hungarian parliament

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.

Hungary’s “national tobacco shops.” Who are the happy recipients of the concessions?

In February 2012 I wrote a post on “Fidesz, the tobacco monopoly, and the tobacco industry’s lobby.” That was when the Hungarian parliament voted to make tobacco a state monopoly. Since then there have been several amendments to the bill, which originally stipulated that the newly established National Tobacco Shops could sell only tobacco products. The changes were necessary because it soon became evident that, since the profit margin on tobacco products is thin, the people who successfully bid to open such a store couldn’t make a living solely from selling cigarettes. Bit by bit other products were added to the list: alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, energy drinks, lottery tickets, and newspapers. But even with the added product lines there were not too many takers, especially in smaller villages.

According to the law one tobacco shop is supposed to serve 2,000 inhabitants. Currently around 40,000 stores sell cigarettes, but because of the above restriction there will only be about 7,000 stores where people can buy tobacco products. Last February I wrote that when I first heard about this scheme “I envisaged 7,000 pro-Fidesz Hungarians as the lucky recipients of these concessions.” Well, not quite. Second-tier party members and their families will be able to establish a number of stores in areas where the financial benefits of the concessions are more or less guaranteed. Meanwhile, in 1,400 smaller communities there were no applicants. Come July, there might not be a single tobacco shop in places like Herend (pop. 520).

by ur1336 / Flickr

by ur1336 / Flickr

The original justification for the establishment of these tobacco shops was that they would assist large families, would give young mothers just returning from maternity leave some extra income, and would provide a living for some of the otherwise unemployed. The final list of recipients tells a very different story.

Doctors who are supposed to tell people about the deadly results of smoking are eagerly participating in this new business opportunity. On paper one person can have only five stores, but there are many cases in which members of the same family applied for and won concessions. In Esztergom, out of the possible sixteen tobacco shops, ten went to one family, judging from the family name that is not exactly common, Sóron. Ádám Sóron received four, Tibor Sóron one, Mrs. Tibor György Sóron five! For the time being we don’t know what the connection is between Fidesz and the Sórons, but I think it is only a question of time before all will be clear.

Another alleged reason for establishing these tobacco shops was the government’s desire to decrease the number of smokers in Hungary. The bill that was passed last year stipulates that no tobacco product can be sold to a customer as long as there is an underage (18 years) child  in the shop. (Let’s not go into how stupid that idea is!) But then, what do I read? The nineteen-year-old Bence Hídvégi, son of the Fidesz mayor of Fonyód, received permission to operate three tobacco shops, two in Fonyód and one in Balatonfegyves. One day his presence in a tobacco shop would have brought business to a screeching halt; the next day he can run the show.

And while we are on the topic of teenage smoking and the number of retailers, it seems that there is no direct correlation between the two. Austria is a prime example. The highest number of teenage smokers in all of Europe can be found there, and the owners of Austria’s 8,000 tobacco shops are the leading lobbyists against any kind of anti-smoking legislation. Moreover, Austria’s overall standing in Europe as far as tobacco consumption is concerned doesn’t support the notion that fewer tobacco shops will result in lower figures. In Hungary the percentage of smokers in the population as a whole is 38%;  in Austria, 34%. Not a huge difference. Moreover, in both countries the numbers are growing.

The real reason for making tobacco a state monopoly was to help domestic tobacco companies. János Lázár, who came up with the idea of national tobacco shops, relied heavily on the “advice” of Continental Zrt. Continental has only about a 10-15% share of the very large tobacco market. The legislation was most likely written with a view to giving an advantage to Continental and discriminating against foreign companies like Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco. With tobacco as a state monopoly the Hungarian state could decide which products it would stock, and presumably the price of these products, in the tobacco shops.

The Orbán government used Austria as its model, but the Austrian model was flawed–not only in terms of public policy but also with respect to the state monopoly issue. Austria had its own troubles when European Union requirements changed in 1998 and Austria was forced to partially privatize Austria Tabak, the state monopoly that had dominated the Austrian tobacco industry until then. Something quite similar could befall Hungary.

And what has happened to the owners of Hungary’s private tobacco specialty shops? I read about a place, “Ági trafik” in Budakalász, whose owner has had his shop since 1972. His grandfather’s tobacco shop was nationalized in 1950, but twenty-two years later he began anew. He has a sister who is paralyzed. Now he is ruined. He put in an application but didn’t receive a concession. According to some estimates, practically all of the private tobacco shop owners were dispossessed. One owner was approached by two different men who asked him to rent his shop to them. You can imagine how he feels.

Fidesz managed to kill two birds with one stone. They are helping the Hungarian-owned Continental Zrt. carve out a larger share of a lucrative market and, by setting up tobacco shops as state concessions, they are spreading government largess among their followers. Multinational companies and Hungarian private enterprise will once again suffer; Orbán will further extend his economic reach.

Testimony of József Szájer, member of the European Parliament

Testimony of the Hon. József Szájer Member of the European Parliament (HU-EPP before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Hearing on

“Trajectory of Democracy: Why Hungary Matters” Washington D.C., March 19, 2013

Chairman Cardin, Co-Chairman Smith and distinguished members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Distinguished Members, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honor for me to appear here to share my views on the state of Hungarian democracy. I am a founding member of the now governing party, Fidesz, which was the first opposition organization during our transition to democracy 25 years ago. I am also Member of the European Parliament elected directly by the citizens of Hungary. In my capacity as member of the Hungarian Parliament, I have participated in the preparation of almost every major constitutional change over the last twenty years. Recently, I had the great honor of being the Chairman of the Drafting Committee on the Fundamental Law of Hungary, the new Constitution of my country, which is a subject matter of this hearing.

I want to underline that Hungary has been a constitutional democracy, respecting the rule of law and the rights of the citizen ever since the transition to democracy more than twenty years ago. Anyone who might claim otherwise should be encouraged to come to Hungary and make a first- hand experience, to study our difficult past and recent history, to ask the Hungarians themselves. This is an invitation I warmly extend to the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Hungary is a nation with one of the longest, one thousand year old constitutional tradition, which my country is very proud of. One of the finest pieces of our historic constitution, the Bulla Aurea (our Magna Charta) dates back to 1222. Hungary boasts the first ever constitutional document on religious tolerance, the Torda Declaration from the sixteenth century. Our new constitution follows the steps of these historic achievements. It aims also to restore one thousand years of historic constitutional continuity which was lost in 1944 as a consequence of the Nazi, and the subsequent Soviet occupation of my country.

As a legislator myself, I would like to express my appreciation for your interest in the sovereign act of the Hungarian nation’s historic constitution making enterprise. I admire your great Constitution and we held it as a compass in creating our new one. Elected representatives of our great, freedom loving nations like the American and the Hungarian should always find appropriate occasions to exchange, on equal grounds, views and experiences on matters of great importance. And what could be more important than a nation’s constitution? And what could be a more significant part of a nation’s sovereignty than creating her own constitution? You in America gained your independence more than two hundred years ago. Thousands of Hungarians died for Hungary’s independence, but finally we won it only a little more than twenty years ago when the Soviet occupation ended. I was there, I was part of that generation, which achieved it, and now our task is to consolidate it! Hence, you should be aware of the high sensitivity of our nation towards questions of independence and non-interference. We Hungarians consider that our nation’s own constitution is an exercise in democracy that we should conduct. We listen to advice given in good faith, we learn from the experience of others. This is the very reason I am here now, but we insist on our right to decide. This is democracy and self-determination that we had been fighting for so long.

Szajer meghallgatasa, Helsinki Commission, 13-03-19

József Szájer on the left, Senator Benjamin Cardin on the right

My core message is that on your behalf there is no reason to worry about the commitment of Hungary to democracy and the rule of law. My main argument is that the new amendment does not carry any significant element which has not been tested before by the competent European institutions and modified if necessary.

In the 2010 elections, FIDESZ won a victory of rare magnitude, obtaining a constitutional majority, more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. The choice of the Hungarian people was a response to a deep economic, social and political crisis. The mismanagement of public finances, public deficit and debt slipping out of control and the frequent parading of paramilitary organizations were among its symptoms. We also witnessed serious violations of basic human rights by the authorities: the most serious ones concerning the freedom of assembly in the autumn of 2006. At those difficult times we were expecting the support of the democratic community of the world to speak out against state oppression of the citizens’ freedoms. Unfortunately, the international community turned a blind eye. Public order was seriously challenged by shocking events like the serial killings of our Roma compatriots with clear racist motivations and with the public authorities standing by crippled.

In 2010 we received the mandate and the corresponding responsibility to put an end to all that: start a comprehensive reform, including the adoption of a new constitution. In other words: correct the trajectory of our democracy.

A new constitution was long overdue. All Central and Eastern European countries had adopted their new, democratic constitutions long before, while Hungary had to live with an updated, explicitly transitory version of its 1949, Stalinist Constitution: in spite of several attempts, previous governments and parliaments lacked either the necessary majority or the political will to replace it altogether.

The Constitution of Hungary, as a member of the European Union and of the wider Euro-Atlantic community, respects and promotes the values of democracy and the rule of law. Large parts of the ensuing legislation have been subject to political debate and to legal review by the competent European institutions. For instance, it has been subject to controversy right from the start for its pro- life and pro-family stance. The new Fundamental Law was scrutinized by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which welcomed the “efforts made to establish a constitutional order in line with the common European democratic values and standards and to regulate fundamental rights and freedoms in compliance with the international instruments…” and noted that “the current parliamentary system and the country’s form of government … have been maintained.” While the European Commission launched four infringement procedures on some cardinal laws following the adoption of the Fundamental Law, it never challenged the Fundamental Law itself. (Under Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union the Union ‘shall respect’ the constitutional sovereignty of the member states.) The Hungarian Government was cooperating and complying throughout the process: it changed the Media Law and the Law on the Judiciary at the request of the Commission.

A few words on the new amendment. Around 95 percent of the provisions of the so-called Fourth Amendment, adopted last week, had been in effect ever since the entry into force of the new Constitution. We did not intend to change our Fundamental Law so soon after its adoption. What happened is that the Constitutional Court, in its recent decision, annulled some of the Transitory Provisions of the Fundamental Law on technical grounds. In fact, under the legislation, the Transitory Provisions, subject to a two-thirds majority and as such put on equal footing with the Fundamental Law, carried some constitutional provisions the Court now ruled should be moved to

The Fundamental Law itself. In other words, the position of the Court, based on the German constitutional doctrine of ‘obligation to incorporation’ is that the Constitution should be one single act: therefore, what had to be done was basically a copy-paste exercise of a purely technical nature. Hence the length of the new amendment! But not much new text. The Fourth Amendment was based on the request of the Court, and not against it, as some critics misleadingly claim.

Some words on the new elements.

All assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, the Fourth Amendment does not reduce the powers of the Constitutional Court. In fact, it does the opposite. It adds the President of the Supreme Court and the Chief Prosecutor, to those having the right to file for the constitutional review of laws. It repeals the rulings of the Court passed under the old Constitution, but clarifies at the same time that its rulings shall not lose their legal effect and – as specified by an additional amendment – the Court shall remain free to refer to its own previous case-law in its future jurisdiction. Nor can the Amendment strip the Court of a power it never had: the right to review and annul the Constitution text itself or its amendments, unless on the grounds of procedural flaws. My definition of the separation of the powers is that the Court interprets but does not change the text of the law. The power to change (or annul) the text of the Constitution should belong exclusively to the constitutional authority, which is the National Assembly in the case of Hungary. The Fourth Amendment makes a big step forward in making the procedures of the Constitutional Court transparent, by opening it to public access. It also adds – following several European examples – that the parties concerned in the proceedings should have the right to express their views in the procedure, changing the annoying and much criticized ‘black box’ nature of the Court.

Concerning the status of churches, I would like to reiterate that the criticized legislation has nothing to do with religious freedom or even with religion. According to Article VII (1) of the Fundamental Law, the confession and exercise of faith individually or collectively is a basic right of individuals and religious communities (without any need for registration). The only power the National Assembly has in this regard is to choose, on the basis of criteria codified by law, on which religious community to confer the additional right to subsidies from taxpayers’ money. This is common practice in Europe but our list of churches is more generous than the European average. I know that on the basis of your Constitution’s First Amendment, your system is different from the European model. Our Fourth Amendment adds an important correction: the parliamentary decision (by 2/3 majority) can be appealed at the Constitutional Court on procedural grounds. This change was adopted to implement the relevant Court decision.

On the front of the media, I have no breaking news. Here we can tell a real success story, at least if measured by the sheer number of reports, articles and other expressions that are harshly critical of the government published every single day in the free press of my country. If you read them, you will not witness any sign of the infamous self-censorship either! Anybody taking the trouble to check the situation on the ground rather than judging by hearsay would agree with that. I am not aware of any case of censorship or harassment of journalists during the three years of the current government. The actual purpose of the Media Law was to adapt to the Internet age and to streamline the financing of public media by our taxpayers. Many other countries are studying this law. There are huge debates in countries like the UK about appropriate press regulation. As mentioned earlier, the Media Law has been corrected on a couple of occasions at the request of the European Commission and the Constitutional Court.

Expressions of anti-Semitism and of racism in Hungary are cause for concern. Even though the phenomenon is not new and unfortunately widespread all over Europe, each and every such incident is deplorable and calls for more determination to eliminate them. The Hungarian Government is equal to the challenge. Prime Minister Orbán has repeatedly underlined that he stands for a policy of “zero tolerance” when it comes to anti-Semitism.

Here we are confronted with two conflicting expectations: to combat hate speech and safeguard the freedom of expression at one and the same time. One has to strike a balance. In the Fourth Amendment, we chose to lay the constitutional grounds for civil procedure open for any person in case his or her religious, ethnic or national community should be seriously offended in its dignity. This might not be the only solution to the problem; there has been criticism but we cannot stand aside idly. To illustrate the paradox, let me remind you of the kuruc.info case. Kuruc.info is a Hungarian language website, registered in the U.S,, infamous for propagating racial hatred and violence, targeting the Hungarian public. The Hungarian authorities have in vain requested its closure by the U.S authorities. The answer has always been that it was not possible under the more liberal U.S. laws.

Jewish communities in Hungary, which had been waiting for stronger legal instruments against hate speech for decades, welcomed the move. Rabbi Köves, leader of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation and the Action and Protection Foundation called the relevant article of the Draft 4th Amendment as an ‘historic step forward in defense of the dignity of the communities’.

Our policy is consistent with our unambiguous relationship with the past. It was the first Orbán Government which founded the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest and included a special Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time in the curriculum of high schools. Yet the latest shining evidence is the international Wallenberg memorial year in 2012, launched by the second Orbán cabinet to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Jewish lives in Budapest at the end of World War II and who was posthumously given the highest recognition by your legislature, the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Wallenberg year has earned universal acclaim. It gave us an opportunity to admit Hungarian co-responsibility in the Shoah, which Mr. János Áder, President of Hungary, solemnly did in his speech before the Israeli Knesset.

The time allotted for my testimony may not be long enough to dismiss all your concerns but I am confident that they will abate once the amendments are looked at more closely – as was the case with the Media Law, the Law on the Judiciary, and I can cite many other examples.. I am here to assure you that the Hungarian Government is at your disposal for further clarifications. We are open to criticism if based on facts and arguments. Foreign Minister Martonyi has requested the Venice Commission to give its opinion on the Fourth Amendment and would propose changes if necessary. We abide by the rules of the European institutions and expect the same from all others, including our critics. I am deeply convinced that in a constructive dialogue we can enrich each other’s constitutional experience, and thus avoid unfounded accusations and disagreements arising from misunderstandings.

The friendship between our two nations, Hungary and the U.S. belonging to the same alliance and being each other’s solid partners in promoting, shoulder to shoulder, our common values in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans will help.

Let me close my remarks with the first line of our national anthem, hence the first line of our new constitution: God bless Hungarians! Isten, áldd meg a magyart.

In the opinion of many, Hungary is no longer a democracy

If Viktor Orbán were as talented at governing as he is at political maneuvering he would be an excellent prime minister. But his brain power is spent on devising devious traps for his opponents whose imagination can’t possibly measure up to his, with his bag full of tricks. Dirty tricks, dishonest tricks, shameful tricks. Fortunately there are not too many people on this earth who can surpass his moral turpitude. He is a man who thinks that in politics anything goes. I don’t blame the political opposition for being duped by him once again.

So, what happened? The head of the press department of the Prime Minister’s Office said that Viktor Orbán would deliver a speech before the day’s parliamentary agenda. The announced title of the speech was “Magyarország nem hagyja magát!” (Hungary doesn’t give in!). Considering that the vote on the amendments to the constitution was scheduled for today, everybody assumed that the prime minister would talk about his government’s decision to go ahead with the scheduled vote despite requests from Brussels and Strasbourg to postpone it. The title of the speech certainly suggested as much.

MSZP had already decided to boycott today’s session. Their empty seats were decorated with huge exclamation points. Only their leading spokesman for the day, József Tóbiás, was in the chamber ready to deliver his answer to Orbán’s speech. Then came the surprise. The speech was not about the constitution and about the request of the Council of Europe and the European Commission to postpone the vote. It was about a recent court decision that allowed utility companies to pass on to their customers the added expenses that they have to endure because of extra taxes mandated by the government.

He was most indignant. He said that he can “hardly find words fit for polite society” to describe what he thinks of the Hungarian judiciary. The decision rendered is “scandalous.” And he went on and on about the poor Hungarian people who pay too much for utilities and about those foreign companies that earned very handsome profits in the past. He asked all Hungarians “to raise their voices so these companies would realize that they are facing not only the government but the whole nation.” Among other adjectives, he used “impudent” (arcátlan, a favorite word of Fidesz politicians) in connection with the courts. Ferenc Gyurcsány rightly considered Orbán’s attack on the courts “a very serious and unacceptable violation of judicial independence.” For good measure he added that “it is not the courts that are impudent but Viktor Orbán, who doesn’t seem to understand the very basis of democracy.”

József Tóbiás, after a few sentences in which he complained that the prime minister had nothing to say about the most important issue at hand–the amendments to the constitution, surrendered his right to speak and left the chamber.

The Hungarian prime minister could thus demonstrate to the electorate that he is their advocate, battling with the utility companies and the courts that are supporting these awful capitalists, while the MSZP delegates didn’t even bother to show up. What kind of mind can come up with such a scenario? Moreover, even if he achieved his immediate goal he also demonstrated that the fears of the European Union and the Council of Europe are not without foundation. Today the Hungarian prime minister again proved that the country he transformed over the last three years is no longer a democracy. A woman member of parliament cried out during the speech: “Dictator!” while four members of DK held up a banner that read: “Önkényuralom,” a synomym of “Dictatorship!” I think it was a high price to pay for a fleeting moment of victory.

DK's banner that reads "Dictatorship" / Photo Simon Móricz, Népszabadság

DK’s banner that reads “Dictatorship” / Photo Simon Móricz, Népszabadság

Shortly after 5:00 p.m. the amendments were passed. There were only 309 members of parliament present. 265 voted for the amendments, 11 against, and 33 abstained. Most of the Jobbik MPs abstained, but Mrs. Loránt Hegedűs, Péter Schön, and Tamás Sneider said no. The Schiffer wing of the former LMP was there and voted against the bill. So did Katalin Szili, formerly MSZP but now an independent. The Jávor wing of LMP refused to participate in the charade and so did members of DK in addition to the MSZP delegation.

The opposition’s last hope is President János Áder, who is in Berlin at the moment. According to former president and chief justice of the Constitutional Court László Sólyom, in his legal interpretation the president is empowered to veto the bill. Sólyom wrote an article on the subject that appeared in Népszabadság. What an irony, this man who was Fidesz’s choice to become president and who never hid his disdain for the socialists and his support of Fidesz today is able to publish an article only in Népszabadság. I might add that there are a couple of very critical opinion pieces in right-of-center publications like Heti Válasz and Mandiner. Tomorrow I’ll concentrate on Sólyom’s arguments and the writings of these right-wing critics.

Meanwhile, more and more people are expressing their concern about the amended constitution. They point out that the changes are so fundamental and extensive that the original document is unrecognizable. Journalists are calling this new document “Constitution 2.0.” José Manuel Barroso again expressed his worries and so did Herman Van Rompuy, Thorbjørn Jagland, Hannes Swoboda, Martin Schulz (president of the European Parliament), and many others.

There has been only one official Hungarian response to all this. Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi announced that “Hungary is open to dialogue with anyone on the subject and Hungary will ask the opinion of the Venice Commission on this newly amended document.”

And finally, here is the letter Barroso wrote to Orbán on Friday. It didn’t do any good.

Barroso to Orbán

Viktor Orbán’s grandiose plans might be thwarted by Strasbourg and Brussels

The bureaucrats, speculators, and foreign press are once again lining up against the Hungarian government.

Let’s start with the forint, which today breached the 300 mark against the euro. The forint’s weakness is the result of several factors: the appointment of György Matolcsy as chairman of the Hungarian National Bank; rumors about the possible exchange of some of the bank’s foreign reserves for rubles; and, the latest, word that the government intends “to assist” Hungarians with their foreign currency loans. The government would convert these loans into ones denominated in forints and would also lighten their burden by paying a certain percentage of their debt. The Hungarian government would use some of the reserves of the Hungarian National Bank for this purpose.

There are political pressures on the Orbán government as well. In the March 5 issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Michael Link, undersecretary in the German Foreign Ministry, wrote a piece that appeared on the op/ed page of the newspaper and available on the website of the German Foreign Ministry or in Hungarian on the Galamus site. The title itself is telling: “Hungary must remain a country of the law.” In the body of the article Link reasserts that “we cannot be indifferent” to what is happening in Hungary. Earlier the European Commission managed to convince the Hungarian government to change some passages in the Constitution. The Hungarian Constitutional Court also found some of the laws passed by the Hungarian Parliament to be unconstitutional. Now, however, there are new attempts to smuggle back all the formerly objectionable passages into the body of the constitution. These “new initiatives limit the freedom of expression for the alleged protection of the dignity of the Hungarian nation.”

rule of lawAs a friend of Hungary, Link would like Hungary “to demonstrate that the country has an effective separation of power between the legislative and the judicial” branches. As it stands, the Constitutional Court hands down judgments that the government ignores. “We need a vibrant parliament with a perceptible opposition and a confident Constitutional Court.” Link also wishes that “the two-thirds majority the Government relies on is used prudently. A two-thirds majority is not a free ride…. The European values that we share in the world, we must also cherish at home.” For good measure Link mentioned that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle shares these concerns. Common European values “must apply to all EU members, both new and old.” As with each member state Hungary remains “master of its cultural identity,” but there have to be shared values. Among them the rule of law is the most central. “It must be able to develop without any ifs, and, or buts.”

The Hungarian answer that came from Gergely Gulyás, a young Fidesz MP and a member of the parliamentary committee on constitutional matters, was that “it is a misunderstanding” that the Hungarian government wants to limit the competence of the Constitutional Court. To the contrary, its latest amendments were made at the request of the Court itself. What else is new? We know from earlier government statements that everybody misunderstands the intentions of the Hungarian government and Viktor Orbán.

On the very same day the Financial Times came out with an editorial on “Orbán’s threat to democratic values.” It is about the same amendments Michael Link was talking about. The article reminds people that last year Viktor Orbán backed down on aspects of a new constitution that would have posed a threat to judicial, religious, and press freedoms. But this week the Hungarian parliament threatened to revive “curbs that violate European values in an amendment to the constitution. If this goes ahead, the response from Brussels should be rapid and robust.” According to the editorial, Brussels should “set out in precise detail where the amendment violates Hungary’s membership of the EU. But once that is established, it should warn Mr Orbán that it is prepared to use the most powerful weapons in its armoury to defend European values.” The article recalls that the EU was ill equipped thirteen years ago to handle the situation when the Austrian government included a far-right party as a coalition partner. But the editorial stresses that “this time there is greater political consensus that Mr Orbán’s attacks on democratic norms cannot be tolerated.” The FT editors suggest a withdrawal of Hungary’s voting rights and add that “financial sanctions too should be considered…. Faced with an economy in deep recession, and a decline in foreign investment, Mr. Orbán needs the money. Brussels should not hesitate to threaten a withdrawal of structural subsidies, for example, if Mr. Orbán does not call on his party to drop any amendments that violate EU membership. If the Hungarian prime minister insists on flouting European values, he cannot expect Europe’s support.”

And if that weren’t enough, today the secretary general of the Council of Europe called on the Hungarian government to postpone the vote on the latest amendment to the constitution. Thorbjørn Jagland wrote: “I have misgivings concerning the amendments that may not be compatible with the rule of law.”  He further argued that with the incorporation of these amendments the government with its two-thirds majority is forcing its will on the Constitutional Court and is thereby endangering the system of checks and balances. He suggests a postponement of the vote in order for the Venice Commission to study the matter.

An open letter to Tamás Fellegi

An open letter to Tamás Fellegi in Washington

The reason for our open letter is that Tamás Fellegi, former minister of national development, minister in charge of the IMF negotiations and adviser to Viktor Orbán,  spoke before the members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

* * *

Gyömrő, February 27, 2013

Dear Mr. Fellegi,

You claimed prior to your appearance before the congressional committee that all democratic forces in Hungary stand in unison against antisemitism and that not one of the mainstream political parties in Hungary is antisemitic or racist.

You were quoted as saying that it is very hard for a country to be shielded against racism, including antisemitism, and indeed you are right, especially if one considers that in the preamble of the new constitution the present Hungarian government considers itself the direct successor to the Horthy regime while it does not take responsibility for the most important events of the Hungarian Holocaust, including the deportations of Jewish citizens. Or, when the Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian parliament building is being refashioned as it was in 1944, the worst year of the Holocaust.

It is difficult to confront racism and antisemitism when our minister in charge of education and culture, Zoltán Balog, and the deputy speaker of the House, Sándor Lezsák, while still in opposition unveiled the statue of Ottokár Prohászka, Catholic bishop and member of parliament, who was the author of Europe’s first racist legislation, the so-called Numerus Clausus of 1920 that made antisemitism part of the Hungarian legal system.

In the new constitution Christianity is mentioned as Hungary’s only religious heritage, excluding other faiths, while Hungarian Reformed Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei unveiled a plaque honoring Regent Miklós Horthy, who bears the foremost responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust. He did that in the presence of a banned neo-Nazi paramilitary organization called Magyar Gárda. And this celebration took place in the famous Reformed College of Debrecen where many of the greats of Hungarian culture studied: the sin of the Holocaust is elevated to the status of memorials to János Arany, Mihály Vitéz Csokonai, and Zsigmond Móricz.

How can societal memory function when the government maintains a Holocaust Institute but at the same time an undersecretary and a Fidesz mayor collect donations for a statue of Miklós Horthy in Budapest?

The Hungarian Parliament enacted a law mandating that all public places and organizations that are named after people whose ideology is not to the liking of the current government must be changed. We are not talking about politicians connected to the Rákosi or Kádár regimes but those who had anything to do with the trade union movement or early social democracy. At the same time there are more and more streets being named after people who are responsible for the anti-Jewish laws of the 1920s and 1930s or the Holocaust. In the last two decades at least a dozen institutions have been named after Ottokár Prohászka. The situation is the same with racist and antisemitic politicians, for example Prime Minister Pál Teleki. Statues and streets carry his name. He was prime minister when the Numerus Clausus was enacted and he was responsible for the text of the second and third anti-Jewish laws. There are at least 50 statues of the antisemitic Albert Wass who was condemned to death in absentia as a war criminal in Romania after the war. József Nyirő, who was an admirer of Hitler and who remained a member of the Hungarian parliament even after the Arrow Cross take-over, was reburied at government expense, an event organized by László Kövér. By that act Kövér violated the Romanian law banning the adulation of war criminals. A law that doesn’t exist in Hungary.

Miklós Horthy, who bears a major responsibility for the Holocaust, was reburied in the presence of several government officials and members of parliament in 1993. A member of that government was Péter Boross, an open sympathizer with the Horthy regime, who is the chairman of the National Memorial and Reverence Committee. In Kenderes, a small town where the Horthy family’s residence is situated, there is a permanent exhibition in which Horthy’s role in the Holocaust is not even mentioned. Today in Kenderes there is official Holocaust denial. On the other hand, one can hear a lot of irredentist propaganda from the tour guides.

In 2000 Hungary signed the Declaration of the Stockholm International Holocaust Forum that obliged the signatories, including Hungary, to teach and disseminate information about the events of the Holocaust. The state of affairs described above doesn’t jibe with these declared obligations.

Gyomro Horthy ter

Miklós Horthy Square, Kereki / Photo by Martin Fejér (estost.net)

Since Miklós Horthy’s reburial in Kenderes eight towns honored the former governor either by erecting statues or by naming public places after him–Szeged, Páty, Csókakő, Kereki, Gyömrő, Debrecen, Harc, Kunhegyes–as well as three districts in Budapest. Most of these occurred in 2012. While irredentist national flags (országzászlók), the so-called Árpád-striped flags recalling the Arrow Cross Party of Ferenc Szálasi, are prominently displayed in several towns and villages, the government organized an exhibit in the Holocaust Center about the very same flag’s role in the Holocaust.

For a number of years the Military Museum has organized a remembrance for the “Day of the Breakthrough” of German and Hungarian troops from the Hungarian capital that was surrounded by Soviet troops. Sometimes the day is called the “Day of Honor,” borrowing the term from the Waffen-SS’s motto. On the wall of the museum is a plaque honoring the gendarmes who were entrusted with the deportation of the Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. All this is happening while the Criminal Code (§269/C) states that the denial of the Holocaust is a punishable act.

Hungary thus disgraces the memory of the Holocaust and denies the responsibility of the Hungarian state and societyHow can the country integrate itself into the European culture of remembrance this way? How can one government undersecretary attend a Holocaust Memorial while another collects money for a Horthy statue? How can they dedicate a year of remembrance to Raoul Wallenberg while the works of racist, antisemitic writers are made part of the school curriculum? Or how can someone–namely Ottokár Prohászka–be deemed a propagator of antisemitic ideas by the Holocaust Center while at least a dozen mostly educational institutions bear his name?

You claim that only the far-right Jobbik is an antisemitic party. However, open neo-Nazi  demagoguery goes on unchecked in the Hungarian Parliament even from an MP who happens to be the editor-in-chief of a weekly magazine. The banned Magyar Gárda can parade in military formation with government permission. The government with a two-thirds majority doesn’t move a finger to enforce the law on hate speech.

While in December Antal Rogán, a leading member of the government party, stood by the demonstrators against the infamous Márton Gyöngyösi (Jobbik) who suggested keeping lists of Jews, in February another important member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa, mayor of Debrecen, made one of the cultural institutions of the city available for Gyöngyösi to deliver a lecture there.

We ask Tamás Fellegi to admit that in Hungary there is a glorification, with the active assistance of the government, of those responsible for the Holocaust. Admit that Hungary is incapable of admitting responsibility for the death of 600,000 Hungarian victims. Admit that Hungary is incapable of recognizing the danger of neo-Nazi ideology fostered by legislators. The Hungarian government is idly watching the ever increasing racism that once already ended in a series of murders. This is a greater problem than the racism of one party.

We ask you to take legislative steps to end the glorification of people who are responsible for the HolocaustMiklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi and members of the government between 1941 and 1945 in addition to those who voted for the Numerus Clausus, among them Ottokár Prohászka and Pál Teleki, and all those who took an active part in spreading racist ideologies, for example Albert Wass, József Nyirő, and Cécile Tormay. Memorials, places suitable for pilgrimages by extremists, plaques, and museums devoted to war criminals should be removed and their erection in the future forbidden.

According to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum it is the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Hungarian school system that are responsible for documenting Hungarian events accurately. We can remember these events on international and Hungarian days of remembrance without a denial of the past and without the glorification of those responsible.

Környezet-, Ifjúság- és Gyermekvédelmi Egyesület (KIGYE), Gyömrő /A civic group that protested the renaming a park Miklós Horthy Park