Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
The Trajectory of Democracy – Why Hungary Matters
Committee Members Present:
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs,
U.S. Department of State
Hungarian Member of the European Parliament,
Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union
Kim Lane Scheppele,
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Hearing Was Held at 3:00 p.m. in Room SVC 210, Washington, D.C., Senator
Ben Cardin (D-MD) Presiding
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for
being here. This is the first hearing of the Helsinki Commission in this
Congress. I can’t think of a more appropriate subject than to talk about the
trajectory of democracy, why Hungary matters. I want to thank all of our
witnesses for being here today. I particularly want to thank Mr. Szajer, who’s
here from Hungary to represent the government, or at least inform us, from the
– from the country’s point of view, what is happening in Hungary. That makes
this hearing, I think, even more helpful to us. And I thank you very much for
The progressive inclusion of post-communist countries into trans-Atlantic and
European institutions reflected the expansion of democracy and shared values,
as well as the realization of aspirations long denied. Indeed, in 1997 the
Helsinki Commission held a series of hearings to examine the historic
transition to democracy of post-communist candidate countries like Hungary
prior to NATO expansion.
I was one among many of the legislators that cheered when Hungary was – joined
NATO in 1999, and again when Hungary joined the EU in 2004 – illustrating not
only Hungary's post-communist transformation, but also Hungary's ability to
join alliances of its own choosing and follow a path of its own design.
Hungary has been a valued friend and partner as we have sought to extend the
benefits of democracy in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
But today concerns have arisen among Hungary's friends. We, the United States,
value our friendship and our strategic relationship with Hungary. As a friend,
we are concerned about the trajectory of democracy in that country. Over the
past two years, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes to
its constitutional framework, effectively remaking the country's entire legal
This has included the adoption of a new constitution, already amended multiple
times, including the adoption of a far-reaching fourth amendment just days ago,
and hundreds of new laws on everything from elections, to the media, to
religious organizations. More than that, these changes have affected the
independence of judiciary, role of the constitutional court, the balance of
power and the basic checks and balances that were in place to safeguard
It seems to me that any country that would undertake such voluminous and
profound changes would find itself in the spotlight. But these changes have
also coincided with a rise of extremism and intolerance in Hungary. Mob
demonstrations have continued to terrorize Roma neighborhoods. Fascist-era
figures have been promoted in public discourse and the public places.
A new law on religion stripped scores of minorities’ faiths of their legal
status as religious organizations overnight, including initially Coptic
Christians, Mormons and the Reformed Jewish Congregation. Most have been
unable to regain legal status, including the Evangelical Methodist Fellowship,
a church that had to to survive as an illegal church during the communist
period and today serves many Roma communities.
At the same time, the constituencies of Hungary have been redefined on an
ethnic basis. Citizenship has been extended into neighboring states on an
ethnic basis and voting rights now follow that. As the late Ambassador Max
Kampelman once observed: Minorities are like the canary in the coal mine. In
the end, democracy and minority rights stand or fall together – if respect for
minorities falls, democracy cannot be far behind. And the rights of persons
belonging to ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority groups will likely
suffer in the absence of a robust democracy.
Max Kampelman, a long-time friend of the Helsinki Commission, served with
distinction as the head of the U.S. delegation to the seminal 1990 Copenhagen
meetings, where some of the most important democracy commitments ever
articulated in the OSCE were adopted.
The participating States, and I quote from that document, considered that “the
rule of law does not mean merely a formal legality which assures regularity and
consistency in the achievement and enforcement of democratic order, but justice
based on the recognition and full acceptance of the supreme value of the human
personality and guaranteed by institutions providing a framework for its
fullest expression. They reaffirm that democracy is an inherent element of the
rule of law."
At issue now is whether Hungary's democratically elected government is steadily
eroding the democratic norms to which Hungary has committed itself, in the OSCE
and elsewhere. And we care about democracy in Hungary, for the people in
Hungary as well as for the example it sets everywhere we seek to promote
I welcome all of our witnesses today, and let me thank you all for being here.
It really – I think this will be a hearing that will get a lot of information
and be able together on these issues. Our first witness will be Brent Hartley,
the deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs. Mr. Hartley,
thank you for being here. We welcome your testimony.
BRENT HARTLEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to join you
today. I appreciate very much your continued interest in events in Hungary and
in the OSCE more generally. I want to be clear at the outset and echo a bit
what you said in your own statement. Hungary remains a strong ally of the
United States. It is a valued member of two bedrock trans-Atlantic
organizations – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization – which define and defend democracy in
Europe and beyond.
However, in the last two years we’ve been open about our concerns regarding the
state of checks and balances and independence of key institutions in Hungary.
The United States has not been alone in this regard, as the Council of Europe,
the European Commission, other friends and allies of Hungary, and civil society
organizations have expressed similar views. If the government of Hungary does
not address these concerns, not only will the lives of Hungarian citizens be
affected, but it will also set a bad precedent for OSCE participating states
and new members of, and aspirants to, NATO.
Last year marked the 90th anniversary of U.S.-Hungarian diplomatic relations:
relations which remain strong, based on a common security architecture as NATO
allies, a deep economic partnership and what we believe are fundamental values
shared by the American and Hungarian people. However, before Secretary
Clinton’s June 2011 visit to Hungary, we took notice of Hungary's controversial
media law and a new constitution, the Fundamental Law, portions of which also
raised concerns among impartial observers. In both cases, we had concerns
about the content as well as the process by which they were passed.
As we have often said, Hungarian laws should be for Hungarians to decide. But
the speed with which these laws were drafted and passed, and the lack of
serious consultation with different sectors of Hungarian society, did not honor
the democratic spirit that the people of Hungary have long embraced. Since
then, the Hungarian parliament has passed scores of laws at an accelerated
pace. More than a few of these laws posed threats, in our view, to systemic
checks and balances and the independence of key institutions that are the
bedrock of mature democracies. Privately and publicly, we expressed our
concern to the government of Hungary, as did several European institutions and
governments. Unfortunately, in many respects, our message went unheeded.
When Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down a law on fiscal issues, the
parliament swiftly passed another law taking away the court's competency to
decide cases based on fiscal matters. The government expanded the
Constitutional Court from 11 to 15 members, allowing the current administration
to select the additional justice – justices, and thereby alter the court's
juridical balance. The new laws created a Media Council and gave it
significant powers to oversee broadcast media, including the right to fine
media for, quote, “unbalanced coverage,” end-quote, an unsettlingly vague term.
No opposition parties are represented on Hungary's new Media Council. The
council members have nine-year terms and cannot be removed without a two-thirds
vote of parliament. The new laws also created a National Judicial Office and
gave it a powerful, politically appointed president with a nine-year term and
the authority to assign cases to any court she sees fit – a recipe for
potential abuse. Another new law stripped over three hundred religious
congregations or communities of their official recognition. To be clear,
nonrecognized religious groups are still free to practice their faith in
Hungary, but in order to regain legal status religions will have to be approved
by two-thirds of parliament, an onerous and unnecessarily politicized
In mid-2012 as expressions of concern from the United States and Europeans
mounted, the Hungarian government responding in constructive ways. The
government voluntarily submitted many laws for review by the legal experts of
the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. We were further heartened when,
early this year, Hungary's Constitutional Court issued several rulings striking
down controversial legislation, thus affirming its role in constitutional
checks and balances.
Unfortunately, the government drafted and swiftly passed a new constitutional
amendment, the fourth amendment, on March 11th, parts of which were reinstated
laws that had just been struck down by the court. In doing so, the Hungarian
government ignored pleas from the Council of Europe, the United States, the
European Commission, and a number of allies, as well as several respected,
nonpartisan Hungarian NGOs, to engage in a more careful, deliberative process
and allow for Venice Commission review.
I would like to address one other area that has provoked much concern: the
rise of extremism in Hungary. This phenomenon is, sadly, not unique to
Hungary. The rise in Hungary of the extremist Jobbik Party as one of the
largest opposition groups in parliament, and Jobbik's affiliated paramilitary
groups that incite violence, are a clear challenge to tolerance. Let me be
clear, the ruling Fidesz party is not Jobbik. Fidesz’ ideology is within the
mainstream of center-right politics, and its platform is devoid of
anti-Semitism or racism. Moreover, we have seen a growing willingness by
Hungarian government leaders to condemn anti-Semitic acts and expressions.
However, such condemnation is not always perhaps as swift or as resolute as it
might be. One concern that some – one concern also is that some local
governments in Hungary have, with little objection from the governing party,
erected statues and memorials to figures from Hungary's past tainted by their
support for fascism and anti-Semitism. And some of those figures have been
reintroduced into the national educational curriculum without context. This
contributes to a climate of acceptance of extremist ideology in which racism,
anti-Semitism, anti-Romani actions and other forms of intolerance can thrive.
We also call upon Hungarian leaders to do more to defend Romani Hungarians, who
face discrimination, racist speech and violence that too often goes unanswered.
In conclusion, the United States has long enjoyed and benefitted from its
strong alliance with Hungary and its people. We respect their drive for
freedom and democracy that made Hungary in leader in bringing down the Iron
Curtain. Just as we continue to do hard work together in Afghanistan and
address other challenges around the globe, so too will we continue to have a
sincere, and at times difficult, dialogue on the importance of resolutely
upholding the fundamental values that bind us.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to express the State Department's
views on these issues. And I’m available for your questions.
SEN. CARDIN: Mr. Hartley, thank you for your – for your comments. Let me just
ask you a few points. Some of the trends that we see in Hungary, we see in
other countries in Europe that have made progress towards democracy but seem to
be now moving in the wrong direction. Hungary is indeed unique because it’s
our NATO ally. It also has advanced in integration in Europe.
Is what is happening in Hungary – what impact does that have on giving strength
to other countries that are now going through their second or third election
cycle where they’re taking action against opposition that many of us think is
pretty extreme? Is it legitimating some of the other illegitimate actions in
Europe? Is it having a concern that this could erode development in other
MR. HARTLEY: Well, I think the short answer is that – is that there is a
concern there. When Hungary and other new members of NATO and the OSCE joined
– well, joined NATO after the fall of the – after the fall of the wall, and
took up their positions and the – and the commitments they made in the OSCE
following the fall of communism, they fundamentally agreed to a certain set of
values – democratic values, and to support fundamental human rights.
When an ally, an OSCE member and a member of the EU, such as Hungary, begins to
take actions that call those commitments into question, then of course it’s a
concern, not only for the country itself – for Hungary itself – but for the
example that it can set for others. The – as the – as the bounds of what is
permissible gets stretched into directions that we think are causes for
concern, it gives space for other countries to consider what the – and other
governments to consider what they might do in the same vein. So there’s a
concern for the example it sets.
SEN. CARDIN: I’ve heard from other countries that have been – that we’ve had
bilaterals with, that they’ll use Hungary as an example to justify some of
their own conduct and point out very clearly that NATO – that Hungary’s one of
our NATO allies, that again, by association, saying, well, America’s OK with
that, when in fact obviously we’re not.
You mentioned the rise of extremism, which is happening in many European
countries. Jobbik, the party, is not part of government, but some of its
actions have been identified with government. I specifically mention the case
of Zsolt Bayer, who was – who is known for his anti-Semitic, anti-Roma
comments, receiving recognition by one of the Cabinet members of the current
government. There have been other activities of extremists that have been
rehabilitated through recent recognition.
That’s a real troublesome sign to the Helsinki Commission. Do you have any
views as to why government officials would be giving legitimacy to those types
of extremist and outrageous individuals trying to legitimate their place in
MR. HARTLEY: Well, first of all, I don’t – if I may, sir – I think Zsolt Bayer
is – was a founding member of Fidesz. I don’t think is a member of Jobbik.
SEN. CARDIN: No, he’s not, but he received an award from the Cabinet
MR. HARTLEY: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, just to clarify that point.
Well, I’m – I know you’ve got a panel of other experts coming up who I think
are probably in a better position to talk about the internal domestic
calculations that might go into something like that. Certainly we are – we are
disturbed by such actions. There was also a state award for journalism that
was extended to a journalist just in the last several days, who has been known
to make anti-Semitic and anti-Roma comments. And we – our embassy issued a
statement today questioning that and suggesting that the government may want to
look for a way to revoke that award.
It is – it’s disturbing when these things happen. As I – as I think I
mentioned earlier in my statement, the tolerance of this – of intolerant acts
simply gives more space and more room for extremist philosophies to grow. So
we’re – we’ve expressed our concern as a government on numerous occasions in
the past when these sorts of things have happened, and we’ll continue to keep a
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you. Some of these laws, we’re obviously looking as to how
they’re going to be implemented. We had the Media Council that you’ve already
referred to. We have the religions law. You have the court changes that were
– some of which have been struck down by the courts. Now they’re changing once
again to try to reaffirm their positions. Do we have any indication in our
conversations with the Hungarians as to whether they’re reacting to some of our
concerns – some of the international community’s concerns in the way these laws
will be implemented?
MR. HARTLEY: Well, I think we were encouraged over the course of 2012 by the
dialogue – by the impact that the dialogue that we, the European Commission,
the Council of Europe and others had with our Hungarian colleagues on a range
of these issues. Unfortunately, as has been mentioned, we were disappointed
that many of those positive steps with regard to the judiciary, media law,
things like that, seemed to take a step backward with the adoption on March
11th of the – of this new constitutional amendment.
We are heartened that the – again, in the spirit of friendship and in the
spirit of engaging a country that is a co-member of NATO, and I think for
others a co-member of the European Union – there’s been I think more of a
public commentary on the Hungarian government actions. We’re pleased that
they’ve – have apparently agreed to submit the fourth amendment to the Venice
Commission for review. We had argued – we’d supported the Secretary-General of
the Council of Europe in his statement on March 6th, that perhaps they would
want to do that before they adopt the law rather than after. We’re – they
chose not to do that, but we’re pleased that they’ll go forward with that now.
It is – but we – so I think that, you know, we’re going to remain engaged with
them in dialogue. It’s clear that a number of their friends and allies in
Europe – whether from international organizations or bilaterally – will be
raising similar concerns. So we’re hopeful that that dialogue will – that
they’ll be – that they’ll be responsive to that dialogue.
SEN. CARDIN: Let me tell you one of my major concerns. And that is that a lot
of this is being done with minimal amount of transparency. It happens. There
is no evidence of widespread corruption – at least I’m not aware of it – in the
Hungarian government. So I will make clear my concern here. The lack of
transparency in many cases lead to corruption. It’s – you know, it’s how
people can get away with personal corruption, which ends up being pretty much
part of government. And again, there’s no indication of this that I know of in
Hungary. But if the – if they condone a process that allows laws to be made
and policies to be implemented with little accountability or transparency, it
can breed a more serious problem within the government itself.
Has that point been made by our people or Europe in regards to conversations
with Hungary, the concerns about the process that they’ve been using in getting
these laws passed?
MR. HARTLEY: The – thank you sir – the – yes, we have been very concerned
about the process. I think you noted and I noted in my statement that we’ve –
the speed with which the new constitution’s been adopted, frequently – and
other laws frequently with major amendments being made, you know, deep into the
night before the – before the final vote – we’ve raised that repeatedly and
consistently and have suggested that it would be a better process if they were
to consult with the opposition in the Parliament to give them a chance to voice
their views, if they were to consult with civil society and otherwise open up
the process by which they consider and vote on legislation.
SEN. CARDIN: Which brings me to, I guess, the point that you raised, and that
is it’s up to Hungary to pass its own laws. It’s a – it’s an independent
country, it’s a democratic country. Laws they pass are subject to their
system, and that we fully support and fully understand.
MR. HARTLEY: Yes, sir.
SEN. CARDIN: What is the appropriate role for the Council of Europe or the
United States in pointing out or commenting on what is happening in Hungary, as
far as their legislation is being enacted?
MR. HARTLEY: Well, I think – thank you for the question, sir – I think as most
people are aware, the United States has never been terribly shy about offering
advice at any level of government. The – and – but seriously, we take the
commitments that we and other NATO allies and other members of the OSEE, we
take those commitments very seriously. And regardless of where – what country
or what government it may be, if those commitments, we feel, are not being
fully observed or – in both spirit and letter, then we will voice our concerns.
I am a little bit hesitant to speak for the Council of Europe on it, but the
Council of Europe, as I understand it, is the keeper of the various human
rights and other conventions that European governments sign up to when they –
when they join the Council of Europe. And that is why the Council of Europe,
and in particular, the Venice Commission, which is a body of legal experts, has
played such an important role both in addressing some of the issues that have
been presented in Hungary over the last couple of years, not to mention in
other parts of Europe; for instance, the capacity-building in the Balkans and
things like that.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I agree with the assessment. We are both signatories to
the OSCE, which gives us the right and actually, the responsibility to raise
issues where we believe they are out of compliance with the commitments within
the OSCE. We have – we will continue to report on human rights records of all
countries, including the United States, including our commitments to Helsinki,
with OSCE, we’ll comment on that.
So this – the -- (inaudible) – question was sort of aimed at pointing out that
we all have responsibilities to point out where we think they’re out of
compliance with their international or OSCE commitments, and that we have a
right and responsibility to point that out. It’s up to Hungary to pass the
laws that they believe is right for the people of their own country.
MR. HARTLEY: That’s right, sir.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Hartley. Appreciate your testimony.
MR. HARTLEY: Thank you very much, sir. It’s a pleasure to be here.
SEN. CARDIN: We will now go to Jozsef Szajer who has been asked by the
government of Hungary to represent it here today. We very much appreciate Mr.
Szajer being here. He is accompanied by Gergely Gulyas –
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much.
MR.GULYAS: As a soup.
SEN. CARDIN: Gulyas – I apologize for that. My Hungarian has never been that
good. I apologize, but we appreciate both of you being here. And as I said in
my opening statement and in my questions, that Hungary is a close friend to the
United States, a NATO ally, a country that we share a common vision, and we
very much appreciate the fact that you are present here today. Thank you.
JOZSEF SZAJER: Honorable Chairman Cardin, ladies and gentlemen, just by
coincidence, two weeks ago, my caucus leader at the European Parliament –
(inaudible) – asked me to – if the European Parliament is planning to introduce
U.S. Congress-type hearings in the – in the European Parliament, and asked me
to – and appointed me on behalf of our political group, the EPP, to study it.
I didn’t think at that time that two days later, I will get a phone call from
my foreign minister, and I will be just studying this event from inside
immediately. But this is – this is just what sometimes happens in life.
SEN. CARDIN: I’m glad we could be helpful to you in giving you the experience.
MR. SZAJER: Right, that will be helpful definitely to see inside from inside
as much as from studying in the school books.
Well, it’s an honor for me and for my colleague, a member of the European
Parliament, member of the Hungary Parliament, Gulyas Gergely, to share my views
on the state of the Hungarian democracy. I am a founding member of Fidesz.
Twenty five years ago, I was fighting against communism, and later in my
capacity as member of the first freely-elected Hungarian Parliament, and since
then, several times have participated in the preparation of almost every major
constitutional change. Recently, I had the great honor of being the chairman
of the drafting committee on the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which included
some other members, including Gergely Gulyas.
I also would like to commemorate that today is the 69th anniversary of when
Hungary was occupied by the Nazi troops, taking of the final bits off our
As a legislator myself, I would like to express my appreciation for your
personal interest and the U.S. Congress interest the sovereign act of the
Hungarian nation’s historic constitution-making enterprise. I admire your
great constitution, and we held it as a compass creating our new one. Just a
reference to the previous speaker, I would like to say that our’s was a little
bit longer made, in nine months, compared to the United States Constitution.
But we held it as a compass in creating our new one.
Elected representatives of our great freedom-loving nations, the American and
the Hungarian, should always find appropriate occasions to exchange on equal
grounds views and experiences on matters of great importance. And what could
be more important than a nation’s constitution? And what could be more
significant part of a nation’s sovereignty than creating her own constitution?
You in America gained your independence more than 200 years ago. In the course
of our history, thousands of Hungarians died for Hungary’s independence, but
finally, we won it only a little more than 20 years ago, when the Soviet
occupation finally ended. I was there. I was part of that generation which
achieved it. And now, our task is to consolidate freedom and democracy.
Hence, you should be aware of the high sensitivity of our nation towards
questions of independence and self-determination. We Hungarians, like you
Americans, consider that our nation’s own Constitution is an exercise in
democracy that we should conduct ourselves. We listen to advice given in good
faith; we learn from the experience of others, as we did in the preparation of
our constitution from the South African to the Spanish constitution; we studied
many examples. This is the very reason I am here, but we insist on our right
to decide. This is democracy and self-determination that we have been fighting
for so long.
In the 2010 election, my party won a victory of rare magnitude, it has been
already mentioned, obtaining a constitutional majority, more than two thirds of
the seats in the National Assembly. The choice of the Hungarian people was a
response to a deep economic, social and political crisis before 2010. The
mismanagement of public finances, public debt slipping out of control, the
collapse of public security and skyrocketing corruption were among its
symptoms. We also witnessed serious violations in basic human rights by the
authorities; the most serious ones concerning the freedom of assembly in the
autumn of 2006.
At those difficult times, we were expecting the support of the democratic
community, of the world, to speak out against state oppression of the citizens’
freedoms. Unfortunately, the international community turned a blind eye. For
your information, Mr. Chairman, I broke – I brought a book from – of those
events of trespasses of the police against the violation of the right of
assembly in 2006, which was one of the reasons why we won so big majority later
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you.
MR. SZAJER: Public order was seriously challenged also by shocking events like
the serial killings of our Roma compatriots with clear racist motivations and
with the public authorities standing by, crippled.
In 2010, we received a mandate and the corresponding responsibility to put an
end to all that. A new constitution was long overdue. All Central and Eastern
European countries except Hungary has adopted their new democratic
constitutions long before. The Venice Commission welcomed efforts, and I
quote, “made to establish a constitutional order in line with the common
European democratic values and standards and to regulate fundamental rights and
freedoms in compliance with the international instruments.” This quote is
A few words on the recent amendment, which has been already subject of the
discussion before. Ninety-five percent of these provisions, the so-called
Fourth Amendment adopted last week, had been in effect since the entry into
force of the new constitution in the form of the so-called Transitory
Provisions of the Fundamental Law. We did not intend to change our Fundamental
Law so soon after its adoption, but the Constitutional Court – and I would like
to remind, better checks and balances are working in Hungary – annulled some of
the transitionary provisions. The provision of the Court, based on the German
constitutional doctrine of obligation of incorporation, which is a very
specific doctrine, which the Constitutional Court applied, is that the
Constitution should be one single act; therefore, what had to be done was
basically copy-paste exercise to incorporate the Transitory Provisions to the
main text, hence, the length of the new amendment.
I also would like to remind on the basis of the previous exchange of views that
in Hungary, the constitution cannot be adopted in an extraordinary procedure in
Parliament, so that all the procedural requirements of adopting or amending the
constitution has been met and it has been a public debate. It has been a
constitutional discussion on this.
Also, I would like to add that originally, when we adopted our – (inaudible) –
constitution, we had a survey of 7 million voting-rights members of the
Hungarian society, has been consulted by 12 different questions about the
future constitution. This has been a nation rife with consultation, 1 million
responses have arrived – (inaudible).
Back to the Fourth Amendment: The Fourth Amendment on the request of the Court
and not against it, as some critics misleadingly claim. In fact, they do not
understand what really could be here the problem. The recent bombastic
headlines and judging editorials of certain newspapers failed to underpin their
argument ‘til now, and they are misleading the public.
There are some new elements as well in the Fourth Amendment, and these follow:
All assertions to the contrary, the – notwithstanding the Fourth Amendment does
not reduce the powers of the Constitutional Court, but it does – it’s exactly
the opposite. It adds additional authorities to those having the right to turn
to the Constitutional Court. It repeals the rulings of the Court passed under
the previous constitution, but as specified by an additional amendment before
the final vote, the Court shall remain free to refer to its own previous
case-law in its future jurisdiction.
Contrary to noisy criticism, the amendment does not strip the Court of the
power of review and annul the Constitution text itself or its amendments, since
in Hungary, during this existence for two years – for two decades -- the
Constitutional Court never had that power. So we couldn’t take it off. My
definition of the separation of powers is that the Court interprets but does
not legislate the text of the Constitution. In fact, the Fourth Amendment
extended the power of the Court explicitly, giving the right to scrutinize the
constitutionality of the procedure of amending the Constitution, which is a
widening of the rights of the Constitutional Court and not narrowing.
Expressions of anti-Semitism and racism are and should be cause for concern for
every democrat. Even though the phenomenon is not new and unfortunately
widespread all over Europe, Hungary is not exception in this respect. Each and
every such incident in my own conviction and the Hungarian government’s
conviction is deplorable and cause for more determination to eliminate them.
Prime Minister Orban has confirmed in Parliament that the government shall
protect every citizen equally, including those who belong in minorities, and
the government will defend every Jewish citizen of Hungary.
The only Roma member of the 750-odd members, European Parliament, Livia Jaroka,
citizen of my great home city, Sopron, was elected on the list of Fidesz. The
only one of an ethnic community numbering about 10 million in Europe, it comes
from Fidesz. It was under the Hungarian presidency of the European Union that
the first European Roma strategy was adopted. In the Fourth Amendment, we
choose to lay the constitutional grounds for a single procedure open for any
person in case his or her religious, ethnic or national community should be
seriously offended in dignity.
So in the case you mentioned, Senator, about Zsolt Bayer, in the case of Zsolt
Bayer, after this amendment passed, there will be a legal instrument and every
Roma, every single Roma person can claim in a civil procedure a remedy from
this person who is making such a deplorable statement. This is an instrument
and strong , long legal instrument against hate speech for decades demanded by
the different Jewish and ethnic communities in Hungary. Rabbi Koves, leader of
the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation, called the relevant article of the
draft Fourth Amendment, and I quote, historic step forward in this defense of
the dignity of the communities.
Our policy is consistent with our unambiguous relations in the past. It was
the first Orban government which founded the Holocaust Memorial Center in
Budapest, and included a special Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time
in the curriculum of high schools. Yet, the latest shining evidence is the
international Wallenberg Memorial Year in 2012, launched by the second Orban
The time allotted to my testimony, Mr. Senator, may not be long enough to
address all your points raised, but I encourage to look at the amendments
closely. We could dismiss your worries in the past in the case of the Media
Law, the Law on the Judiciary, and I can cite many other examples. We welcome
your criticism if based on facts and arguments. Foreign Minister Martonyi had
requested the Venice Commission to give its opinion on the Fourth Amendment.
We abide by the rules of the European Institution and expect the same from
However, there should not be double standards. I’m deeply convinced that in a
constructive dialogue, we can enrich each other’s constitutional experience and
thus avoid unfounded accusations and disagreements arising from
For more details, information to make your judgment, I brought you another
book, which has been written together with my colleague here on my left, on the
background of the new constitution of Hungary. It’s titled Conversations on
the Fundamental Law of Hungary. We also opened the Hungarian Constitutional
Library on Amazon.com in English language.
Let me close my remarks with the first line of our national anthem, hence, the
first line of our new constitution: God bless Hungarians: "Isten, aldd meg a
SEN. CARDIN: Well, once again, thank you for your – for your being here. And
thank you for your testimony. We appreciate the information you’re making
available to the commission.
First, let me make an observation and I have a few questions. For a democratic
country, the first election is always a challenge to have a free and fair
election after you’ve been under the dominance of communist regimes. It’s
always a challenge, but the great test comes in the second, third and fourth
elections, as to how you treat the opposition and how you establish an ongoing
way to deal with the government and with opposition and different views and how
you respect the rights of all people, including those who oppose the government
itself. That’s the real test of a democracy.
And therefore, the laws that you look at today need to be laws that protect all
of the people of Hungary and not just the ability of a ruling party to be able
to pass laws and their policies. And that’s one of the reasons that some of
these laws give us real pause. Let me mention a few and get your response.
You mention in your written statement that the freedom of the press – the laws
that you passed – that you are not aware of any case of censorship or
harassment of journalists. We understand that ATV, a private television
station, was warned by the Media Council in February that if ATV characterized
the far-right extremist party, Jobbik, as far-right in their broadcasts, that
they could be fined.
Now, I would like to get your view on that. But I can tell you, those types of
statements have real chilling effects on the freedom of the media, which is a
critical ingredient of a democratic state.
MR. SZAJER: I didn’t have the time in my previous statement to go on the – on
the freedom of the press. Also, I would like to say that the media law and the
correction of the media law was by the consultation with the European
Commission on one hand, and later on, by the constitutional court decision is
also shows a success story about how we can correct and normal conversation –
we can finally end up – end up to a – to a satisfactory result.
The European Commission started an infringement procedure concerning the media
law, and finally, the Hungarian government and the Hungarian parliament changed
the media law accordingly addressed exactly the questions which is why a wide
debate in every country. If you see the debate in the United Kingdom about
what are the limits of the freedom of the media, is very clear.
I have no knowledge of any fines taken on any media in Hungary. The Hungarian
media, if you read it – there are some web pages which are translating
Hungarian daily newspapers on the daily grounds. On that, you will see that
anything could be said about the Hungarian media, but not that it’s – cannot
express anything. The Hungarian style, anyway – it’s a very vivid and open
style, which means that we are not hiding our views. We are – we like to speak
I also would like to address that maybe even the Helsinki Commission has failed
to address the Hungarian social government after the third election or the
fourth election concerning human rights or media regulations. There was a time
in Hungary – a not very long time ago – only eight years ago, when every single
newspaper had a background of some kind of socialist ownership, which was one
side of the political spectrum. Even the biggest center-right newspaper was in
the hand of – directly entrepreneurs connected to the socialist party. The
situation is much more balanced now, and for that reason, the Hungarian media
is very open and clear. There is a competition there, both on the market and
both of the ideas.
SEN. CARDIN: We don’t really take a position on the leaning of any particular
media group, but what we will fight for is an open, free media that can feel
free to investigate and do reports without fear of intimidation. And if there
are threats or fines, that has a chilling impact on independent reporting. I
would appreciate if you would investigate what I just said or at least look
into what I just said, because the rule of law is not just the laws that you
pass, but how you implement those laws. And if there is a feeling that you
cannot operate an independent press, then there’s a concern. And there’s at
least some who believe that’s the case in Hungary.
But let me move onto the second point. You mentioned you received the advice
of the Council of Europe in regards to the media law. I have some information
as to what they think about your religious –
MR. SZAJER: Commission – European Commission –
SEN. CARDIN: European Commission?
MR. SZAJER: Not the Council.
SEN. CARDIN: I have the Council of Europe – excuse me on that – on your
religious law, where they say that the act sets a range of requirements that
are excessive and based on arbitrary criteria with regards to the recognition
of a church – in particular, a requirement related to the national and
international duration of a religious community and the recognition procedures
based on a political decision should be reviewed. This recognition confers a
number of privileges to churches concerned. The act has led to the
deregistration process of hundreds of previously lawfully-recognized churches
that can hardly be considered in line with international standards.
Finally, the act induces, to some extent, an unequal and even discriminatory
treatment of religious beliefs and communities depending on whether they are
recognized or not. That’s from the Council of Europe. Any comment?
MR. SZAJER: Chairman, if you allow me one sentence still on the previous
subject, that any decision of the Media Council is due to court review in
Hungary. So if you are not satisfied with the decision, you can go there, and
there is a bill where you can go through all of this process.
On the – concerning on the religious communities, I think it’s a very big and
great misunderstanding. The paragraph which is dealing with media – with
religious freedom in Hungary states nothing else than your constitution or
several constitutions of the world- the charter fundamental rights of the
European Union states, that every single citizen, individually or collectively,
has the right to exercise their religion publicly or in their home, which means
that – this is what your constitution says. It doesn’t go farther than that.
However, the European system – and I think the misunderstanding comes from this
point. The European system is not about whether an individual or a community
can exercise – whether it can exercise or not their religion in – individually
or in a community, but in the European system, it’s whether – about – they have
some additional rights, whether they are entitled to some taxpayers’ money,
which means that the media – the church law in Hungary is not really about
church freedom. I understand that the basis of the first amendment in this
country – it’s even prohibited to regulate any religion because of the – of the
ban like this.
In Hungary, this is also – every single community, let it be whatever. I am
not giving examples, because that always leads to – but any community and any
individual can exercise this. There is no restriction of any on this right.
What the state, in the church law, introduces as a procedure is a recognition –
as a – as a religious community, which has some extra claims by cooperating
with the state and getting state money – getting the taxpayer’s money as a
support for paying their priest, for having their charity organization and so
on. And so the church law is going beyond of that, and the church law is a
normative law, so you cannot apply it arbitrary.
And why – two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament is something which is
exactly the guarantee of the right consensus needed on – concerning churches.
I also would like to add that in the neighboring countries, the same
recognition process – religious communities becoming churches Which are
supported by the state, is, in number, much less. Austria has much less,
Slovakia has less state – less churches. Hungary has, at the moment, 34.
Romania has less, and several European countries have less recognized churches
So we have various regulations in European countries in which the Hungarian is
the most accepting – the most open system which is a public system, and the
transparent procedure – how do you recognize, not as a church – a religious
community – as a church, but as a religious community which is entitled to
I think the big misunderstanding here lies here. This is about taxpayer money.
It’s not really a church law. It’s church financing law, which doesn’t exist
in this country, because it’s prohibited by the first amendment of your
SEN. CARDIN: I thank you for that explanation, but I still believe the
discriminatory treatment of one church versus another is of concern. Each
country has a different set of circumstances – its relationship to the faith
community, but discrimination against one church versus another is an issue of
concern, and I take it it is correct to say that this law did deregister
hundreds of previously lawful churches in Hungary? Is that accurate?
MR. SZAJER: Yes, and the reason it that the state doesn’t want to provide
taxpayers money for, for instance, business religions – for religions which are
doing only business. So they are free to exercise their religious activity –
their faith, because that’s the first sentence of our constitution, but they
are not recognized as churches which as entitled for taxpayers’ money. This is
However, it also comes to your statements, senator, to the question of double
standards, which I think we have to be very careful. In Europe, there are
several countries – and I don’t name them, because we all know, in this room
which they are – they have state religions. They have state religions, which
means that the state religion has extra and specific rights over other
churches. They are coming from history, but the Hungarian system, I can assure
you, is not discriminatory. The constitutional court had a decision on this
and gave guidelines, and a new amendment – the fourth amendment made clear how
the differences between religious exercise of our religion in community and the
cooperation with the state, which involves taxpayers’ money.
SEN. CARDIN: I understand that point. The other area that just doesn’t look
well is that, as I understand it, to become registered under the law – if
you’re not registered, you need a two-thirds vote of the parliament. Is that
MR. SZAJER: No, no. There is a procedure in which religious community – which
is an existing religious community, can ask the recognition as a church, and
so, entitled for cooperation or benefits from the –
SEN. CARDIN: And that requires a two-thirds vote of the parliament?
MR. SZAJER: That requires a two-third qualified vote in the Hungarian
parliament in order to recognize a church for that. But the fourth amendment
introduces and acts on the request of the constitutional court that, on
procedural basis, there is an opportunity to have a review of that in the
constitutional court, so you can appeal against this decision – on procedural
basis – to the constitutional court, which – it built in an extra guarantee to
the process, because that’s what the constitutional court was missing.
SEN. CARDIN: Which, of course, brings me to the fourth amendment, and our
concern about the independence of the judiciary. You said that you processed
that law and put it into effect because you were requested to by the court, yet
I understand the former chief justice of the constitutional court and the
former president urged the current president of Austria to withhold signing the
fourth amendment. Any reason why the former chief of justice would have
concerns that the –
MR. SZAJER: I am not aware of Hungary’s conflict with Austria, and that might
be a hundred years before. I don’t understand the question.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, we’re concerned about an independent judiciary. You’ve
mentioned several times appeal to the courts - the courts can do this –
MR. SZAJER: But how does it come to Austria?
SEN. CARDIN: (Off mic) –
MP SZAJER: We are hearing on Hungary.
SEN. CARDIN: Did I say Austria? I meant Hungary. I’m sorry – my apologies.
MR. SZAJER: Well, on the – what concerns the independence of the judiciary –
there are no new rules concerning – in this fourth amendment, concerning the
judiciary. All the rules which are included are paste copy from the
provisional, the transitional provisions of the constitution, which had been
adopted in 2011. And in 2011 – since 2011, the European Commission, the
Council of Europe, the Venice Commission all studied in very big details –
And the day after, the Hungarian parliament voted on the fourth amendment of
the constitution, they voted also on the amendment to the judicial law, which
included, basically all the catalog – all the list of which the European
Commission demanded. The European Commission made a statement on Tuesday,
which was a week ago, about – that they were studying, but on the first glance,
they see that it complies with the request which has been made. There are no
new rules in this sense. All the rules which are now incorporated in the
constitution, as I said – it needed to be taken over from the provisional.
Just, if you ask my view on that, I don’t think that this German concept of
incorporation obligation is something which Hungary should apply. Sweden has
four constitutions, Austria has two. So there are pieces. But that was the
constitutional court, and we are abide with the rules. But this incorporation
concerning the judiciary and the judiciary review is nothing new in there.
What your concern might be about signing the new constitution – the former
president of Hungary and the former president of the constitutional court was
asking the current president for something which is not in line with our
constitution. I would say he was asking for something which would be
unconstitutional if the president – if President Áder would be signing this –
would be sending this amendment to the constitutional court – the
constitutional court should have said that it comes from someone who is not
entitled to do that, because the constitutional authority in Hungary is not
divided. The constitutional authority stands for the legislator, and that’s –
so in the last 24 years, in Hungarian constitutional history.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I very much appreciate your explanation in filling in the
blanks on these issues. I would just point out that the view of the
international community – the view of the – of Europe and the United States –
when we look at the changes that you’ve done to the judiciary, the changes that
you’ve in your religious laws, the changes that you’ve made in your media laws,
it gives us concern, because we are looking beyond the current ruling party.
We’re looking at how this framework will work for Hungary’s future. And we see
the potential of real problems.
So I would just urge you, since you seem very willing to seek the advice of
Europe and the advice of your friends, to look at our concerns - and we’ll be
glad to make sure that we follow up and give you more information on this –
that it is – it presents some real serious concerns that your fundamental
document – the constitution – could become a real problem in the future
democratic course for Hungary.
I want to end on one additional question. And you commented that all
Hungarians have the protections, whether they are Roma, whether they are Jewish
– all have the protections of the law and will be protected by the government.
I very much appreciate that statement. It’s a very important statement, and
coming from you, it’s a- it means a lot. And I mean that sincerely.
I do point out that the Helsinki Commission here in the United States has
invested a great deal of our attention to dealing with anti-Semitism, the
problems of anti-Semitism, the problems of xenophobia, anti-Muslim activities,
the tolerance agenda. We are very proud that we now have special
representatives within OSCE that look at best practices in countries and try to
provide assistance to promote better understanding and protection for
minorities in all countries of the OSCE and beyond the OSCE itself.
And one of the leading recommendations is to exercise leadership. I remember
very vividly, when there was a tragedy in Turkey – the bombing of a synagogue –
and the president of Turkey went to the synagogue and showed solidarity with
the – with the Jewish residents of Turkey, that was a huge signal about – the
government would not tolerate that type of discriminatory action. When we see,
in Hungary, government officials embracing individuals who are known for their
anti-Semitism and their anti-Roma activities, it is just the reverse. It is a
signal that the government really doesn’t care about those issues.
And then, it allows for more extreme activities within that country to be
accepted. Leadership becomes very important, and the government has a
responsibility to exercise leadership. In Hungary today, we are concerned
because we don’t see that clear direction by the leaders of the government –
the consistent direction that you will not tolerate discriminatory actions
against any Hungarian or a person from the Roma community, Jewish community –
any community, and that you will stand up against those who promote that type
of extremism to question a person’s loyalty based upon their blood as to
whether they’re Hungarian. That activity needs to be condemned at the highest
levels, and we don’t see that.
MR. SZAJER: Honorable chairman, may I answer in two parts? The first is for
your comment that you viewed major – and the magnitude of the changes in
Hungary with some concern. And I fully understand that. Sometimes, myself – I
work in Brussels in the European parliament. I follow the events in Hungary,
but sometimes myself lose the track of speed by which these changes are there.
But I would like to remind you – and I mentioned it briefly in my original
statement – that Hungary was a country at the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.
You really had to start from scratch to build up the new country, and you had
to start from scratch from the foundations with the new constitution, and then,
dozens of new cardinal laws to make this country economically, socially work.
The reason for changing the judicial system is not of gripping power over the
judicial, but because, in Budapest, in order to have your first hearing in your
very simple case – in a court case, you have to wait a couple of months –
dozens of months in order to have your first time. So, the reason for the
judicial review – or the changing of the judicial system is making it more
There has been criticism that the – that the court’s procedure of the Roma
killings under the previous government has been too slow. Yes, I agree, and I
am also very much unsatisfied with what’s happening there. But exactly this is
why we are changing our court system – in order to make it a modern, efficient
judiciary. No one in the last 60 years has made those efforts.
You have to – your institutions when you are financing it by public money, they
have to work. They have to provide the citizens the necessary service. This
was not the case in 2010. Corruption, delays, bankruptcy – Hungary almost went
bankrupt. We had to go to the IMF for a – for a quick relief – and so on, so
which means that because the country was in so deep difficult and crisis, you
had to use and restart it as you here used the reset button. We pushed the
reset button, and sometimes you do not know why something is happening because
things are connected. But after the time – after you study – and this is why I
really recommend you the books which I was bringing you and I also would like
to ask the letter of our ambassador to – on the Freedom House to include in
their – in the minutes of this meeting –
SEN. CARDIN: Without objection.
MR. SZAJER: – that I provided for you which gives more detailed information on
these issues on that. But that we should done. This is why I said that on our
work, on our laws, there is a very big burden of responsibility to taking over
and changing the country. Our mandate is like that. In Hungary, it borders
impossible to get to certain majority, but people were so much unsatisfied the
current situation that they wanted change, they wanted big change, and this is
what we are doing.
Concerning anti-Semitism and the Roma, well, first I would like personally
express – maybe let me start on a personal note. I am not of Jewish origin but
many people in the media for whatever reasons, they presume that I am. And I
was subject – in the media, in the public sphere, in the Internet – subject of
anti-Semitic statements myself. So, personally, I also cannot accept and
tolerate any kind of intolerance, any kind of racist or anti-Semitic motives
because I know how to be – what to be the victim of that.
In Hungary, there are living hundreds, thousands of people of the Jewish
community whose ancestors and whose family had to survive Holocaust. This is
why our President Áder went to the Knesset to express the share of the
responsibility of the Hungarian nation just a few months ago and also to
recognize that. This is why the prime minister said what I – what I mentioned,
that we defend every Hungarian citizen. But all the things – and it has been
refuted on the highest level – Deputy Prime MinisterTibor Navracsics has made
a very clear statement about the statement of Zsolt Bayer which is a deplorable
statement which cannot be accepted in a democratic society. So, in that sense,
I think the Hungarian government’s stance is clear and I agree with the
previous speaker here in this place which said that the government is not part
of that. And we are not permissive in this area. I don’t think that we can
afford that because we are not thinking –Fidesz has never been a party which
was conducting these anti-Semitism – any kinds of this ideas.
We were founding our organization 25 years ago under the communist system
exactly in order to fight this kind of thing. So, in that sense, your concerns
are right because in every society there are people who are anti-Semites, who
are racist but we have to do the most in order to eliminate and diminish the
number of those. I think on this grounds, if we start our cooperation and our
observation of the Hungarian constitution and the constitutional order and the
rule of law and separation of powers and checks and balances, this could be a
good and very firm foundation, and I assure you that the Hungarian government
will be always partner on this – not only on the symbolic issues but also on
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I think that was a very fine summary, one I completely
agree with. As I said in my opening comments there’s no – that we understand
that the ruling party is an inclusive party. That, we fully understand. What
I asked for was leadership against those who do things that are inappropriate.
Not in your government but in your society. We hope they’re not in your
government; they’re not in your government.
There are – we don’t want to legitimate or give greater credence to those who
would affect the rights of all of your citizens. But I must tell you I think
the – your colleagues have chosen the right person to study the system we have
here, as far as how hearings are going. You did an extremely effective job.
So, I know that you’ll take back that experience to Europe, and I look forward
to continuing this dialogue and this exchange. The Helsinki Commission is set
up as the implementing arm for the OSCE commitments. And as I said, we very
much want to work with our friends in areas that we have concern. And we are –
we raise issues not just in Hungary; we’ve raised issues in the United States
of America where we think we’re out of compliance with some of those standards.
So, we very much appreciate your participation here because it did fill in the
blanks in many different areas and we look forward to the continuation of this
dialogue. And it’s been a pleasure to have you before the commission.
MR. SZAJER: Chairman, I know it’s very unpolite, but I have to say this –
that, first, I has been always open to this – I know your colleagues, basically
many people in this room – consultations. We very rarely get this kind of
occasion that we can state our positions. Normally you hear our views with
second-hand or third-hand or fourth-hand or non-hand; just some kind of
And I appreciate any kind of dialogue in Hungary, in the United States, because
I am deeply convinced that the Hungarian democracy is a strong democracy and we
are – Fidesz is a strong democratic party committed to democracy, to rule of
law, checks and balances. This is our conviction for 25 years. This is why we
founded our organization at that time. And we didn't change it. The
circumstances, however, changed. There are very big difficulties in my
country. It’s not easy to govern a country from the brink of bankruptcy. And
for that reason, I really would like to ask you and encourage you to create
more occasions than we can speak directly with each other on these issues to
avoid misunderstandings which lead us to bitter disillusionment. Thank you
SEN. CARDIN: I think that is a very good suggestion and I look forward to
those types of meetings and to continue to strengthen the ties between our
countries. Thank you very much.
We have a third panel. It will consist of Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele, an expert on
constitutional law from Princeton University; Ms. Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska
from Freedom House; and Dr. Paul Shapiro from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
I thank the three of you for your being here but also for your patience. We
don’t normally have three panels but it was a – I think particularly
appropriate that we had a panel from the country involved. So, we’ll start
with Dr. Scheppele.
KIM LANE SCHEPPELE: Ah, yes, thank you. I am honored to testify before you
today. My remarks will be short; I have much longer written testimony that I
would like to enter into the record.
SEN. CARDIN: Without objection. We’ll take – all three of your statements
will be made part of the committee record.
MS. SCHEPPELE : Great, thank you. I am here today because the current
Hungarian government has felled the tree of democratic constitutionalism that
Hungary planted in 1989.
Since its election in 2010, the Fidesz government has created a constitutional
frenzy. It won two-thirds of the seats in the parliament in a system where a
single two-thirds vote is enough to change the constitution. Twelve times in
its first year in office it amended the constitution that it inherited. Those
amendments removed most of the institutional checks that could have stopped
what the government did next, which was to install a new constitution. The
Fidesz constitution was drafted in secret, presented to the parliament with
only one month for debate, passed by the votes of only the Fidesz parliamentary
block and signed by a president that Fidesz had named. Neither the opposition
parties nor civil society organizations nor the general public had any
influence in the constitutional process. There was no popular ratification.
This did not stop the constitutional juggernaut.
The constitution – the government has amended its new constitution four times
in 15 months. Each time, the government has done so with the votes of only its
own political block, rejecting all proposals from the political opposition or
from civil society groups. So, the current Hungarian constitution remains a
We’ve talked already about the fourth amendment passed last week. It is a
15-page amendment to a 45-page constitution. László Sólyom, mentioned earlier,
the conservative former president of the Hungarian constitutional court and of
the Republic of Hungary, has said in conjunction with the fourth amendment that
it removes the last traces of separation of powers from the Hungarian
constitutional system. Under cover of constitutional reform, the Fidesz
government has given itself absolute power. It now has discretion to do
virtually anything it wants, even if civil society, the general public and all
other political parties are opposed. The importance of divided and checked
powers is of course well-known – was well-known to the American constitutional
framers. James Madison wrote in Federalist number 47: “The accumulation of
all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of
one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may
justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
By James Madison’s definition, Hungary is on the verge of tyranny. To
demonstrate this, we should start with the basics. Hungary has a unicameral
parliamentary system of government. A unicameral parliament has no upper house
to check the lower house, no senate to complicate life for the house of
representatives and vice versa; a parliamentary system means that the most
powerful executive – that is the prime minister – is elected by the parliament
rather than by the people. As a result, the prime minister in Hungary is
guaranteed a majority for all of his legislative initiatives.
In 1990, the primary check on this system since that time has been the
constitutional court. Unlike a supreme court, which is the highest court of
appeal in the legal system, as we know in the United States, a constitutional
court is the only court that is allowed to hear and decide constitutional
questions. And it does nothing else besides rule on constitutional matters.
Because the Hungarian constitutional court conducts the primary oversight in a
system that has little formal separation of legislative and executive power, it
is even more important than the Supreme Court is in the United States. But the
Fidesz government has neutralized that court’s ability to provide that check.
Before 2010, the procedure for electing judges to the constitutional court
prevented the court from being captured by any one political faction. But
Fidesz changed the system for electing constitutional judges so that now only a
single two-thirds vote of parliament is sufficient to put a judge on the court.
And, of course, they have the two-thirds. Fidesz also expanded the number of
judges on the court from 11 to 15, which gave the governing party four more
judges. Think of Roosevelt’s court-packing plan, only it worked in Hungary.
Between changing the process for electing judges and expanding the number of
judges that could be elected by this government, the Fidesz government has been
able to elect, as of next month, nine of the 15 judges on this court – all with
the votes of only its own parliamentary bloc, although actually Jobbik voted
for a couple of their judges.
But even if the court is in Fidesz-friendly hands, a powerful court might still
be dangerous to a government that shuns checks on its freedom of action. So,
the jurisdiction of the court has been cut. Mr. Hartley already mentioned that
the power of the court to review budget and tax laws has been – has been cut
back so that now the court may never review budget and tax laws passed when the
national debt is more than 50 percent of GDP, which will be true for a long
So, let me give you a couple of examples. If a tax law passed this year
infringes an individual’s or a corporation’s constitutionally guaranteed
property rights or if such a tax is applied selectively to particular minority
groups, there is nothing the constitutional court can do in perpetuity. And
this opens up a space for the government to violate many personal rights
without constitutional oversight.
The fourth amendment has also removed from the court the power to review
constitutional amendments for substantive conflicts with constitutional
principles. Mr. Szajer emphasized that actually the court was given the power
to review amendments procedurally, which is a power it already had. So, at
least that power is confirmed. But its ability to review amendments for
substance has now been taken away.
So, for example, to give you just a couple of examples of things that have just
happened, if the constitution provides for freedom of religion but a
constitutional amendment requires a two-third parliamentary vote before a
church is officially recognized – which has already happened – the court can’t
review that because it’s now in the constitution. Or if the constitution says
anyone may freely express her opinion, but an amendment – for example, one
added last week – says that no one may defame the Hungarian nation, nothing the
court can do. So, the government can now bypass the constitutional court
whenever it wants by simply adding something to the constitution.
The fourth amendment also annuls the entire case law of the constitutional
court from before the constitution came into effect. No other court in the
world has ever had its whole jurisprudence cancelled in this way, even when a
new constitution was written.
Just to put it in the American context, imagine if the framers had decided to
nullify the whole common law before proceeding. It just cuts the ground out
from under things that were legally taken for granted. As you know, the
independence of the ordinary judiciary has also been compromised. The Fidesz
government lowered the judicial retirement age which knocked out the
senior-most 10 percent of the judiciary – disproportionately the leadership.
So, 20 percent of supreme court justices and more than half of the appeals
court presidents were removed from their office in that way. Both the
constitutional court and the European Court of Justice found against Hungary on
that matter. And at first the government defied those court judgments before
finally agreeing to reinstate at least some of the fired judges. But by the
time the judges were reinstated, all of the court leadership positions were
filled with new judges, which meant that when the old judges were taken back,
they were taken into much less important positions.
So, how were those judgeships filled? The government created something called
the National Judicial Office, which has a president who single-handedly has the
power to hire, fire, promote, demote and discipline all judges without
substantive check from any other institution. Just this one person. And the
Venice Commission has expressed an extraordinary amount of concern over this
issue. And so the leadership of the – of the judiciary has been replaced by
this one person who, not surprisingly, was elected by a two-thirds vote of the
Fidesz parliament. The president of this office also has the power to take a
case and to move it to any court in the country other than the one that the law
would normally assign it to. And as you’ve heard, one of the government’s
defenses of this is that this is supposed to speed up the processing of cases.
But this rationale is belied by the facts.
From public sources, I have been monitoring the movement of these cases in the
first year that the president of the National Judicial Office has had this
power. She has moved only a few dozen cases away from the courts – and these
are courts that have thousands of backlogged cases. And she has moved these
cases not to the least crowded courts in the countryside but to other courts
that also have backlogs. So, while my statistics cannot reveal the motivation
of the government, they can show that the government is not moving a
substantial enough number of cases to make a different in waiting time and they
are not moving cases from the most to the least crowded courts. I’m happy to
make the data available if you would like to see it.
So, in addition, we’re worried as well about the electoral framework because
the legal framework for the 2014 election a year from now is still in flux.
The Fidesz parliamentary majority has already enacted two election laws over
vociferous protest from opposition parties. These laws gerrymander the
districts for the next election. And it’s not just a typical American
gerrymand, which happens one state at a time, but this is a national gerrymand.
And, moreover, all of the boundaries of the electoral districts are put in a
law that it will take a two-thirds subsequent vote to change. So, it’s going
to be very difficult to undo.
The new law also eliminates the second round of voting for single-member
districts, which allows, for the first time, candidates without majority
support to win a parliamentary seat. And these changes keep doing. In fact,
the election system is not fixed. The fourth amendment actually created a
constitutional ban on political advertising during the election campaign in any
venue other than in the public broadcast media, which is controlled by the
all-Fidesz media board.
There’s much more I could say. My testimony – my written testimony says a lot
more. And so what I would like to do is just say something about what I think
might be done in this – at this intersection. The Hungarian government
vociferously claims that it is still a democracy because the political parties
freely organize for democratic elections. But its critics are concerned that
the government presently controls the media landscape, has enacted a number of
legal provisions that disadvantage opposition parties, and continues to change
the electoral rules. The OSCE, which is a specialist in election monitoring
among other things, should insist that the electoral rules be fixed far enough
ahead of the election so that all those who want to contest the election have a
reasonable amount of time to organize themselves accordingly.
In addition, the OSCE should also fully monitor the 2014 Hungarian
parliamentary elections. This should not – this should include not just
election day or long-term monitoring missions. The comprehensive changes in
the constitutional framework warrants an early needs assessment mission, one
that can fully review the effects of all the changes to Hungary’s electoral
Of course, as we’ve heard here, the U.S. government shares with Hungary
membership in both the OSCE and in NATO. Under both of these organizations,
Hungary and the U.S. have together committed to a series of democratic
principles and human rights, and this gives, I think, the U.S. some substantial
interest in monitoring these things.
But the U.S. government should also be aware that under pressure, the Fidesz
government in the past has promised minor changes to its comprehensive
framework – changes that have not in fact addressed the most serious problem,
and that most serious problem is concentration of political power in the hands
of one party.
The U.S. should resist entering the battle of competing checklists of
constitutional features. The Hungarian government also insists that some other
European country has the same individual rule that its friends criticize.
Perhaps in this connection we should remember Frankenstein’s monster, who was
stitched together from perfectly normal bits of once – of other once-living
things but who nonetheless was a monster. No other constitutional democracy in
the world, let alone in Europe, has the combination of features that Hungary
We might also say – and this came up actually in the first panel – that other
countries in Hungary’s neighborhood are looking with great interest at what
Hungary is doing. They can see that the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE,
NATO and the United States have limited ability to persuade a country to change
its domestic laws. Hungary’s neighbors understand that Hungary’s getting away
with consolidating all political power in the hands of one party, and many find
that enticing. Troubling recent developments in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia
show that the Hungarian disease could spread if the U.S. and – if the U.S. and
its European allies don’t stand up for their values in the Hungarian case.
In closing, then, I would strongly urge the United States, the U.S. Helsinki
Commission and the OSCE to take Hungary seriously, engage with the Hungarian
government on matters of constitutional reform and work toward ensuring that
the channels of democratic participation remain open in Hungary so that the
Hungarian people retain the capacity to determine the sort of government under
which they will live. Thank you.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, thank you very much for your testimony.
SYLVANA HABDANK-KOLACZKOWSKA: Thank you very much. Thank you for this
opportunity to appear before the commission and discuss recent developments
affecting civil society in Hungary.
Freedom House's annual Nations in Transit report, which focuses specifically on
democratic governance in post-communist world as well as our global surveys
Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press, have all drawn attention to the
vulnerabilities and potential threats to democracy created by these legislative
changes affecting Hungary's media sector, data protection authority and
judicial system. We remain deeply troubled by the restructuring and restaffing
of Hungarian public institutions in a way that appears to decrease their
independence from the political leadership. The ongoing use of Fidesz's
parliamentary two-thirds majority to insert these and really striking array of
other legislative changes into Hungary's only less-than-two-year-old
constitution is also extremely troubling, particularly as some of the measures
had already been struck down by the Constitutional Court.
I was asked to comment specifically on recent Hungarian media legislation and
the law on churches, which I will do briefly now.
Changes introduced in 2010 consolidated media regulation under the supervision
of a single entity, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority, whose
members are elected by a two-thirds majority in parliament. A subordinate
body, the five-person Media Council, is responsible for content regulation.
Both the Media Authority and the Media Council currently consist entirely of
Fidesz nominees, and they are headed by a single official who has the authority
to nominate the executive directors of all public media. The head of the Media
Authority and Media Council is appointed by the president for a nine-year term.
This year, the government responded to criticism of the appointment process by
introducing term limits for this particular position and minimum background
qualifications; however, these will only take effect when the current
officeholder – when their term expires, six years from now.
The particular issues of concern to us are the broad scope of regulatory
control and content requirements – for example, the definition of "balanced"
reporting – and the lack of safeguards for the independence of the Media
Authority and Media Council.
Under the revised version of the so-called Hungarian Media Law, the Media
Council is officially responsible for interpreting and enforcing numerous
vaguely worded provisions affecting all print, broadcast and online media. The
council can fine the media for "inciting hatred" against individuals, nations,
communities, or minorities. It can initiate a regulatory procedure in response
to "unbalanced" reporting in broadcast media, though this no longer applies to
print media. All fines must be paid before an appeals process can be
initiated, and under the Media Law, the Media Authority can also suspend the
right to broadcast.
The Media Council is responsible for evaluating bids for broadcast frequencies.
Freedom House applauds the council's recent decision to grant a license to the
opposition-oriented talk radio station Klubradio for its main frequency, in
line with a recent court ruling. We regret that it took nearly two years and
four court decisions for the council to reverse its original decision, during
which time the radio was forced to exist on temporary, 60-day licenses, during
which time it was extremely difficult for them to attract advertisers. The
episode has cast a shadow on public perceptions of the Media Council, even
among those who were previously prepared to believe that a one-party council
could function as a politically neutral body.
In 2011, the Hungarian National News Agency, MTI, became the official source of
all public media news content. The government-funded agency publishes nearly
all of its news and photos online for free, and allows media service providers
to download and republish them. News services that rely on paid subscriptions
obviously cannot compete with MTI, and the incentive to practice
"copy-and-paste journalism" is extremely high, particularly among smaller
outlets with limited resources. The accuracy and objectivity of MTI's
reporting has come under criticism since the Orban government came to power in
2010. Under the Media Law, the funding for all public media is centralized
under one body, which is also supervised by the by the Media Council.
Now Hungary's Constitutional Court, as we discussed a little bit, has attempted
to push back against some of the more problematic legal changes introduced
since 2010. At the end of 2011, it annulled several pieces of legislation
affecting the media. These revisions, most of which were confirmed by the
parliament in May 2012, represent only a small fraction of those recommended by
the Council of Europe. Moreover, they may not even prove permanent, given the
government's recent habit of ignoring or overruling Constitutional Court
decisions by inserting voided legislation into the constitution.
This seems likely to be the fate of the law on churches, which the court struck
down last month, but which has already made a reappearance in a proposed
constitutional amendment that is currently under consideration. The law
essentially strips all but 32 religious groups of their legal status and
accompanying financial and tax privileges. The over 300 other previously
recognized groups are allowed to apply for official recognition by the
parliament, which must approve them by a two-thirds majority.
It should be noted that the previous regulations were quite liberal, with
associated financial benefits fueling an often opportunistic proliferation of
religious groups over the last two decades. However, the new law has the
potential to deprive even well- established and legitimate congregations of
their official status and privileges. More fundamentally, the law represents
another instance in which the parliamentary two-thirds majority has given
itself new power over independent civil society activity. The fact that the
parliament will have the right to decide what is and is not a legitimate
religious organization is without precedent in post-communist Hungary.
As our – as Mr. Szájer has mentioned, many of the areas targeted for reform by
the Orban administration, including public media, health care, the education
system, and even electoral legislation, were in need of reform long before the
April 2010 elections brought Fidesz to power. No government until now has felt
emboldened or compelled to address so many of these problem systematically –
systematically and simultaneously. However, speed and volume in lawmaking
cannot come at the expense of quality, which only broad consultation and proper
judicial review can ensure. Nor should reforms create hierarchical structures
whose top tier, again and again, is the dominant party in parliament. Voters
can still change the ruling party through elections, providing some opportunity
for corrective measures, but the ubiquitous two-thirds majority thresholds in
recent legislation make it extremely difficult for any future government to
tamper with the legacy of the current administration.
Ongoing economic crisis and political frustration in Europe are likely to yield
other governments that feel empowered to reject international advice, make
sweeping changes that entrench their influence, and weaken checks and balances,
damaging democratic development for years to come. But such – we believe that
such behavior can be deterred if early examples like the situation in Hungary
are resolved in a positive manner.
The threats to democracy that Freedom House has observed in Hungary are
troubling in their own right, but they are particularly disturbing in the sense
that the United States has come to rely on countries of Central Europe to help
propel democratization further east, and indeed to the rest of the world. The
idea that these partners could themselves require closer monitoring and
encouragement bodes ill for more difficult cases in Eastern Europe and the
Caucasus. It’s therefore essential that the United States and its European
counterparts closely coordinate their efforts to address backsliding in
countries like Hungary and support them on their way back to a democratic path.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much for your testimony.
PAUL SHAPIRO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. On behalf of the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum, I’d like to thank the commission for organizing this
important hearing regarding democracy and memory in Hungary. My remarks today
will summarize some of the main points of my written statement, and I request
that my written statement –
SEN. CARDIN: And – all your statements will be put in the record.
MR. SHAPIRO: Thank you.
Over a hundred years ago, philosopher George Santayana wrote that "Those who
cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In mid-1944, the Jewish
community of Hungary was assaulted and nearly destroyed in its entirety over
the course of just a few months. That – those losses represented one of every
10 Jewish victims of the Holocaust, one of every three Jews murdered at
Auschwitz. Today the memory of that tragedy is under serious challenge in
Hungary, with consequences that we cannot yet fully predict but which are
In my written remarks, I’ve provided the commission with a brief summary of
Hungary’s Holocaust history. Here, just one minute about this. Under Regent
and Head of State Miklos Horthy, foreign Jews resident in Hungary were deported
to their deaths. Jewish men were forced into labor battalions, where tens of
thousands died. And over 400,000 Hungarian Jews and at least 28,000 Romani
citizens of the country were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz.
During the months that followed the removal of Horthy from power in October
1944, the Arrow Cross Party of Ferenc Szálasi committed additional atrocities.
The record is one of immense tragedy: 600,000 Hungarian Jews murdered out of a
total Jewish population of over 800,000, at least 28,000 Romani victims and
significant participation and complicity in the crime by Hungarian authorities
from the head of state down to local gendarmes, police and tax collectors in
When one turns to the manner in which the memory of this history has been
treated in Hungary since the fall of communism, two distinct phases are
visible. The first spanned Viktor Orban’s first term as prime minister, 1998
to 2002, when the coalition government that he led established a National
Holocaust Commemoration Day, brought Hungary into the International Task Force
for Cooperation on Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research and appointed a
commission to create the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in
Budapest. That center’s permanent exhibition is certainly one of the best in
Europe. Socialist Party governments from 2002 to 2010 remained, more or less,
on this positive path.
But the appearance in the middle of the last decade of the openly anti-Semitic
and anti-Romani Jobbik Party and the paramilitary-style Magyar Gárda or
Hungarian Guard associated with Jobbik, brought about a change of atmosphere.
Symbols associated with wartime fascism reappeared in public, incidents of
anti-Semitic intimidation and violence increased and anti-Romani discourse took
on an increasingly Nazi-like tone.
An especially noteworthy portent of change occurred in 2008 when the then out
of power but still powerful Fidesz Party failed to join with other mainstream
political parties in forceful condemnation of Jobbik’s anti-Semitic and
anti-Romani sloganeering and Magyar Gárda intimidation of Jews and violence
against the Romani population.
After Fidesz won the 2010 elections and returned to government with an
overpowering two-thirds majority in parliament, the warning signs of 2008
proved to be accurate. Still led by Prime Minister Orban, Fidesz and the
Fidesz government changed their approach to issues of the Holocaust. In the
judgment of some people, this was done in order to appeal to Jobbik voters.
Others were more inclined to see the change as reflecting accurately the
prejudices and actual beliefs of Fidesz leaders and membership. It was likely
some of both.
Over the past three years, we’ve witnessed in Hungary attempts to trivialize
and distort the history of the Holocaust, the development of an atmosphere that
has given reign to openly anti-Semitic discourse in the country and efforts to
rehabilitate political and cultural figures who played a part in Hungary's
tragic Holocaust history. This deterioration of a once-better state of affairs
has predictably gone hand-in-hand with the broad political trends that the
commission is examining today.
For anyone who is familiar with the history of Nazi Germany, efforts to impose
government control on the media, efforts to politicize and undermine the
independence of the judiciary and efforts to deprive certain religious groups
of equal status, all echo a past in which propagandistic control of the media
stoked race hatred, perversion of the law led to lawlessness and mass murder
and the de-legitimization of a religious community led to the persecution and
murder of its members.
Racial violence against the Romani minority in Hungary, while not perpetrated
by the government, has not been effectively addressed by the government either.
And people like Zsolt Bayer, a founding member of Fidesz, whose brutal
anti-Semitic rhetoric is equaled only by his truly despicable and incendiary
anti-Romani slurs, still finds a comfortable political home inside the Fidesz
Can a party with truly democratic intentions harbor a person who recently
called Gypsies, quote, “cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals” that are, quote
again, “unfit to live among people,” and who incited violence by a call to deal
with the Romani population, quote again, “immediately and by any means
necessary”? A Fidesz spokesman, with a wink and a nod, allowed that Bayer had
penned his hateful words as a journalist, not as a member of Fidesz.
With the Fidesz government and change of atmosphere in Hungary has come an
assault on the memory of the Holocaust. And this has taken four principle
forms. Here I will summarize in respect of my time. First came an assault on
the history displayed at the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center.
Series of proposals to change the permanent exhibition were made by Dr. Andras
Levente Gal, the then-new, Fidesz-appointed state secretary in the Ministry of
The first proposal was to eliminate mention on Miklos Horthy’s alliance with
Adolf Hitler and participation in the dismemberment of three neighboring
states. Mr. Gal claimed that that is irrelevant to the Holocaust. And yet,
violation of post-World War I national boundaries brought war in Europe. War
provided cover for the mass murder of the Jews. And it was precisely the Jews
of the regions that Hitler restored to Admiral Horthy’s Hungary who became the
first targets of deportation and death. Gal’s second proposal was to sanitize
the record of Hungarian collaboration in the ghettoization and deportation of
the country’s Jews.
Then came the so-called Nyiro affair, and here I cannot go into detail. But it
was the speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, parliament, founding member
of Fidesz, together with Hungarian state secretary for culture, also from
Fidesz, who united with the leader of Jobbik to honor posthumously Jozsef
Nyiro, a Transylvanian-born writer and fascist ideologue, who had been vice
chair of the Education Commission in the murderous Arrow Cross regime and had
fled the country, together with Szalasi, in the final days of the war.
The plan was to rebury Nyiro’s ashes in Transylvania, while attempting to whip
up nationalist sentiment among the ethnic Hungarian minority there, through an
elaborate official funerary procession that would wend its way by train from
the Hungarian border to Nyiro’s birthplace, some 200 miles inside Romania. How
did the Hungarian government deal with this embarrassing incident? Of course,
two members of the government planned it. But there was no rebuke, only a
claim, again, that the planners were acting in their personal, not their
The third root of assault on the Holocaust has been through the inclusion of
anti-Semites as positive role models in the national school curriculum, a
curriculum that also includes efforts to relativize the significance of the
Holocaust. I could explain who the anti-Semitic players are. They are in my –
in my extended remarks. The curriculum – so let me address the second point –
the curriculum suggests that teachers treat the Holocaust and Hungarian
military losses at Stalingrad as equal tragedies.
Now, equating the loss of military forces to an enemy army in battle with the
systematic, racially inspired murder of civilian men, women and children who
were citizens of one’s own country, solely because they were of a different
religion or ethnicity, of course, makes no sense unless relativization and
distortion of the Holocaust is the goal.
Final element in the assault on the Holocaust has been the attempted
rehabilitation of Holocaust perpetrators. The most emblematic case is the
attempted rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy himself. Someone has already
referred to statues of Horthy, public places being named for him. When asked
to take action to halt the de facto rehabilitation of Miklos Horthy, the
Hungarian government has responded evasively.
The government isn’t seeking to rehabilitate Horthy, goes the standard line.
But it’s important to realize the Horthy is a controversial figure and that
there’s no consensus of opinion about his legacy. This, of course, leaves the
door wide open. Meanwhile, the government has played to nationalist sentiment,
seeking to purge Horthy’s record as Hitler’s ally and glorifying the
restoration of Hungary’s, quote, “lost territories,” unquote, that Horthy was
able to achieve by alliance with Adolf Hitler.
The government hasn’t taken serious steps to research and more rigorously
evaluate Horthy’s record of anti-Semitism and complicity in the Holocaust. In
short, the history of the Holocaust is under assault and the rehabilitation of
some of the people responsible for the murder of 600,000 of the country’s Jews
is well under way. It’s understood that anti-Semitic and anti-Romani
discourse, and even intimidation and violence, is not likely to illicit
effective government action to alter the atmosphere or the situation.
So the question is what to do? After extensive consultations in the United
States, in Hungary, and with members of Prime Minister’s Orban’s government and
the Hungarian embassy in Washington, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has
encouraged the government of Hungary to take a series of actions, among them:
establish a state-sponsored, international commission of scholars to prepare a
definitive report on the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, including the
history of anti-Semitism, and to make recommendations to the government
regarding future Holocaust memorialization, education and research activities;
enact legislation to prevent the creation of monuments, naming of streets or
other public sites honoring individuals who played significant roles in the
Holocaust-era wartime governments of the country; mandate in Hungarian
secondary – in the Hungarian secondary school curriculum that every student in
the country visit the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in an
organized class visit during his or her final four years of high school
education; ensure that the speaker of parliament consistently applies the
recently established authority of the speaker to censure, suspend and fine MPs
for expressions of racist and anti-Semitic views; and take whatever additional
steps are necessary to prevent ranking members of government ministries and
members of Fidesz from participating, in either public or, quote, “private,”
unquote, capacity, in activities that are likely reinforce racist, anti-Semitic
or anti-Romani prejudices or that appear to rehabilitate the reputations of
individuals who participated in the mass murder of Hungarian Jewry.
Our museum has confirmed to the Hungarian government that we stand ready to be
helpful in ways that our experience or expertise would allow.
Mr. Chairman, democracy and memory are closely interrelated. Undermine
democracy, and the rights of human beings deemed to be different are easily
violated. Misrepresent the tragedies of one’s national past, and soon it
becomes necessary to control the media, manipulate electoral mechanisms,
dispense with the legal niceties and adopt populist and jingoist stances in
order to stay in control of the story by staying in power. That outcome is
only available in dictatorships, not in democracies.
Let me close. I appear here today – our museum appears here today on behalf of
600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Hungarian Romani who can’t be here,
their lives snuffed out through the decisions, prejudices and failures of their
country’s leadership, fascist writers and ideologues and their fellow citizens
who are directly complicit in acts of theft, deportation and murder. In their
late name, let me stress that what happens in Hungary matters.
Some weeks ago Hungary volunteered to assume the chair of the International
Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2015. I would hope that before any decision
is taken – to accept or reject that, the Hungarian government will dramatically
alter the approaches that it has taken in addressing anti-Semitism and
Holocaust issues, reverse the current downward trajectory and guide Hungary
onto a path that is admired and praised rather than criticized.
Nobel laureate and founding chairman of our museum Elie Wiesel, who was himself
forced into a ghetto by Hungarian gendarmes and deported with his family to
Auschwitz while Miklós Horthy was regent of Hungary, once wrote: If anything
can, it is memory that will save humanity. Securing the memory of the
Holocaust in Hungary is essential.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, let me thank all three of you for your testimony. I’m not
going to have questions because I think your statements, all three, were very,
very comprehensive and very, very clear and complete the record.
I do want to make a few observations. First to Dr. Shapiro, I think you gave a
very compelling account as to why we have to be very concerned about what we
see happening in Hungary as it relates to Holocaust and the revisionists in
history and rehabilitation of figures that were involved in the Holocaust. You
cannot accept the fact that a person is doing this as a person rather than as a
government official, and you can’t condone silence. Why – where’s the
leadership? Where’s the leaders of the country speaking out against these
types of actions? I don’t see it. So I think your concerns are very much
warranted for us to be very concerned as to how they will respond to the points
that you raise. So I just really want to compliment on your complete
Dr. Scheppele, I want to – I will review with ODIHR and the parliamentary
assembly your suggestions on monitoring of the elections. I think that is an
important point, and we will do what we can in that regard. I think your
comment about this being a one-party constitution is a very valid point. It’s
not a constitution that appears to be aimed at the stability, over the long
term, of a democracy where you’re going to have governments that will change
over time as what happens in a democratic society.
You also point out that the changes that were made in Amendment Four, as the
Hungarians pointed out, was requested by the courts – well, maybe it was,
knowing the type of courts that were appointed there, but clearly it takes away
the independence of the courts.
And I must tell you, Ms. Habdank-Kolaczkowska, that the – your point about the
media laws incorporating conditions that are just not reasonable must have a
chilling effect. And then as you said on the religious laws, it’s knocked down
by the courts and they’re going to put it back in the constitution – it just
shows the failure of the Hungarian government to recognize an independent
judiciary. And that is a real serious concern as we look at the development of
Hungary as a democratic country.
And the point that all three of you have made, that what happens in Hungary is
important in Hungary but it’s also important in Europe, there are so many
countries that look to what is happening in Hungary and say, you know, maybe we
should stack the deck in our favor? And how can the West complain after all
their NATO allies are allowed to do this, so why shouldn’t we be allowed to do
this. So I think it is a – very troublesome developments. And we’re going to
continue to focus on this. We’re going to continue to take up the offer of
consulting with the Hungarians, and we’ll work with our European friends to
point out that these laws do not fit the type of development that Hungary is
committed to doing. And we will follow this very, very closely.
So again, thank you for all of your comments. They were, I said, very, very
complete and part of our record. And with that, the commission stands
adjourned. Thank you.
MS. SCHEPPELE: Thank you.
MR. SHAPIRO: Thank you.
MS. HABDANK-KOLACZKOWSKA: Thank you.