Hungary’s plumbers (TEK), the case of the red star, and Klubrádió

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.”

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Paul
Guest

“What the Council of Europe will do next, I have no idea.”
They will (and can) do nothing. They appear to have no power to enforce their verdicts.
There’s a huge media storm-in-a-teacup going on in the UK at the moment about the deportation of a Muslim cleric to Jordan, which basically comes down to the UK government not agreeing with the ECoHR’s verdicts. And commentators often point to countries such as Spain and Italy and their ignoring of similar verdicts. Nothing whatsoever happens to them when they do this – they don’t even appear to be criticised by the court.
PS – I don’t understand the ‘Hungarian plumber’ reference. Could someone end my ignorance please?

Member

Perhaps not all Hungarian readers are familiar with the original plumbers. They were called the “White House Plumbers” during Richard Nixon. An unlawful group of thugs who’s job was to collect “information”. These guys did the infamous Watergate break in that brought down Nixon.
One of the commenters of professor Scheppele’s post compared TEK and it’s privileges to the Patriot Act in the US. This group of private FIDESZ bulldogs are different. We are not talking about expanded privileges of existing law enforcement groups with congressional oversight. The problem with the TEK is the lack of oversight, I mean parliamentary control. Reporting only to the PM and the ministry of interior is frightening. The whole group is designed to take out political opponents. Partly by collecting or planting information on them but also if needed physically.

The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

The laws introduced in conjunction with the building up of the TEK team and the renewed attacks on the Klubradio makes me sick to my stomach.
It’s an exceedingly dark time in Hungary’s history when a bureaucratic organization based in Brussels has to stand up and defend the individual Hungarian citizens rights, usually reserved for the government itself.

GW
Guest

To put that figure of 900 in perspective, the United States Secret Service (which is tasked to protect treasury-related activities as well as protecting high government officials in a country with roughly 30 times the population and 100 times the area of Hungary) has 4,400 sworn members. Talk of a Police State is not an exaggeration here.

LwiiH
Guest

I dont’ know what is more frighting, the article or the reader comments.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
There two courts in Europe. The first is the European Court of Human Rights (ECoHR) which is also called the “Strasburg Court”. This court is part of the European Council which has some 46 members. The second court which is different this is the Court of Justice of the European Union. This court deals with infringements or failures to fulfil an obligation. Both courts can issue fines. In the case of the ECoHR non payment can result in further fines and daily penalties which if not paid call the penalised nation’s trustworthiness, honesty and honour into question. This can have effects far beyond Europe and can influence the decision of other national and international institutions like the IMF etc. The second court is the Court of Justice of the European Union which is is a very different ‘kettle of fish’. It deals with infringements of the laws, rules and directives of the E.U. It can make orders which if not complied with can result in fines etc. Its procedures can end up with the suspension or expulsion, under the Lisbon Treaty, of an offending nation from the European Union. If such action was taken against Hungary then that nation could… Read more »
The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

LwiiH: “I dont’ know what is more frighting, the article or the reader comments.”
Your statement is very dubious, LwiiH. Would you care to share your views or comment for a minute or two on your statement? Thanks.

LwiiH
Guest

dubious
adjective
1 I was rather dubious about the idea: doubtful, uncertain, unsure, hesitant; undecided, indefinite, unresolved, up in the air; vacillating, irresolute; skeptical, suspicious; informal iffy. ANTONYMS certain, definite.
2 dubious business practices: suspicious, suspect, untrustworthy, unreliable, questionable; informal shady, fishy. ANTONYMS trustworthy.
Not sure what you’re trying to ask but read the comments.. they are very defensive of Hungary w.o.r.t to the goings on and very visceral in their nature.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
Hungarian Commedian what I think is that LwiH does not know which causes him more fear the article or the contributors’ responses. We are now seeing that in its midgame Hungary is totally unwilling to try to overcome their problems and will not change their ways or laws. The route that the EU Commission has taken is laid down in the treaties and the two are on a collision course. Either the E.U. will have to give way and compromise the whole idea of its formation, which it will not do as this would destroy the E.U or Hungary will have to decide to leave or be thrown out/suspended from the E.U. The work being done by people like Professor Scheppele and her friends who are working on the plethora of new laws looking for problems will only add to Hungary’s problems. What interests me is what will be the ‘end game’ and the post endgame scenarios. Will the land become a serf state of a oligarchy with heavy ‘security’ control and how long will that last? Will the endgame become a ‘causus belia’ or something similar to the troubles in the old Yugoslavia? Once the post endgame starts to… Read more »
stevve
Guest

it is tough to explain an opinion in a short posting.
there is agreement between LwiiH and The HUNGARIAN Comedian.
i can add, the mafia style orban – KDNP- jobbik racists, rightwing, lying regime is hazardous to Hungary’s people.
where is the spirit of ferenc deak?

The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

@LwiiH, Odin’s Lost eye
Ok, thank you both.
I hope my question wasn’t rude in anyway. It was my lack of understanding, and my curiosity combined that made me ask.
@stevve
I’m sorry but I don’t know LwiiH, I was just curios about his/her comment and thought I ask. I’m not sure what you mean by agreement stevve. 🙂

The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

@LwiiH
I think to me the scary part is not the comments, it’s the realization that the laws are there.
To be less visceral and more to the point, if you have the time LwiiH, read this article:
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20120420_szemelyes_adatok_fidesz

LwiiH
Guest

To be sure the unbridled powers of the secret police aren’t comforting but I watched Kim little symposium on the Hungarian constitution and it was clear she has a “fan club” that is intent on shutting her down. And I thought Kim was far too nice in the face of the to the exceptionally rude members of the audience she faced. I sat in the audience when our dear Minister with portfolio basically lied to everyone in the room… but the boundaries are; his talk, he gets to speak and then we get to question. The people know no bounds of decency and the visceral nature of the comments of those so comfortably tucked away in their homes in the US heartland demonstrate a level of ignorance that is in fact dangerous.

LwiiH
Guest

I’ll add this and maybe Eva knows something about it. Government offices are now being wired so that there is zero privacy for employees… they even have cameras in the bathrooms!!! And their personal calls on personal telephones are monitored and say anything about it and you 100,000HUF job is history.. btw, that 100,000 is no longer 100,000.. it’s shrinking and without notice. Lets not talk about the effects of the devalued HUF. Gas is 454/litre. When you work it out that’s cheaper than in many west european countries but when you consider the devaluation of the HUF…
And no one says anything because they are afraid they’ll have the little they have left taken from them. This is the wild west my friend.. there is no law, no protection of property as long as these 990 goons are allowed run about unchecked. The fox is watching the hen house.

The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

Sorry I’m not sure if I messed up my last comment. I just one to add one thing and ask one think if it’s ok.
@LwiiH | April 21, 2012 at 09:43 AM
Is there a transcript of the symposium or better a youtube flick? Thank you in advance.
@April 21, 2012 at 09:51 AM
You forgot the horrid law that allows employees to send an email on Friday morning soon, and have you fired through one single email without speaking to you.

The Hungarian Comedian
Guest
The Hungarian Comedian

Err “I just have one thing to add and one thing to ask”
I was alt-tabbing. Sorry sorry.

petofi
Guest
@Stevie, “…is hazardous to Hungary’s people..” Let’s not give the ‘Hungarian People’ a stamp of innocence. Let’s start with that old dictum: ‘People get the government that they deserve.” These same ‘People’ voted this party their majority. Ok, that’s not necessary guilt to begin with…but to continue to support them; to mass 400,000 strong in support…well, that says a lot about the populace. That Jobbik’s popularity is growing quickest among the young eligible voters says something, too. Here’s what I thing about what these realities ‘say’: After two lost world wars; after an uprising that has cost the country a generation of young, there is no longer faith in MERIT or GOOD INTENT or CRAFTSMANSHIP. Let’s, for the moment, leave aside the fact that Hospitality in this country is a rare exception to the norm of gruff behavior to foreigners in most holiday spots. So, the norms of civilized behavior have been abandoned, or, in the least, not defended. What counts now is profit and getting ahead, whether that includes betrayal, back-stabbing, lying or what have you. I have been shocked by an acquaintance’s complete approval of Fidesz–her husband makes more money now. “What about your grandchildren? Don’t you worry… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@ On the Orban/Russian Axis Front…
Herr Alexey Miller, Direktor of Gazprom (father of MOL) was in Budapest to visit with Viktor O. When asked what he was doing here, he answered that he heard that the ‘kremes’ was
really good…

stevve
Guest

petofi’s concerns and remarks are justified.
i am finding the same, the hungarian leadership has been a continuity of greed.
the ordinary people will never be able to liberate the country from these sharks.
somebody in the elite must rise up and stop the criminal politics.
like szechenyi and deak did build a reform regime.

dvhr
Guest
Member
@dvhr It’s not too bright to quote a Hungarian language article on an English language blog … This article is referring to an interview with Tivadar Huttl, the data protection expert of the HCLU (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union). According to Huttle, several parts of professor Scheppele’s article is skewing. Huttl agrees that the TEK and it’s privileges are controversial at best, but he argues that it has the right to conduct surveillance without permission or control at any time. He said the organization is a police – secret service hybrid and it’s necessity is questionable. As far as I know Huttle is wrong. When the TEK is acting as secret service he only reports to the minister of interior and needs no other approval. Also there’s no clear definition to decide when should the TEK be acting as a police force or a secret service. Well, here is the best part of the interview. According to Huttl the “biggest” skewing in the original NYT article is claiming that the TEK is the *only* law enforcement organization who’s secret surveillance activities have no control. He says this applies pretty much to *all* of the organizations, police, courts, military secret service. Citizens… Read more »
petofi
Guest

The dictatorial process well in development in Hungary, is, on purpose, setting up a situation of economic hardship. The idea is to create a dog-eat-dog society in which the chief concern is getting enough to survive. Thus, it’s no longer, ‘what can the state do for ME’, but, ‘how must I behave for the state to allow me to survive. From Democratic Society to Slave State….coming to a Hungarian location near YOU.

Solomon Fierce
Guest

11 STEPS TO FASCISM
1.) Invoke a threat.
2.) Establish secret prisons.
3.) Develop a paramilitary force.
4.) Surveil ordinary citizens.
5.) Infiltrate citizen’s groups.
6.) Arbitrarily detain citizens.
7.) Target key individuals.
8.) Restrict the press.
9.) Cast dissent as treason.
10.) Subvert the rule of law.
11.) Disarm the citizen.
Not necessarily in that order. Has it been that long that we have forgotten?

dvhr
Guest

Mutt Damon: Tikėjausi, kad kas nors būtų pateikti trumpą aprašymą anglų kalba.

Member

@dvhr
Nėra už ką.

petofi
Guest

@dvhr & Damon
Stop garggling, boys!