I know today’s post will be something of a hodgepodge, but I definitely wanted to call attention to a very important piece by Kim Lane Scheppele on Paul Krugman’s blog. First, I would like to note that only a few hours after the article’s appearance practically all important Hungarian Internet newspapers summarized the contents of the article with special emphasis on its reference to Hungary as a police state. Second, I must admit that “Hungary’s plumbers” in the title was not my own brainchild. A clever friend suggested it to me as an apt description. And, indeed it is. The only difference seems to be that the Hungarian plumbers are 900 strong, a number that took my breath away.
I might also add that the hundreds of laws passed in a great hurry in the last year and a half add up to thousands of pages of text. It will take some time before legal scholars can comb through them and uncover their insidious nature. Kim Scheppele and her team at Princeton are doing a fantastic job. This kind of penetrating analysis is badly needed, especially in assisting, for example, officials of the European Union asssess Viktor Orbán’s “new kind of democracy.”
After the appearance of the article, Kim Scheppele discovered another TEK advertisement that gives an even more terrifying picture of this organization.
I don’t know what the Venice Commission and the European Commission will think of the almost unlimited power of TEK, but I think that it will be added to the long list of the Orbán government’s illegal activities under European Union law.
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If the infringement procedures against Hungary were not enough, the Orbán government decided to pick a fight with the European Court of Human Rights over the issue of the red star. The story goes back to 2004 when Attila Vajnai, vice president of the left-wing Workers’ Party, challenged the Hungarian prohibition against using the red star, considered to be the symbol of dictatorship. The case went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights where the case Vajnai v. Hungary ended in Vajnai’s favor. Part of the statement that was issued at the time read: “the Court is aware that the systematic terror applied to consolidate Communist rule .. . remains a serious scar in the mind and heart of Europe…. It nevertheless considers that such sentiments, however understandable, cannot alone set the limits of freedom of expression.”
Two years later a practically identical case got as far as the European Court of Human Rights. This time an earlier president of the Workers’ Party, János Fratanolo, after exhausting all levels of the Hungarian judicial system, went to the Court in Strasbourg which not surprisingly came to the same conclusion as it did in the case of Attila Vajnai. The verdict was announced on November 3, 2011. The Orbán government appealed on February 1 and this time the Court quite speedily made its decision final. According to the Court the Hungarian government deprived János Fratananolo of his right of freedom of expression and therefore the Hungarian government was obliged to pay 4,000 euros as compensation in addition to 2,400 euros to cover court costs. The Hungarian government was obliged to pay the 6,400 euros by June 8.
But the Orbán government refuses to pay. Tibor Navracsics already reported the government’s decision to parliament. The Hungarian government disagrees with the European Court of Human Right’s decision. Navracsics called attention to the current Hungarian criminal code that forbids the use of symbols such as the swastika, SS emblem, arrow cross symbol, hammer and sickle, or five-pointed red star. Navracsics pointed out that in other European countries some of these symbols are also forbidden. As an example, he brought up the case of Lithuania where the symbols of communism are banned.
Thus, the Hungarian government will not pay the fine and will not change the criminal code’s relevant paragraphs.
What the Council of Europe will do next, I have no idea. I don’t know whether there has been any precedent of a “rogue state” going against the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights. Perhaps even the Court’s members are only scratching their heads.
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And finally here is a statement issued by András Arató, CEO of Klubrádió. You may recall that Klubrádió won a case against the Media Authority that refused to sign a valid contract for the ownership of 92.9 MHz frequency. The Authority had three weeks to appeal and they did so in the last possible moment. The statement that accompanied the announcement of the appeal claimed that the subject of the appeal was the verdict’s vagueness about the date when Klubrádió can take possession of the frequency.
However, Klubrádió only now found out that the Media Authority had actually requested the annulment of the verdict by the Court of Appeals. So, it is now clear that “the Media Authority’s real aim is silencing Klubrádió.”