Commentary

The Hungarian Government About the Sargentini Report: “It’s Toasted!”

In the Mad Men episode “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” Don Draper explains to the executives at Lucky Strike how they will reposition their cigarettes in light of new allegations that cigarettes are cancerous.

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“Their cigarettes…..are poison. Your cigarettes…..are toasted.” 

It’s toasted” is a nonsensical – but factually true – claim. It doesn’t actually say that being toasted makes any difference for the carcinogen qualities of the product (because it doesn’t), but it sounds like the answer to people’s concerns.

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“We do not say smoking Luckies reduces flesh. We do say when tempted to over-indulge, “Reach for a Lucky instead.” 

I couldn’t shrug this scene as I read the government’s response to the Sargentini report (pdf) about the situation in Hungary. Earlier this month Dutch Green MEP, Judith Sargentini – appointed by the Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs as the rapporteur to examine triggering Article 7 proceedings against Budapest – produced a draft report criticizing the Hungarian government on a number of issues, like the independence of the judiciary, corruption, freedom of expression, the rights of Roma and Jewish minorities and refugees, etc. She concluded that there is a “systemic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary.”

The Hungarian government essentially answered: “It’s toasted.”

In more details, the foreign minister dismissed her as a Soros-mercenary in Brussels. They expressed their disdain with the liberal elites, and then produced an answer that was anything but.  Fidesz’s new communication director said that the LIBE report is the tool Brussels is using to force Hungary to accept migrants.

Two Hungarian researchers got so pissed off that they went through the government’s response line by line and denied them. They concluded that the answer did three things: digressed, ignored the question, and when neither was possible, it simply lied.

In other words, “it’s toasted”.

Here is the counter-report. Some points from the argument for your entertainment – this is how a master manipulator lies in your face.

About corruption and conflicts of interest

The Sargentini report says MPs should be obliged to report conflicts of interest and take wealth declarations more seriously. It also calls for sanctions in the case of inaccurate wealth declarations (because so far there weren’t any consequences).

The Hungarian government answered that the law established strict rules about conflict of interest for MPs. They fail to mention the wealth declarations altogether.

The facts: No sanctions apply if the asset declaration is incomplete or inaccurate as long as the MP corrects it. But they only correct it if the media proves it. (And the media has no bandwidth for all the nonsense they dare to submit.)

About freedom of information

The Sargentini report: following amendments of the freedom of information law, the right to access government information has been restricted.

The Hungarian government: information requests put an overwhelming burden on authorities that could prevent them from fulfilling their routine tasks.

The facts: Other countries such as Slovakia or the Czech Republic managed to find a way to answer questions. They have even implemented electronic systems to manage information requests. According to the European Semester Report, Hungarian institutions repeatedly used the law to reject data requests by journalist and NGOs, often by ridiculous excuses, even flouting court rulings.

About the elections

The Sargentini draft quotes the OSCE statement about the April elections that access to information as well as the freedoms of the media and association have been restricted, and that politicization of media ownership had a chilling effect on press freedom.

The Hungarian government claims that opposition media reaches a considerably wider audience (seriously), taking online media as an example, where the proportion of government-critical portals is around 80 percent according to the response. They say that the ownership and political spectrum of the Hungarian media is more diverse than Western Europe. They claim that the freedom of the press is more prevalent in Hungary than in most Western European countries.

The facts: The online media is the only news media-type that the government (and their allies) do not dominate entirely, in all other aspects (national and regional newspapers and weeklies, radio and television news broadcasts) a 2017 study based on national audit numbers shows government-linked media have a stranglehold.

About freedom of expression

The Sargentini report quotes the UN Human Rights Committee’s observations about Hungary’s media laws and practices that restrict freedom of opinion and expression.

The Hungarian government says that Freedom House called Hungary a “free” country in a report in October 2012 and despite the monopoly held by the Hungarian News Agency MTI, the Hungarian media scene is diverse.

The facts: Since their report quoted in 2012, Freedom House has observed a deterioration in the situation, now classing Hungary as “partly free“. A Hungarian government recently dismissed Freedom House as a “Soros organisation [that] has launched an open attack against Hungary” (They do that to everyone.)

On higher education

The Sargentini report cites the Venice Commission saying that it’s concerning to introduce additional restrictions on foreign universities which are already established in Hungary.

The Hungarian government quotes the Venice Commission saying it is a legitimate goal to provide greater transparency in order to guarantee a quality education and to protect future students. (Aka. “It’s toasted.”)

The facts: The Central European University, which is the main target of the new, pointless rules, is ranked among the top 160 universities in Europe (The Times Higher Education Best Universities in Europe 2017), hardly a risk at students.

On restrictions on organisations funded from abroad

The Sargentini report tells that the so-called “Stop Soros” law is before parliament, labeling some NGOs as “foreign agents” based on the source of their funding and question their legitimacy.

The Hungarian government says that the Act is merely intended to enhance the transparency of funding.

The facts: The already existing relevant legislation requires civil society organisations, regardless of their funding sources, to disclose in detail their annual financial reports (these detailed reports are available on the court’s and the organisation’s website).

On racism and intolerance

The Sargentini draft cites the Council of Europe’s Commissioners concerns on anti-Gypsyism being the most blatant form of intolerance in Hungary.

The Hungarian government says that Roma people are able to benefit from a 10 million HUF support fund to exchange their former homes for modern houses with gardens. As of the other forms of segregation, discrimination and ethnic hatemongering, the government doesn’t even react.

The facts: The eligibility criteria of the funding programme effectively exclude families living in the most severe poverty, as people are not eligible unless they were employed during the 6 months prior to their application. And yes, there are effective cases of discrimination and segregation.

Read the report… It was time that someone following the actual current affairs raised their voice against blatant nonsense.

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