New Year’s message by former Hungarian political dissidents

Budapest, 2nd of January, 2012

The decline of democracy – the rise of dictatorship

The undersigned, participants of the erstwhile human rights and democracy movement that opposed the one-party communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s, believe that the Hungarian society is not only the victim of the current economic crisis, but also the victim of its own government. The present government has snatched the democratic political tools from the hands of those who could use these tools to ameliorate their predicament. While chanting empty patriotic slogans, the government behaves in a most unpatriotic way by reducing its citizens to inactivity and impotence.

The constitutional system of Hungary has also sunk into a critical situation. As of the 1st of January 2012, the new constitution of Hungary along with several fundamental laws came into force. Viktor Orbán’s government is intent on destroying the democratic rule of law, removing checks and balances, and pursuing a systematic policy of closing autonomous institutions, including those of civil society, with the potential to criticise its omnipotence. Never since the regime change of 1989 when communist dictatorship was crushed has there been such an intense concentration of power in the region as in present-day Hungary.

Institutions with the authority to hold government activity in check have met a similar fate: Fidesz continuously deprives such institutions of their autonomy, blackmails them for survival, discharges professional management, takes unlawful decisions and moulds these institutions so that they can no longer control and correct government activity but, in sharp contrast to their original function, they serve to augment unbridled autocracy. With the removal of the checks and balances, the whole state has become subservient to the government, or rather to the prime minister. The Parliament and the president obediently comply with the dictates of the cabinet. By having their staff radically reshuffled and implementing laws curtailing their competence, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Court of Justice and the Constitution Court act as the lengthened arms of the government. While local councils have lost the better part of their clout, semi-autonomous institutions such as the Court of Auditors, the Hungarian Press Agency, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Cultural Fund may well be regarded today as quasi government agencies. Arbitration committees, including the now defunct National Conciliation Council, have been disbanded.

             1. Legislative power

Fidesz created a system that put an end to genuine debates in and outside the Parliament, and by excluding stakeholders the Parliament became a virtual one-party powerhouse. It was stripped of even a semblance of lawful parliamentary protocol. By means of modifying house rules, Fidesz now has the exclusive right to turn any bill into law and make decisions about any issue concerning parliamentary protocol, thus rendering the existence of opposition parties a mere formality. Bills are rushed through legislation with no debate worthy of mention.

 

            2. Executive power

Since a considerable proportion of proposals and amendments are submitted by individual members of Parliament who make no effort to seek consensus and often ignore relevant ministries, professional and accountable governance ceased to exist. This is a telling sign of the way power-sharing has become but a facade, with ministries and ministers having lost teeth. The president who is supposed to act independently of government and political parties, thereby being a living symbol of constitutional order, is a man who promptly signs any document pushed on his desk, and by disregarding the constitutional role bestowed on him, he is no more than a puppet of the executive power.

             3. Jurisdiction

Numerous changes in legislation have been made that testify the direct political intentions to ignore democratic rules of law.

  • The Constitutional Court, the ultimate institution to safeguard legality, has been gradually turned into a weightless body. The number of judges has been increased with members known to be loyal to the ruling parties (including a former minister and a member of Parliament, both being Fidesz party members). The scope of the Court has been narrowed, partly by depriving it of arbitration on economic issues.
  • Established as part of the judiciary reform, the National Judiciary Office (NJO) is under direct political influence. Instead of being an independent professional body, the chairperson of NJO, who happens to be the wife of a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, has the exclusive right to appoint, delegate and promote judges, as well as to determine which court deals with which case. The chair of NJO has been elected for nine years by a two-third parliamentary majority, and short of a qualified majority in the future, the chair may remain in her post indefinitely.
  • While retirement age has been raised across the board, a sigificant proportion of leading judges has been forced into retirement. The judiciary has thus become existentially dependent.
  • The Chief Prosecutor, who has the exlusive right to decide which case may be forwarded to the Court of Justice and which court should hear it, is a politician of the ruling party.
  • In the future, suspects and the accused may be deprived of the opportunity to consult their solicitors.

This new system marks the end of independent jurisdiction in Hungary.

            4. The media

Fidesz intends to place the entire media under its control and regulation, hindering any form of an impartial, analytical and critical judgment of its policy. With this in mind,

  • Originally destined to be an impartial forum, the public media has been forced to serve the goverment parties. Instead of professionalism, the only criterion for its continued existence is political loyalty.
  • News service has been centralised: the same news is broadcast in every channel.
  • Recently established and authorised with unprecedented power, the National Media and Telecommunication Agency, led by its chairman, a Fidesz loyalist, may exercise wide-ranging regulatory and sanctioning rights.
  • Radio frequencies and television broadcasting rights are conferred in an arbitrary fashion.
  • Independent press may be levied enormous fines, thus urging it to exercise self-censure. Destined to lose state-sponsored advertisers as well as private ones scared of retaliation, disobedient newspapers even run the risk of going bankrupt.

            5. Election law

Democracy is posited on the condition that anyone may be voted out of office through peaceful measures. The new election law significantly restricts the opportunity to satisfy the will of citizens and realise a democratic change in the power structure. Instead of seeking consensus and a harmonisation of interests, Fidesz is intent on destroying rival political forces with the purpose of perpetuating its own power.

  • Motivated by political considerations, the new election law redrafted constituencies, thus creating a system which favours candidates of the ruling parties. Undeserving of constitutional democracies, no independent body has the right to veto the new distribution of constituencies.
  • Fidesz has taken the unprecedented step to ensure that all the votes from the compensatory list go to the winning party; ignoring the will of the electorate, this clause will distort the final outcome of the election.
  • The new single-round system will force the rivalling opposition parties into a coalition.

Fidesz does its best to criminalise its rivals: 21years after the regime change a new law has been passed in which the Hungarian Socialist Party, a democratic party of the Hungarian Parliament, has been deemed guilty as being the legal successor of the former communist party.

In Hungary, liberal democracy as interpreted in the West has come to an end, the autonomy of power centres has become a formality. The government is thoroughly antidemocratic by according no respect to the sanctity of private property, eliminating local councils, and pushing all channels of social mobility, public and higher education under its political control. It seems obvious that the aim of the present government is to overhaul the entire society and, with recourse to threats and blackmail, to create a country rendered incapable and cowardly to defy its dictatorial rule. Under such conditions, Hungary would have stood no chance in 2004 to join the European Union, the community of the Western democracies. Regretfully, Hungary can only expect further isolation, impoverishment and hopelessness in the future.

However, instead of searching for an alternative to replace this constitutional dictatorship, we had better consider ways in which we can get rid of it within the bounds of legality. The question is whether there is any chance at all to break out and reinstate the rule of law under the legal constraints imposed by Fidesz.

The advocates of democracy and the rule of law within and outside Hungary must not acquiesce in having the government of a member state of the European Union crush these universal values. Nor should the European Union just sit back and watch as it is being held hostage by an outdated, provincial tyrant. It is in the interest of both Hungary and the European Union to make a stand against the prime minister of Hungary. The leaders of the European Union are right in their decision to tighten intergration, but this step should be taken not only to combat the financial crisis but also to challenge political crises and risks. The European Union may disintegrate not only for economic reasons but for reasons of pursuing disparate and antidemocratic policies as well.

As we regard ourselves simultaneously as Hungarian and European citizens, we wish to avoid a clash of identities. We reject any political command that we give up our „dual citizenship”. If choose we need, our choice will be between the values of democracy and dictatorship – just as we did at the time of communist dictatorship. We are aware that the idea of a common Europe was born as an economic project, but this project is no more than wishful thinking unless its value system is accounted for and enforced, and lack thereof gets punished.

We are convinced that Hungary can become a country where the rule of law is reinstated. However, we must not forget that Fidesz, busy building a one-party dictatorship at an ever-growing speed, will never surrender unless compelled by the political representatives of Hungarian democrats, in compliance with the legal norms of democracy on which the European Union is founded.

The dictatorial rule has already reached a point of no return; under the present circumstances our country is unlikely to be able to find its way back to the rule of law. However, a debate along these lines is not timely when democratic forces are faced with the daunting task of uniting forces – in and outside the Parliament, with one another. We cannot afford the luxury of learning the lesson after a lost election.

Unity for the time being – and for a long time hence – implies obtaining mass support. The size of this support will determine the means available for the reinstatement of democracy and the rule of law. Beyond raising its voice against the economic adventurism pursued by Orbán, Europe and the whole world will offer help for Hungarian democracy only after unity has been achieved with mass support to back it up.

Europe is at a crossroads too. Hungary is a sad example of what may happen wherever there is a concentration of crisis tendencies, aggravated by attempts to resolve problems caused by an economic and social crisis with authoritarian means and a policy of nationalistic isolation. Instead of prosperity and stability, such a policy can only lead to suppression, conflict and turmoil. The desperate situation of present-day Hungary should be a warning for all of us: if Europe is prepared to help Hungary, it will also help itself.

Below are the pictures of the signatories in alphabetical order:

Attila Ara-Kovács, journalist

György Dalos, writer

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, former MP

Róza Hodosán, former MP

Gábor Iványi, pastor, former MP

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, writer

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect, former MP

Sándor Szilágyi, writer on photography

Ara-Kovacs Attila95  Dalos Gyorgy95  Demszky Gabor95  Haraszti Gabor95

 Hodosan Roza95  Ivanyi Gabor95  Kenedi Janos95

Konrad Gyorgy95  Magyar Balint95  Mecs Imre95

Radnoti Sandor95  Rajk Laszlo95  Szilagyi Sandor95

 

 

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Member

Great letter. It is unfortunate but I think that with Orban at the helm all Fidesz politicians will play the La La La I can’t hear you! game, while spreading their vile propaganda in order to misled the Hungarian masses. Do not forget that most people in Hungary believe that the the fall of the forint is the result of foreign conspiracy and so forth.

I love Hungary
Guest

Why is everyone so afraid to mention that Orban is a modern day Gyula Gombos?
Also, why is everyone afraid to discredit the New Constitution with regards to its denial of “responsibility” for the wrongs committed in the past?
Look, I’m not a Jew. Nor am I homosexual.
But until Hungary comes to grips with the fact that a Hungarian coined the phrase “National Socialism”- and that the country wasn’t a victim of it- the Hungary will get nowhere.
“A man who cannot remember his history is condemned to repeat it”.

Member

@You Love Hungary “Why is everyone so afraid to mention that Orban is a modern day Gyula Gombos?”
This is the most fearless blog:
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2010/09/fidesz-viktor-orb%C3%A1n-and-gyula-g%C3%B6mb%C3%B6s.html

Member

@You Love Hungary “discredit the New Constitution with regards to its denial of “responsibility” for the wrongs”
It’s even fearlesser:
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2011/04/refusing-to-face-the-past.html

Paul
Guest

Why is it necessary to deny that one is a Jew or homosexual?

Member

He cannot make up his mind. Just kidding. This is a Hungarian thing, like the Turo Rudi. It’s the declaration that you are an independent thinker. Also the anticipation you will be labelled one of these after you dare to tell your opinion about the Gröfaz and his team.

Paul
Guest

The act of denying you are either is bowing to the pressure to conform with their evil prejudices.
What should it matter what race, religion or gender we are?
How can we stand against such evil if we tacitly accept their prejudices?
I am neither Jewish or Homosexual, but I would be proud to be either or both. And I would be proud to stand by both, if it meant standing against Orbán and his like.

Member

I think what I Love Hungary meant to say that he is not biased. According to the “True Hungarians” (Fidesz’ and Jobbik’ coined term) if you are foreign hearted, a Jew, gypsy, homosexual, communist, liberal, etc. you must be biased. He is neither Jew or homosexual, he is “True Hungarian” as defined by party politics and he still have problem with the facts that most of us have here.
Welcome on Eva’s blog “I Love Hungary”.

Wondercat
Guest

Ah! The trading floors have rubbed the sleep from their eyes; after the New Year’s holiday, HUF : GBP stands at 376 : 1. Attention IS being paid.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

The document signed by those who fought dictatorship in the past is excellent.
The idea that human beings are able in a rational manner, to create a better future is the very essence of modernity. This is the spirit of this document.
The narrow nationalism, parochialism (and implicit anti-Semitism of some) of the present day rulers must be confronted, however one should carefully avoid sweeping judgments, not every one in Fidesz is an anti-Semite and/or homophobe.
Franco General Milan Astray shouted during a University discussion with Miguel de Unamuno “Viva la muerte, Abajo la intelligencia”
Fidesz politicians do not shout “down with the intellectuals”. They fight those whom they consider to be left-liberal. Re: the campaigns against philosophers and those who dare to confront them.
Most Fidesz politicians are cynical, believing firmly that the people could be made to believe or do anything. They underestimate the intelligence of the Hungarian people. By now it must be clear to most Hungarians that the emperor is naked, even if his acolytes praise his wonderful clothes.

Vilmos
Guest
Claude
Guest

It’s time for those of us at CEU to make public a similar statement. We’ve been a silent bunch-as our “Jewish” and liberal university tries desperately to figure out how to survive in this environment (it won’t if things go on as they are).
On a happier note, the demonstration last night was very large, and full of passion. The opposition is waking up, though utterly disunited still. Disturbingly, however, the extreme right showed up and taunted both the crowd and the government. I think it’s going to get dicy on the streets by spring.

Claude
Guest

It’s time for those of us at CEU to make public a similar statement. We’ve been a silent bunch-as our “Jewish” and liberal university tries desperately to figure out how to survive in this environment (it won’t if things go on as they are).
On a happier note, the demonstration last night was very large, and full of passion. The opposition is waking up, though utterly disunited still. Disturbingly, however, the extreme right showed up and taunted both the crowd and the government. I think it’s going to get dicy on the streets by spring.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I love Hungary: “Why is everyone so afraid to mention that Orban is a modern day Gyula Gombos”
I did. We even had an extended discussion on the subject. The similarities are striking. Mark Pittaway who is unfortunately no longer with us even mentioned the concept of “generic fascism” that I used in a Hungarian-language article of mine on Galamus.
S.K. who occasionally writes articles on Spectrum also talked about it in even more explicit terms.
But I agree, many people have been reluctant to call it what it is. However, there are more and more who are getting there.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Claude: “The opposition is waking up, though utterly disunited still.”
The LMP is the real culprit and within the party specifically András Schiffer. Not one of my favorites.
CEU’s position is most likely difficult. Orbán and company sure don’t like it.

GW
Guest

“CEU’s position is most likely difficult. Orbán and company sure don’t like it.”
…although several Fidesz members have been eager enough to take positions at CEU. CEU is a real problem for Orbán and company because it is a persistent example that it is possible to have a research (and graduate studies) institution in Hungary which has a world-wide impact and stature (in the social sciences in particular), that this institution is committed to an open society with a diversity of views represented, and not least that George Soros put his money where his mouth was at the time of Hungary’s democratization and how little enlightenment — let alone gratitude — some of the direct recipients of Soros’s largesse have shown.

I love Hungary
Guest
@ Paul it may sound insulting that I denied being either ” jew or homosexual” – it is just on the other blog “Politics.Hu”, the first line of defence by the Orbanites is to “accuse” me of being one or the other. This is especially the case when I suggest that Hungary can never really come to grips with its past until it stops denying that it was a willing Facsist, before it was a perhaps less than willing communist nation. In fact, if you look at Orban today, it seems that the Right’s hatred for communism was due more to its latent Facsism, rather than any comittment to democracy. The only element in my “blood” that may have biased me against Orban, is that as an American, I’m the fourth generation who has fought against foreign dicatators of one form or the other- Whether these idiots come from the right or left, really doesn’t matter. My personal attachmnet comes from helping build it Hungary’s telecomms network from 1995-98. I also married a Hungarian…. we have been living in HUngary, off and on ever since.We moved to Switzerland two months ago. The political events in Hungary played a role in… Read more »
Joseph Simon
Guest

Amazing! These childish comments lacking any political judgement, acumen or insight, with Eva in the lead. Is it not how politics and democracy work? Let the opposition speak up, let Mécs and Rajk oppose. They are functioning how they are supposed to, just as Orbán is doing what he ought to, taking a strong stand in trying times. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis: the basic criteria of politics.

whoever
Guest
I haven’t been on here too much since Mark died, but in a sense nothing has really changed, despite the lawmaking frenzy of the current regime. It strikes me that both the official opposition and government are basically looking for reversion – in the opposition’s case, it has little to offer other than a rehash of the greyly inadequate Bajnai government, whilst the government seems to think reestablishing the feudal basis to society is going to somehow bear fruit. A caretaker government, whether technocratic or Fidesz, would offer no solutions to Hungary’s problems, and would only spin another turn in the spiral of political and cultural stagnation, into which Hungary has been locked for almost 10 years. Only the tiny 4K – a hatchling left-wing party – and a few of the LMP – seem to be wrestling with what should actually happen next to improve the condition of Hungarian society. The strength of the opposition is that it is diversified and decentralised, but this means that the time for an alternative agenda to emerge will be that much longer. And there is no ‘stable’ mean to turn to, despite the relative well-being of Poland and the Czech Republic, after… Read more »
I love Hungary
Guest
@Eva. Sorry, this totally off-topic. But I have an idea that I believe would both practical and symbolic avanue for the USA to really help Hungary right now. I don’t where else to post this- and I think you may not only be interested, but may also want to contribute some space to it here. The idea is basically to replace ClubRadio with a restored Radio Free Europe/ Hungary. Of course Voice of America would have to balanced, and not be a purely opposition program…. but the implications are quite compelling. In this case, the symbolism is really important- because, in my opinion, Hungary’s best chance is to appeal to the True Democrats within Orban’s own camp, I know they are there. What better way to make that voter block truly question what they are doing, than for them to start tuning in (again) to VoA? They may well wonder how things could have gone that far wrong…. which would be good. From a practical sense, there is a real defecit of balanced reporting in Hungary. As I mentioned, VoA could attempt to fill that void. I believe truly educating the Hungarian voter is the long-term way to stop elections… Read more »
Mr Smith
Guest

The only comment which has a place here sounds like this: How can we help?

Guest

@I love Hungary:
The young people that I know get their info from the WWW and there is still the network of commercial TV channels for the older generation – who is not too interested in politics now anyway.
All our neighbours are complaining about rising utility bills, gas etc – that’s all they care about right now – and their loans in Swiss Franks. It’s really amazing for me how many people took out those loans …
We just have to wait for enough people to really wake up – when the shit hits the fan …

Kirsten
Guest

I love Hungary: “Hungary’s best chance is to appeal to the True Democrats within Orban’s own camp, I know they are there.”
This is very good news. But if they are there, what in your opinion makes them remain silent or at least not protesting more visibly (I really would like to know). I had the impression that no matter what they think (in private), they are attracted by either the positions, the relative security of income (relative to other Hungarians) and probably also some loyalty to the party or the patriotic movement. Then I wonder how their democratic inclinations could be mobilised currently. In particular as a re-establishment of RFE or VoA would be considered as ‘harming Hungary’s ‘sterling’ reputation abroad’, something that might be considered more important than ‘democracy’. I am really asking out of interest, as your story indicated that you have specific insights of a foreigner into the Hungarian society.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Joseph Simon “Thesis, antithesis and synthesis: the basic criteria of politics.”
That’s my boy! Tear the letter apart point-by-point! Go get them tiger!

Member
Simon: “These childish comments lacking any political judgement, acumen or insight, with Eva in the lead. Is it not how politics and democracy work? Let the opposition speak up, let Mécs and Rajk oppose. ” Are we living in the same Universe or i some paralell existence? Simon, keep reading this blog, and some democratic news sources too versus Magyar Hirlap and Magyar Nemzet, and that will enlighten you. Mr Smith: “The only comment which has a place here sounds like this: How can we help?” Great! So, we should shut down all newspapers and radio station, all information network that have anything to do with wanting to do something. EVeryone, be silent and lets wait when we van do something! Actually Mr Smith, spreading the news, and discussing event are doing something! This blog (if you had the chance to read comments way back) attracted many foreign dignitaries, and helped them to sing into action. I think Eva with her blog does way more for Hungarian democracy than many Hungarians. You just visited this blog. How did you get here? You just proved the importance of this blog. I love Hungary: “he idea is basically to replace ClubRadio with… Read more »
Member
I apologize, but I would like to copy and past my post from a previous discussion. THat thread is on its sixth page now. THe discussion was about the importance of the Gyurcsany lies, that I believe are not so important any more, but some grammatical point of view is keeping it going. Here is a clue to Gyurcsany’s speech. He uses plural “We”. His speech is about the austerity measures that needed to be implemented and were not fully disclosed although those measures were already on the drafting table. Yes, maybe they lied since he did not fully disclose. In his “lie” speech, this is what he is referring to. (We did not fully disclose hence we lied.) Now, let’s put this across Orban’s who used singular “I”, when informed foreign diplomats about how he is deceiving Hungarians to win the election. Does Gyurcsany’s austerity measures done more damage to Hungarian households or Orban’s? Orban Did Orban implement austerity measures that in his platform he called unnecessary? Yes Did Gyurcsany ever employed foreign PR forms to whitewash his supposed lies? No Who does? Orban Does Orban implemented some of the measures the actually suggested by Gyurcsany and voted off… Read more »
Joseph Simon
Guest

There is nothing wrong with the letter by Mécs, Rajk et al. They are drawing attention to some of the shortcomings of the FIDESZ government. The voters will decide next time. What is objectionable is your silly comparison of Orbán to Gömbös, etc.

Vilmos
Guest

Joseph Simon wrote ” Is it not how politics and democracy work? Let the opposition speak up, let Mécs and Rajk oppose. They are functioning how they are supposed to, just as Orbán is doing what he ought to, taking a strong stand in trying times.”
Well, I think a common point of many of the discussions at this blog is that Orban and Fidesz are systematically ensuring that politics and democracy will not work, certainly not in the way that is expected in a western democracy and the European Union.
“These childish comments lacking any political judgement, acumen or insight, with Eva in the lead.”
The number of childish comments has dropped significantly since Johnny Boy stopped posting; we still await your own demonstration of political judgement, acumen and insight.

Wondercat
Guest

http://www.welt.de/finanzen/article13796137/Ungarn-zahlt-fuer-seinen-Dirigismus-einen-hohen-Preis.html?wtmc=Newsletter.NL_Weltbewegt
My parents, committed social democrats, read the WALL STREET JOURNAL and the ECONOMIST to learn the news. “When money is in question,” they said, “truth prevails.”
Interest rates of 10% on Hungary’s debt and no help from the IMF or the EU… Truth prevails.

Member

With the financial news today and also the rather un-EU-like EU communication re the Central Bank we are surely now moving inexorably towards the final showdown (in economic terms anyway)?
The problem though is even if the markets/EU/IMF/his own financial backers do force Orban out, who will “take advantage” of what is going to be a very unstable situation?
Whatever happens, be it an Orban induced national bankrupcy or the IMF coming to “the rescue”, a lot of the population are going to face the kind of austerity that probably hasn’t existed in Hungary since the change of the system.
I do hope that the foreign powers that are doing such a good job putting the squeeze on Orban are also putting as much work and planning into the post-Orban situation becuase, unfortunately, the local democratic opposition seem to be only working on getting rid of the dictator at the minute.
Post-Orban and in the middle of a financial maelstorm, the simplistic message of the fascist far-right (“Blame the Jews, gypsies, commies and the foreigners”)is going to sound attractive to many who have been betrayed by Fidesz lies.

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