The end of democracy?

Many people think so in liberal circles. There is a serious fear that the current government party's relentless legislative activity, primarily aimed at transferring power to the current government, could put an end to the checks and balances that would limit the dictatorial tendencies of Viktor Orbán and his coterie. The signs of such plans are numerous. In fifty-six days Fidesz managed for all intents and purposes to take over all the so-called independent institutions that would provide a counterbalance to the overwhelming majority of the government party in parliament. Practically everything was put in the hands of the all-powerful Viktor Orbán. He was the one who picked the president of the republic, his own former deputy in the party; he was the one who chose two new judges for the Constitutional Court; he will be the one to select the head of the supervisory body over media affairs. And one could go on and on.

Here I will concentrate on one "small" item. A "suggestion" of János Áder, former leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, later, during the first Orbán government, the ruthless speaker of the house who didn't bother with parliamentary niceties and rarely allowed the opposition to speak about things he didn't want to talk about. Then for a while it seemed that Áder lost Orbán's confidence and he was shoved out of the country straight to Brussels. Mind you, he speaks no foreign languages with any fluency, although he put down English as a language in which he can carry on a conversation. However, when some enterprising youngsters phoned him and tried to speak with him in English he showed a total inability to communicate. Anyone who wants to have a good laugh should listen to that so-called conversation.

Áder is one of the founding members of Fidesz. He is the same age as László Kövér. They attended law school together and were members of the same residential college where Fidesz, first as a youth movement and later as a party, was born. It is somewhat puzzling why Viktor Orbán and company decided to use János Áder to come up with a proposal that the Fidesz caucus will put forth in parliament to be debated. And, of course, once it reaches the floor it will be adopted.

The proposal is outrageous. There is no better word for it. Let's assume that someone accuses the head of a company or a politician of fraud and the police decide that there are grounds for his arrest. This person could immediately be incarcerated and remain in jail until his case was decided on final appeal. Thus it could easily happen that an entirely innocent man accused of a non-violent crime could be jailed for years until the very slow Hungarian court system decided his final fate. And since in Hungary, unlike in the United States, the prosecution can also appeal, that procedure can be tortuously long. Some people fear that Fidesz will use this piece of legislation as the foundation for putting their political opponents into jail for years. For example, Ibolya Dávid, former head of MDF, and Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister.

Of course, Áder's professed reason for such a change in the criminal code sounds much more innocent. As the law currently reads, the prosecutor's office must make the case that taking someone into custody is justified because there is a danger of escape or the person would influence witnesses if released. If the court decides that the person should be confined, he can be jailed for three months, after which the court again reviews his case. That can be repeated a number of times but in the most serious cases after four years of confinement the person must be released if his case still hasn't reached the courts. And that, says Áder, endangers the sucess of the prosecution.

According to legal scholars this proposal goes against international law which endorses the principle of a speedy trial. If a speedy trial is impossible, the accused must be released after a certain length of time pending his appearance in court. It turned out that Áder is not even familiar with current practice because the four-year limit is only applicable in the most serious cases and it almost never happens that such cases drag out that long. The current practice conforms to the European practice. Everywhere in Europe there is a limit on how long someone can be incarcerated without trial, but the experts claim that this proposed law would extend the time spent within prison walls practically indefinitely. People immediately thought of cases like that of György Hunvald and Miklós Hagyó, both socialist politicians, who could remain in jail for years on end without a final verdict ever being reached. These people are wondering whether the real reason behind the suggestion is Fidesz's desire for political retribution. Nothing would make Orbán happier than seeing Ibolya Dávid and Ferenc Gyurcsány in jail for years without ever appearing in court to clear their names.

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Thrasymachus
Guest
Of course when Freedom of Speech was abolished in Hungary earlier this year, with holocaust (and now Communist crime) denial resulting in imprisonment… that wasn’t the end of democracy. When Freedom of Assembly was sytematically eroded following events on 23/10/06 or the dispersal of the spontaneous protest on 4th of July last year. (I recall reading the total delight in your blog post of the next day)… that wasn’t the end of democracy. With Freedom of Association now no longer in effect in Hungary following the Lex Gárda initiatives, no no… that wasn’t the end of democracy. And when György Budaházy and his dubious comrades were and are subject to extended periods of prison confinement (stretching into its second year?) in the absence of prosecution or trial or presentation of evidence or proper chain of custody… that wasn’t the end of democracy. But with the prospect of this last practise being possibly faced by Socialist politicians? Ah! Now THAT’S the end of democracy. And while the above was happening, and being roundly applauded by politicians and commentators, and the likes of me warned that letting it happen at all would simply facilitate the creation of a society where this kind… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Open your eyes Eva. This madness of which you warn is already here – just ask budahazy. ive been waiting for years to see this ‘evidence’ against him, which is supposedly so conclusive. meanwhile he spends years of his life in a cell, without trial. your concern appears to be selective on this issue.
the socialists created this corrupt monster, fidesz is merely perfecting its operation to suits the party’s own needs.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul:”Open your eyes Eva. This madness of which you warn is already here – just ask budahazy.”
Come on, all Hungarian police investigations last for years. Ordinary murder cases too.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
““NO FREE MAN SHOULD BE IMPRISONED, DISPOSSESSED, OUTLAWED OR EXILED SAVE BY THE JUDGMENT OF HIS PEERS OR BY THE LAW OF THE LAND.” These words were first written in the year 1215 on an insignificant little island in the river Thames. They are the basis of the fundamental charter of Human rights and are the underlying theme of articles 47 to 54 of the European charter of that name, although these rights have been much watered down in their present form. That is words have been omitted from the original form. Hungary and most of the EU use a form of ‘Corrpus Juris’. There is no ‘Habeas Corpus’ in those countries. The European form allows detention on accusation for a maximum of 6 months followed by a further 3 months (infinitely renewable) without the need to present any form of evidence at all or have a formal (represented) hearing in court. Hum Ho! They can lock up (incommunicado) any one the do not like or who they feel does not like them. Where have I seen those sentiments mentioned before? Ah yes in the book by Anne Applebaum it is called ‘Gulag a History’. Oh and the words I… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Odin’s lost eye: “The European form allows detention on accusation for a maximum of 6 months followed by a further 3 months (infinitely renewable) without the need to present any form of evidence at all or have a formal (represented) hearing in court.”
This is exactly what’s going on for some time now in Hungary. On the flimsiest charges people sit in jail for years without a trial. The latest case involves the accusation by a “private person” that the head of a company that belongs to the city of Budapest caused material damage to his firm because he allowed an outside company to buy rights to the use of natural gas for X amount of money while he knew that it was worth Y amount. Thus he caused his company a loss of 70 million forints. He was arrested and most likely will be locked up for God knows how long.

Thrasymachus
Guest

I feel compelled to add, for any other EU citizen who might think themselves able to view this crazy Hungarian criminal justice system with a sense of superiority, that thanks to the European Arrest Warrant YOU TOO could find yourself subject to this kind of treatement.
As happenned to two British businessmen who were only released after 17 weeks of detention following political pressure.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8545028.stm

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Mr Thrasymachus I know this. It is caused as I said by the system called ‘Corrpus Juris’ aka the ‘Code Napoleon’. A system which has NO checks and balances what so ever. It depends on the integrity of those who run it. Do the current lot here have any integrity? Your answers please a postcard addressed to the ‘All Highest of Fidesz’
Those disgusting Anglo-Saxons (and their cousins on the other side of the great fish pond have different ideas). How dare a little scum bag of a pleb question the integrity of the Mighty One and All Highest of Fidesz with a writ of ‘Habeas Corpus’! What next? Charges of ‘Scurrilous Liable’?
No Mr Ticklemus do not answer, I do not want to turn the volume of my anger any louder.