Some historical perspectives on freedom of speech

József Debreczeni wrote an opinion piece in Népszabadság (December 24, 2010) entitled "At the end of the leash?" In it he outlines the possible consequences of one of the most notorious paragraphs in the new media law. The paragraph reads: "any statement in the media which is qualified as an overt or covert insult of persons, nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities or any majority, in addition to any church or religious groups is punishable." According to Debreczeni, no such restrictive media law existed either during the dualistic period (1867-1918) or in the Horthy regime (1920-1944). And Debreczeni sets out to come up with some examples.

He begins with Ferenc Kölcsey, the author of the lyrics of the Hungarian national anthem. I will quote first the original Hungarian and then give the important parts in English. Kölcsey writes in "The Second Song of Zrínyi": "Szív, lélek el van vesztegetve rátok; / Szent harcra nyitva várt az út, / S ti védfalat körűle nem vonátok; / Ő gyáva fajt szült, s érte sírba jut.” He calls the Hungarians "a cowardly nation." Kölcsey's lines can certainly be considered an insult, and it is not even a covert one.

His second example is from the author of the lyrics of "Szózat," considered to be the second Hungarian national anthem, often sung in public. Mihály Vörösmarty wrote the following in "Az ország háza" (Parliament): "A hazának nincsen háza, / Mert fiainak / Nem hazája (…) / Neve szégyen, neve átok: / Ezzé lett magyar hazátok.” Hungary's name is shame and curse. Debreczeni rightly points out that would mean a fine of at least ten million forints for the periodical Athenaeum where it appeared.

Or here is Sándor Petőfi in "Buda várán újra német zászló!" (German flag again on the Castle of Buda): "Tedd le azt a fegyvert, magyar nemzet, / Téged isten nem arra teremtett, / El onnan a csatatérrül, lódulj, / Messziről nézz csak rá, a kuckóbul! // Ha urad jön, térdepelj le szépen, / S csókold meg a korbácsot kezében, / S várd el békén, míg reád halált szól, / És kirúg a nemzetek sorából!” In brief, he tells the Hungarians that they are not fit for war or freedom. Instead they should kiss the whip of the oppressor and just wait until death comes.

He moves on to István Széchenyi, the greatest Hungarian. He would be lucky today because he wrote these words in his diary: "Honfitársaim nem is sejtik, mily gyengék, tudatlanok, sőt rosszak. A dicsőség útjára vezérelni lehetetlenség volna őket… És a hazának legszebb nevei… semmirevalók a szónak egész kiterjedésében. Nem eszelős az… aki hazánknak ily rohadtságát elismeri… Annyira elromlottak mágnástársaink s nemeseink egyáltalában, hogy nem is érzik… mennyire elaljasodtak… Egy rohadt nemzet reformja élén állok, az ár ellen úszva.” His compatriots don't have any idea how weak, ignorant and bad they are and here he is leading the reform of a rotten nation.

Here are a few words from Nagyváradi Napló from 1903. Endre Ady, the great Hungarian poet who was also a journalist, wrote them in an article entitled "Menjünk vissza Ázsiába" (Let's go back to Asia): "Az a gyalázatosságában is mulattató komédia, mely ez ország keserves parlamentjében tegnap lefolyt, bele fog kerülni a történelembe… Ilyen megríkató baromság megérésére mégsem voltunk berendezkedve, pedig elkészültünk mi már minden megérhetőre. Az immár legbalkánibb parlamentnek ez a botránya irtózatos, kegyetlen világosságot adott a mi szemeinknek… Szeretett úri véreim, Ázsia ordított fel tegnap bennetek. A nosztalgia, a nomád, baromi ember méla vágyakozása rohamba tört ki… Egy harsány szitok hallszik. Lengyel Zoltán kiáltott, egy ifjú együgyű, ki hiányos intelligenciájával más, kultúr-országban evőkészlettisztító sem lehetne. Meg Leszkay úr, meg Rakovszky úr, meg a többi jól ismert idióta. És Vázsonyi egyfogatú kocsin futtat el ebből a komédia házból, hova bekerülni idestova erkölcsi halál lesz.” Briefly: The ignominy that occurred yesterday in the parliament will make history. Asia cried out in that Balkanic parliament. Ady calls one of the MPs a man of scant intelligence. In another country of some culture he would be polishing silverware somewhere. And by name he calls two members of parliament "idiots." Being elected to parliament means "moral death." Debreczeni suggests substituting some names: try calling Péter Szijjártó a young man of scant intelligence and add that Gábor Vona and János Lázár are idiots. Debreczeni adds: "I don't dare to continue…." 

He also quotes Sándor Márai, "whom the Hungarian right often quotes but doesn't really know": "Ahhoz, hogy Magyarország megint nemzet legyen, megbecsült család a világban, ki kell pusztítani egyfajta ember lelkéből a »jobboldaliság« címkéjével ismert különös valamit: a tudatot, hogy ő, mint »keresztény magyar ember« előjogokkal élhet a világban… Mert ez volt a jobboldaliság minden értelme… Amíg ezeknek szavuk van vagy befolyásuk, Magyarország nem lesz nemzet." In order for Hungary to be an honored nation, one must destroy the strange something called "the ideology of the right," meaning the idea that "a Christian Hungarian man" has special privileges in this world. As long as these people have influence Hungary will not be a nation.

Finally, Debreczeni returns to Ady who wrote the following about Prime Minister István Tisza in 1913 ("Rohanunk a forradalomba" [Running toward Revolution]) in which he made two small changes "Szeressétek / Őt is, a vad, alcsúti bolondot, / A gyújtogató, csóvás embert, / Úrnak, magyarnak egyként rongyot. /Mert ő is az Idők kiküldöttje, / S gyújtogat, hogy hadd hamvadjon össze / Hunnia fideszes trágyadombja." Debreczeni changed "madman of Geszt" to "madman of Alcsút" (Orbán's birthplace)  and instead of "úri"  he put in "fideszes." Well, I would hate to think what would happen if this poem was published today. Ady called Tisza a wild madman, a scoundrel who is setting fire to the country. But the country might as well burn because the whole "Hunnia" is a dungpile of the Hungarian Christian gentry class.

Ady wasn't worried for a moment about what would happen to him because "the wild madman of Geszt" believed in the rule of law and liberalism. "As opposed to his successor from Alcsút," he adds. Debreczeni hopes that Orbán will not be allowed to muzzle the media. "Next year we will find out whether the members of the Hungarian media are worthy of freedom or their place is at the end of the leash."

From the reactions I'm getting from people I know, they are not going to take all this lying down.

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Pro-Non-Violence
Guest
I want to quote just one comment from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/17733367/comments?page=2 mh_hu wrote: Dec 17th 2010 8:26 GMT Another great contribution from kabaco “The bankers 95% are coming from the west countries ergo Our savings goes to the west.” – no comment. Or maybe just that we have had no banks not repaying deposits. So where did the savings go? If anybody is curious what kind of people voted for Fidesz, look no further! For that, I thank kaboca and the other party puppet here. I don’t even try to comment the other points he wrote down, they are beyond commenting. Maybe one thing about corruption: Fidesz promised to fight corruption. Now look at the facts. the previous government introduced the obligation for all state representatives (including ministers) to disclose their wealth at the beginning and end of year. Fidesz has revoked this (except for ministers). Also, the ban on severance pay exceeding HUF 2 million and the upper ceiling of HUF 2 million on wages and benefits for state employees is NOT valid for heads of companies owned by the state (where many of the Fidesz supporters were installed, and which also operate from tax payer’s — my –… Read more »
Mutt Damon
Guest

Ha van Isten, ne könyörüljön rajta:
Veréshez szokott fajta,
Cigány-népek langy szivű sihederje,
Verje csak, verje, verje.
Ha van Isten, meg ne sajnáljon engem:
Én magyarnak születtem.
Szent galambja nehogy zöld ágat hozzon,
Üssön csak, ostorozzon.
Ha van Isten, földtől a fényes égig
Rángasson minket végig.
Ne legyen egy félpercnyi békességünk,
Mert akkor végünk, végünk.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
So they have dug out that hoary old chestnut again!. It was thrown out of British Law in the mid 17th Centenary. Because of this it never got into the law of the US of A, Canada, India etc. It however survives here in Hngay and has raised its ugly head again. It is ‘Seditious Libel’. Sedition can be interpreted as ‘trouble making’. It could be used to lock away any one who speaks out (even privately) against anything. It could also be used to lock away all one who listened to what was said as an accessory after the fact. If someone notices that an MP has his hand in the till and reports it. This report is ‘Seditious Libel’. A local trader who is a minor Fidesz big wig swindles someone big time. The person who was cheated and his lawyers can be ‘done’ under the Media Act because a court writ is a ’public’ document or publication. The new Hungarian Media Laws may also have wholly unexpected and unforeseen consequences. I will explain. Professor you quote a paragraph in the new media law which says that ** “Any statement in the media which is qualified as an… Read more »
An
Guest

@Odin’s Lost Eye: Their main argument is that we should trust the new media council that they will apply the law sensibly and fairly. The problem with this, is that the media law itself shroud be phrased so that it provides guarantees for fair treatment, and journalist shouldn’t be dependent on the goodwill of the media council.
It would be possible to come up with a media law that is in line with the EU treaties. This would require Fidesz to listen to the criticism and address the controversial points, perhaps by involving or at least consulting with the professional national and international media organisations. But for some reason, Fidesz is totally unwilling to do that.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

An the Americans have a motto ‘In God we trust’- to which they add ‘All others pay cash’!
These tow-rags of Fidesz will exploit every trick in he book, every loophole that they can find, to get their way. This to Rule Hungary and do as they wish. Trust no one not even yourself and you will not go far wrong.

Member

Odin’s Lost Eye, I agree with you 100%. I would not trust them an inch.
My favourite Orban statement why we need this new media law is this: “Ha kinyitok egy sportújságot, pucér hölgyek néznek rám a sporthírek közül, és különböző ajánlatokkal bombáznak. Ugyanezeket a lapokat olvassák a klubok utánpótlás-növendékei is, akik persze pár év múlva nyilván remekül eligazodnak majd a hölgyek ajánlatai között, de talán mégsem normális módja ez a sporteseményekben való tájékozódásnak. Távol áll tőlem a prüdéria, de nem szeretném, ha abba tévedésbe ringatnánk magunkat, hogy a magyar nyomtatott sajtó területén az emberi méltóság és a gyermekeink védelme tekintetében minden rendben van.”
It very much means that Orban is concerned for children who open up sport magazines but find pictures of naked women inside. I guess it is a valid concern, except when you appoint to head the new authority someone who never had any incline to protect the souls of young children or others when it came to her own bottom lines (no pun intended) until now. Szalai Annamaria is not the person who you should look for guidance about what is appropriate and what is not. THis appointment totally undermines what Fidesz supposedly tries to achieve.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

someone: “Szalai Annamaria is not the person who you should look for guidance about what is appropriate and what is not.”
Are you thinking of the porno magazine? I wrote about this a few months ago.

Mutt Damon
Guest

It was called the Miami Press. This is the front of the first issue:
http://bit.ly/g4B0M0

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon, Not bad! In my piece I expressed my total astonishment that a woman who was once associated with a porno magazine can possibly head the media police ostensibly defending public morality.

Member

Yes Eva, I was thinking about Miami Press, although it is hard to establish if it was a porn magazine or simply a sex magazine by simply looking at the educational photographs of the cover and the inside pages.The magazine’s title was also very fitting for Hungarian content. So, Ms. Szalai with her impeccable journalistic and media background will be in charge for enforcing Hungarian content measures and making sure that children will be protected from improper ads, photographs, and so forth. Why does it feel like that Orban gave to run a school to a brothel madam?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

someone: “Why does it feel like that Orban gave to run a school to a brothel madam?”
That’s why I said something like: “only in Hungary!” Can you imagine if it came to light in some country west of Hungary that the “guardian of morality” (erkölcs-csősz)was involved with a porno/sex magazine? Unimaginable. She would be out on her ears within minutes after the it was discovered.

GDF
Guest

Eva:”Mutt Damon, Not bad! In my piece I expressed my total astonishment that a woman who was once associated with a porno magazine can possibly head the media police ostensibly defending public morality.”
Well, maybe their goal is actually a totally free press. I point everyone’s attention to Al Goldstein, “among the earliest of the First Amendment porno-warriors.” (http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/encounter/70052/)
I wouldn’t hold my breath though…

Paul
Guest

No post from ‘Joe’ about how much worse things are in the USA?
It must be Christmas!

Joe Simon
Guest

In 2OO7 blogger J. Wolf spent 226 days in jail for refusing to hand over some videotapes in federal court proceedings. A USA Today reporter was fined Five thousand dollars PER DAY as long as she refused to hand over her notes again in court proceedings. Other journalists too have been known to be fined and even jailed for refusing to reveal their sources. Press freedom is nowhere absolute.

GDF
Guest

Joe Simon:”In 2OO7 blogger J. Wolf spent 226 days in jail for refusing to hand over some videotapes in federal court proceedings. A USA Today reporter was fined Five thousand dollars PER DAY as long as she refused to hand over her notes again in court proceedings. Other journalists too have been known to be fined and even jailed for refusing to reveal their sources. Press freedom is nowhere absolute.”
OK, apparently you cannot stop with this stupid analogy.
For those who do not know: both of these cases were related to journalists not revealing their sources related to criminal investigations. The Supreme Court of the US decided that in certain narrowly defined cases journalists cannot legally refuse to reveal their sources.
In the meantime 36 of the 50 states have shild laws that protect journalists.
To compare this situation with that of the new Hungarian law demonstrates either stupidity or malice (or both).

Member

Joe, I am very sorry but I just cannot see why drawing a parallel between Hungary and any other country, their (supposed) wrongdoing will absolve the questionable practices of a developing dictatorship. With your logic you should retell the story of Chile from 1973 and Hungary will look like the most democratic country on Earth. Why don’t you talk about best practices instead? Most of the people who post here seems to want to improve things for Hungary (“Érted haragszom, nem ellened”), but it seems you just try to find any excuse for undemocratic measures. Sorry but by my standards “Good enough is not good enough”.

Paul
Guest

someone – because ‘Joe’ (i.e. Fidesz) have no argument for what they are doing, so they try the only thing they can think of, which is to try to draw favourable parallels witt other countries.
It doesn’t work, and they know this. But they can’t think of any other strategy, so they just keep dragging the same limping dog from thread to thread.
Personally, I’m thinking of carrying out as much petty crime as I can, and when I’m caught, by defence will be that other people have committed worse crimes. I think that should get me off.