Aftermath of the night club murder

Nothing happens in Hungary that does not have political consequences. The lethal stabbing of a famous handball player was not just a tragic incident; it also became the center of a petty and unbecoming political feud. It was bad enough that once it became known that the perpetrators were Gypsies there was an outcry against "Gypsy crime." This sad event was also exploited for political gain. Fidesz went into high gear, attacking the government for not providing security for the citizens of the country. They claim that the police force is underfinanced, its size inadequate and, most importantly, it can't keep order. It commands no respect.

Unfortunately some of these accusations are not entirely unfounded although their statistical underpinnings leave something to be desired. Fidesz claims, for example, that the police are receiving 15 (sometimes this figure becomes 35) billion forints less for the 2009 fiscal year than they got a year ago. Actually the sum allotted for police work in 2009 is exactly the same as in 2008, but over the course of last year the police needed extra financing because of unforeseen (and hence unbudgeted) expenses. Just to give one example: all those demonstrations that needed new equipment, more policemen, and extra money. Most of these demonstrations, including the huge Fidesz open air gatherings, cost the police a great deal of money. If 2009 is as "busy" as last year (let's hope it won't be) then the police will receive extra money as needed. In fact, after the sad events in Veszprém the police force budget was increased by 3.5 billion. The response when this was announced on Sunday after the extraordinary cabinet meeting: "What good does the 3.5 billion do when they received 15 billion less in the first place?" One cannot win against people with an infinite talent for twisting the truth.

Most likely the Hungarian police could use twice as much money as they are receiving currently, but considering that the opposition is the most vocal critic of overspending it is interesting that any kind of savings is immediately criticized as "unacceptable." The claim that extra money spent on the police would result in budgetary reductions elsewhere doesn't make an impression. Everything needs more money, says the opposition.

I personally think that the problem is not so much one of money as what one might call police paralysis. For years now the policemen simply don't know what they are supposed to do. One day they are criticized because they are not tough enough and the next day they are called to task for being brutal. As some of the more outspoken government members argue, Fidesz has tried its best to weaken the Hungarian police force and now complains that the police are unable to keep order. The real attacks on the police came after October 23, 2007, when there were serious disturbances on the streets of Budapest. I watched a live broadcast of the events on the Internet and was surprised at the restraint of the Hungarian police while under physical attack. I watched with morbid fascination how the policemen retreated while thugs were throwing cobblestones at them. Hundreds were injured. More injuries among the police than among the rock throwers. Any other police force in Western Europe or in the United States in a similar situation would have been a great deal tougher. Yet "legal defenders of civil rights" close to Fidesz immediately began attacking the police for brutality. Krisztina Morvai, far right "defender" (by now a member of Jobbik), repeatedly told the world that thirteen people's eyes were shot out by rubber bullets. Proof? Unnecessary. She and Zoltán Balog, the great diplomat of the latest Slovak-Hungarian meeting, even went abroad to tell about the brutal Hungarian policemen and to ask for international condemnation. Some of the policemen were convicted in Hungarian courts (though they received suspended sentences) while one attacker after the other got off scot free. After that, it was not at all surprising that at the gay parade incident the policemen just stood by placidly while the anti-gay "gentlemen" spat on them. This is what happened to the Hungarian police force with Fidesz assistance.

But now Fidesz is demanding a tough police force that can keep order because "the government isn't doing anything." The party set up a "workshop" to outline a plan to introduce tougher laws and more effective police. They are promoting the "three strikes and you're out" policy some states in this country introduced. The third felony, life without parole. I just heard yesterday that prison overcrowding in California is so severe that about 170 thousand inmates should be let go. Well, somehow I can't see that happening in Hungary and not just because of the shortage of prisons. Such "innovation" flies in the face of the whole European justice system. Not only that, there is no way the parliament would vote for such a change in the criminal code.

Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán after a visit to László Sólyom announced that the number of crimes committed by Gypsies is growing. As we know, no ethnic statistics are kept. When another Fidesz politician was asked by a reporter where Orbán got this information, the only answer the Fidesz politician could come up with was that "the Miskolc police chief said so." Full circle, I'm afraid. 

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