This is the fourth time that the socialist and liberal members of parliament have tried to do something about the ever-growing spread of linguistic abuse of certain groups. The favorite targets are the usual suspects: Gypsies, Jews, and gays. The linguistic abuses are not mild. At soccer games between the Fradi (Ferencváros) and MTK (a team formerly with lots of Jewish players) the Fradi fans keep chanting: "The trains are going to Auschwitz." Or at liberal demonstrations the extreme right wingers "send the Jews into the Danube" just like in the winter of 1944 when the Arrow Cross men gunned down members of the Budapest ghetto and threw their bodies into the Danube. The verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse of Gypsies is very common and again there is nothing a member of these groups can do. As of last year the gays were also verbally and physically attacked. So it's no wonder that some people believe that something must be done.
However, there is a very serious problem: the Hungarian Constitution and the rulings of the Constitutional Court. According to the Constitution free speech has a paramount role in Hungarian law similar to the American practice. Those who argue for restrictions on free speech point to the 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were shipped off to Auschwitz and other death camps with active Hungarian participation. These people point out that the Nazi atrocities began with words that eventually were translated into action. They also highlight the growing verbal and physical violence that is becoming far too common. They claim that in 1990 when the Constitution was written it was an entirely different world. There was no deep division between right and left, and the extreme right either didn't exist or constituted only an insignificant force. It was also a time of limitless hope in the democratic instincts of people and the strength of democratic institutions. They couldn't even imagine people chanting little rhymes about sending people to Auschwitz.
President Sólyom, we mustn't forget, had a large role to play both in framing and in interpreting the Constitution. He has always rigidly maintained that free speech is more important than human rights. For the sake of free speech we must endure a certain discomfort. Therefore it is naive of the left even to try to come up with a piece of legislation that will pass muster. There have already been three attempts to change the law, all of which failed. Only a year ago parliament tried to make a change in the Civil Code to allow members of targeted groups to sue even if the verbal attack wasn't directed at them personally. Sólyom didn't like it, sent it to the the Constitutional Court, and, behold, big surprise, the Constitutional Court agreed with former Chief Justice Sólyom that it was unconstitutional. Soon enough the socialists and liberals began drafting a new piece of legislation, this time through a change in the Criminal Code: T/6219 was passed on November 13. The proposed legislation would allow a person who considers himself a member of a group that is being abused to go to court and demand satisfaction. The legislation was sent for signature to President Sólyom who decided that this new piece of legislation is also unconstitutional and therefore he is going to send it on to the Constitutional Court to have an official judgment on the question. What are his objections? According to him, the proposed legislation doesn't provide any test to decide whether the injured party is part of the group that is being abused. Sólyom goes even farther: he would like to know whether the person in question has a "strong enough bond" to that community. This is an incredible idea. First of all, how can a Gypsy or a Jew prove with certainty that he is a Gypsy or a Jew? A bodily examination in the case of a male Jew? Most Hungarian Jews are not even circumcised. And what about women? Or will it be necessary to produce a family tree going back generations and generations when birth certificates still indicated one's religion? As for a gay person, should he have to perform a sexual act in front of the judges to prove that he is gay? Because otherwise I have doubts that you can ascertain someone's heritage or sexual orientation. As for the "strong enough bond" that sounds even more bizarre. Let's say that a Jew isn't religious and doesn't go to synagogue. Does this mean that he's not a Jew? Or take a gay person who is in the closet and doesn't go to gay bars. Does it mean that he has no right to feel offended? Or a Gypsy who went to university and doesn't live in a hut in one of the village ghettos? The whole thing is nonsense. But never mind, I''m certain that on these grounds the Constitutional Court will completely agree with the great constitutional expert.