UPDATE: In the meantime, Mr. Orbán had an awful press day in German speaking countries over these announcements. A commentary on in die Tageszeitung works out the theme of paranoid loathing in conjunction with Mr. Orbán’s plans to bring his predecessors to justice over their handling of the national debt. The Süddeutsche Zeitung describes in exhaustive detail what it calls a “Triumph of Brutalpopulism.” The Austrian Der Standard ‘s lede states that Mr. Orbán’s value system takes him outside of the European Union.
The latter two articles quote Mr. Orbán’s own speech a few weeks ago in which he referred to the European Union as Hungary’s kényszerlakhely (a forced abode, or a place where one dwells only out of necessity). In the meanwhile the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes that “[describing] the policies of the former governments as ‘political crimes’ … reveals a way of thinking that only the very charitable can reconcile with democracy.”
A handy English-language synopses of these articles, as well as the article that appeared in Hungary’s Népszabadság, appeared in Eurotopics, maintained by N-ost (Network for Reporting on Easter Europe).
Let’s suppose that you live in a country where your prime minister, or your president, king or what have you ran your country into considerable amounts of debt. Has this ever happened to you? Should he (or she) then bear criminal responsibility for it? Or maybe you think they should only be judged by history? Does it maybe depend on just exactly how much debt said politician ran up? Depends on the law, right?
If zou think so, zou might be surprised to hear Péter Szijjártó’s answer to the question. The Hungarian government’s spokesman, who communicated a request to the Hungarian Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs a week ago, on July 28, to specify the legal means necessary to “turn the political responsibility of former members of government responsible for the growth of the national debt into a legal responsibility.” Should they find that there are no such legal means, he wants them “to find one.” So if you thought that the answer to the above depends on whether there were laws on the books in your country specifying a legal responsibility at the time the supposed crime was committed, you were wrong.
As stated above, the specific legal avenues by which criminal proceedings may be initiated against former heads of government are still in the works. Szijjártó’s demands were made just days before another committee of the Hungarian Parliament, one tasked with identifying increases in the national debt reported that prime ministers of the previously governing Socialist party must bear legal responsibility for their acts.
Politicians in Hungary expressed their worries since their announcement. These were important to voice especially in view of the swift procedures by which Hungary’s government enacts its specific policies. The country’s governing party, Fidesz, currently holds two-thirds of the seat, so Prime Minister Viktor Orbán commands a parliamentary majority that can enact even the most controversial bills in the matter of only a few weeks.
The idea that Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai must be held accountable for increasing the country’s debt have been floated in the public consciousness by Fidesz since at least 2009. Viktor Orbán returned to it over and over again in recruiting enough voters for his parliamentary super-majority. While Mr. Gyurcsány and Mr. Bajnai headed the government, Hungary’s national debt went from 53 per cent to 82 per cent of the country’s GDP. However, many in Hungary see a popular distraction in the preparations for these trials: this might be Mr. Orbán’s way to try to remain popular even though, in view of the economic challenges of the mounting debt, he is going to have to introduce austerity measures as soon as this fall.
International critics focus, however, on the dictatorial nature of punishing people on the basis of retroactive laws. The most recent voice joining this choir is that of Ulrike Lunacek, member of The Green Alternative, Austria’s green party. Orbán Viktor is trying to lower himself to the same standard as Alexander Lukasenko, stated Ms. Lunacek. “Only dictatorships act that way. This initiative is another evidence for how Orban tries to exploit his two-third majority (in federal parliament),” she is quoted to say in the Austrian online news portal the Austrian independent.
Next, Elmar Brok joined Ms. Lunacek in warning the Hungarian government not to create laws and apply them retroactively. Mr. Brok, a German Member of the European Parliament on the German CDU ticket said on the news from Hungary that he expects the Hungarian government to realize that no legal basis exists for these lawsuits. Elmar Brok is member of the European People’s Party, the same EP coalition to which Viktor Orbán’s own party Fidesz belongs, as well as the former Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Read article by English-language Austrian news site Austrian Independent here: