The new Hungarian ombudsman: László Székely

The news of the day in Hungary, aside from record temperatures over 40ºC, is President János Áder’s announcement that the next ombudsman will be László Székely, an associate professor of civil law at ELTE’s Law School. Just as today’s record temperature was not a great surprise given the weather forecasts, Székely’s nomination for the post wasn’t exactly unexpected.

As in almost all facets of the administration of the country, Fidesz made fundamental changes in the function and position of the Hungarian ombudsman. Earlier there were several ombudsmen, each with a specific field of expertise: environmental issues, data protection, minority rights, etc. Viktor Orbán obviously decided that he didn’t want to be bothered by too many nosy ombudsmen and therefore completely reorganized the system. Today there is only one ombudsman who has to handle all complaints. Moreover, this new position became a great deal more important than before with the introduction of a new constitutional provision that gives only the ombudsman, in addition to parliament and the president, the right to ask the constitutional court for a review of laws passed by parliament.

The sole ombudsman who kept his job when Orbán came into power was Máté Szabó who earlier, in my opinion, didn’t distinguish himself. Most of the issues that interested him sounded petty to me. I guess at the time of his reappointment it was this  aspect of Szabó’s activities that actually appealed to Viktor Orbán. He most likely thought that Szabó would get bogged down in picayune issues and would be too busy to spend much time on the constitutionally questionable legislative work of the Fidesz voting machine. To everybody’s surprise Szabó became a very active ombudsman who resolutely fought to salvage Hungarian democracy. By now he is the only man in an important position who can be called independent. Since Szabó’s tenure ends on September 24, János Áder was required by law to nominate someone to replace him by August 10.

A couple of days ago Áder, emphasizing that he is not obliged to listen to the heads of the parliamentary caucuses on his choice of ombudsman, declared his willingness to get together with the parliamentary leaders, including András Schiffer whose party just lately regained its right to form an official caucus. In addition to Schiffer, there were leaders of Fidesz, KDNP, MSZP, and Jobbik. Neither PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) nor DK Demokratikus Koalícíó was represented because of the parliamentary rules introduced by László Kövér according to which they couldn’t form a separate delegation.

Fidesz-style consultations shouldn’t mislead anyone, especially if they are initiated by János Áder. It’s true that occasionally he makes gestures to demonstrate his “independence,” but by and large he is faithful to Fidesz dogma. There is no question in my mind that the person was already picked after some consultation between Viktor Orbán and his closest associates way before the leaders of the parliamentary delegations were invited to Sándor Palota. During the consultation no name was mentioned. Áder only wanted to know what kind of a man his visitors had in mind. The laundry list included such characteristics as independent, highly qualified, not someone too closely associated with one party, etc.  At the end of the meeting Áder announced that they had agreed on an ideal candidate. He will act accordingly.

Today Áder emphasized that Székely “was never a member of any party either before or after the change of regime.” Every time I hear someone proudly announce on talk shows that “I have never been a member of any party,” I know full well what’s coming next: an emphatically right-wing assessment of the present political situation. As if lack of party membership would ensure political independence. Of course this is not at all the case.

László Székely the nominee for the position of ombudsman

László Székely, the nominee for the position of ombudsman

What we know about László Székely is that he held government positions in both the first and the second Orbán governments. Otherwise, he is a professor of civil law and, according to his students, is a good lecturer, a fair grader, and “if you’re prepared you have nothing to fear at his exams.” He also makes his lectures interesting. Otherwise, at least according to Áder, he is no stranger to international law because in 1984 he received a diploma from the “Seminar of International Comparative Law of the University of Strasbourg” which sounded a bit strange to my ears. How can you receive a diploma from a seminar? I managed to find a Regent University School of Law at the University of Strasbourg which offers a six-week  course for international students as part of the Strasbourg Study Abroad program. Perhaps this is what Áder had in mind, but if this is the case this mini-course can’t really be called a proper grounding in international law.

András Schiffer, who was most likely a student of Székely, admits that he is an excellent teacher and a good theoretician but claims that his knowledge of constitutional law is scanty when under the present circumstances the ombudsman is “the last bastion of constitutionality.” Schiffer also objected to Székely’s constitutional philosophy. Székely’s last government job was to coordinate the work done by several scholars on the new civil code where he had no objections to discrimination against people not officially married. Or, perhaps even worse, Székely’s main field of interest is the media. But he approaches this subject not from the point of view of freedom of expression and freedom of the press; rather, he is much more interested in regulating the media. Not a good omen.

Fidesz and KDNP leaders are naturally delighted with the choice. Gábor Vona was less polite than Schiffer. He announced that “László Székely’s ties to Fidesz are well known” and therefore his party will formulate its opinion on the subject on this basis.

MSZP was very restrained. Pál Steiner, a member of the parliamentary committee on the constitution and justice, announced that “they will take the President’s suggestion seriously and the MSZP caucus will decide on the issue at its first meeting of the fall session of parliament.”

For the time being it is hard to say what kind of ombudsman Székely will be. After all, Szabó turned out to be excellent despite earlier indications and predictions to the contrary. It may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.

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Member

The Fidesz decisions always remind me on the story of the man, the wolf, the goat, the cabbage, and the two-seater boat. These guys always leave the goat with cabbage …

Guest

My wife said:

He seems to be a Schwätzer (gasbag) just like Ader and the other Fidesz presidents before him.
Well we have to wait and see …

Julianna Bika
Guest
Member

Eva – Fat Johnny would be a good mafia-style name for the speaker of Hungary’s Parliament. Unfortunately, it is Fat Leslie, or Kover Laszlo in Hungarian.

Paul
Guest

I know you shouldn’t judge just from appearances – but this photo does not inspire!

Krasznodari
Guest
MSZP is a hopeless sucker for these (as well as other issues). They swallowed Fideszniks time and again for various independent positions (e.g. constitutional court) without a beep. MSZP just doesn’t get the legal system. There are no lawyers at MSZP and they institutionally lack the grasp. The worst, they don’t even understand what they don’t understand. I guess a reason they did not react because they don’t have people who would know Székely personally (which means that MSZP does not have lawyers who studied at ELTE in the last 20 years) and nobody is authorized to speak anyway. But the result is simply the bland acceptence, because of lack of understanding. Do you have any idea what would Fidesz do with MSZP’s candidate in a similar situation: tear him into pieces, even he was good, just because this is how you bargain. If you are hard enough, maybe you get a better candidate (sure Fidesz will approve him given the 2/3s, but still Fidesz would not give up an inch without fight and inflicting pain). MSZP also hopes that if they remain on good terms with Székely then he will be open to MSZP’s initiatives as ombudsman. No such… Read more »
Kong
Guest
OT, but very important: http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20130809_Simicska_mediapiac_atalakulas If you thought that Fidesz’ media empire was strong enough with its 80-90% reach then wake up. Fidesz has not stopped for a minute thinking about how it could increase its already near total control further. They are open to buy TV stations (TV2 is for sale), but of course internet if possible (because that is the media of the future), and any regional daily newspaper or commercial weeklies, like women’s magazines. These were until now extremely neutral (although TV2 started to lean Fidesz, but most importantly ignored politics), but it would be great to use their editorials, interview sections for better purposes. Besides these, HVG and Nepszabadsag are bleeding money, so they could be shut down at any moment. It has been an open secret for years that Fidesz (Infocenter) would love to purchase Origo, but in the meantime they will likely purchase Sanoma (which is no. 2 on the Hungarian internet market, although with several sites). Origo will be sold next year if the turn-around works well (but of course until then its editor in chief is still a well-known Fidesz-sympathizer) and Simicska/Nyerges group is the most likely investor. Is there no left… Read more »
oneill
Guest

Did I hear somewhere that Simicska now has Index under his financial control, or was it just a rumour?

tappanch
Guest

Some animals are more equal when they use the free healthcare system.

Apparatchiks eligible for special treatment in hospitals Kutvolgyi or Honved:

2009: eligible: 175
2010: eligible: 184,
2011: actually used: 118
2012: actually used: 235
2013: eligible: 311,

http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/ketszer-annyi-fejesnek-jar-luxuskorhaz-2204819

They could afford private care, but this means that Fideszniks do not have to wait in line and can jump the line ahead of 90 years old patients… and they do jump, shamelessly – I witnessed it.

Paul
Guest

“Fidesz will keep the control of the state media even if there was a change in government, and so eventually it will have an almost 100% media power. Berlusconi had no media power compared to what Fidesz has and will have.”

Label me a pessimist (if that helps you ignore reality) but even I happened thought this through.

We are rapidly approaching the point, if we aren’t already there, where there will be no constitutional, and more importantly, no practical, way of getting rid of this ‘government – short of a real revolution (with all the horror that inevitably involves).

tappanch
Guest

Anti-Orban rap music is banned from the Kiskunhalas “Freedom Music Club”

http://warum.kinja.com/ma-delelott-pedig-felhivtak-a-hivatalbol-1075355971

1900Again
Guest

Leave Hungary to the revolutionaries.
Gentle minded ones leave now.
The revolution will be pain.
The result will be meager.
The standard of living will slide to the level of 1900.
Poor Horthy will have to return from his grave to be the regent again.
Even he was brighter than Orban.

tappanch
Guest

A necessary ingredient for revolutions is lots of angry young people.

We have angry young people, all right, but

1. they are not numerous and
2. they can and do leave for greener pastures.

Guest

Hey, Orbàn might turn all of Hungary into an open air museum, where you can watch the peasants toiling like in the rest of Europe 200 years ago …

On pol.hu some of the right-wingers really proclaim that life in Hungary was better 100 or 200 years ago – you know those famous Christian family values were observed then …

Ora et labora!

An
Guest
@Kong: “Is there no left wing oligarch or liberal minded rich person in Hungary would would dare to buy these outlets?” It’s hard to keep up with Fidesz who is using state (taxpayers’) money to enrich its businesses. I believe all liberal minded people with any money in Hungary are in survival mode right now… and not exactly in the position to save these media companies. Not to mention, that there is simply not enough state-independent private wealth that accumulated in the country to take up a “war” with the state. The state and the state-supported Fidesz businesses will simply have more money. Considerable amount of money that is not Orban-friendly could only come from foreign companies…. but they too are being pushed out of the country, intimidated by the erratic and punitive use of legislation, and bought by offers of “special treatment” by the government. If they can, they just simply decide to avoid Hungary. The only chance really is some kind of breakdown in the Fidesz oligarch system… if some of the powerful ones get snubbed and get upset in fighting over the loot, they may turn against OV. But that too, has to reach a critical mass…… Read more »
An
Guest

Really, from a financial perspective the only “person” who could pull the plug on the money supporting OV’s regime and its media empire is the EU. That, or a major economic breakdown.

Simply there is no income generated in the country other than what is coming from the EU. The EU keeps Hungary (and Orban) on a breathing machine. The importance of EU monies for OV are pretty obvious; just recently they transferred the office responsible for the allocation of EU monies right under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Petofi1
Guest

Once Orban and the Russkies succeed in getting Hungary kicked out of the EU, what will remain of Hungary is a little muddle; and the choice experience of living life a la 1850.
Sic transit Hungaricum.

Petofi1
Guest

correction: “….a little puddle”

Paul
Guest
tappanch : A necessary ingredient for revolutions is lots of angry young people. We have angry young people, all right, but 1. they are not numerous and 2. they can and do leave for greener pastures. I can’t see it happening either, I think we would have seen the first stirrings by now, but there’s no signs of anything. And if it’s not happening now, three years in, with no longer any possible doubts about what OV is up to, over half the country on or below the poverty line, and the example of the Arab Spring, Turkey, etc to follow, then what exactly does it need for it to happen? My point wasn’t that I predict (or even want) revolution, I just can’t see any other way of ending Orbán’s reign. Democracy Is dead, there is no real opposition, the population are either Orbán supporters (actual or tacit) or indifferent or scared, and the EU is ineffective. Without revolution, the country is just going to be slowly screwed into the ground, until Orbán dies or retires, or the money men behind Fidesz decide to pull out. Our only hope is that Orbán or Fidesz somehow cock things up so… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

Well, I fear the problem with a degree obtained in Strasbourg by a Hungarian citizen in 1984 is not exactly the length of the course he took or the excat nature of the school he attended. Just think of Mádl, who did something similar during the communist era. Could anyone imagine the state security to allow Székely to leave the country with this purpose and return without being vetted and most probably recruited?

Armand H.
Guest
This Strasbourg-program had existed for many years. It would be a great historical research topic to collect who participated in it during the years? You can safely assume that anyone who participated in it, but especially in the early years, such as Mádl (or his colleague a former member of the constitutional court and other at least in legal circles more famous profs and practicing attorneys), and for a longer period, were almost certainly recruited for the foreign intelligence/counter intelligence. So it was not the III/III (about which people tend to talk) but other directorates like III/II which handled them, the members of which directorates are kept secret to this day and probably still used at least for a short call from time to time (some were outed, like Martonyi, but only a very few people). Laszlo Szekely it seems to me only participated for a couple of months at best (hence his foreign language skills, which are not good at all) so his involvement is a bit uncertain i my view. I think intelligence tried to recruit people with good language skills because returning to Hungary they kept being involved in international work. Székely had not been involved in… Read more »
Guest

Thank you Armand, for that new perspective – though for Hungarians it shouldn’t be really new.

I’m always amazed at the kind of information that gets unearthed here – everybody keep up the good work – even if the majority of Hungarians stays in blissful ignorance.

PS:
Actually the situation seems to be similar in most of Europe: In Germany also new connections and involvements in the communist party system aka Nomenklatura are found regularly . though the system has been dead and analysed now for almost 25 years.

Some things will probably never come to light …

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