Tag Archives: TASZ

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.

A surprising verdict: the Gypsies are the racists, not the members of the Hungarian Guard

Sajóbábony, a small town of 2,000 inhabitants 13 km from the city of Miskolc, has been in the news off and on since 2009, shortly after the random murders of Gypsies in several towns and villages. In the aftermath of these murders the Hungarian Roma population was not surprisingly jumpy and fearful. Intensifying their fear was the activity of Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, its paramilitary unit. Guardists often appeared in towns with a large Roma population, almost as if they wanted to provoke some kind of conflict with the Gypsies.

In November 2009 the Hungarian Guard decided to move about 600 of their members to Sajóbábony, and Jobbik organized a political gathering in the town. The local Roma community felt threatened and unprotected by the police. Some of them decided to defend themselves, apparently armed with axes, swords, and canes. When they saw a dark car going through their neighborhood, at least nine people attacked it. The two people in the car, who were members of the Hungarian Guard, received minor injuries.

As a result of this incident the nine people involved in the incident were arrested. Last May the Miskolc court found them guilty. According to the prosecutors, in the course of attacking the car the Roma threatened to kill “the stinking Hungarians.” All of the accused denied the charges and claimed that they simply sent “the filthy guards back to where they came from.” Notwithstanding their protestations, all nine were found guilty of a hate crime directed against a distinct community, in this case against the Hungarians. Each received between two years and six months and four years in jail.

This was not the first time that a law designed to protect members of a minority against the aggression of the majority was invoked by Hungarian judges to rule in favor of the majority. There were two very similar cases to that of Sajóbábony, one in 2010 and another in 2011, in which the defendants were found guilty of committing a hate crime against the Hungarian community.

In the wake of the verdict TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), the equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a communiqué in which they stated that the verdict is based on entirely wrong premises. Serious legal mistakes were committed. Yes, the defendants should have been charged with disorderly conduct or breach of the peace, but they should not have been convicted of a crime motivated by racism. After all, they attacked the car because they thought that members of the Hungarian Guard were inside, whom they suspected of intending to harm them and their community. They didn’t attack them because they were Hungarians. TASZ actually accused the court of racism.

As soon as the verdict was handed down the nine Gypsies decided to appeal, right then and there. They made the wrong decision. The appellate court (ítélőtábla) in this particular district is in Debrecen. There, on September 30, the court decided that the lower court’s verdict was not harsh enough. What these nine people did was so heinous that longer sentences were warranted. Instead of sentences ranging from two years and six months to four years, their jail time was extended to between three years and six months and five years and four months.

Judge Lajos Balla of the Debrecen Appellate Court reads the verdict

Judge Lajos Balla of the Debrecen Appellate Court reads the verdict

TASZ released another communiqué in which they reiterated that the motivation was not anti-Hungarian prejudice but fear of an attack by the Hungarian Guard members. Moreover, the court did not consider the background leading up to the encounter. The judge neglected to give reasons for considering the attack on the two people in the car a hate crime directed against the Hungarians. Moreover, “the essence of violence against a given community is that the perpetrator is prejudiced toward a group which he considers to be inferior.” From the testimony of the accused it is clear that it was not “anti-Hungarian prejudice” that motivated them.

It often happens that racist attacks on Gypsies go unpunished while Gypsies are convicted on charges of racism. “All that makes it look as if in Hungary the Roma were responsible for racism and not that the Roma are the ones who are fearful because of their ethnic origin.” Clearly, the communiqué continued, the members of both the Miskolc district court and the Debrecen appellate court are racists themselves since they declared the Gypsies to be racists because they got embroiled with members of the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, ultranationalist, irredentist Hungarian Guard. There is no appeal. The verdict is final.