By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
End of March Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán in the midst of the corona pandemic obtained from the Hungarian Parliament – 2/3 of which is dominated by the government party Fidesz – the authorization to rule by “emergency laws” in order to combat the corona virus in the country. These emergency measures – very similar to the rest of Europe- will be in place as long as the corona virus is raging.
Since then a storm of protest and indignation has broken out in Europe, including statements from EU parliamentarians and EU officials as well as articles in the mainstream press that accuse Hungary’s Prime Minister of having de facto established a “dictatorship”.Orbán is accused for essentially “violating the basic democratic values” of the EU. Some EU parliamentarians such as former German Justice Minister Katarina Barley called for “punitive measures” to be taken by the EU. An interesting voice in the chorus of the Hungary bashing was added by the German Daily FAZ on the 24th of March under the title “On the way towards dictatorship.” It was a commentary written by Reinhard Veser- usually known for his notorious anti- Putin rhetoric- in which the journalist basically argued, that Orbán used the corona crisis as a “pretext to abolish the last remnants of democracy that are still existing” after ten years in power.
In order to contain the corona pandemic, deep cuts in civil rights will have to be made, Veser state and asserted that “Orbán is doing is a kind of state coup: he wants to govern without parliament” that is supposed to last until the end of the year. Since Orbán has won the democratic elections with a two-third majority of his national conservative party Fidesz, Veser noted, he has proven several times (take note of the “framing” EH) that “he will use any opportunity for abusing power.” Veser characterized the Hungarian democracy as a “deficient democracy in which there are still free elections, as well as freedom of opinion, in which Fidesz nearly controls all state institutions, and in which the leading media are under Orb ns control. Veser accuses Orbán to expand his power in an unlimited way. The draconian punishments that he threatens to use against the spreading of false information during the corona pandemic, may lead to the “end of the freedom of the press and maybe soon the EU will face a dictatorship within its own ranks.”
Veser’s article is a piece of “sophistry” – which mixes “facts” within “hyperbolic framing”. It is unfortunately representative for a certain “arrogance” mixed with “prejudice” that is often observed in parts of the German debate and its mainstream media. It is interesting that in the midst of the most extraordinary crisis which Europe is facing- some German representatives and media feel the need to point their finger to other countries- such as for example Italy – arguing that Italy didn’t manage its health system properly and that Germans should not pay for the countries badly managed debts with “recovery bonds”; or they focus attention on Hungary and Orbán for systematically undermining democracy.
Draft law on protecting against the corona virus
One should study the text of a what was called “draft law on protecting against the corona virus” which was published by the Hungarian website “Hungarian Spectrum” which is reflecting the voice of Hungary’s opposition, in which it was commented that such law “would give Viktor Orbán dictatorial powers under a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus.”
A look at the draft law states in Section 1: “The law determines the special rules pertaining to the emergency (…) on proclaiming emergency, (hereinafter: Decree) “pursuant to section 53 (1) of the Fundamental Law in order to prevent and mitigate the consequences of the human epidemic jeopardizing human life and property and causing mass infections and to protect the health and life of Hungarian citizens.”
In Section 2 it states “In such emergency the Government – in addition to the extraordinary measures and regulations set forth in Act CXXVIII of 2011 on emergency management and the amendment of certain relevant laws- in order to guarantee for Hungarian citizens the safety of life and health, personal safety, the safety of assets and legal certainty as well as the stability of the national economy, may suspend the enforcement of certain laws, depart form statutory regulations and implement additional extraordinary measures by decree.”
In Section 4 it is stated that “The Government shall provide information on a regular basis, during the Parliament’s session – or in the absence thereof, for the speaker of the Parliament and the heads of parliamentary representatives’ groups – about the measure that are taken to avert the emergency, as long as the effect of the measures is maintained.”
In the section “Obstructing epidemic prevention”, the draft law emphasizes that (1) “Persons obstructing the implementation of a.) epidemiological isolation, observation , quarantine or control decreed for the purpose of preventing the introduction or dissemination of an infectious disease that is subject to a quarantine” (…) i.e. “Persons initiating an obstruction of epidemiological measures commit a crime that is punishable by up to one year in prison and it further underlines that “Persons who claim or spread falsehood or claim and spread a distorted truth” also “commit a crime that is punishable by up to three years of prison.”
Hungarian Officials react in a sober way
In a recent interview with the German Daily “Die Welt”(12.4.) 39- year old Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga qualified the campaign which is launched against Hungary as “fake news” , underlining that the emergency situation will end as soon as the danger is over. This is an objective criterion. She further added that Hungary is in contact with the WHO concerning those measures but also made clear that “each nation must decide sovereignly” which measures of protection must be taken. Similarly Hungarian Ambassador to Germany, Peter Györkös, in an interview with “Die Welt” (3.4.) strongly rejected all allegations made in the interview, by emphasizing that Hungary’s “democracy is not being abolished.” He stated that the “emergency laws are in conformity with the Hungarian Constitution” and that the measures are necessary in order to win the fight against the virus. These measures would exist for “a limited period of time” and continue as long as the corona crisis persists. He made clear that the Hungarian Parliament is not “abrogated”, that it does indeed assemble and that it was not true that Orbán decided on the emergency measures without consulting parliament; on the contrary such laws also existed in many countries such as France and Sweden. In effect, “it was the Parliament which was informed and decided about the emergency laws.”
“A way into dictatorship looks quite different”- Dr. Gerhard Papke (FDP)
The former third vice president of the Federal Parliament of North- Rhine- Westphalia (2012-2017) and chairman of the German- Hungarian association (Königswinter), Dr. Gerhard Papke, who is a leading member of the Liberal Party FDP in a reader’s letter to FAZ (9.4.20) responded to the above mentioned Veser article. According to Dr. Papke, FAZ journalist Veser was painting a “caricature” of a dark potentate who just would take the advantage of the moment in order to “reach absolute power” (i.e. by implementing the emergency decrees). Papke stated in his commentary what he considered as the real underlying cause for such Hungary bashing: “a great majority of the Hungarian population is against uncontrolled mass migration; it defends its Christian identity as well as the importance of the traditional family” and according to Papke “for many of the political Left in Germany and Western Europe this is just ‘horrible’.” The fact that Orbán got a two- third majority during parliamentary elections makes the whole thing even more “incomprehensible.”
Papke further argued that the Hungarian people with its centuries old historical experience “loves its freedom and has a fine sense when such freedom is threatened.” He mentioned in particular the resistance which the Hungarian people showed against communist suppression during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising; that in 1989 the Hungarians were the first to open the Iron Curtain in order to pave German citizens the Way into freedom.” Papke correctly argues that the Hungarians don’t need to be taught “private lessons” and that the Germans should not be so arrogant. The Hungarian Constitution since 1990, long before Orb n came into power, had stated explicitly, Papke emphasized, that a “state of emergency” can only be declared by the government and be ended by the government. The measures to fight corona virus must be voted upon by Parliament. As long as the Parliament is the appropriate “quorum”, it can decide when those emergency measures by the government should end. Hence he concluded that indeed “ways into dictatorship’ look different.”