Is freedom of speech in danger in Hungary?

There are certain danger signs that give cause for alarm. I spent a considerable time writing about certain local Fidesz leaders who misuse the power. One of these local potentates is Tamás Meggyes of Esztergom whose shady affairs I summarized on October 16, 2009. I also talked about the mayor of Fót, Zsolt Mádly, a few months earlier. That gentleman's behavior actually borders on the pathological. These guys are, in my opinion, embarrassments to the party and if I were Viktor Orbán I would try to get rid of them. But it seems that Tamás Meggyes will be running for parliament again and I assume for the mayoralty of Esztergom as well in the fall. That is, if there are local elections this year because there are rumors that in case of an electoral victory, especially if it's a landslide, Fidesz is planning to change the constitution to move the date of local elections to a year or two after the national elections.

Tamás Meggyes's name surfaced again in the national media a few weeks ago when it turned out that he forbade any questions or comments at council meetings. The members of the town council can do only one thing: vote. Because there is a slight Fidesz majority, the mayor's incredible idea was accepted. The reason? Because of the coming elections and because Meggyes is one of the candidates the opposition members on the council could use this platform for party propaganda against the mayor. I must say that even Róbert Répássy, the party's legal expert, was somewhat taken aback when he was confronted with this news in front of the cameras. Nonetheless I haven't heard that anyone told Meggyes that it is all very nice that he is running for parliament but that doesn't mean that he can muzzle the opposition.

Now the mayor of Esztergom has moved against an online newspaper www.szeretgom.hu. This is not the first time that www.szeretgom.hu is being sued by the mayor. He doesn't like the fact that szeretgom doesn't like him. This is something of a pun because "szeret" means "loves" in Hungarian. Szeretgom might like Esztergom but indeed it doesn't like Tamás Meggyes. The online paper has been a thorn in the mayor's side for a long time. For years the young guys who put out the paper have been forced to hire lawyers to defend the paper against Tamás Meggyes's legal attacks. Interestingly enough www.szeretgom.hu normally wins. According to Hungarian law the losing side must pay all the expenses accrued. That might be the case, but Tamás Meggyes doesn't pay much attention to the law. He refuses to pay.

Szeretgom at one point even had a print edition, but all these legal expenses were too hard on the penurious publishers. Now Meggyes is asking the courts to take away the server and the computers while the latest case is pending. Szeretgom's only luck is that Meggyes's new lawyer doesn't seem to know the law too well and he decided to sue not szeretgom but János Cserép, the computer scientist who owns only the domain name. Thus, for the time being they are off the hook, but who knows about Hungarian courts? It is really up for grabs how they will decide. Anything is possible. As Cserép said today to György Bolgár, if there is an effort to shut down the Hungarian servers they will be forced to move abroad.

Why is it necessary to have an online paper like www.szeretgom.hu? Because the paper put out by the local government, i.e., Tamás Meggyes, is propaganda. Apparently this paper, Hídlap, is published in 35,000 hard copies in addition to an online edition: www.hidlap.hu. A quick look is sufficient to realize that this is a Fidesz paper published on taxpayers' money. Selected recent news from Hídlap: A few days ago Zsigmond Járai visited Esztergom and gave a long speech about the economy. He is pictured alongside the smiling mayor. There is an article with the headline "Coma: Hungarian Healthcare is Deadly Ill." And a piece about a local hospital that is apparently struggling for survival. Nothing in this paper about the possible misdeeds of Mayor Meggyes. Everything is rosy and everybody is breathlessly waiting for a huge Fidesz victory.

Szeretgom is not alone in reporting on the mayor's questionable activities. In www.egominfo.hu one can discover that the mayor of Esztergom was fined half a million forints because he fired the city clerk without reason and refused to rehire him even after the court ordered him to do so. Another online paper www.infoesztergom.hu reports that the case of Tamás Meggyes and István Takács v. Melinda Kókai began today in the Győr City Court. Poor Melinda Kókai said something on the pages of szeretgom.hu about financial irregularities involving the Esztergom Chess Club. Although Kókai seems to be a Fidesz voter, she is very disappointed in Meggyes. And Meggyes of course sued.

If these online papers that survive on shoestring budgets didn't exist, there would be no "investigative" journalism in this region. Only solidly one-sided propaganda would be available. Let's hope that Meggyes's latest effort to silence the opposition will not succeed.

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John T
Guest

But no doubt these people will get elected again. The truth is, nobody seems that bothered about decent behaviour of officials (of whichever party) in public office and that is a symptom of the wider malaise that currently exists in Hungarian society. Some people may moan about the state of things, but very few will do anything sensible to restore the image of public office or the country. If Hungary as a nation and the people in positions of responsibility within it want respect, they have to earn it. Sad to say, but the country is slowly becoming the basket case of Europe, though the Greeks will no doubt take that accolade for a little longer yet.

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I have my country – India – in my mind. Here we enjoy freedom of speech against the Prime Minister of India and the President of India and many at the top and not against Judiciary on certain issues. If you exercise your freedom of speech against any caste projected politician, or a regional party or a Cinema super star, you will lose your limbs. So here freedom of speech is not universal. But here we have freedom to enjoy wants, hunger and starvation and none interferes in it.

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Do singers actually know the meaning of their songs or do they just sing the songs that song writers write?
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Well, I may not an expert but common sense tell me European countries do not have the same freedom of speech protections that the USA has.

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