This question was asked recently by the US Helsinki Commission and also exactly a year ago by the Nobel prize laureate, Paul Krugman. Why does Hungary, this small, landlocked country with around 10 million inhabitants in Central Eastern Europe, matter to the US or to any other EU country?
However, the recent happenings, namely the latest, Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of Hungary, put this country into the spotlight and brought international responses. It is not the first legislative act which was highly debated – let’s recall reactions to the media law for example and the criticism of Venice Commission since the change in the constitution in 2011 – but the critics sound even louder this time.
The 15-page amendment, which has been passed by the Hungarian Parliament on 11th of March, contains parts about the definition of marriage (“the union of a man and a woman”) and family (“based on marriage and the relationship between parents and children”), implicitly excluding the recognition of same-sex marriage. It also reinforces the heavily criticised contract between the university or college students and the state, which defines the conditions of state-supported years in higher education: Students have to stay and work after graduation in Hungary for the same period of time they have studied in their college or university and received state support. Finally, it grants an option to declare homelessness illegal (“declare illegal staying in a public area as a permanent abode with respect to a specific part of such public area”).
Besides “the new constitutional amendment (again) kills off the independence of the judiciary, brings universities under (even more) governmental control, opens the door to political prosecutions, (…) makes the recognition of religious groups dependent on their cooperation with the government and weakens human rights guarantees across the board. Moreover, the constitution will now buffer the government from further financial sanctions by permitting it to take all fines for noncompliance with the constitution or with European law and pass them on to the Hungarian population as special taxes, not payable by the normal state budget….”, as Kim Lane Scheppele, head of Law and Public Affairs program of Princeton University, states (Scheppele, 2013).
Since AEGEE stands for human rights and democracy and promotes unlimited access to education, we demand full respect of these principles. We consider the Fourth Amendment to be an undemocratic step back in development of the country. We would welcome the EU to put pressure on the Hungarian government to remove the articles which don’t respect fundamental rights from the Amendment. We acknowledge the relevance of the problems of brain drain, immigrating intellectuals and raising poverty, but we urge Hungary to find an appropriate solution for these issues.
If we come back again to the original question: Why does Hungary matter? As Paul Krugman said, “if you believe in democracy and peace, you have a stake in that idea’s success — which is why all of Europe’s current troubles are a tragedy for all of us. And now we have a nation in the heart of Europe, a member of the EU, a nation that emerged from dictatorship, which is at the very least backsliding on democracy. This is terrible — and terribly important. If you can’t see this, there’s something very wrong with your priorities.” (Krugman, 2012)
Scheppele, K. L. (2013) Constitutional Revenge http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/guest-post-constitutional-revenge/ Reached on 20/03/2013
Krugman, P. (2012) Why Hungary matters? http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/why-hungary-matters/ Reached on 20/03/2013
Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law of Hungary. http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/09929/09929.pdf Reached on 20/03/2013
Written by Beáta Matuszka, member of Comité Directeur of AEGEE-Europe