I suggest a careful reading of these two texts. The first one is a statement by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, that was printed in the Congressional Record. The second is MTI's summary of it, which only marginally reflects the contents of Cardin's statement. You will notice that MTI picked out the few favorable references or those critical of the former governments and left out almost everything that was negative. I would also like to call your attention to the title of the MTI report, which suggests that this is just one senator's opinion. Another interesting turn of phrase can be found in the text when, introducing the paragraph about the government pushing through controversial pieces of legislation, MTI wrote: "Mr. Cardin believes…" Thus, it is not a fact but only the American senator's belief.
DEMOCRACY AT RISK IN HUNGARY — (Senate – July 05, 2011)
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, this week in Budapest there are two events of particular interest to Americans. First, Hungary has unveiled a statue of President Ronald Reagan in front of the U.S. Embassy in honor of his contribution to the goal of ending communist repression and commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Second, Hungary dedicated the Lantos Institute, named after Tom Lantos, our former colleague from the House of Representatives who worked tirelessly to promote democracy and human rights in the country of his birth. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Clinton have represented the United States at these respective events.
These gestures shine a light on Hungary's historic transformation as well as the close bonds between our two countries. Unfortunately, other developments in Hungary have cast a dark shadow over what should otherwise be happy occasions.
Last year, Hungary held elections in which a right-of-center party, FIDESZ, won a landslide, sweeping out eight years of socialist government rejected by many voters as scandal ridden and inept. With FIDESZ winning 52 percent of the vote, Hungary has the distinction of being the only country in Central Europe since the 1989 transformations where a single party has won an outright majority–not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a region where many governments are periodically hobbled by factionalism.
Those elections were also notable because more than 850,000 Hungarians–16 percent of the vote–cast their ballots for Jobbik, an anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, irredentist party. While Jobbik is an opposition party, it has clearly and negatively influenced public policy discourse.
Under Hungary's electoral system, FIDESZ's 52 percent of the vote has translated into a two-thirds majority of the seats in parliament. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used that supermajority to push through one controversial initiative after another.
One initiative that has generated particularly sharp criticism is Hungary's new media law. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media warned it could be used to silence critical media and public debate, it overly concentrates power in regulatory authorities, and it harms media freedom. In Ukraine, where democracy has put down only shallow roots, the Kyiv Post editorialized that "Hungary's media law should not come here.''
Another area of concern stems from the government's fixation on ethnic Hungarian identity and lost empire in ways that can only be seen as unfriendly by other countries in the region. One of the government's first acts was to amend Hungary's citizenship law to facilitate the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by ethnic Hungarians in other countries–primarily Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This expansion of citizenship was pushed through even though, in a 2001 statement submitted to the Council of Europe, the Hungarian Government firmly renounced all aspirations for dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians.
In a further escalation of provocative posturing, a few weeks ago Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament Laszlo Kovar [correctly Kövér] said that military force to change the borders with Slovakia–a NATO ally–would have been justified and, in any case, he added, the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are "ours.''
If one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home. For example, one increasingly hears the argument, including from government officials, that while the Holocaust was a 20th-century tragedy for Jews, the worst tragedy for Hungarians was the 1920 Treaty of Trianon–the treaty that established the borders for the countries emerging from the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire.
This comparison is offensive and disturbing. Ethnic Hungarians were never targeted for extermination or subjected to mass murder by Trianon. Moreover, this line of argument presents Hungarians and Jews as mutually exclusive. But more than 400,000 Jews were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz, and more than 10,000 Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube–were they not also Hungarian? How could this not be a tragedy for Hungary?
The government has also used its supermajority to adopt a completely new Constitution which has been reviewed by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission on Democracy through Law, a body of judicial experts.
The Venice Commission expressed particular concern with the requirement that numerous issues can now only be addressed through supermajority or so-called cardinal laws. In other words, "The more policy issues are transferred beyond the powers of simple majority, the less significance will future elections have and the more possibilities does a two-thirds majority have of cementing its political preferences and the country's legal order.''
In short, the Commission concluded, "the principle of democracy itself is at risk.''
This combines, by the way, with a court-packing scheme–the expansion of the size of the Constitutional Court from 11 to 15–and a reduction of the retirement age for ordinary judges from 70 to 62, which will reportedly mean 10 percent of all judges will be replaced.
To make exactly clear what he has intended with these reforms, Prime Minister Orban declared that he wants to tie the hands not only of the next government, but of the next 10 governments–that is, future Hungarian governments for the next 40 years.
It is no wonder then that in Freedom House's latest "Nations in Transit'' survey, released this week, Hungary had declined in ratings for civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, and judicial framework and independence.
Ironically, just as attention shifts to the tantalizing possibility of democratic reform in the Middle East, the red flags in Budapest keep multiplying: Transparency International has warned that transferring the power to appoint the Ombudsman from the parliament to the president means that he or she will not be independent of the executive. NGOs have warned that a new draft religion law may result in a number of religions losing their registration. Restrictions by Hungarian authorities on pro-Tibet demonstrations during last week's visit to Budapest of the Chinese Premier were seen as an unnecessary and heavyhanded limitation of a fundamental liberty. Plans to recall soldiers and police from retirement so that they may oversee Romani work battalions have predictably caused alarm.
In 1989, Hungary stood as an inspiration for democracy and human rights advocates around the globe. Today, I am deeply troubled by the trends there. I understand that it sometimes takes new governments time to find their bearings, and I hope that we will see some adjustments in Budapest. But in the meantime, I hope that other countries looking for transformative examples will steer clear of this Hungarian model.
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An American senator’s opinion on the state of Hungarian democracy
The unveiling of the Reagan statue and the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute last week were gestures that clearly demonstrate the historic significance of Hungary's transformation and the close relationship between the two countries. However, other Hungarian developments cast a shadow on these joyful occasions. This is what Benjamin Cardin, an American Democratic senator, wrote in a statement that appeared in the Congressional Record.
After the majority of Hungarians found the socialists unfit to lead the country and considered their eight-year-long governance scandalous, at the parliamentary elections last year the right-of-center Fidesz won with a landslide that resulted in the two-thirds majority in the legislature. Such a large majority is not necessarily a bad thing in a region where domestic quarrels can paralyze governments. At the same time it is significant that the far-right Jobbik party received 16% of the votes and, although it is not in the government, it clearly negatively influences political discourse.
Cardin believes [vélte] that since the elections a year ago, Viktor Orbán’s government used its two-thirds majority to push through a series of controversial pieces of legislation. He mentioned the media law, the initiative on dual citizenship, the new constitution, and the opinion of the Venice Commission. He also mentioned the enlargement of the Constitutional Court.
Cardin concluded his statement by saying that “Hungary served as an inspiration in 1989 as the defender of human rights and democracy. Now, however, I am worried about the Hungarian developments. I know that sometimes it is difficult for a new government to find the right direction and therefore I hope that there will be certain corrections in Budapest. But at the same time I also hope that countries currently looking for models for their own transformation will keep themselves away from this Hungarian model.”
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I'm happy to announce that after MTI's summary was published yesterday, an accurate Hungarian translation of Cardin's text was published in Galamus (www.galamus.hu). Unfortunately, Galamus has only 6,000-7,000 readers while many newspapers, both print and electronic, simply took over MTI's summary. They are either lazy or naively think that what MTI publishes about foreign opinions of Hungary still has something to do with reality.
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And finally, politics.hu published the English version that MTI released today of the summary of Cardin's statement. This version is slightly different from the Hungarian version. So, here is the latest. I indicate in blue the major differences. It is obvious that in English MTI doesn't dare to distort the text as blatantly as it does in Hungarian. It added a few instances of questionable measures.
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US Senator warns “democracy at risk” in Hungary
The co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Thursday expressed concern over recent government measures in Hungary and gave warning that “democracy is at risk” in the country.
In a statement published in the Congressional Record, Democrat Senator Benjamin L Cardin said while events during Transatlantic Week last week have reflected strong ties between the US and Hungary, there have been other developments overshadowing these relations.
While Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s two-thirds majority support in government is “not necessarily a bad thing”, Cardin said “the Orban government has used that supermajority to push through one controversial initiative after another.” Among such initiatives he mentioned the media law, the citizenship law and the new constitution, as well as changes to the Constitutional Court, measures to reduce early retirement for soldiers and police officers and changes to the ombudsman system.
The statement also mentions that “restrictions by Hungarian authorities on pro-Tibet demonstrations during last week’s visit to Budapest of the Chinese Premier were seen as unnecessary and heavyhanded”.
“In 1989, Hungary stood as an inspiration for democracy and human rights advocates around the globe. Today, I am deeply troubled by the trends there. (…) I hope that other countries looking for transformative examples will steer clear of this Hungarian model,” the statement said.
Ildiko Lendvai, the opposition Socialist member of parliament’s human rights committee, said in response that “it gives us no pleasure that Hungarian citizens must more and more often be defended from abroad against their own government.”
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Take your pick which version you prefer! The whole affair is outrageous.