Letter of the Democratic Opposition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

26 June 2011, Budapest

Dear Madame Secretary:

It is a great honor for Hungary that you will represent the United States on the occasion of the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest.

For us, members of the erstwhile democratic opposition to the one-party communist regime, this is an occasion of utmost importance. Tom Lantos gave his whole-hearted support to the cause of freedom at a time when Hungary was still a dictatorship. We all held Representative Lantos in great esteem; many of us maintained bonds of friendship with him until his death.

Regretfully, however, Hungary is rapidly moving away from the standards upheld by Tom Lantos. While it is only to be commended that the Tom Lantos Institute was established with the consensus of the Hungarian government and the democratic parties, today our government refuses to seek accord concerning any issue crucial to democracy.

In the past year, the rule of law has been seriously damaged in our country. The Prime Minister, overwhelmingly elected in 2010 with a promise to strengthen civic liberties, is today openly distancing himself from the ideals of Western democracies, calling them obsolete. His ruling coalition systematically demolishes the constitutional guarantees of separation of powers, removing all checks and balances that restrain the executive.

An autocratic system is in the making in Hungary.

The first victim of these restrictions was freedom of the press. An omnipotent authority was created, composed solely of governing-party delegates, empowered to supervise not only broadcasting, but also the print and on-line media. The public-service media were renationalized, and obliged to only use news provided by the state press agency. This one-party authority arbitrarily imposes massive fines, and can deny to media outlets the renewal of their licenses. This in turn has already triggered media self-censorship.

Neither was the Constitutional Court, the most potent safeguard of the rule of law during the past twenty years, able to avoid this fate. First, its scope of competence was curtailed, and now the Court is being expanded, with five new justices appointed by the ruling parties.

Despite appeals to find common denominators, the ruling parties drew up a new constitution on their own, cold-shouldering the opposition. The constitution has recently been met with fierce criticism by the Council of Europe's legal commission, both for curtailing fundamental rights and for arbitrarily requiring a super-majority for future revisions of the present government's economic policies.

In a similar vein, the ruling parties are intent on modifying the election law, a cornerstone of democracy, while disregarding the opinion of the opposition parties.

The independence of the judiciary is under grave assault as well. Despite judges having proven their integrity for the past twenty years, they are now being forced into retirement en masse; the National Council of Justice, the safeguard of the courts' autonomy, has been deprived of its constitutional protection; the process of appointing judges will hereafter be defined by the governing parties.

All independent public services are now being headed by functionaries loyal to the ruling party. It has become standard practice to strip citizens of their civil rights, mostly by passing retroactive laws.

Let us cite just two developments of the past week. Private entrepreneurs have been obliged to raise wages through a government decree. Habeas Corpus will be virtually repealed through a draft law soon to be passed by Parliament: the length of detention without judicial oversight would be raised from 72 to 120 hours, and the right of detainees to consult a lawyer would be denied during the first 48 hours of detention.

Madame Secretary:

The historic visit of President George Bush in 1989 helped us Hungarians to establish democracy in our country. Your visit may help us to prevent its demolition today.

We are certain that you will speak up for Hungary's once again endangered freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Attila Ara-Kovács, journalist

György Dalos, writer

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Róza Hodosán, former MP

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, writer

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect

Sándor Szilágyi, writer on photography

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, philosopher

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peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva;
where do we sign the dotted line? You forgot the link. No matter what our differences are: the peril that is facing us makes our differences minute.
Demszky Gabor. Kenedi Janos. Konrad Gyorgy. Magyar Balint.Rajk Laszlo. Tamas Miklos Gaspar.
Peter Litvanyi

csak-jellem-tartja-fenn-az-embert!
Guest
csak-jellem-tartja-fenn-az-embert!

It is not easy to wake up the majority in Hungary. Since Deak’s death, the nation has been on decline. The hope for fair and decent public policies has been nurtured by Bela Kiraly, and some others like Eva Balogh.
The rest is a sad picture. Intelligent but strangely confused people kept the Horthy, Kadar, and the rest of the failed regimes in power.
People, wake up, try to be enlightened, moral, and alert.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Peter Litvanyi: “No matter what our differences are: the peril that is facing us makes our differences minute. Demszky Gabor. Kenedi Janos. Konrad Gyorgy. Magyar Balint.Rajk Laszlo. Tamas Miklos Gaspar. Peter Litvanyi”
That’s what I’m saying.

Paul
Guest

“The rest is a sad picture. Intelligent but strangely confused people kept the Horthy, Kadar, and the rest of the failed regimes in power.”
A very good summary of the Hungarian ‘problem’. And it’s happening again with Fidesz and OV. Most of the Fidesz supporters I know are educated, intelligent people, who in every other way are decent human beings. Yet they believe anything OV tells them.
Why this blind spot with autocratic ‘leaders’, this desire to be told what to do by ‘father’ figures?
I strongly suspect it is linked with the near worship of the family in Hungary. I find it very frustrating (as a Brit) that by brother-in-law, a surgeon in his 30s and a married man with children, won’t do anything without first consulting his parents.
Could it be that Hungarians are so used to always having a parental figure ‘above’ them, who has to be consulted and obeyed (even if they disagree with them and find them annoying), that they need this from their political leaders as well?
Perhaps the Hungarian culture, like (it appears) the Russian one, just isn’t suited to democracy?

Joe Simon
Guest

Is it not a well known and time-honored tradition in the USA that you never criticize your own country when abroad or to foreigners. This Committee should raise their objections to Orbán, tell it to his face, etc., but should refrain from presenting their case to the visiting US Secretary of State. Such views as expressed sound weak, appealing to a foreign statesperson to set things right in Hungary. Demszky, for example, is much disliked in Hungary, charges of corruption have been levelled against him. Nobody listens to him. They should work within the system, instead of writing such lame lamentations.

GW
Guest

Joe Simon,
It IS a long tradition that the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and other US diplomats, under governments both Democratic and Republican, meet with members of the opposition in all coutries, seeking out candid points of view and indicating their commitment to lively political discussion within democracies and the fact that particular governments do not have monopolies on facts or good ideas.

dani
Guest

@Joe Simon – I see where you are coming from, BUT there is no functioning internal discourse. Thus you cannot compare this situation with the US. Foreign pressure on Orban is the last resort and only hope that this country does not slide into 20-30 years of darkness.

Paul
Guest

‘Joe’ is ‘Johnny”s American cousin

Johnny Boy
Guest

Even if the writers of this letter were right (they are not).
It is not common in the world to run crying for help to the kindergarten teacher with all internal problems.
Their problem is of domestic political nature and as soon as they can’t win it, they run to foreigners.
They can only imagine themselves as attendants of foreign will and interest and they don’t even realize it. And they don’t realize this is part of why htey have been beaten so badly.
This servile mentality is their most disgusting characteristic. This is their complete mindset.

Johnny Boy
Guest
dani there is functioning internal discourse. But that is not discourse when instead of keeping yourself within the scope of genuine discussion, you label your opponents instead and try to stigmatize them out of discourse. If something is preventing real discourse, it is the persistent actions of these ‘intellectuals’ who think they are the only ones entitled to have the say in the country. They never argue, they only label their opponents to depict them as being unworthy of discussion. Take a look here. It’s the same thing going on. The vast majority of the posts in ‘reply’ to me are about how I am a paid Fidesz troll and who I am and what my posting behavior and timetable is. But almost never about what I said. This is the only tactic of those who obviously have no other means to make their stand in a genuine debate. Demszky & co, after having made themselves completely (read: 100%) discredited, now show again why the whole population hates them so much. This arrogant, haughty, insulting behavior that is all about discrediting the opponents they lost badly to. This way of thinking will never get them one single step ahead. They… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Paul: “Most of the Fidesz supporters I know are educated, intelligent people, who in every other way are decent human beings”
Wow. This is some breaking news. Don’t you fear Eva will cast you out too? To her everything that is Fidesz is filthy, uneducated, primitive, unworthy of life, and somewhat below in rankings than an insect.

NWO
Guest

I agree with the sentiments of the letter, but believe there remains a level of hypocrisy among many of the signatories who were very complicit in the manifest failures of Hungarian democracy over the past two decades. In particular, the former elected officials from SzDSz should spend a good deal of time reflecting on (1) their party’s willingness to mostly support a multitude of poor policies of MSZP/SzDSz governments, (2) their willingness to sell out principle so easily in return for a modicum of power, (3) their very active participation in the egregious corruption of the political class over the past decades.
What is happening in Hungary now is most certainly very worrying and dismaying, but has not occurred out of thin air. The seeds of this political and social crisis were laid years before, and many of those signing this letter were very much involved and at fault for planting those seeds.

Member

NWO, I agree. But the letter is still awesome, no matter who signed it and the state department will take a note of it.
Johnny and his cousin Joe just squealing about the politicians who signed it. They don’t even try to comment on the facts listed in the letter. Of course at the same time Johnny is whining about us calling him a troll and not commenting on his pontifications. Such a misunderstood genius.

kormos
Guest

Well said NWO!
It will take many years and “tears” before things turn to North direction.

Johnny Boy
Guest
Mutt why should I comment on the ‘facts’ listed in the letter? By the way, I commented on them and simply said the authors are wrong. Do you really believe what is written in there? Sorry, I can’t believe you believe that. Not even you can be that narrow minded. Exactly these words have been uttered by the very same persons EVERY SINGLE TIME the ‘right’ won in Hungary. Árpád Göncz, then unfortunately President of the State, lied in La Stampa in 1998 titled “Europe, help us!”. Why? Because Orbán won and not them. What was the pretense? Democracy is in peril. In 1994 when election times were coming, what did these persons lie? That Péter Boross will declare state of emergency to prevent the elections from happening. What was the pretense? Democracy is in peril. Is it all that new to you? Come on! Don’t you think these persistent outcries are boring as hell? If there were even a seed of truth to them, elections wouldn’t have been held in the past 20 years in Hungary. No one with the slightest perception of reality takes these lamentations seriously. If it were the first time such a letter surfaces, maybe… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt: “But the letter is still awesome, no matter who signed it and the state department will take a note of it.”
The letter is very good and unfortunately the points they bring up are all true. Hungarian democracy is in peril.
Who did what in the last twenty years is not the issue here. To blame everything on the socialist-liberal governments is unfair. Fidesz’s eight-years in opposition did its thing too. Terrible damage they inflicted on the political culture.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

JB: ‘Mutt why should I comment on the ‘facts’ listed in the letter? By the way, I commented on them and simply said the authors are wrong. Do you really believe what is written in there? Sorry, I can’t believe you believe that.’
Not question of belief. These are facts

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Not question of belief. These are facts”
Along the same lines, I could as well represent my opinion as facts.
Do you know what differentiates the two?
The problems begin when you think your opinion is not a subjective interpretation of reality, or rather, of what you perceive of it, but you consider your opinion to be part of reality itself.
Those allegations about, for example, the Constitutional court could even be objective, even though they are actually not because they are greatly exaggerated, but the perceived motivation behind it is entirely speculation. So is the claim that “autocracy” is in the making.
This is an opinion, not a fact.

kormos
Guest

Please tell me;how can democracy be in peril in a country, where democracy was never implemented. It might have felt as democracy for some. The signatories probably feel that way.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva you still don’t understand.
Don’t downplay what happened in the past 20 years. These authors did exactly the same during those 20 years, except when they were in power. It was only then that democracy wasn’t ‘in peril.’ Isn’t that strange?
Since it is obvious that these allegations were completely wrong throughout these 20 years and democracy was never in peril during right-wing tenures, this current letter is completely discredited simply by their authors.
Hard to believe you don’t see it. Water clear.

Johnny Boy
Guest

To summarize it with a splendid quote from one of Guardian’s readers, in reaction to an article in the same vein as this letter:
“Hungary held elections OK.
The voting was declared sound OK.
The person with the most votes won OK.
Guardian doesn’t like it OK.
Democracy OK.”
That’s about it.
But what Demszky & co do here is not OK.

Member

That is their (and our) opinion. OK.
You don’t like it. OK.
Calling them and us a liar?? That is not OK.
What do you mean speculation? Adding 5 FIDESZ guys to the constitutional court is not problem because what if they vote against Orban? We are not stupid, Johnny.
Yes, Johnny, in the past many people thought the FIDESZ is a problem. Just a hint: 8 years of MSzP government. They were more timid between 98-02 but now there have really gone postal.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kormos: “Please tell me;how can democracy be in peril in a country, where democracy was never implemented.”
A perfectly extreme view. Of course, there was a real change of regime with all the democratic institutions in place. It is another matter that the democratic change didn’t take place in people’s heads.
The problem is now that Fidesz is dismantling the checks and balances without which there is no democracy.

Ivan
Guest

“dani there is functioning internal discourse. But that is not discourse when instead of keeping yourself within the scope of genuine discussion, you label your opponents instead and try to stigmatize them out of discourse.” – JB
Like calling a fellow debater ‘idiot’ as first recourse during debate?
You’re a sorry and hypocritical fellow, JB, just like your socialist-hating communist-fellow-travelling-coffer-filling political heroes.
(sorry, almost forgot, you don’t answer questions on this matter)
Where is your consistency?

Member

It’s a bit off-topic:
The Magyar Nemzet via the MTI claims that Zsolt Semjen received the Ronald Reagan International Freedom Award. The Reagan Foundation doesn’t know anything about it. What did he get? A statuette (made in China)? Or is this “award” something the Fidesz government created for themselves?
To those who don’t know him. He’s a racist, homophone wing-nut. My favorite quote from him: “the Socialists stole more then gypsy all together”.

Kirsten
Guest
I have some doubts about the value of this letter. Perhaps this is a huge misunderstanding on my part but why do these men (I know they are famous and certainly they also try to use their reputation but still…) not send the law on the pensions confiscation or the newly planned law on forced labour to the European Court of Justice or the Court of Human Rights? The letter may be “awesome” but they repeat that which brought Hungary into these troubles: instead of using the existing control mechanisms (even if slow and labourious) including those of the EU, they write a letter (i.e. make a gesture). And above that to the United States’ Secretary of States as if there was still an Iron Curtain (the reference is clearly to 1989). But there is no Russian president or CP Secretary to make deals with; and Hungary is committed to democratic procedured through EU membership. What should she say? That the US is going to check whether EU member states are sticking to the values enshrined in all EU treaties? I am sorry but I suspect that Madame Secretary will not spare Hungarians from the fact that it is themselves… Read more »
Ivan
Guest

” … I suspect that Madame Secretary will not spare Hungarians from the fact that it is themselves who must try harder if they want to preserve democracy, for instance through using all remaining mechanisms … ”
I think that the overwhelming and most terrifying point is that those mechanisms are either gone or are going.
I suspected all of this would happen (they had eight years to plan … ), but it’s the PACE that’s so electrically horrible.
Blink and you’ll miss it. Which, is/was I think, the plan.

Member

Kirsten, you are right. But this was because Hillary is coming to the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute.
One kick at a time …

Kirsten
Guest

“I think that the overwhelming and most terrifying point is that those mechanisms are either gone or are going.”
Hungary has not yet left the EU so these mechanisms cannot be gone. There are EU treaties signed by Hungary; it is not an entirely sovereign state. European law is above the member states laws and the Court of Justice can oblige Hungary – but it has to be appealed to. I apologise for being flippant but what appears to be missing in Hungary is an awareness that the checks and balances in democratic systems include these labourious procedures in the courts.

Member

I have not posted to my comments regarding this letter as I’ve tried to digest, and sort out my mixed feelings about it. I agree very much with what Kirsten had to say here. Hungary i part of the European Union and it is not that Hungarians exhausted all the avenues in their means to find some solutions.