Civil indictment against the Hungarian Government

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The Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter (CHDC), a Montréal-based civil rights organisation founded by scholars that have professional or personal affiliation to Hungarian history, issued a so-called “worldwide indictment” against Viktor Orbán’s government, accusing it with a premeditated assault on democratic principles and the rule of law. They chose a symbolic date for the issue: October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 revolution of Hungary against the communist regime.

Anyone who knows the principles of democracy and the rule of law, could list at least a dozen measurements carried out by the Orbán government since their 2010 election, that violates those principles. The incentive of the indictment was that the bad example of autocracy may be followed by other nations of the European Union, or the wider international community as well. CHDC requested international organisations, not to tolerate the Orbán-government’s actions and raise their voice against the suppression of human rights in Hungary.

The indictment claims that breaking down the democratic institutions step-by-step was intentional, in fact “a premeditated betrayal of universal democratic principles”, and supports this statement with quotations from Orbán Viktor. It discusses how the old Constitution of the Hungarian Republic was replaced by a forced Basic Law, rapidly pushed through Parliament, without democratic legitimacy and social or professional discussion. It lists those elements in the Basic Law which contribute to the demolishing of democratic institution.

It lists those state organisations and offices – ranging from the President of the Republic through the Public Prosecutor to the Constitutional Court, including the General Audit Office and the Media Authority  – which were staffed by close friends of, or people otherwise committed to Viktor Orbán, and describes how the independence of the judiciary has been compromised. It describes how the Orbán-government eliminated the usual civil service competition tests and strict qualification requirements, and enacted that civil servants may be fired without explanation or severance payment. It discusses how the legislative process lost its transparency and its ties to the principle of representation: in 2010, 80% of the bills passed in the Hungarian Parliament were seemingly submitted by individual MPs rather than by the government (including seven of the eight constitutional modifications and the media reform legislative package), so that the legitimate procedure of lawmaking can be evaded. It discusses the changes in the Electoral Committee and planned changes in the law on parliamentary elections.

The indictment claims  that freedom of speech is stifled through four distinct mechanisms. One of them is the domination of the media market by companies  close to Viktor Orbán and his close friends. In fact, these companies have gained dominance on both the electronic and the printed media market in the past ten years, and have overwhelmingly significant power at the moment. The second is the seizure of the public service media realm by way of the media reform package in 2010. The two public service television companies, the public service radio and the public news agency have been reorganised under the Hungarian Media Services Supporting and Managing Fund (hereafter: Fund), which is managed and directed by the President of the Media Council, who is appointed by the Prime Minister. The third pillar, in the logic of the indictment, is the superpower of the regulatory Authority – its President is the same person as that of the Media Council. The fourth element of the market domination is the discriminatory distribution of public advertising spending.

A good example of the media dominance is the reportage – or the lack of it – about the anty-governmental demonstrations on 23rd October, 2011. The slogan for the demonstration was “we don’t like the system”, tens of thousands of people gathered in spite of the drizzling rain, but public service media did not even report about it.[1]

The indictment, being a declaration which summarises the Orbán-government’s violations against the rule of law, and does so with straightforward words, is unique even in Hungary. No organised opposition movements exist against the Orbán-government, for two reasons. First, civil society in Hungary has not become strong enough yet after being suppressed during the decades of socialism. Second, the opposition is also weak, because the previously governing left-wing political parties have lost their credibility during their ruling between 2002 and 2010, and especially in the period after 2006. New parties and movements are in formation at the moment, but it remains to be seen, how widely known and popular these will be by the next elections. The new election system that is now still in formation, will probably not be favourable for new formations (this will be achieved for example by the high threshold of conditions for running for the elections). It is also an open question how the deep wounds in the legal system of Hungary – extending from constitutional law to property law – may be healed by a next government. Many of the key laws require two-thirds majority and it is at least uncertain that consensus of such a high proportion may be achieved soon.


[1] According to the organisers, there were 100 thousand people. Government-friendly media guessed from tens of thousands to a couple of thousands participators. http://www.gepnarancs.hu/2011/10/nem-tetszik-a-rendszer-elo-tudositas/

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