Every once in a while, I pull together a number of issues, briefly reported, into the Hungarian News Digest – Contrarian Hungarian style. Environmental issues are prominent in this edition, but this week’s selection is also rich in bizarre claims and stories.1. Smog Advisories and Smog Alerts in Hungary
(since Oct. 31) At first only in the North-Eastern towns of Miskolc and Debrecen, but subsequently throughout the entire country, smog advisories and smog alerts had been issued as air quality over Hungary appears to be a considerable concern. Dust particles (PM 10: particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers, small enough to penetrate the alveoli of the lung) were measured beyond the “dangerous” and the “unhealthy” threshold over extensive territories. Mayors urged the population to use mass transit and to refrain from using appliances that require the burning of coal, wood, or oil. Various “high-impact environmental cars” were banned from the roads (approximately 1.1 million vehicles in total); a ban was issued on burning leaves and garden debris, and select factories voluntarily reduced their air pollution while the advisories remain in effect. Currently, the smog alert system remains in activation over the eastern part of the country; in the beginning of the week, air quality improved somewhat, but according to meteorologists the pollution is likely worsen again toward the end of the week.
2. Is It A Crime Against the State to Elect an Alternative President?
(Oct. 24) The opposition protest of October 23, organized by One Million for the Freedom of the Press in Hungary ended with a resolution to elect an alternative president for Hungary by March 15. Would voting in such an alternative election constitute be treasonable? Yes, opines the constitutional law expert of Echo TV, a government-friendly television channel’s known for its conservative political outlook in Hungary: if such a “children’s prank” did in fact come to realization, it would constitute a crime against the state . Zoltán Lomici’s reasoning is murky: because the country’s president also serves as commander-in-chief, “there could even be serious criminal consequences.” Experts of Hungarian criminal law, or anyone who consults the legal definition of crimes against the state, would be hard-pressed to agree, but in the television station’s reporting the contrary opinion did not accompany the constitutional law expert’s assessment.
3. Social Worker Convicted of “Instigating to Dumpster-Dive”
(Nov. 4) A three year suspended sentence was passed down by the Pest Central District Court for Norbert Ferencz, a social worker who urged others to reach into trash-cans in protest of the prohibition, in Budapest’s 8th district, against dumpster-diving. Ferencz organized a performance-style musical gathering against the 8th district’s anti-poverty and anti-homeless regulations in March 2011, because they are specifically designed for criminalizing homelessness.
Targeting what the authors of the regulations consider to be essential elements of the homeless lifestyle, one of these regulations forbids reaching into trash-cans. During the event, the police had already arrested three protesters who dumpster-dived in protest of the district’s policies when Ferencz took the loudspeaker to encourage everyone at the demonstration to reach into a trash-can. Ferencz was found guilty of “instigating [to acts] against official regulations.”
4. László Kövér’s Select Strong Words about European Human Rights Commissioners
(Nov. 4) In a television interview, László Kövér, President of the Hungarian Parliament described members of the European Commission of Human Rights as “idiots.” “I am not going to waste my emotional energy to be outraged that some idiots in Strasbourg, having no idea what took place in this country for fifty years … think it is acceptable to demonstrate with a red star,” Kövér said. “These people,” “either in the leadership of institutions in the West, or in their editorial rooms” who, in Kövér’s hypothesis, belonged in a considerable majority to the New Left, or to the maoists even, if they had been born where regimes were worshipped, “probably would have treaded out the inner organs of others in their naive enthusiasm for a better and more just future,” Kövér added.
The outrage – or, as Kövér characterizes it, lack thereof – is on occasion of a decision of the Commission awarding 4000 euros of compensation to the president of the Hungarian Worker’s Party, who had been censured for wearing the Communist red star by a Hungarian court. In Hungary, the political use of the five-pointed red star – along with the hammer and sickle, the swastika, the arrow-cross, and the SS sing – is illegal.
5. Government Spokesperson Explains Downgrade to the Hungarian Public
(Nov 2.) The low performance of the Hungarian currency, the forint, is due to the problems in the eurozone, stated Péter Szíjjártó, spokesperson to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in response to the forint’s fall against the euro. Asked about any potential downgrade in the credit rating of the country, which experts consider imminent, Szíjjártó said that the actual economic performance of the country “would not in any way warrant a downgrade.” But it is well-known that “the decisions of credit rating companies aren’t based exclusively on real economic processes,” Szíjjártó continued, surmising political causes, in particular that the “Hungarian economic policy hurts certain financial interests.”
6. The Twisted Narrative of a Trade Union Protest
(Nov. 4) 2,800 to 3,000 cars participated in a country-wide traffic slow-down by which Liga, a trade union closely allied with the government, expressed its misgivings about changes to the country’s labor code and pension system. This was the first time Liga, which had thus far preferred to engage in direct negotiations with the government, brought its members out to the streets. Because the event took place on the day on which the smog pollution was highest all over the country, the union action drew outrage from the public, and one of the concerns is that this sentiment could also attach itself to the independent trade union movement and its harsh criticism of the government. The bizarre story ended in the accusation by István Gaskó, president of Liga whose loyalty to the government is otherwise hardly questionable, that the only reason the smog alert was issued was to prevent the demonstration.
7. Red Sludge Committee Issues Report
(Oct. 27) A Hungarian parliamentary committee investigating the causes of last year toxic red sludge spill concluded that responsibility for the industrial catastrophe is “composite”: a multitude of factors are implicated. Among these are problems with the original design of the reservoir, lapses in the issuance of permits and regulatory supervision, lack of collaboration on the part of governmental offices in enforcing environmental regulations, and oversights and omissions in the operation of the facility.
According to the report, the greatest blame falls on the operating company: the walls of the reservoir bursted because MAL (Hungarian Aluminum) had stored too much toxic sludge in it (4.45 to 8 meters of water covered the toxic waste instead of the 1.5 meters allowed). The company conducted weekly, rather than daily inspections of the premises, they lacked important devices to measure signs of the coming catastrophe, states the report, which also adds that annual checks by the authorities were also merely “formal.”
On October 4, 2010, 10 people died, and another 120 suffered serious injuries, when the toxic sludge pouring out of the reservoir released 1.9 billion cubic meter of waste material covering 9885 acres. The clean-up of the area, which, according to the authorities, is now 98-99% complete cost an estimated 160 million USD (100 million GBP).
8. Gyöngyöspata Militia Leader Commits Suicide
(Nov. 3) Tamás Eszes, leader of the radical right paramilitary organization Véderő (Guarding Force) committed suicide on Thursday in his residence at Gyöngyöspata. Eszes moved to Gyöngyöspata in April 2011, with plans to open a “training camp” next to a street populated by Romas during a period of time when far-right “civil guards” had already descended upon the town to fight “gypsy criminality.” Eszes, a former member of the French Foreign Legion, imposed a strict military discipline on his Véderő troops, who observed a military hierarchy of ranks. Friends of Eszes told reporters that he ended his life because he had been unable to find work for himself.