The Hungarian extreme right and the judiciary

How did we end up in this mess? I'm thinking of the situation in which small but vocal and active far-right groups can force the hand of the Hungarian government and are able to influence its foreign relations. Of course, it would be a simplification to state that everything has been fine between Slovakia and Hungary in the last fifteen years or so. No, there had been tensions before, but in the last two years things definitely got worse. In Slovakia the elections of 2006 brought into power a coalition in which two of the three coalition partners espouse nationalistic, anti-Hungarian rhetoric which they are now able to translate into action. Almost at the same time the Hungarian right-wing opposition party Fidesz began to employ in its attacks on Ferenc Gyurcsány the rabble, the football hooligans, groups that went out on several rampages against the government. At the same time extreme right organizations appeared on the scene–Jobbik, Sixty-Four Counties (the number of counties in Greater Hungary prior to 1918), as well as paramilitary units organized by these groups. The language Fidesz uses is the language of violence which inspires others to commit violent acts. These groups don't miss any opportunity to wreak havoc. Anniversaries of national holidays are the favorites, but they are good at creating days of remembrance for practically anything: the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, the anniversary of Gyurcsány's speech at Balatonőszöd, even the anniversary of the First Vienna Award.

It is hard to understand why the Hungarian government is unable to deal with these groups. I myself can occasionally mutter very angry words and complain about the "useless" government, the "ridiculous" police force. Yes, sometimes I'm totally frustrated.

One problem is that there is no united political resolve to deal with the extremists. Viktor Orbán and his party, Fidesz, are masters of double-talk which encourages the extremists. If Fidesz doesn't unequivocally support the extremists, the party doesn't condemn them either. Or if they say something negative, they add: "but one can understand their frustration." After all, Orbán needs their votes. The extreme right is much larger than the few hundred people who are ready to go out on the street to demonstrate. According to one recent sociological study, those with extreme right-wing sentiments may be as high as 20% of the population though only 5% are ready to take part in demonstrations that may end in violence. The rest just watch and cheer their friends on. Moreover, on the local level Fidesz representatives often work hand in hand with representatives of Jobbik.

Another problem is the judiciary. Proceedings are extremely slow. It can easily happen that a rather simple case drags on for a decade. As I have often said, I'm absolutely unable to figure out the Hungarian system of appeals. I haven't seen so many opportunities for appeal in my life. One reads that the "final verdict" is such and such, but a week later some other appeal is being launched from some other quarter. I have given up ever learning the intricacies of Hungarian legal procedure. Then there is the quality of the judges. During the Kádár regime judges' prestige was very low. So was their remuneration. Judgeship became a female profession as often happens in badly paid professions with low prestige. Even today when judges are paid quite well some 60% of all judges are women. There are a lot of judges, but they still seem to be overburdened. I guess one problem is that unlike in the United States where one judge per courtroom suffices, in Hungary there is often a whole panel of judges. Then it  happens that one of the parties doesn't show up. New date, no show, and on it goes.

Ignorance of the law is not uncommon among the judges. People love to quote the former chief justice of the Supreme Court who, when asked about a badly mishandled case, indignantly replied that the judges don't have to leaf through the constitution all the time. That's not their job! According to some of the harsher critics of Hungarian judges, the higher up a judge is the more likely it is that he is totally unqualified. Another problem is that the political orientation of the judges is decidedly toward the right. Therefore, a right-extremist can rest assured that he won't receive much by way of punishment. A suspended sentence perhaps. But most often acquittal. Therefore these troublemakers are emboldened to continue. They know that nothing will happen to them. In the case involving the Hungarian Guard, the Guard pretty well ruled the court proceedings, stopped people from entering the courtroom, waved flags. The judge allowed all this. A month or so later there was another session but at that point the judge announced that she had received threats on her life and therefore she refused to continue with the case. New judge, new court date while the Guard is getting bigger and bigger.

And I haven't mentioned the Constitutional Court which consistently refuses to consider any change in the criminal code that would modify the very liberal interpretation of freedom of speech. Several attempts were made to introduce legislation against "hate speech," for example. Parliament passed bills and sent them on to László Sólyom, president of the republic. But Sólyom made it clear that he had doubts about the bills' constitutionality. He then sent the bills to the Constitutional Court. Once he raises doubts (and it's happened several times) one can be sure that the Constitutional Court will find the bill unconstitutional. After all, Sólyom used to be the chief justice of this court so if he thinks it's unconstitutional it must be so. Right now a new criminal code is in the making with much tougher sentences for certain crimes. We will see what happens. I'm not at all optimistic. The bill will pass, Sólyom will go to the Constitutional Court, and the judges will find it unconstitutional.

The only hope is the force of public opinion. But it surely would be easier if Fidesz openly and without reservation stood alongside the government in condemning these extremists. Alas, that is not in the party's interest at the moment.

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Odin's lost eye
I am sorry I posted this in the wrong place where I am afraid it will make less sence than my usual ramblings. Please forgive me fopr posting it again. Professor you say in your piece *** “Ignorance of the law is not uncommon the judges.” ***. What an indictment of the Hungarian judiciary. One of the things about judges in other countries is that they must be ‘learned’ that is they must know both statute law and precedent. If the judges ignorant of the law then a good advocate would run rings around them to the detriment of justice. There is a very interesting point made in one of your earlier pieces entitled “Fico and Gyurcsány in Komarno” by a gentleman called Peter. His first remark is to the effect that *** “according to international law, it is the act of war, if some half-military organisation passes the borders of another country” ***. I’m afraid I have corrected the spelling of one word and change the phrasing slightly. This means that if the ’Magyar Garda’ or any one of the other crazy these turns up either in uniform or carrying their uniforms with them in any other country then… Read more »

i hope hungary will stay a pearl of eastern europe.
here in serbia we have absolute clericalization of society and state.
the last shameful judiciary decision is that by which judiciar say that he is a christrian and that no one can talk against serbian ortodox church.
let’s tell you all about this story.
on one faculty in serbia we have antifascist metting,and there was extreme right (obraz,dveri,1389,national front…) with representatives of spc,and they had beaten people,including professors.and in one tv show,one of the victim of this attack said that irinej(pedofile who rapes young boys,representative of spc) is rider of apocalipse.after that irinej accuse victim for abusing.
and now that man ,by judiciar decision, must pay to him,and thanks for beating.
here you can see story:
what would i give that here in serbia we have pm like is ferenc gyurcsany.


Hold the paranoia, let’s get realistic. Extremists didn’t create any problems, the problems created the extremists. People expected things to get better 20 years ago, and they see a steady decline. They are robbed, cheated, lied to and beaten regularly. Hungary was the envy of the Communist Bloc, and look where it is now. Wages are low, taxes are high, basic services are all but gone, what do you expect? Celebration?
Of course simple folks get frustrated and when the government is leaning to the left, it’s a natural reflex to jump to the right.
We don’t need to “deal with the extremist”, we need to deal with the mess that created them. Get rid of the parasites and find a few decent people to take over, before the current set of thieves sell and steal everything. Replace the Gyurcsany gang, and most “extremist” will go back to their old job to work as part time soccer hooligans.


“Miracles don’t exist”
Hungary needs a miracle to recover from 20 years of steady mismanagement, incompetence and corruption. We are just not very blessed with our leaders and I don’t see any promising individuals climbing to the top just yet. People depend on the shadow economy to survive (or get rich), the government takes 70% of their wages, try to live on what’s left. This is no way to run a country, we need leadership we can trust, lower taxes, more incentives for local businesses to create jobs. Cut the bureaucracy, get tough on corruption, and reward only good management. Transparency, accountability and responsibility. It’s never too late to try new things…

Odin's lost eye
Mr Op you say *** “Cut the bureaucracy, get tough on corruption, and reward only good management. Transparency, accountability and responsibility. It’s never too late to try new things.” *** I would agree with you wholehearted. Real problem with Hungary is the 20 years ago after the fall of communism, the then government failed to divorce the political aspect of power from the administrative aspects. I’m not certain how it’s done in America but in United Kingdom there is a thing called “the Crown”. Governments may come and governments may go monarchs may be crowned and monarchs may die but the ‘Crown’ goes on doing its work. The rules its servants have to obey have been laid down by parliament and no minister can override them. In this system there is no way that a minister or his friends can get their sticky little fingers into the till. This has been one of Hungary’s greatest problems. I believe that the current prime minister of Hungary is trying to do something about it. That was why he insisted any company who is the winner of a public tender will be looked at by the Security Services. Mr Op you also say… Read more »