Tag Archives: TASZ

Hate campaigns and their consequences

President János Áder, who had been reelected for another five-year term already in March, delivered his inaugural address on May 8. If we can believe him, his original intent was to talk about all the work that still lies ahead for the nation. “Looking at the political discourse of the past months,” however, he came to the conclusion that “if things go on like this, we will destroy everything we have managed to build together since 1990. We question everything. We completely disregard every—even tacit—agreement we have made. We go beyond all limits.” So, what is the remedy? According to Áder, the simple answer is “reconciliation.”

In his speech I found only two sentences that deserve closer scrutiny. One was a Ferenc Deák quotation, the third in the short speech, which can be construed as a criticism of the governance of the Orbán government. Deák, the architect of the 1867 Compromise with the Crown, warned that “Hungary should not be loved with inciting thoughts unsettling it, but with a series of everyday, useful deeds that promote prosperity.” The second sentence came from the section on the quality of public discourse, which has deteriorated dramatically over the years. “I don’t want to dwell on responsibilities and on who is to blame. However, political numbers and majority status dictate that the responsibility of government parties is greater,” Áder admitted.

Skeptics are certain that Áder’s words were approved by Viktor Orbán himself, who needs to cool the overheated political atmosphere. Others, like György Csepeli, a social psychologist, consider the speech a perfect example of hypocrisy. After all, Áder signed the bill that threatens the very existence of Central European University, which added fuel to the fire, but the same man now wants a world in which people of different political persuasions live in harmony. If I may add another observation. Áder admits that the larger share of the responsibility falls on Fidesz, but simply because it is the governing party with a large majority. He is wrong. The reason for this state of affairs is not political arithmetic but the militaristic style of Fidesz, which leads to both verbal and physical violence. There was a time when Áder himself, as the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, practiced the same kind of verbal coercion he now decries.

Zsolt Bayer, about whom I have written 13 posts since the beginning of 2011, is certainly not helping to tone down Hungarian political discourse. Bayer, one of the founding members of Fidesz who still has the full support of Viktor Orbán and his party, is notorious for his anti-Semitism and his vile writing. This time he ranted about the handful of NGO leaders who appeared at a parliamentary hearing to silently protest a pending bill that would discriminate against those NGOs that receive financial aid from abroad. When asked his opinion of their silent demonstration, Bayer said: “If people like this show up in the parliament building again and disrupt their work, then they need to be thrown out like shitting cats. If they need to be pulled out through their snot and blood, then they should be pulled out through their snot and blood….Their faces should be beaten to smithereens, if need be.”

The objects of Zsolt Bayer’s ire

As György Balavány, a conservative journalist, pointed out, Bayer is not a lone overly active pitbull. “He is the voice of the party” which, despite all pro-government opinion polls, is afraid. Facing widespread opposition, the Orbán government has “no other strategy than the intimidation of the public and the incitement of its own followers. Both of them can serve as preliminaries to physical force.” Meanwhile, Fidesz acts as if the increasingly frequent physical encounters simply didn’t exist. Orbán, for example, said that “it is not his job” to comment on claims of that sort. Among those Fidesz members who had an opinion on Bayer’s latest, some found his remarks perfectly acceptable. For example, according to Fidesz spokesman Balázs Hidvéghi, Bayer didn’t cross the line between free speech and incitement. The spokesman of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation said that Bayer is like that, “and this is how many of us like him.”

At this point TASZ’s two lawyers, who took part in the silent demonstration at the hearing, decided to offer Bayer an opportunity to discuss their differences over a cup of coffee. Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, said she would join them. The naïve souls. First of all, any rational exchange with Bayer is a hopeless task. Worse, TASZ’s invitation was a tactical mistake because Bayer countered, saying he wants to extend the invitation to individuals on the anti-government side who, in his opinion, were either violent or who incited others to violence. Bayer suggested that the following individuals should be invited: Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga, the two activists who were stopped from throwing washable orange paint on the president’s office, and two journalists from 24.hu who, according to Bayer, wanted him to hang on the first lamp post. He also thinks a pro-government female journalist should be present, who could tell how frightened she was among the “liberal” and “European” crowd at one of the demonstrations. Perhaps the editor-in-chief of a regional paper could also attend, who said that he is afraid that Orbán can be disposed of only in the way the Romanians managed to get rid of Ceaușescu. “If you think that I will take responsibility for the current state of public discourse alone, then you are mistaken.” Since then, others have indicated that they will attend and suggested more people who have been verbally abused by Bayer. One of these people was András Hont of HVG, who responded on Facebook: “Thank you, but I don’t want any coffee.”

Meanwhile fear and hatred have reached dangerous proportions in the country. The following incident in the heart of Budapest tells a lot about the impact of the government’s hate campaign against the European Union and the migrants. An employee of a pizza parlor on Kálvin tér, a bona fide Hungarian, thinking that one of his customers was a tourist, addressed the man in English. In turn, the customer called him a “filthy migrant.” And he kept yelling that Hungary belongs to the Hungarians and that he is not a tourist in his own country. He called the waiter “a cockroach.” When a young woman asked him to stop insulting the waiter who mistook him for a tourist, he hit the woman on the head, knocked her glasses off, and called her a stupid woman whose brain is filled with urine. Her bitter reaction after the incident was: “Long live the politics of hate, the brainwashing, and the incitement.”

Szilárd Németh, the embodiment of Fidesz primitiveness who is a deputy to Viktor Orbán, when asked about the incident, expressed his belief that the whole thing was nothing more than a “damned provocation” because anything can happen here “since George Soros set foot in this country and his provocateurs do what he tells them to do.” He added that this kind of incident has absolutely nothing to do with the Orbán government’s communication tactics because the government has never attacked the migrants. It has only defended Hungary and Europe. Poor Hungary, poor Europe.

May 14, 2017

András Schiffer: From KISZ to neo-communism?

Just as I suspected, in one short post I couldn’t cover the departure of András Schiffer, the founder and leader of LMP, from politics as well as opinions of him that have appeared since his announcement. Over the years I have written more than a dozen articles about LMP and András Schiffer and yet, after re-reading them, I must admit that I never managed to give a satisfactory portrait of this complex, controversial, divisive man. I guess one day someone will write a book on LMP and the abortive attempt to establish a true green party in Hungary. That book will undoubtedly praise Schiffer, the party’s founder, for being able in two short years to build a party that sent a fifteen-member delegation to the Hungarian parliament. No mean feat. But most of the book will probably be about the constant internal fights within the party and its founder’s unyielding and, in my opinion mistaken, ideology and political strategy.

I suspect that most people would agree with András Stumpf of the pro-government Mandiner.hu website that, without Schiffer, LMP’s chances of becoming a parliamentary party in 2018 are remote. The party leaders of LMP are naturally much more upbeat. Bernadett Szél, co-chairman of LMP, sounded neither heartbroken about Schiffer’s departure nor pessimistic about the future of the party. She took the news laconically. “I’m old enough to know that if someone wants to leave, one should let him go. Today I can’t worry about this. Instead, I want to make sure that the green party that has grown roots in the country has a future.” She is already organizing a tour of the countryside with a view to widening the territorial base of LMP. Szél in this interview gave the impression of being a liberated woman who can now do things her own way. As for the hard-and-fast rule of not allying LMP with any other political formation, it remains in place as far as I can see.

Photo: István Fekete

Bernadett Szél. Photo: István Fekete

Among those with LMP ties, the greatest admirer is Péter Róna, which makes sense given Róna’s economic precepts, which include anti-capitalist sentiments and ideas of the “népiesek,” a group of people who envisaged a Hungary whose economy would be a “third road” between capitalism and socialism. Róna simply cannot understand the Hungarian intellectual elite’s indifference, or in some cases hatred, toward Schiffer, whom he considers the best and most honest politician in Hungary today.

Endre Kukorelly, who for a few months was an LMP member of parliament in 2010, is a writer. Since I haven’t read a line of his, I can’t pass judgment on his literary talents. But, to me, his political views are muddled. He who quit parliament after a few months hails Schiffer’s decision because it is so much easier to do politics without the shackles of a party. He represents the unproductive view that political parties are evil and that civilians are the ones who will change the present system.

The opinions of most other former LMP members, however, are pretty uniformly negative.

Benedek Jávor, whose activities in the European Parliament I greatly admire, most likely hit the nail on the head when he observed that “the conflicts that led to a split in the party have not dissipated with our departure,” referring to PM members’ leaving LMP in January 2013.

Virág Kaufer, who left LMP in 2012, suggested that Schiffer “take some time off and take a good look at what he created and speak with those who are no longer his supporters.”

Perhaps Gábor Vágó, a former LMP insider, best summarized LMP’s problem. In his opinion, Schiffer’s departure “is not the end of the LMP story. The fate of the party was sealed when it abandoned its critical attitude toward [Orbán’s] system.”

At the end of this post you will find about a dozen links to my past articles on LMP and András Schiffer, from which a fuller picture of LMP’s role in Hungarian politics should emerge. But perhaps I should add a few details that might be helpful in explaining where Schiffer came from.

Schiffer’s first political act at the age of eighteen was adding his name to an open letter addressed to the Congress of KISZ (Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). The letter was dated April 10, 1989. Less than two weeks later KISZ was dissolved. Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány (KISZ secretary), and György Szilvássy (KISZ spokesman and later minister in Gyurcsány’s cabinet) also signed the letter. Schiffer talked about those days in 2014 in an interview with Szabolcs Panyi of Index. “In the spring of 1989, when it wasn’t quite clear which way things would develop, there was only one man in the whole nomenclature of the party-state who put his foot down, even risking his livelihood, and declared that the properties of KISZ and the party must be divided among alternative organizations. This man was Ferenc Gyurcsány. … Gyurcsány proclaimed what many of the opposition politicians didn’t dare: that because of the nature of the state socialist system what they [KISZ and the party] possess belongs to the people.”

Shortly after the dissolution of KISZ, Gyurcsány established a new youth organization called Új Nemzedék Mozgalom (Movement of the New Generation), of which Schiffer became a member. Gyurcsány soon gave up his political activities and became a businessman, but Schiffer remained active and was one of the founding members of a new political movement called Ifjú Szocialisták (Young Socialists). Shortly thereafter, Schiffer retired from politics (for the first time). After finishing law school, he worked for TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he became interested in the green movement.

What changed Schiffer’s attitude toward Gyurcsány, whom he clearly admired back in 1989, were the 2006 disturbances in which he, as an associate of TASZ, took the side of those he considered to be the victims of “police terror.” What happened on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Revolution is a hot potato about which people have widely different opinions. Rightly or wrongly, Schiffer accused Gyurcsány of criminal acts against innocent demonstrators. Hence, his hatred of the man.

His attitude toward Gyurcsány may have changed radically, but he didn’t shed his socialist political views. Árpád W. Tóta, who writes witty, sarcastic, sometime savage opinion pieces, said that LMP has never managed to present a coherent worldview and that “the only concrete position one can make out is a blood-curdling neo-communism. The kind that is becoming sawdust right now in South America.” Tóta portrays Schiffer as someone who wanted to be different simply for the sake of being different. The party was toggling between right and left until it started getting closer to the positions of Fidesz and Jobbik. In brief, in ideological terms Schiffer left the party in a real mess.

Links to Hungarian Spectrum articles on LMP and András Schiffer:

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/03/26/lmp-or-can-politics-can-be-something-else/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/03/27/two-interviews-with-andras-schiffer-chairman-of-lmp/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/07/07/viktor-orban-had-a-meeting-with-the-lmp-parliamentary-delegation/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/05/02/babes-in-arms-lmps-encounter-with-viktor-orban/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/07/12/the-new-electoral-law-lmps-wake-up-call/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/11/14/a-few-words-about-the-hungarian-green-party-the-lmp/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/01/14/the-rise-and-fall-of-lmps-andras-schiffer/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/07/26/the-future-of-lmp-an-interview-with-benedek-javor/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/10/21/hungarian-opposition-groups-lmp-4k-and-milla/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/11/17/with-or-without-gordon-bajnai-lmps-dilemma/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/11/18/lmps-andras-schiffer-won-but-did-he/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/01/26/where-is-andras-schiffer-leading-lmp-straight-into-the-arms-of-fidesz/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/01/27/lmps-rebels-left-the-party-who-will-be-the-winner-of-this-game/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2014/04/23/budapest-municipal-election-mszp-lmp-deal/

June 1, 2016

Inadequate hygiene in Hungarian hospitals

Today I’m venturing into the world of healthcare, specifically hygiene or rather the lack of it in some Hungarian hospitals. A discussion of the high rate of infections contracted in hospitals began when the movement “1001 physicians without gratuity” called attention to the problem. According to the statement of these doctors, the problem has been known for years. But not only is nothing being done to try to eradicate the problem, the number of reported cases has also been kept secret. The doctors complained about the quality of the sterilization machines, a lack of diapers, not enough disinfectant, etc. The group demanded the release of data about the number of cases of hospital infections and the death rate from such infections. That was at the end of February. Since then a fair number of articles have appeared on the subject that further highlighted the terrible conditions that exist in Hungarian hospitals.

Nothing, however, elicited a greater outcry than a news story published a couple of days ago by Index, which claimed that the department of dermatology, venereal diseases, and skin-related cancers at the hospital of the Budapest Medical School ran out of “rubber gloves” and therefore the unprotected staff must use “nylon gloves,” which are not as effective. The “rubber gloves” must be saved for operations.

Well, this is where my definitional problems began. I have heard of “rubber gloves” (gumikesztyű), the kind we use when washing dishes, but I had never heard of “nylon gloves” being used in hospitals. I suspect that Index’s reporting was not precise. The gloves we see in doctors’ offices and hospitals are “nitrile non-sterile single use” gloves. I assume that this is what Index called “nylon gloves.” These same gloves also come in a sterile form, which is more expensive, but the non-sterile gloves (which retail for $7.99/100) “pose no higher risk of infection for non-surgical procedures when compared to sterile gloves.” In fact, I read that even doctors and nurses dealing with HIV patients are well protected wearing these gloves.

Latex gloves used to be common in operating rooms because they fit more snugly (though they also puncture more easily). But a fair number of people are allergic to them, so many hospitals have opted for alternatives, admittedly more expensive.

If we’re dealing here with the distinction between latex and nitrile gloves, the hospital’s director was correct in explaining to the journalist that these two kinds of gloves have nothing to do with one another. That is, a shortage of one wouldn’t affect the other. No operation had to be postponed because of a possible shortage of nitrile gloves in the wards. However, the likelihood that the department did run out of ordinary nitrile gloves is very high. Tímea Szabó (PM member of parliament), who is currently working in a hospital as a volunteer to experience first hand conditions in Hungarian hospitals, has been reporting shortages of all sorts of the most basic necessities.

disinfection

Quite apart from this particular case, the fact is that hygiene doesn’t seem to be a high priority in Hungarian hospitals. One reason is the shortage of money, which unfortunately cannot be eliminated by “loving care” as Zoltán Balog, the minister of charge of healthcare, suggested. And because of this shortage hospitals try to save on items they consider non-essential. Here is one example of what is considered to be a “luxury” in Hungarian hospitals. The World Health Organization suggests the use of at least 20 liters of hand sanitizer for every 1,000 patient days. In Hungary hospitals use only 6 liters. They try to save money on disinfectant as well. Moreover, according to one man who worked as a sterilization machine operator, hospitals often sterilize equipment that should be discarded after each use. According to the whistleblower who no longer works in a hospital, he was instructed to resterilize equipment used in laparoscopic surgery as many as fifteen or twenty times. The interesting thing is that it is more expensive to resterilize equipment than to purchase new equipment. In fact, it can be twice as expensive. But since sterilization is done “in house,” the management can put in a request for new equipment but use the money for something else. As he said, “the money simply disappears.”

Meanwhile, the Állami Népegészségügyi és Tisztiorvosi Szolgálat (National Public Health and Medical Officer Service / ÁNTSZ) steadfastly refuses to release details about hospital infections and the resultant number of deaths even as it claims that its reporting is among the most comprehensive in the European Union. The website of the Országos Epidemiológiai Központ (National Epidemiological Center / OEK) does provide countrywide numbers, broken down by year, although its website is so user unfriendly that I didn’t even try to find them. It seems that Társaság a Szabadságjogokért (TASZ), the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, did look at their data but found them totally useless. What the doctors demanded and TASZ now demands as well is not aggregated numbers but a breakdown by individual hospitals. ÁNTSZ refuses to release this information. As one of the department heads of ÁNTSZ explained, if they published the data they would create panic. People would avoid hospitals where the number of infections and the resultant death rate is high and would go to hospitals where the danger of infection is low. But this could have grave consequences. Some patients might end up in hospitals that are not equipped to handle their problems. TASZ is not satisfied with this answer, and the organization will sue ÁNTSZ for the data. TASZ usually wins its cases against government authorities.

The stories of infections and death continue to multiply in the Hungarian media. A few days ago Index reported another serious infection, this time in a hospital in Pécs. The infection, called “methicillion-resistant Staphycoccus aureus” (MRSA), is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics commonly used to treat staph infections. This sounds bad enough in English, but I’ll bet that Hungarians were petrified to read that “meat-eating bacteria are at work in a Pécs hospital.”

Infections picked up in hospitals are a problem worldwide, but according to some Hungarian doctors who came forth lately, the Hungarian situation is worse than that in most developed countries. One doctor I heard being interviewed claimed that the number of deaths as a result of these infections is twice as high in Hungary as in the U.K. According to one of the sources I consulted, the disparity is even worse. The British figure is 6.4% per 100,000 while in Hungary it is 14.7%.

It is ironic that in the country of Ignác Semmelweis, the pioneer of antiseptic procedures, hospitals are not using enough disinfectant, doctors and nurses don’t wash their hands often enough, toilets don’t function, and hygiene is altogether neglected. Devotion and hard work on the part of the staff is simply not enough, although admittedly it would start to address the problem. How often members of the staff wash their hands is not a question of money.

Hungarian healthcare needs more funding and an entirely different attitude on the part of hospital managers and staff. One of the early tasks of the post-Orbán administration should be to break the stranglehold on Hungarian healthcare by hospital administrators, trade union leaders, the Hungarian Medical Association, and those doctors in high position who are the beneficiaries of this corrupt system. Otherwise healthcare in Hungary will never improve.

April 9, 2016

A week of events organized by the Budapest Pride began last night

After the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling, many well-known personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and Hillary Clinton on Twitter, displayed the rainbow flag to show their delight with the decision. This is how the resident of the White House showed his support for the American gay community.

white house

And in Hungary? Only about a month before the historic Supreme Court decision, Viktor Orbán announced that “Hungary is a tolerant nation” but that “tolerance … does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own.” He expressed his gratitude to the Hungarian homosexual community “for not exhibiting the provocative behavior against which numerous European nations are struggling.” What exists now is “a peaceful, calm equilibrium” which should be maintained because otherwise anti-gay feelings will flare up.

The message was obvious: don’t rock the boat because there might be adverse consequences. Magyar Narancs summarized Orbán’s message well: “A Hungarian doesn’t harass anyone, unless he is forced to harass him in a tolerant manner with mercy in his heart.” In fact, Hungarian gays and lesbians suffer discrimination and harassment even without any “provocative behavior.”

So, let’s see how Fidesz politicians reacted to the news of the Supreme Court decision. The occasion was ignored by everyone except Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII of Budapest, and Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman. These two decided to cover their pictures on Facebook with the colors of the Hungarian flag.

kocsis-kovacs

What  kind of a message did these two want to convey? That a real Hungarian cannot be gay? Or, to flip the sentence and the emphasis, that gays cannot be truly Hungarian? Or, if I were feeling charitable, I might say that these two are just a bit confused. I doubt, however, that Kocsis is confused. Lately, he has been far too eager to prove to the world that talk of his alleged homosexuality is unfounded. As a result, he has sunk to the level of disgusting homophobia.

The only refreshing exception was the wife of Antal Rogán, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, who decided to follow the example of many foreign celebrities and use the colors of the rainbow over her portrait on Facebook. The president of the Rainbow Mission Foundation immediately wrote her a letter and expressed the homosexual community’s appreciation of the gesture. She also extended an invitation to her and her husband, “if his schedule permits,” to the opening of the Budapest Pride Festival which took place yesterday. As far as I know, they didn’t attend.

We shouldn’t be surprised that homophobic skinheads and football hooligans take pleasure in taunting the mixed crowd of gays and their straight supporters at the annual parade along Andrássy Street when the mayor of Budapest, István Tarlós, doesn’t hide his antagonism toward the gay community. Only yesterday I wondered whether Viktor Orbán is really unaware of the fact that in better circles his racism and xenophobia are considered unacceptable and his behavior unbecoming, boorish, or much worse. In the case of István Tarlós there is no question: he is not at all ashamed that he is a homophobic boor. In fact, he advertises it. And yes, he is a boor.

On June 4 Tarlós was the guest on an early morning TV2 program called Mokka. Earlier Napi Gazdaság had reported that there was a possibility that the Budapest city council would move the Pride Parade from Andrássy Street to Budapesti Nagybani Piac, a wholesale marketplace almost 15 km away from Andrássy Street. So, the reporter wanted to know more about this alleged plan to move the Pride Parade to the outskirts of the city. Tarlós was happy to share his thoughts on the subject. Yes, he would like to move the parade somewhere else because “it is unworthy of the historic district of Andrássy Street.” In addition, he shared his “private opinion” that he finds the idea “unnatural” and gays “repulsive.” The brave reporter said not a word.

It seems that Tarlós is not familiar with the limits of the city council’s authority. Determining a demonstration’s location is not its job. Moreover, as TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued, a public official cannot state his “private opinion” when he appears on TV. He is the representative of the city council, and he represents every inhabitant of the city of Budapest. His public statements must be in accord with the constitution. TASZ pointed out that at the moment Tarlós cannot be held legally responsible because in the civil code “sexual orientation” is not among the qualities protected by law, like ethnic groups or people of religious communities. But perhaps, they added, such a provision should be added, especially since in Hungary there is never any political consequence of such inappropriate statements and actions.

The organizers of the Budapest Pride were outraged at the mayor’s words, and a few days later they answered the mayor by wrapping the tree trunks along Andrássy Street in rainbow colors.

szivarvany Andrassy ut

The cleaning crew most likely appeared on the scene as soon as Tarlós heard of the attempt to desecrate Andrássy Street, which in his opinion is so important to the history of the city that “repulsive” gays should not step on its pavement.

The gay community doesn’t have any backing from government circles, but twenty-five foreign embassies announced their support of Budapest Pride. I guess no one will be surprised to learn that, with the exception of Slovenia, no former socialist country is among the sponsors. I understand that several companies also offered financial help for the close to 100 cultural events planned for the next seven days. I suspect that most of them, if not all, are multinational companies.

Last night’s opening was a huge success. The very talented theater director Róbert Alföldi was the keynote speaker. A video of the event is available on YouTube:

I haven’t had time yet to watch the whole one-and-a-half hours of it, but I listened to part of a very amusing, witty speech by Zoltán Lakner, a professor of political science, whom I consider one of the keenest observers of the Hungarian political scene.

I understand that  a number of politicians from the democratic opposition were present: Gábor Fodor, Magyar Liberális Párt; Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP; Ágnes Kunhalmi and István Ujhelyi from MSZP; and Péter Juhász, vice-chairman of Együtt. Several foreign embassies were also represented.

I fear that next Saturday the gay community and their supporters will once again be harassed by Jobbik and Fidesz supporters. Should we be surprised when Fidesz politicians egg them on?

Strasbourg verdict on disenfranchised churches: the Hungarian government dithers

The Hungarian government has had an awful lot of bad news lately coming from various institutions of the European Union. Yesterday I wrote about the veto by Euratom and the European Commission of certain parts of the Russian-Hungarian agreement concerning Rosatom’s supply of nuclear fuel for the two new reactors of the Paks power plant. Today I will look into an older decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the Hungarian government has yet to act on, despite a March 8 deadline. What I have in mind is the infamous law on churches.

The law that Zsolt Semjén called a masterpiece has had some rough sledding. The law stipulated that only churches approved by the Hungarian parliament could partake of the benefits churches usually enjoy in democratic countries. Smaller, less traditional churches or congregations, including some following reformed Judaism, were stripped of their church status. In February 2013 the Constitutional Court, which at that time wasn’t yet packed with Fidesz loyalists, found the law to be discriminative and therefore unconstitutional. The Orbán government’s answer was to change the constitution and to leave the objectionable law unaltered.

Since all remedies at home had been exhausted, sixteen small churches decided to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to seek justice. Nine churches were represented by TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, while Dániel Karsai represented another six. Csaba Tordai represented perhaps the most important church, which was most likely the victim of Viktor Orbán’s personal vendetta: the Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség (MET) led by Gábor Iványi, basically a Methodist church.

Dániel Karsai, who frequently appeared on ATV during 2013, was certain already in late May of that year that their case was so strong that the Hungarian government would suffer another setback in Strasbourg. It took a year, but in April 2014 the verdict was announced. It was in favor of the small churches. The Hungarian government and the churches will have to agree on a financial settlement. If they cannot reach an equitable arrangement, the Strasbourg court will decide on the amount of compensation these churches deserve for the financial loss they suffered as a result of being deprived of their church status. Moreover, the law on churches doesn’t conform to European law and hence must be changed.

It all started rather small

This church started off rather small, after all

Dániel Karsai, the lawyer for some of the churches, was elated. He expressed his hope that “after this great victory the first business of the new government will be to put in order the question of religious freedom.” Well, a year went by and nothing happened. No settlement was reached. Instead of writing a new law, the government decided to appeal the case. I should note that it was the Ministry of Justice and Administration under the leadership of Tibor Navracsics that handled the case in Strasbourg on behalf of the Hungarian government. The same Navracsics who today is desperately trying to distance himself from the Orbán administration and attempting to portray himself as a moderate liberal in his new capacity as a member of the European Commission.

Another five months went by. On September 9, 2014, the Court of Human Rights rejected the appeal of the Hungarian government. The law would have to be changed and the churches in question compensated. The court gave the Hungarian government six months, until March 8, to settle the question of compensation. Well, I just read in Magyar Nemzet that “the government heeds the Strasbourg verdict but does not want to be overhasty.” What an understatement. The government wants to be fair, but at the same time “it doesn’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money” and the sum in question is rather large. According to some estimates, the churches claimed damages amounting to about 20 billion forints. The Magyar Nemzet article indicated that the government finds some of the claims unacceptable. On the other hand, Csaba Tordai, the lawyer for Gábor Iványi’s Methodist church, is optimistic that there will be an agreement within a few weeks. The Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség (MET) originally asked for 1.4 billion forints, but that was in 2012. I assume the current claim is at least double that amount.

As far as the law itself is concerned, the government is again in no hurry. Dániel Karsai might have hoped that the new government would immediately take care of the problem, but today Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in charge of social policy in the ministry of human resources, announced that the government is not planning to write a new law because, after all, they already revised the original law once, in 2013. So, there will be only changes in certain points. And, he continued,”we must guard those values [in the law] that assist the spiritual work of the churches in all facets of their activities,” whatever that means. I have the feeling that this is not the end of the story.

The new Fidesz target: László Székely, Hungary’s ombudsman

In May I wrote a post about László Székely, the ombudsman newly appointed by the Orbán administration. In it I suggested that Székely’s appointment might have been a mistake on the part of Viktor Orbán. I noted that the prime minister had erred earlier in naming Máté Szabó as the new sole ombudsman. Szabó turned out to be a steadfast defender of human rights and the rule of law. I added that “it may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it did happen. Székely has been an independent ombudsman whose recommendations have rarely met with government approval. Now it seems that he may lose his job. Moreover, the case is an opportunity for a fresh attack against the Hungarian NGOs which receive Norwegian funds because the case involves TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, one of the recipients.

TASZ represents the Kék Pont Alapítvány (Blue Dot Foundation), which is involved in the prevention of drug abuse. It provides an ambulance service for drug addicts and serves as a drug consultation center. The Foundation also runs a number of centers where addicts can exchange their used needles for sterile ones. One of these centers is in District VIII, a rather seedy part of Pest. Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz mayor of the district, is a brash young man without much compassion for the downtrodden. His efforts “to clean up” the place usually employ inhumane methods. Recently he turned against Kék Pont’s needle exchange center. The staff was told that they have to stop their activities. TASZ, representing the foundation, appealed to the ombudsman’s office for a judgment last November. Their argument rested on the right to health. Used needles spread disease not only among drug users but also in the population at large. Moreover, TASZ stressed that needle exchange programs are recommended by the European Union. All in all, they had a strong case, and the ombudsman’s office agreed with them. The mayor, however, contended that the ombudsman’s office simply parroted TASZ’s arguments. He was also convinced that the ombudsman himself never read the verdict; he just signed his name to it.

How did we get to this stage? Well, it would be nice to know how Fidesz and its on-again-off-again mouthpiece, Magyar Nemzet, collude. Does Magyar Nemzet receive orders and documentation from Fidesz politicians or is it the other way around? I suspect that the former is the more likely scenario. My hunch is that Kocsis was infuriated by the recommendation of the ombudsman that he received on September 8. He managed to get hold of some e-mails from the ombudsman’s office that could be interpreted in a way that would serve the young mayor’s purpose. Magyar Nemzet is also not shy at presenting material it receives in a false light. Once the staff considers a story juicy and politically damaging it is ready to churn out one article or opinion piece after the other. That was definitely the case here. Since yesterday morning Magyar Nemzet published nine articles about the horrid collusion between László Székely’s office and TASZ. They seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Székely did not turn out to be a willing tool and TASZ–well, it is one of those anti-government, anti-Hungarian NGOs.

The Fidesz steam roller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

The Fidesz steamroller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

It all started with a falsification of facts. The paper published a facsimile of an e-mail which was not an exchange between TASZ and one of the associates of the ombudsman’s office, as Magyar Nemzet intimated, but an internal memo between two officials in the ombudsman’s office. This e-mail, dated May 28, was an answer to a question from another official concerning the time of the decision’s release. The answer indicated that the text was more or less ready but that they would make an inquiry at the ministry and at the city hall of District VIII before its release. The appropriate officials will have 15 days to answer. Moreover, since both people will be on summer holidays, the decision can be released only after their return.

Immediately after the publication of this e-mail, Székely ordered an in-house investigation and found out within a couple of hours that it had nothing to do with TASZ.

Then came Magyar Nemzet’s second article, published after János Lázár had already announced that if the story about the e-mail was true, Székely must resign. From this second article it became clear that whoever lifted the documents from the ombudsman’s office had a number of e-mails concerning the Kék Pont case. This time the paper published an exchange between Péter Sárosi, the man who handled the case at TASZ, and Beáta Borza, one of the department heads in the ombudsman’s office. In his letter Sárosi inquired about the date of the release of the verdict because Kék Point already had a shortage of needles and in September they must close their doors. Moreover, he said, he himself will be going on vacation and he would like to be around when the decision is released. TASZ would like to make sure that the story gets into the media. The department head promised to talk to the lawyer who was handling the case and expressed her hope that they can help as far as the date is concerned. From that letter both Magyar Nemzet and Kocsis came to the conclusion that there was collusion between the two over when the document will become public. In his usual parlance Kocsis announced that “the drug lobby has already entrenched itself in the ombudsman’s office.”

This case is being taken extremely seriously in government circles. György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the judicial committee, announced that on Monday László Székely must appear before them. It seems that Rubovszky has pretty much made up his mind. He released the following statement: “According to recent news, the office of the ombudsman, disregarding the expectation of its objective and independent inquiry, prejudicially cooperated with the organization that initiated the inquiry in the preparation of its content and the timing of its publication.” I don’t think Székely will be Hungary’s ombudsman for long.

Outrageous police reaction to crimes against the Hungarian Roma

Today’s topic is the Hungarian police’s decision not to investigate the attack on a Roma family in Devecser, one of the villages that earlier fell victim to the red sludge that covered acres and acres of land around a factory producing aluminum. I didn’t deal with this specific incident except as one in a series of anti-Roma attacks by far-right groups during the summer of 2012. However, here is a description of what happened on August 5, 2012 from The Economist. “You are going to die here,” shouted members of a 1,000-strong march as they stopped at houses they thought were a home to Roma, hurling their water bottles and stones to emphasize their point.” The Economist also mentioned that “not a peep of condemnation [came] from Fidesz.”

Ever since that time the Hungarian police have been investigating, taking their sweet time trying to ascertain whether a crime of incitement against the Roma minority occurred in Devecser. One would think that it shouldn’t take a year to come to the conclusion that inciting a crowd to kill people is a crime. But it seems that in Hungary it takes the police a year to decide the opposite. The police in Veszprém county announced a week ago that they found that no crime had been committed and they therefore stopped the investigation. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, it was a clear case of incitement and there was a good chance that the court would hand down a verdict against the neo-Nazi groups present in Devecser. But the Hungarian police prevented that from happening.

Before the attack on houses of Gypsies several extremist leaders gave speeches in which they called on their audience to kill the Roma. How else can one interpret such a sentence as “we must stamp out the phenomenon; we must exterminate it from our Lebensraum.” According to the Criminal Code, this kind of incitement against an ethnic group is a serious crime that may result in three years of jail time. Moreover, as a result of these speeches the crowd actually went on a rampage. The Gypsies under siege feared for their lives.

Marching toward to Roma houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

Marching toward to the Romas’ houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

How can the police explain dropping the investigation for lack of evidence? According to them, the person “who incites doesn’t address the intellect but appeals to primitive instincts which may result in possible action.” In their opinion, the utterances in this case “did not contain intemperate, antagonistic statements that may induce maleficent action.” What could be heard from the leaders of these extremist groups, according to the police, may be offensive to the Roma population and morally reprehensible, but these extremists cannot be punished by the instruments of the criminal justice system.

Organizations involved with human rights cases decided to appeal the case. One group, called Tett és Védelem Alapítvány (Action and Defense Foundation), will appeal to the Constitutional Court. The president of the Foundation told members of the media that in the last nine months he himself reported 28 cases involving incitement against minority groups but they were all ignored by the police. A day later, however, we learned that there will be an investigation into the case of a member of the far-right crowd in Devecser who, most likely unintentionally, hurled a rock at a Jobbik member of parliament, who as a result suffered a slight head injury.

Meanwhile another case emerged that sheds light on the thinking of the Hungarian police when it comes to hate speech and incitement against minorities. One of the speakers in Devecser was Zsolt Tyirityán, leader of the Army of Outlaws. On October 23, 2012, he delivered another speech in Budapest; this time the targets were the Jews. He vented his hatred of certain Jews who “should be put into freight cars and taken a good distance away and put to work.” The Tett és Védelem Foundation again demanded a police investigation of this incitement case, but the Budapest police refused to investigate. The reasons? One was that this speech is still on YouTube because not enough people complained about the speech’s content. Otherwise, YouTube would have removed it. And the second was that one cannot talk about incitement when “the whole audience shares the speaker’s ideology .” In this case we “should rather talk about agreement of the participants.” So, it seems that according to the Hungarian authorities one can speak of incitement only if not all listeners agree with the speaker. 168 Óra, which reported on the bizarre police rationalization for not investigating, gave the following title to the article: “According to the police one can deliver a Nazi speech before Nazis.”

But don’t fear, the Hungarian police are quite ready to act when it comes to members of national minorities. An organization called Roma Közösségi Hálózat and several other Roma groups staged a small demonstration in front of the Ministry of Interior after the police refused to investigate the Devecser case. The man who organized the demonstration was Jenő Setét, a Roma activist. There were only about 30 people present, who kept repeating the slogan: “The police shouldn’t assist the Nazis.” The final result was a misdemeanor charge against Setét.

It is my impression that Hungarian policemen, who were somewhat constrained during the socialist-liberal administrations, now feel empowered to act aggressively, sometimes illegally, against ordinary citizens and minorities, especially Gypsies. I have been collecting evidence to prove my point and in the near future will give some examples of what I mean.