In Hungary, if you are homeless, you have to pay. As much as 50,000 Hungarian forint, which is the equivalent of 185 EUR or 267 USD. According to a municipal law dated April 27, 2011, anybody found to conduct a “lifestyle of” living in the public areas of Hungary’s capital city Budapest, as well as anybody who stores possessions used in such a lifestyle in public areas may be fined up to 50,000 Hungarian forint. If the fine is not paid, the person found sleeping on the streets is punished by up to ten days of incarceration.
But if you are homeless in Hungary, now you will really, really have to pay. This is because, having withdrawn to secret hiding places in forests and thickly covered public parks, the homeless now fear retribution after a gruesome series of murders shocked the Hungarian public. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán now wants every homeless colony raided by the police.
At first, the tabloids told tall tales of “colonies of homeless” robbing and burying people alive in acts of Clockwork Orange-style cruelty and senselessness. As the police investigation is slowly unfolding, however, it turns out that, besides the one man who escaped a homeless gang and who indeed was buried up to his shoulders so that he would give up the pin code of his ATM card, every single corpse found by the police belongs to homeless victims.
This is the social policy of Hungary’s government: the criminalization of poverty. At least in this respect they are not far behind a neo-conservative global trend that has been seen resurfacing in other countries in Europe and North America as well. In Hungary, however, where poverty is such a devastatingly ubiquitous condition and where unfavorable exchange rates force more and more to default on their home mortgages, replacing social policies by jail sentences is especially absurd.
In fact, the Hungarian law-makers are so uncompromising in their striving for comprehensiveness and systematicity that no aspect of the homeless lifestyle seems to escape their keen attention. In Budapest’s 8th district, for example, there is a law on the books against dumpster-diving. Whoever takes garbage out of a dumpster located in the district can be fined up to 50,000 Hungarian forint. Even pedantic legal distinctions such as “kukázás” (dumpster diving – or skipping for you UK folk), “folytatólagosan elkövetett kukázás” (continuous dumpster diving), and “kukázásra való bujtogatás” (incitement to dumpster diving) have found their way into Hungarian legal practice. Blame a protest against the edict for the last of these, during which at least nine individuals were arrested for purposefully reaching into garbage cans – or for suggesting that others do so as well.
Given the meticulousness with which Hungarian law-makers counter homelessness, one can only be surprised by what slips through the cracks of the country’s criminal code unpunished. Unlike inciting others to reach into a dumpster and retrieve objects therein found, certain acts – which to some might appear not only criminal but especially heinous at that – are not at all illegal in Hungary.
It is not illegal in Hungary to beat up a man because he is Roma. Three unidentified men had already assaulted a Roma man outside of south-Hungarian city Szeged’s JATE club, a university hang-out, when a fourth man joined in the fight. He told them he was a policeman (in truth, he is a corrections officer, at the rank of a staff sergeant). Asking the other three if “this rotten little gypsy” was too much for them to take, according to the victim, he pulled down his coat, shoved him to the ground, kicked him on his back, his stomach and his head, and sat on him, strangling him by his neck. The night after, the staff sergeant posted a status update on Facebook: I drank some whisky, he wrote, got into a fight, drank some more whisky and sat in a holding cell until 10:30, “and suffice it to say that I was kicking the head of a gypsy lying on the ground when three officers arrived in his defense.” The victim suffered injuries healing within 8 days. According to the prosecutor’s office, there is no evidence a crime has been committed. (Read the statement by the lawyers of the victim in Hungarian here, details of the story by origo.hu here.)
It is also not illegal in Hungary to chase a pregnant Roma woman down the streets and to intimidate her so much that she is induced to premature labor. The incident took place in Gyöngyöspata, a small north-eastern town where the Roma population was kept under siege for months this spring. The woman was followed by a group of men wearing face-masks and cracking whips (based on the description, likely the members of Betyársereg, the same group implicated in inciting to racist violence in a secret lecture that had since been leaked to the Hungarian press). The men got body-to-body with the woman; they spat on her and panted into her ears. In the eighth month of her pregnancy, she tried to run away from them, and gave birth almost subsequently in her living room. The EMTs called to her could not get through the police blockade around the town (which was originally designed to protect the Romas throughout the approximately two months long ordeal during which the town was virtually taken hostage by far-right paramilitaries). For a few days, the baby required treatment at the neonatal intensive care unit of the local hospital. Beyond a lesser charge of “defamation,” according to the authorities, no crime has been committed. (Read news report of the decision in Hungarian here.)
Finally, it is also not illegal in Hungary to publish discriminatory help-wanted ads. The following ad was placed in Expressz, a Hungarian publication specializing in classified ads:
Családiházunk felújításához, keresünk 1 szobafestő mázoló szakmunkást. Feltételek: -Nem iszik, picit sem!!!!!!!! -Eljönn, a pontos munkakezdésre!!!!!!! -Tisztán dolgozik, elmossa a kapott szerszámokat, tisztára!!!!!! -Felelőséget tudd vállalni a munkálya iránt!!!!!! -Nem vállalkozó. Nem a munkaügyi központ álltal lelopott hirdetésre jelentkezik. Nem cigány, román, zsidó, hanem BECSÜLETES Magyar ember!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The posting is full of spelling mistakes, some of which I try to keep in the English as well:
We are looking for 1 trained painter, for the renovation of our family house. Conditions: – Does not drink, not even a bit!!!!!!!! -Showws up, at the exact time work begins!!!!!!! -Works cleanly, washes the tools we provide, clean!!!!!! -Takes responsebility for his werk!!!!!! -Not a private entrepreneur. Not sent buy the unemployment agency that has stolen this post. Not a gypsy, not a romanian, not a jew, but an HONEST Hungarian person!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The ad was posted on the publication’s website for three days, until journalists contacted the publishing company to ask them to remove it from its listings.
There are no signs that this country lacks the resources required for drawing up a pedantic and exacting regulation of hate crimes. How else could they have succeeded in accomplishing such an exhaustive legal regulation, one that extends to every single infraction that could potentially arise from a “lifestyle of” homelessness, without the requisite talent, intelligence or legal expertise? Only the will seems to be missing in Hungary’s law-makers to deliver a hate crime legislation developed with the same thorough-going conscientiousness.