantastic accomplishments. Antal Rogán, head of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, touted the sharp rise in real wages in 2013. He claimed that between the second quarter of 2010 and the same period in 2013 real wages grew by 13.1%. He also announced that the salaries of government employees can finally be raised substantially, thanks to the freedom Hungary achieved by paying back early and in full the loan it received from the IMF and the EU. If that hadn’t happened, Rogán claimed, the Hungarian government couldn’t have raised the salaries of doctors and teachers. I think it is unnecessary to point out that this is an outright lie. But, unfortunately, most Fidesz and government propaganda has no basis in reality.

Register as Roma, vote by default for Fidesz

It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.

At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.

This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.

The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014’s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.

I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.

The leading members of Lungo Drom,  the  representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.

Flórán Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Flórián Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).

So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.

We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.

Viktor Orbán the defiant

It was expected that Viktor Orbán would not change course and would continue his “war of independence” against the “incompetent bureaucrats in Brussels,” but the vehemence of his attacks surprised many. It was bad enough that he got his most trusted men to propose an anti-EU resolution, but at least he himself didn’t say much after he left Brussels. He let others do the talking. When he finally spoke, however, he only added fuel to the fire.

The Hungarian Parliament’s resolution was met with outrage, at least in certain circles in Brussels. Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, announced that “the text the Fidesz majority in the Hungarian Parliament adopted today is an insult to the European Parliament. It proves yet again that Mr. Orbán does not understand the values – or the role of the institutions – of the European Union.” He added that the socialists “are expecting a statement from the leadership of the EPP Group, clarifying whether they accept that a member of their political family dismisses the role and adopted reports of the European Parliament.”

I wonder what Mr. Swoboda will think when he reads that Orbán, in his regular Friday morning talk with one of the reporters of the Hungarian public radio station, called the European Parliament a “worthless (hitvány) institution.” Or that he accused members of the European Parliament of being agents of multinational financiers. Or that he called them incompetent bureaucrats who cannot solve the problems of the European Union and stomp on the only country that found its way out of the crisis while other members are re-entering the crisis zone. I have the feeling that he will not be pleased.

The key message that Orbán is trying to hammer home at the moment is that the Tavares report is not really about Hungary. It is an attempt by the bureaucrats in Brussels to transform the European Union into an entity different from the one that Hungary joined in 2004. “This is a new phenomenon … that changes the very foundations of the fundamental laws of the Union.”

Taking this contention to its logical (admittedly, never a strong suit of the prime minister) conclusion and assuming that the suggestions of the Tavares report are accepted and a standing monitoring committee is created, we might see Hungary leave the European Union. After all, the Union broke its contract with Hungary and thus Hungary is free to go its own way.  In fact, Attila Mesterházy in his speech to Parliament yesterday asked the prime minister whether his insistence on a written condemnation of the Tavares report was a first move on the road to secession.

Another focal point of Orbán’s talk yesterday was the object of the European Parliament’s criticism. He must not allow his followers to be persuaded that the Tavares report is an indictment of his own government and has nothing to do with the Hungarian people. So, he spent considerable time and effort trying to prove that the real target is the nation itself. In trying to build his case he didn’t rehash the old argument that the two-thirds majority in parliament represents the true will of the Hungarian people. Instead he adopted a new tactic. He claimed that “one million people put into writing their desire to have this constitution.” I assume he means the phony questionnaires he sent out to eight million voters, out of which one million were returned. If you would like to have a good laugh over what Orbán thinks is an endorsement of the constitution, take a look at my discussion of the first and second questionnaires. I should note here that the second questionnaire was sent out two weeks before parliament voted on the new constitution. It is perhaps worth mentioning that, according to Orbán, “the Hungarian people didn’t authorize him to adopt a liberal leaning constitution.” On what basis did he make this claim? There was one question among the many in one of the questionnaires pertaining to the rights and duties of citizens. Normally constitutions concern themselves with rights and not duties. But not the new Hungarian constitution. He recalled that 80% of the people who returned the questionnaires said yes to this particular question. Truly pitiful.

Viktor Orbán's image of Hungary's oppression by the European Union

Viktor Orbán’s image of Hungary’s oppression by the European Union

The comparison of Brussels and Moscow is obviously a favorite of the Fidesz crew, and therefore it was not surprising that the topic came up again. Since Orbán is on slippery ground here, I will  quote from this part of his talk to give you a sense of his message. “Brussels is not Moscow and therefore it has no right to meddle in the lives of the member states. Hungary is a free country. We don’t want to live in a European Empire whose center is Brussels. From where they tell us how to live on the periphery or in the provinces. We want to have a community of free nations.  There is no need for such a center because it would limit the freedom of the member states.” In brief, Brussels is not Moscow yet, but if the Tavares recommendations are adopted, it will be nearly as bad. But Hungary will not be part of an empire. Orbán further emphasized the comparison between Moscow and Brussels when he called the Soviet Union “the Soviet Empire” and added that “since the collapse of the Soviet Empire no one has had the temerity to limit the independence of Hungarians.”

Finally, he promised the Hungarian nation a policy of resistance. The government will not watch helplessly as the European Union takes away the freedom of Hungarians. “Either we allow them to pull our country out from under our feet and pocket our money or we defend our own interests. This is the question, choose!” This last sentence is a paraphrase of two lines in the famous poem, National Song (Nemzeti dal) by Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) in which the poet asks: “Shall we be slaves? Shall we be free? / This is the question. Choose!” (Rabok legyünk, vagy szabadok? / Ez a kérdés, válasszatok!) Keep in mind that this is the poem that heralded the 1848 revolution. Orbán means business. I hope the European Union does too.

Report of the Venice Commission on the Hungarian Constitution: End of the dance of the peacock?

On March 12 the Hungarian parliament, despite protestations,  passed the fourth amendment to the less than one-year-old Hungarian constitution. The amendment itself was fifteen pages long and incorporated all the objectionable laws that had earlier been part of the temporary provisions. By incorporating them into the constitution proper, the Hungarian government through its super-majority in parliament prevented the Constitutional Court from studying their constitutionality. Earlier the Constitutional Court had found some of these provisions unconstitutional.

When the Hungarian parliament was considering passage of the fourth amendment, prominent EU politicians such as Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, asked them not to move ahead. Angela Merkel personally warned János Áder, who happened to be on a state visit in Berlin, of the possible serious consequences if he signs this amendment to the constitution into law. Yet Áder went ahead and in a speech to the nation tried to justify his action by claiming that he had no other choice. His hands were tied by law. Some people, including former President László Sólyom, earlier chief justice of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, thought otherwise.

Viktor Orbán himself dismissed the criticism that the changes his government had made to the constitution were anti-democratic. “Who is able to present even one single point of evidence, facts may I say, that would be the basis for any argument that what we are doing is against democracy? Just one concrete step,” he told reporters ahead of a summit of  EU leaders in Brussels.

Well, it seems that the five constitutional scholars who were in charge of examining the provisions of the fourth amendment had plenty of evidence to prove that it is “against democracy.” I doubt that Viktor Orbán is as cocky today, after the Venice Commission’s report was mistakenly uploaded to its website ahead of schedule, as he was a day or two after the storm in mid-March. Apparently he told the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation at that time that “the more they attack us the better.” This time around it seems that these “attacks” will indeed have very serious consequences. Every European organization that is involved with the Hungarian constitutional crisis–the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Commission–had been waiting for word from the Venice Commission.

The handwriting was already on the wall in mid-April when the members of the Venice Commission visited Budapest and were handed a fifty-page reply to their criticisms. Róbert Répássy, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, sensed that “the members of the Venice Commission had already made up their minds.” I’m sure they had. After all, these five legal scholars had been studying the new Hungarian constitution as well as its amendments for over a year.

At this point, János Martonyi, most likely on instruction from above, asked three conservative legal scholars to take a look at the constitution and its amendments. The government was hoping for an endorsement of its position, but even their report, which arrived in early May, was not an unequivocal seal of approval.

Venice CommissionI have only the summary of the report that  Népszava published last night. The original is 34 pages long and is apparently a complete condemnation of the Hungarian constitution as it now stands. (The report was taken off the site once the timing error was discovered.) The members of the Commission (the Austrian Christoph Grabenwarter, the German Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem, the Polish Hanna Suchocka, the Finnish Kaarlo Tuori, and the Belgian Jan Velaers) consider the fourth amendment no more than a “political declaration” that “aims at the perpetuation of the political power of the current government.” The document itself has seven chapters and the objections are summarized in 155 points. Without trying to go into details on the basis of a summary, I’ll skip straight to the Commission’s final verdict. The Commission, unlike in other cases, doesn’t even bother to make suggestions that would perhaps remedy some of their objections. Rather, they indicate that the whole thing is unacceptable. It has to be abrogated. Thrown out.

The limits imposed on the Constitutional Court “have a negative influence on the Council of Europe’s three fundamental pillars: the separation of powers, the defense of human rights, and the rule of law…. The Hungarian constitution cannot be a political instrument…. The fourth amendment perpetuates the problems of the judiciary independence, severely undermines the possibilities of constitutional scrutiny, and endangers the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

Even Gergely Gulyás, Fidesz’s young star and expert on the constitution, admitted that this was a much worse outcome than he himself had anticipated. Naturally, he pointed out all the alleged inaccuracies and wrong interpretations, but I had the impression listening to his interview this afternoon that even he realizes that the Hungarian government doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The government will answer, but I doubt that they are too sanguine about being able to change the mind of the Venice Commission.

And a lot depends on the opinion of the Venice Commission. In the Council of Europe, the members have been waiting for the opinion of the legal experts before they hold a vote on imposing a monitoring procedure against Hungary. The European Parliament will soon vote on the LIBE recommendations.  The Venice Commission’s opinion might sway some members who hitherto have been undecided on the merits of Rui Tavares’s report. And there is the European Commission, whose decision on a new infringement procedure as a result of the fourth amendment has been in limbo, pending word from the Venice Commission. And finally, the legal opinion on the Hungarian political situation as embodied in the new Orbán constitution might tip the scale against Fidesz in the European People’s Party where until now the majority supported Viktor Orbán. After the release of this document it will be difficult if not impossible to stand by a man who uses his power for the perpetuation of his own rule while trampling on the most sacred tenets of democracy.

Viktor Orbán most likely knew a couple of months ago that this is what would happen. He said in one of his speeches that a new attack is under way and that by June Hungary will be the target of an international assault. I guess he has been preparing for the battle. But this battle will be very difficult to win. His opponents are numerous and strong. And the god of democracy is on their side.

A Hungarian member of parliament, domestic violence, and the blind komondor

Viktor Orbán isn’t having an easy time of it lately. The tobacco scandal doesn’t want to go away. In fact, this morning the government retreated after Viktor Orbán announced that it is unacceptable that  former tobacconists will be dispossessed. His faithful chief-of-staff, János Lázár, was a great deal more humble today than he was a few days ago when he sarcastically dismissed any allegation of an unfair distribution of  the available concessions.

Then there is the European Union, which is withholding subsidies for certain Hungarian projects. For months no money has been coming while the contractors must be paid, and this at a time when there is a shortage of funds at the government’s disposal.

This morning came the bad news that according to the economists at the European Commission this year’s deficit will be higher than the Hungarian government’s estimate. It is projected to reach 3%. The shortfall next year will be even larger–3.3%. Thus, unless something is done, within a year Hungary will be back under the excessive deficit procedure. New austerity measures must be introduced.

And if all this weren’t enough, there is the case of József Balogh, a Fidesz-KDNP member of parliament, who after a drunken wedding party beat his partner so badly that she ended up in the hospital. The first report, again by the new 444.hu, talked only about a broken nose but it later turned out that the woman had a fractured skull as well. Our honorable member of parliament, it seems, beat his first wife regularly for twenty-five years. After these episodes his former wife dutifully reported that her injuries were the result of some accident or other. At one point she said that she had fall off their farm’s seeder.

Balogh, whose formal education ended with a trade school certificate in repairing agricultural machinery, is a fairly prosperous farmer with a large house, several outbuildings, and about 103 acres of land. He also receives 864,987 forints a month for his services to the nation. He has three horses and a “Mercédesz,” as he called his car in the compulsory yearly financial report .

Unfortunately, domestic violence is widespread, and Hungary is no exception. Lately there have been a lot of terrible tragedies ending in multiple deaths. A man killed his children, his wife, his mother-in-law, and finally himself. But it doesn’t happen too often that we find out that a member of parliament is a regular wife-beater. And Balogh is no newcomer to parliament. He has been an MP since 1998. Moreover, he got there by being directly elected four times from Bács-Kiskun County. In addition, he became the mayor of his village, population 834. I might add here that while the members of most town councils in villages of this size hide behind the independent label, Fülöpháza can boast a Fidesz-KDNP mayor in addition to four Fidesz-KDNP counselors. What I find amazing is that this man was elected several times even though one would suspect that his behavior couldn’t have been a secret in such a small place as Fülöpháza.

Balogh began his political career as a member of the Smallholders’ party. About that time, in the middle of the 1990s, I asked a fellow I met on the Internet why he became a member of the Smallholders’ party. His answer was: he wanted to go as far right as possible, and in those days it was the Smallholders’ that fit the bill. Balogh ran as a Smallholder in 1998 and 2002, but by 2003 he became a member of Fidesz. He was reelected in 2006 and 2010.

Balogh’s initial account of his domestic partner’s injuries was simply enough. The two of them went to the wedding of the woman’s son where he drank too much. In fact, he drank so much that, he said, he doesn’t remember a thing that happened after they got home. It was only the next morning that he discovered that his partner was in the hospital and that she claimed that he had hit her. Within a few hours, however, we found out that this was not the first time that Terézia S., Balogh’s companion, broke her nose or had other suspicious injuries. Earlier she covered up the cause. But this time her injuries were so severe that the doctor by law had to report the case.

Beware the dog is blind / szerintem ...s photos

Beware of blind dog / szerintem …s photos

Meanwhile Balogh himself came up with increasingly fanciful stories. The two of them got home from the wedding at around 4-5 o’clock in the morning. Upon their arrival his blind komondor got so excited at the smell of the stew (pörkölt) the woman was carrying in a pot that he knocked her off her feet. The blind komondor became a star in no time because Balogh was not shy about telling this incredible story to every reporter who got in touch with him. He gave interview after interview during which he offered more details and claimed that there was a witness to this alleged encounter with the blind komondor, Balogh’s adopted son Szabolcs or Szabika, as he called him. (Since then we learned that Szabika got a tobacco concession in Fülöpháza.)

Hir24.hu wrote about the case under the following headline: “Strangling, thrashing–More victims of the blind komondor.” A blog writer called his post “The blind komondor and the broken-nosed Hungarian reality.” HVG announced “Here is the picture of the ‘guilty’ blind komondor.” Klára Ungár, former SZDSZ politician and currently the leader of a small liberal group called SZEMA, organized a demonstration of women and dogs to defend the good name of their four-legged friends. They also demanded, as have many feminist groups, tougher laws against domestic violence.

All the fanciful stories Balogh came up with didn’t do him any good. The first wife suffered for twenty-five years from this man’s brutality, but his current girlfriend was less patient. She left the hospital but didn’t return to the Balogh residence. She went home to her children. His party got rid of him as well. As it stands now, he left the Fidesz caucus and moved over to the independents. According to Antal Rogán, Balogh was strongly urged to leave the Fidesz delegation, but Balogh denied this and claimed that his leaving the Fidesz caucus was his own decision. He also made it clear that he intends to remain a member of the party.

Whether it will be his decision I very much doubt. According to the latest information, Antal Rogán and László Kövér demanded that he give up his seat altogether but Balogh refused to oblige. In a way I understand his position. After all, he didn’t receive his mandate as a result of the largess of the party. He won it on his own. Moreover, I’m not at all sure whether Fidesz actually wants to have a by-election right now unless, of course, they are pretty certain of an easy victory. The story hasn’t ended yet. Most likely Balogh’s parliamentary immunity will be lifted and, if he is found guilty, the problem will be solved.