The embattled Hungarian Constitutional Court fights back

Originally I wanted to write about the excitement over rumors that Péter Erdő, head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, might be a serious candidate to become the next pope. Not because I believe for a moment that Erdő has a chance but because devoting a post to him would give me an opportunity to spend some time on the state of the Hungarian Catholic Church under his leadership.

But then a barrage of legal news arrived. So today I would like to concentrate on two recent issues: the precarious position of the Hungarian Constitutional Court and its latest decisions.

Let’s start with the issue of the red star. The European Court of Justice ruled twice in the past few years on the display of the red star. In the early days of the Third Republic the use of symbols representing dictatorships, e.g. the red star on the one hand and the swastika or the symbol of the Arrow Cross Party on the other, was deemed a criminal act. At least two individuals tested the legality of the law by displaying the red star and being found guilty. When they exhausted all appeals  they went to Strasbourg. In both cases the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the Hungarian state had to pay a few thousand euros to them by way of compensation. At this point even Tibor Navracsics, the minister of justice, thought that it was futile to stick with the original passage in the criminal code because time and again Hungary would lose in the European Court of Justice.

So, the Constitutional Court took the case and handed down an unexpected decision. They ruled that not only should the display of the red star be legalized but also symbols of far-right dictatorships. I guess the judges wanted to save themselves from the uncomfortable position of  repealing only half of the law, the one related to the communist symbol.

People who argue that the red star should be legalized while the swastika, for example, shouldn’t, claim that the red star was originally the symbol of the working class movement and social democracy and not the symbol of Soviet dictatorship. Only later were the red star and the red flag expropriated by a cruel dictatorship that had little to do with the original idea. Moreover, these people add that the far-left ideology is practically nonexistent in Hungary today and thus poses no threat to democracy.

On the other hand, goes the argument, the Hungarian far right is strong and poses a threat. Moreover, while in the Hungary of  the pre-war years the Hungarian communist party was a negligible organization, the Hungarian far right was strong. Thus, the swastika and the symbol of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party should be banned because of the history of far-right movements and their present strength in the country.

Political reactions to the Constitutional Court’s decision are telling. The first party to respond was the Christian Democratic Party. MTI reported that the party accepts the decision but “it regrets that from here on anyone can march with an emblem depicting the hammer and the sickle or the red star on May 1.” Then Antal Rogán expressed his regret that “anyone can loiter on the streets with a swastika, the red star, or an SS badge.” He considers this situation untenable and brought up the possibility of another amendment to the constitution that would forbid the display of these symbols.

But, of course, the last word is Viktor Orbán’s and he announced a couple of days ago that the law forbidding the use of these symbols must stay. He announced his opinion on the day that was devoted to the victims of communism. The communist symbols, as we know, bother him more than those of the far right. After all, Orbán makes every effort to appease the far right and therefore glosses over the past and present sins of the Hungarian Nazis.

A more important decision of the Constitutional Court is the ruling on the disputed church law. Today the Court repealed parts of the law and told parliament to work out new rules on the status of churches. I have written fairly extensively on the issue; one can read some of the details here. The decision is retroactive, which means that the seventeen churches that were stripped of their status as bona fide churches will regain their former legal status.

This decision was hailed by practically everybody as a great victory for Hungarian democrats and a serious defeat for the Orbán government. See, for example, the quick response to the law by Bloomberg. I would wait, however, before rejoicing. Again the first government politician who responded to the decision was a Christian Democrat, Tamás Lukács, a not so bright lawyer, who pointed out that the parliament at the moment is working on the new amendments to the constitution and if these amendments are approved (and who doubts that they will be approved) the Court’s decision might have to be re-examined.  This doesn’t sound too promising. Even less promising is what Antal Rogán had to say a few minutes later. In his opinion the amendments to the constitution “will solve the problem.” But he added that they will carefully study the matter and they will respect “whatever possible” of the decision. And naturally there will be parts they will ignore.

Law books

And finally, which I can touch on only very briefly here, there is the Orbán government’s decision to further strip the Constitutional Court of its already greatly curtailed powers. A few days ago we learned that the plan is to annul all Court decisions of the last twenty-two years. Zoltán Fleck, a professor of law, considers such a step a “liquidation of our twenty-year-old constitutional development and our legal culture.” However, according to an MTI report today, “ruling Fidesz lawmakers … will reconsider [their] earlier proposal to strip the Constitutional Court of its right to refer to its previous decisions when making a ruling.” Apparently, in the parliamentary committee on the constitution the legislators are contemplating another version of the proposal that would allow the Court to make decisions identical to its earlier rulings and/or make decisions contrary to earlier decisions.

The country is in legal limbo but probably not for long. Orbán has appointed a new judge who used to be a Christian Democratic member of parliament. He will join the five earlier appointees who vote together and always in the government’s favor. Within a few months another judge will be appointed. Soon enough, the Constitutional Court will also be Orbán’s plaything.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
petofi
Guest

Eva,

Please submit the following statement to five
American professors of constitutional law for their comment:

“…. (a)…proposal to strip the (Supreme)… Court of its right to refer to its previous decisions when making a ruling.”

I’d like to hear some decent legal opinion on that. Mind you, I roughly know what it would be.

Now, when will the EU finally step up and punish a member country that insists on
running its state beyond the accepted legal
norms?

Paul
Guest

“Now, when will the EU finally step up and punish a member country that insists on running its state beyond the accepted legal norms?”

Leaving aside the potentially horrendous side-effects of taking such action, the EU doesn’t really have any powers to do anything. It relies on countries more or less sticking to the rules and behaving themselves.

Basically, all it can do with Hungary is expel her or take financial action against her. Orbán would have to do a lot worse before the ‘nuclear’ option of expulsion became even thinkable, so that leaves financial measures – and that really boils down to suspending subsidies.

But if they do that the Hungarian people suffer, the EU suffers (e.g. the construction of trans-European infrastructure), and the Hungarian economy goes down the toilet. Imagine the propaganda value Orbán could get out of being able to blame the EU directly for all Hungary’s woes…

petofi
Guest

“Imagine the propaganda value Orbán could get out of being able to blame the EU directly for all Hungary’s woes…”

I thought Orban is already doing this.

The problem is that the Hungarian opposition is left blowing in the winds, with the people not able to tell who is doing what, and where the ‘right’ may lie. And Fidesz/Orban disinformation certainly sees to that.

Isn’t it time for other countries and the EU to weigh in on ‘Orban Rule’? Perhaps, with legal opinion from four or five countries as well as the EU, Magyarok may start to wonder how come ONLY Orban is ‘right’?

V14+D14
Guest

We need a Europe wide general referendum on the Hungarian legal mess.

Is it compatible with the humanity of the human race?

If not, Hungary will be disconnected from the rest of the world.

Locked into a quarantine.

An
Guest

In a way the Constitutional Court came up with a wise decision, regarding communist and Nazi symbols. Based on pure analytic logic, it is hard to justify why would one be banned and the other allowed (though I agree with Eva that right-wing extremists are a lot more powerful and dangerous today in Hungary than left-wing extremists. Also, one could argue that the red star is not used as a symbol for intimidation and hatred targeting an ethnic group, while the swastika does).

But the real beauty of the decision is that it puts Orban and Fidesz on the spot. They would love to see communist symbols banned, so they are going to come up with some solution to go around the Court’s decision (for example, by modifying the Constitution again). But, if they do that and ban both Communist and Nazi symbols, that won’t score a lot of friendship points in Jobbik circles and it would be more difficult for Fidesz to court Jobbik’s voters. On the other hand, if Fidesz bans communist symbols only and allows Nazi ones… that would be a very obvious declaration on Fidesz’s part where they actually stand.

An
Guest

while the swastika is…. would be great if WordPress let us review the text before posting…

Guest

London Calling!

O/T!

Eva, the ‘latest-contributor’s’ list has suddenly disappeared from the sidebar, is this intentional?

Whilst it is very easy to see the latest contributions to your most recent blog – it is impossible to see any additions to older entries. They are just made into a black hole – and these are quite often made by newcomers to HS.

Would you consider reinstating it after the ‘archive list’ please?

Regards

Charlie

Member

Rubberstamp, Fidesz-style:

Budapest City Council has 101 items on its agenda today, i.e. 5 minutes for each item to discuss, make a decision and vote on it.

http://infoszab.budapest.hu:8080/akl/tva/Tir.aspx?scope=kozgyules&sessionid=6323

Bro
Guest
These recent decisions were ‘great’, because Orbán can sell the Court abroad as a tough, countermajoritarian court. (Meanwhile the more tactical members of the Court know that the cases actually don’t matter, as Fidesz will override them with yet another amendment to the constitution). It will not be mentioned that the majority are Fidesz (well, better still, many are from the KDNP, members of a puportedly independent, Christian Democrat faction, actually they are the more hardcore Fidesz members who go under a different brand) commissioners, who consult top Fidesz people on a regular basis (the advisors, essentially the clerks, but in Hungary they are full-time, long-term professionals, are especialy reliable right wingers, almost all of them are recruited from Pázmány Catholic University). So, the court in the new era will reliably be a Fidesz court which will, from time to time, show its ‘independece’, but will be Orbán’s pet. The Court (and always remember that the Court was already reliably conservative even before Orbán’s court packing, they were shredding Gyurcsány and Bajnai — due to the abslute incompetence of the Socialists to nominate reliable non-rightwingers) will be most useful against a potential new left government. That is its real importance.… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Bro : These recent decisions were ‘great’, because Orbán can sell the Court abroad as a tough, countermajoritarian court. (Meanwhile the more tactical members of the Court know that the cases actually don’t matter, as Fidesz will override them with yet another amendment to the constitution). It will not be mentioned that the majority are Fidesz (well, better still, many are from the KDNP, members of a puportedly independent, Christian Democrat faction, actually they are the more hardcore Fidesz members who go under a different brand) commissioners, who consult top Fidesz people on a regular basis (the advisors, essentially the clerks, but in Hungary they are full-time, long-term professionals, are especialy reliable right wingers, almost all of them are recruited from Pázmány Catholic University). So, the court in the new era will reliably be a Fidesz court which will, from time to time, show its ‘independece’, but will be Orbán’s pet. The Court (and always remember that the Court was already reliably conservative even before Orbán’s court packing, they were shredding Gyurcsány and Bajnai — due to the abslute incompetence of the Socialists to nominate reliable non-rightwingers) will be most useful against a potential new left government. That is its… Read more »
Member

The numerous Fidesz propaganda campaigns do have effects:

Support to parties Feb 2013 [Dec 2012]:

Democratic opposition 19% [21%]
Fidesz 26% [19%]
Jobbik 9% [9%]

No answer 46% [50%]

http://www.tarki.hu/hu/news/2013/kitekint/20130227_valasztas.html

Member

It took two years for the media to learn that Orban’s chief advisor, Arpad Habony was sentenced in 2011 and on probation for physical assault.

http://magyarnarancs.hu/belpol/utott-rugott-habony-arpad-garazdasag-83769

Member
Member

The February numbers of another polling company, Median are also out:

Democratic opposition: 24%
Fidesz 26%
Jobbik 10%

No answer 39%

http://hvg.hu/hvgfriss/2013.09/201309_a_kozvelemeny_a_jobban_teljesitunkrol

Remark: more people wanted or dared to answer to Median than to Tarki.

Fregoli
Guest
One issue to note re the polls, because I think there is a huge misunderstanding. If someone declines to talk to a pollster at all, then he/she will not get into the statistics. Thus, the no answers of 39% (Median)/46% (Tarki), should be interepreted as 39%/46% of those who spoke to the pollster at all, but gave the answer: I am not revealing my leanings/have no idea whom I will vote for. Pollsters only assume that those giving at least a no answer (together with other people answering the question) will represent the population as a whole. But only about 1/8 (!), but in many regions this figure is even less, of those actually targeted (called/questioned in person) will be open enough to give at least an I don’t know answer. Having said that Fidesz/Jobbik (remember the two are one conglomerate and because of the first past the post system the voters of Jobbik will surely vote for Fidesz) seems stronger than MSZP/Együtt, and remember that in order to be able to govern MSZP/Együtt need to be 7-8% points stronger than Fidesz/Jobbik. Given the latency, I would think that a 2-3% lead of MSZP/Együtt is needed over Fidesz/Jobbik. We are… Read more »
Paul
Guest
“People who argue that the red star should be legalized while the swastika, for example, shouldn’t, claim that the red star was originally the symbol of the working class movement and social democracy and not the symbol of Soviet dictatorship. Only later were the red star and the red flag expropriated by a cruel dictatorship that had little to do with the original idea.” The same argument can be made even more strongly for the swastika, which was in use for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years before the Nazis took it over. For instance, it was the ancient Sanskrit symbol for ‘good’ and was (and still is) used by many different cultures around the world. For instance, it is used in Buddhism, and is a standard character in both the Chinese and Japanese alphabets, and it can be found in painting, sculptures and buildings all over the world – it was even used by the American Indians. It was also widely used in Europe in pre-Nazi times. For instance, it was the symbol of the Swastika Laundry in Dublin for many years, they even had it painted on their vans in black, with a red and white background – horribly… Read more »
Paul
Guest

“It had to be something temporary. It is there now.”

Sorry, Éva, but, 6 hours later, my screen still only shows your recent posts – not our recent comments.

Ron
Guest

Paul :
“It had to be something temporary. It is there now.”
Sorry, Éva, but, 6 hours later, my screen still only shows your recent posts – not our recent comments.

Same here.

Member

Here is Fellegi’s testimony:

http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-anti-semitism-growing-threat-all-faiths

Second part, between 2:40 and 9:00

I jotted down 3 false statements he made in this 6 minutes.

1.
“There is a clear demarcation between [Fidesz] and Jobbik”

The point is there is NO clear demarcation, Fidesz adopts Jobbik’s demands one by one.
The border between them is fuzzy not only ideologically, but sometimes Fidesz officials have MIEP or Jobbik past.

2.
“Jobbik started as an anti-establishment movement”

Jobbik started as a Fidesz movement in 2003, Vona was in Orban’s Polgari Kor.
They fielded joint candidates at the 2006 elections.

3.
The Fidesz government “doubled pension payments” to Holocaust survivors.

This is a sheer lie.
The Gyurcsany government started to pay 30,000 HUF ($150) a YEAR in 2007.
Orban first stopped paying, then paid a year late, and now he cancelled the whole
thing with a final 20,000 ($100).
The tiny part (say $45/month) of the old age pensions marked as “restitution” got a 0% raise for 2013, while the general pensions got a 5.2% raise, below inflation.

Jano
Guest

“Given all that, I can’t see how any country can ban these symbols (or probably any symbols). And that makes me wonder why Hungary was so eager to ban them.”

I’m baffled by this too. As it stands now, this is always a good excuse for some legal toying around. If the Nazi’s had all worn sunglasses, should sunglasses be banned? A lot more effective way would be to ban the context. I think it’s pretty easy to tell an buddhist gathering displaying a swastika and marching neo-nazis. Same applies to someone going up to a stage to reminisce about the Kádár era versus Heineken using the red star in it’s logo. I have a strong feeling that a legistlation like this would even pass with the European Court.

Also, I find differentiating between these symbols directly translates to differentiating between victims according to importance which is primitive, insulting and therefore unacceptable

Jano
Guest

*tell a […] apart

Kirsten
Guest

petöfi: “It should be clear by now–the whole underlying pattern–is to create instability
and insecurity so that no one is sure of what to do, and must, perforce, seek
counsel from the powers-that-be. See Kafka. See Viktor.”

While I believe that you are right on that one, it is also the public that somehow happens to play its part. Why does it need to “seek counsel from the powers-that-be” in the first place? Because there are mainly rather nebulous visions of what should be in place instead?

Member

About the “red star” and “swastika”. It is all about the context. Anyone who claims otherwise is a fool. If the intention by featuring any signs is to offend, threaten, humiliate others then in that context the sign should be outlawed, and those who exhibit the signs should be taken to court.
The earliest use of the swastika can be found in Roman Empire, it is part of the Hindu culture and was portrayed in Greece way before it become to symbolize the nazis. Same goes for the red star. It has a long history.
I think all this fuss is just helping Orban to talk about his ideas and just talk talk talk about nothing. Whatever he has to say about this subject only means anything for the fools who surround him. It is very clear what is wrong in Hungary with the swastika, that is being used by certain elements to embrace a concept that seems Fidesz also warming up to. THe same cannot be said about the red star, but Orban will rape this subject, as he has nothing meaningful to say about anything.

Jano
Guest

” It is very clear what is wrong in Hungary with the swastika, that is being used by certain elements to embrace a concept that seems Fidesz also warming up to. THe same cannot be said about the red star, but Orban will rape this subject, as he has nothing meaningful to say about anything.”

This shouldn’t really matter. If there were only 10 Nazis in Hungary they still shouldn’t be allowed to March on Heroes square with a swastika flag. Thank god, (official) supporters of communism are few, marginal and pathetic but putting an inequality there is still not right.

trackback

[…] and the swastika, following prior decisions from the European Court of Human Rights. And the Court declared unconstitutional parts of the law that removed the official legal status from more than 300 […]

trackback

[…] and the swastika, following prior decisions from the European Court of Human Rights. And the Court declared unconstitutional parts of the law that removed the official legal status from more than 300 […]

trackback

[…] the swastika, following prior decisions from the European Court of Human Rights.  And the Court declared unconstitutional parts of the law that removed the official legal status from more than 300 […]

trackback

[…] the swastika, following prior decisions from the European Court of Human Rights.  And the Court declared unconstitutional parts of the law that removed the official legal status from more than 300 churches. Even though […]

wpDiscuz