Tag Archives: joachim Gauck

Central European University refuses to be intimidated

Finally I can give you some encouraging news about Central European University. In my last post on the subject I reported on the step taken by Andrew M. Cuomo, governor of the State of New York, who on May 24 “announced his readiness to enter into discussions with the Hungarian Government” concerning the fate of CEU. At that time I expressed my doubts that the Orbán government was actually ready to negotiate in good faith. I based this somewhat pessimistic opinion on a couple of sentences that had appeared in Magyar Idők, which indicated to me that any kind of agreement would still require the prior approval of the U.S. federal government, which we know is impossible to obtain.

Of course, we have no idea what the end result will be, but at least the Orbán government didn’t outright refuse Governor Cuomo’s offer. In fact, Kristóf Altusz, the undersecretary in the foreign ministry who is entrusted with the negotiations, got in touch with Governor Cuomo’s office last Friday. That is certainly a positive step.

This development is due to the brave and self-confident manner in which Michael Ignatieff, the rector of CEU, handled the situation. Cowering or trying to appease is the worst possible tactic to take when under siege by governments like that of Viktor Orbán. The university, led by Ignatieff, refused to be browbeaten. I’m convinced that without his determination and his calling worldwide attention to the Orbán government’s assault on a private university, that telephone conversation between Cuomo and Altusz would never have taken place. In fact, Ignatieff himself came to this conclusion, saying that “we are in a stronger position now than we were before because we resisted and said no.”

Central European University will stay in Budapest at least through the 2017-2018 academic year, Michael Ignatieff announced yesterday at a press conference. He wants to send a clear message to the government: CEU will not be shuttered. When a journalist asked him whether he has a plan B if “things get worse,” Ignatieff’s answer was that even if the government puts more pressure on them, they will not move. As he put it, he refuses to get involved in a game of chicken with the Hungarian government. He also made it clear that he is not going to be idle in the interim, which indicates to me that he is ready to continue his efforts to gain an agreement that would include a guarantee of the university’s unfettered existence in Hungary in the future.

Zsolt Enyedi, the university’s prorector for Hungarian affairs, made a remark which I found significant. He said that “the past few weeks have made us aware that we have a duty to the city and the country. We must remain as long as possible.” This is practically a clarion call to resist the anti-democratic forces that have taken over the reins of government in Budapest. In fact, this stressful episode in the history of the university has only made the resolve of the administration and faculty stronger.

The university will host an international conference on academic freedom on June 22 where the keynote speaker will be Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian writer. At the graduation ceremony former German president Joachim Gauck will receive the Open Society Prize, which “is awarded annually to an outstanding individual or organization whose achievements have contributed substantially to the creation of an open society.”

The government media published, without any commentary, MTI’s summary of what transpired at the press conference. The only attack in the past two days came from Pesti Srácok, which reported on “the stomach turning anti-family conference” organized by the School of Public Policy/Department of Gender Studies of the university. The conference was obviously an answer of sorts to the mega-conference hosted by the “coalition of conservative organizations from around the globe.” It seems that what made the lectures stomach-turning was that speakers deemed the conservative family model outmoded in our modern society.

A few days ago Magyar Hírlap learned that the evil puppeteer George Soros, who rules the whole world according to the Hungarian government and its media, is coming to Hungary because CEU’s board of trustees will hold its annual meeting on June 24-25 in Budapest, right after the international conference on academic freedom. I don’t know when the decision was made to hold the board meeting in Budapest, but I have the feeling that it was not entirely independent from the recent government attack on the institution. Soros is the honorary chairman of the board. Otherwise, the trustees are a distinguished lot, including such well-known American-Hungarians as author and journalist Kati Marton and George E. Pataki, former governor of New York. The only trustee from Hungary is Attila Chikán, professor of economics at Corvinus University.

We also shouldn’t forget that, thanks to the joint effort of all opposition parties, including Jobbik, the Hungarian constitutional court was obliged to take up the question of the constitutionality of Lex CEU, as everybody in Hungary calls the law designed to expel the university from Hungary. The parliamentary vote took place on April 12. Until today we heard nothing about the fate of the court case. We just learned that, at the suggestion of the chief justice, a special working group will be formed to prepare the case for discussion by the full court. The creation of such working groups is allowed, “in especially complicated cases.” This means that until now the judges haven’t considered the case at all. The fact that the chief justice considers the case so complex that it needs special treatment leads me to believe that there is no agreement within the body about what to do with this hot potato.

May 31, 2017

Monitoring and an infringement procedure seem the likely fate of Hungary

There are signs that Strasbourg and Brussels have decided to change gears and speed up the slow moving vehicles of the Council of Europe and the European Union.

It was Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland of the Council of Europe who was the first to indicate on Monday that the latest amendments to the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian  Constitution are an inadequate answer to the most recent objections of the Council and the European Commission. In an interview with the German liberal paper, Der Tagelsspiegel, he indicated that as far as political advertisement is concerned, Hungary’s attempt to make a distinction between European and national elections is unacceptable. From the interview it also became evident that German President Joachim Gauck, who visited the Council of Europe the other day, shared his own worries about the Hungarian situation with Jagland. Still, I must say that Mr. Jagland is naive if he thinks that because Klubrádió managed to retain its frequency all is well on the media front, that “the freedom of expression is now assured and the press can work without any hindrance.” 

Council of Europe2

A couple of words first about the Council of Europe; even the Council’s website admits that there is a lot of confusion about the Council and its relationship to the European Union. The Council came into being in 1949 with a membership of ten countries, but by now it covers virtually the entire European continent (47 members). The Council of Europe “seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.” If in a member state questions about democracy, the rule of law, or a violation of human rights surface, the Council of Europe may set up either a temporary or a permanent monitoring mechanism. Until now such monitoring procedures were applied only in countries formerly belonging to the Soviet Union and in some countries in the Balkans. Now it seems that the so-called monitoring committee suggested bringing to a vote in the parliament of the Council of Europe whether Orbán Viktor’s Hungary should be monitored.

The vote in the committee was very close. The decision to move forward passed by a single vote, mostly because the members of the European People’s Party to which Fidesz belongs decided to vote against the resolution en bloc. The final word naturally lies with the parliament as a whole. The vote will take place sometime in June, about the same time that the Venice Commission’s final report is released. I should add that the Venice Commission, which is composed of constitutional and international law experts, is an independent advisory body to the Council of Europe.

Meanwhile the European Commission’s own legal team has also been busy, and EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said this morning that the legal analysis “will lead, probably, to infringement procedures and this will happen rather quickly.” She also indicated that she had already written to Budapest that a preliminary analysis raised questions about the rule of law in Hungary.

We often talk about infringement procedures, but I suspect that we don’t fully understand what they entail. Since the European Commission seems to be fairly certain that the legal changes in Hungary warrant such a move, it is time to get familiar with the details. Each member state is responsible for the implementation of EU law within its own legal system; it is the European Commission that is responsible for ensuring that EU law is correctly applied. If a member state fails to comply, the Commission has “powers of  its own to try to bring the infringement to an end and, where necessary, they refer the case to the European Court of Justice.” First, a letter of formal notice is presented to the member state in which the Commission asks the member state to comply within a given time limit. If the member state fails to comply, the Commission will refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

All in all, although by Brussels standards these procedures are taking less time than usual, it will be a long time before they bear fruit, if at all. Moreover, Orbán still has many tricks up his sleeve. Just wait until Brussels takes a good look at the electoral law. After all, the text of the law is now available in the Magyar Közlöny. There will be many unpleasant surprises there, I’m sure.

Let me shift topics to end on a more humorous note. Actually, just like everything else in Orbán’s Hungary, it has its tragic elements.

www.diosdifidesz.hu

www.diosdifidesz.hu

I’m sure that you all remember that the Fidesz ideologues have been targeting street names they consider to be ideologically unacceptable. Not surprisingly, the forbidden names are practically all connected with the left. At least I didn’t see Miklós Horthy or Adolf Hitler on the list. To the everlasting shame of the Historical Institute attached to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, it accepted the odious task of determining whose name can be used and whose cannot. Here is the list.

Good beginning: Alkotmány (Constitution), decision: usable. Reason: although its use as a street name became frequent during the socialist period it cannot be forbidden because then we would have to consider the word “constitution” directly connected to dictatorship. Moreover, in this case the name of the Alkotmánybíróság (Constitutional Court) would also have to be to be changed. 🙂

The learned historians decided that the word “Fejlődés” which means “development” is OK even though it was also used during the socialist period. “Liberation” (Felszabadulás) is out, but  “Haladás” (Progress) and “Győzelem (Victory) are acceptable. I was also happy to hear that Attila József, Hungary’s greatest poet, can have a street or square of his own although he was at one point a member of the illegal communist party in the 1930s.

“Köztársaság” (Republic) is still allowed. But “Partisan” is out. And Mihály Károlyi is definitely out. After all, they consider him responsible for Trianon, a real falsification of history. György Lukács is on the forbidden list even though he was a member of the Imre Nagy government in 1956 and consequently narrowly avoided execution. Writers and poets are not spared either: Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovski are blacklisted. Karl Marx is “usable but worrisome” (használható, de aggályos).  May 1 is OK. I was relieved to hear that the great Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) was spared! Nice to hear that “Szabadság” (Freedom) is not yet banned but let’s just wait! I might add that several social democratic politicians active before World War II are also banned.

A real testament to democracy in action!