Saturday

4th Apr 2020

Opinion

In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone

  • Hungary's Viktor Orban with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. 'Once we have reached this stage, it is preposterous to talk about 'risks' to the rule of law' (Photo: European Commission)

EU institutions are still bending over backwards to react to what is seen as "a clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values -among them, the rule of law -in Hungary.

But recent declarations of prime minister Viktor Orban serve as undeniable proof that the rule of law is not only under a risk of a serious breach, but has literally ceased to exist for the most vulnerable in Hungary, as the state goes into open defiance of observing its legal duties owed to them.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Europe owes it to them to acknowledge the true depth of its rule-of-law crisis.

In the past month, Orban has seen to it that public authorities would not pay legal compensation owed to members of two particularly vulnerable groups: Roma victims of segregated education, and prisoners detained in conditions that violate their human dignity.

Both groups, he maintains, are undeserving of compensation—and his personal views seem to have immediate legal effect.

A number of Roma former students in Gyöngyöspata, a small town in north-eastern Hungary haunted by the memory of racist paramilitary marches, successfully sued the authorities who ran their former - segregated - elementary school for damages.

After several years of futile legal battles against segregation itself, this victory was expected to leave them with a tangible outcome, and an opportunity to take their destiny in their own hands.

But the deadline for defendants to pay the damages passed earlier this month, and they publicly expressed unwillingness to observe the payment deadline.

An executable court decision has already concluded this dispute - and yet Orban pressed on national radio for an "alternative solution": he and the mayor of the municipality concerned consider offering more education but no money.

It is against Hungarians' "sense of justice" he says, that Roma students subject to segregation "receive significant sums of money without doing any work".

The state fails to comply with the law - and we have yet to see if the plaintiffs can get their lawful dues.

Members of another vulnerable group have also recently found that their legal rights may be no more than a sham against the Hungarian state.

Prisoners throughout Hungary have long been detained in conditions that the European Court of Human Rights has consistently held to be in violation of prisoners' right against degrading treatment.

In fact, Orban's government introduced a new domestic procedure for related compensations exactly to prevent related complaints from routinely reaching and winning at the Strasbourg court.

Now he called to suspend the payment of these compensations, as in his view, prisoners and their helpers "abuse" this right and should not be unfairly rewarded.

More questions, no money

The government has in fact issued a resolution which calls the minister of justice to "suspend payments up until the latest possible date allowed by law". But what does that mean? Are only payments that were not yet due suspended? (Did the state ever pay before the deadline anyway?) Is that what all the show was about?

Of course, the resolution also calls for revising regulation. Detainees can't know what to expect, and that's part of the game. But good faith and legal certainty should not be expected: the government is playing around with the rights of people locked up in degrading conditions.

In both cases, by defying and juggling with its legal obligations, the Hungarian state denies the rule of law to its most vulnerable.

To them, in Orban's Hungary, there is simply no law.

It no longer matters what is on the statute books, and in whose favour courts rule. Unlawful behaviour—just like the unethical, the outrageous, or the unseemly - may be seen in a negative light but it attracts no special concern.

Law becomes just one among the many systems of competing norms—moral convictions, religious standards, or even rules of taste—shared within your broader or narrower community.

But so degraded, law no longer allows conflicts to be settled or enables parties to move beyond their disputes. Where equal and humane treatment cease to be matters of law respected and enforced, the most vulnerable are left to the whims of politics, a realm in which no solution is final and everyone's life is always up for grabs.

In Orban's Hungary, a single person's racist outbursts, thinly disguised as a 'sense of justice', can decide what we as a people may do or owe to our fellow citizens.

Once we have reached this stage, it is preposterous to talk about "risks" to the rule of law. If EU institutions refuse to see the facts for what they are, they are hurting Hungary's - and some of Europe's - most vulnerable.

Author bio

Attila Mráz is a fellow-in-residence at Harvard University's E. J. Safra Center for Ethics, conducting research in legal and political theory and political ethics. He previously worked as head of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Political Liberties Project.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?

The European Centre-Right LGBT+ Alliance demands Germany give up its resistance to the Anti-Discrimination Directive and suggest the commission and centre-right parties exert further pressure on Polish and Hungarian authorities to improve conditions for the LGBT+ community and people.

Dear EPP: Please, please expel Orban

As a member of Orbán's opposition in Hungary and Renew in parliament, I am here to remind you whom you are choosing between. Is your political home in the pro-European centre or in Orbán's camp of far-right authoritarian nativists?

Coronavirus

Hungary's Orban seeks indefinite power in virus bill

In a draft bill Hungary's ruling government seeks special powers uncontrolled by parliament, election, referendums, courts for an indefinite amount of time, rights' groups worry. The bill could be vote on within eight days.

Column

Only democracy can fight epidemics

As Li Wenliang, the deceased Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for reporting on the virus, said: "There should be more openness and transparency".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU's 'Irini' Libya mission: Europe's Operation Cassandra
  2. Slovak army deployed to quarantine Roma settlements
  3. Lockdown: EU officials lobbied via WhatsApp and Skype
  4. EU: Athens can handle Covid outbreak at Greek camp
  5. New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP
  6. EU launches €100bn worker support scheme
  7. Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation
  8. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us