Hungarian justice as a political instrument

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that Fidesz has very close relations with the Hungarian judiciary. In plain language, the party is using the courts and the prosecutor's offices to its own political advantage. Even more bluntly, it is using them against its political "enemies."

Just as Viktor Orbán discovered early in his tenure as prime minister that he needed a friendly media, he also realized that the judiciary is at least as important if not more so for his political purposes. Because the Hungarian constitution is full of legal loopholes he found the first opening: the appointment of the chief prosecutor needs only a simple majority vote while his removal requires a two-thirds majority. Thus the Orbán government forced the retirement of the well respected chief prosecutor who had been serving in this capacity ever since 1990 and put in his place with a simple majority an old Fidesz member and friend, Péter Polt, who had no prosecutorial experience whatsoever. His appointment served Fidesz very well even after 2002 when the new government wanted to investigate some of the murky corruption cases associated with Fidesz. The prosecutor's office didn't find one case worthy of investigation. Polt is no longer the chief prosecutor, but that doesn't mean he left the organization altogether. In Hungary a former chief prosecutor who fails to be reappointed remains in the office in some fairly high position. That's exactly what happened to Polt. A new chief prosecutor was eventually chosen, but he is so close to the compulsory retirement age that his tenure will end shortly after next year's elections. Thus Fidesz, if they win the elections, will be able to get their own man again. Moreover, one wonders how independent any new chief prosecutor is when in the same office there is the old chief looking over his shoulder.

Polt or no Polt, the work of the prosecutor's office hasn't improved since his "departure." The office drags its feet in any case involving the opposition and proceeds with lightning speed when there are alleged dirty tricks or corruption cases on the other side. And the courts seem to assist the prosecution in such cases. MSZP politicians accused of corruption or embezzlement are kept in jail for months on end before their cases come up, allegedly because they will either escape or will try to influence witnesses. At the same time accused Fidesz politicians remain free and their cases are left to die. There are also leaks, always to the right-wing media, from the prosecutor's office. Often Magyar Nemzet learns about a summons issued to a named politician even before the accused receives the letter. This is exactly what happened in the case of György Szilvásy.

Let me very briefly outline the facts of the case. For those of you who would like to know more, read my blog from September 26, 2008, called "'Polypgate' in Hungary" and from September 27, 2008, "'Polypgate' in Hungary: new developments." On September 10, 2008, Sándor Laborc, head of the Nemzetbiztonsági Hivatal ([NBH] National Security Office) charged that a private company was illegally trying to obtain classified information from the National Security Office. It turned out that at least two Fidesz politicians, both former ministers in charge of national security, László Kövér and Ervin Demeter, were in constant touch with the company whose job it was to snoop around NBH. There were apparently hundreds of taped telephone conversations to prove that the company was guilty as charged. The members of the parliamentary committee on national security demanded proof of the charge, and György Szilvássy, the minister, provided it in the form of thirty-two tapes. That was his constitutional duty. A few hours later Fidesz made seven of these tapes public and not long after an anonymous source put all thirty-two tapes on the Internet. On several of the tapes one could hear Kövér and Demeter having friendly conversations with the head of the company. Demeter was quite open in asking his man to get inside information from the National Security Office. Kövér was more circumspect. He simply arranged meetings over the telephone and never said anything about the company's "spying."

Things looked pretty bad for Fidesz and because the best defense is a strong offense Fidesz demanded an investigation of Szilvássy. The whole thing seems to have been carefully choreographed. Róbert Répássy, Fidesz MP and legal expert of the party, must have arranged everything ahead of time. He must have called Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI) to witness and photograph the meeting between himself and the representative of the prosecutor's office. The complaint was handed to the representative in front of the building of the prosecutor's office. Here is the picture.Répássy és ügyész Now while the NBH's case against the "spying" company has been dragging on for eight months and the silence is deafening, Répássy's case against Szilvássy, on the other hand, is moving along quite rapidly by Hungarian standards. The prosecutor's office decided to name Szilvássy not as a witness but as the accused. He is accused of illegally making public documents not pertaining to any specific crime. That's what Fidesz claimed at the time.

The whole thing is more than mysterious. After all, Szilvássy wasn't the one who made the documents public. He simply provided the information to the members of the parliamentary committee. And he did it because the members demanded the information. It was the Fidesz members who illegally made some of the documents public. Yet the prosecutor's office interrogated Szilvássy for four solid hours and fingerprinted him. In Hungary that is one of the greatest humiliations anyone can suffer. (You may recall that László Sólyom refused to visit the Unites States because of fingerprinting. I don't know what will happen to Hungarians in the next few months. I just read that the new passports will include the holder's fingerprint!)

I heard the spokesman for the prosecutor's office being interviewed on the subject, and I must say that he had a heck of a time explaining why his office acted as it did. The MSZP leadership is up in arms. Ildikó Lendvai, president of MSZP, went so far as to say that it seems a "show trial" is in the making. I personally don't think it will come to that, but a week before the EP elections this charge gives Fidesz more ammunition. It is hard to escape the suspicion that the Hungarian judiciary is not really independent. And that is a very serious problem.

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Odin's lost eye
I see that no one has picked up on this little nugget! If what you write is true (or even half true) then the answer lies in the Hungarians own hands (if only they knew it!). Under Article 194 of the treaties setting up the European Parliament, any citizen of the European Union is entitled to petition the European Parliament who must act on it (even if it is just to dismiss the petition). This can be done ‘On-line’ via the internet and in any ‘official language of the E.U’, this includes Hungarian. I would submit two such petitions both quoting Article 6 of the E.U. Charter of Human Rights. This is the one which deals with trial by an Independent Judiciary. My first petition would be to ask the parliament to investigate the use of ‘political influence’ to delay/loose/dismiss cases referred to the Prosecutor’s Office. In the petition I would quote all the examples of such apparent influence I could find. For this search I would begin with this site, tracking them back to their primary sources. In the evidence to support my petition I would quote these, differentiating between the types of report –newspaper reports, judgement handed down,… Read more »