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.