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Czech Green Party chair: How far are we from Orbán's Hungary?

Prague, 14.3.2013 16:18, (ROMEA)
Ondřej Liška (on the right) at the anti-Nazi demonstration in Brno 1 May 2011. Photo:  František Kostlán
Ondřej Liška (on the right) at the anti-Nazi demonstration in Brno 1 May 2011. Photo: František Kostlán

The Hungarian Parliament has approved a series of changes to the constitution there that threaten, among other things, the independence of the Constitutional Court and weaken minority protections. This is further proof that the European economic and political crisis is starting to contribute to the growth of an extremism and a nationalism that jeopardize democracy.

We must finally realize that Europe's fate is our problem too. Hungary is close to the Czech Republic and the developments there should be a warning for us. Let's not forget that this Central European partner of ours became one of the first victims of this most recent crisis.

The constitutional amendment constrains the Constitutional Court from adjudicating laws that have been adopted and invalidates all of its judgments prior to 2012. It weakens the rights of sexual minorities and freedom of movement, making it possible for state bodies to permanently ban citizens from staying in public spaces (similar in spirit to the proposals made here by Czech MP Řápková).

Another new provision that crosses the line is that students are now obligated to remain in Hungary for a certain amount of time after graduating. Should they go abroad to work, they will have to pay back their "debt" to the state.

Hungary is now showing us how far these attacks on justice and the suppression of civic freedoms can go. This is why statements by Czech politicians tending in the same strong-arm direction must never be taken lightly.

The Council of Europe, the European Commission, and the European Parliament have already clearly drawn the line on these Hungarian developments. Precisely these supranational institution are tasked in such situations with ensuring the democratic nature of their member states and upholding fundamental rights. We should be glad to have the EU and the European structures.

Hungary is not exceptional, however. As a result of the economic and social situation in Greece, attacks on foreigners from those around the ultra-right party Golden Dawn have multiplied. Nationalist parties are gaining strength in other states as well, such as the True Finns in Finland, the Front National in France and politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

On the same day that the Hungarian Constitution was amended, the shocking news came to the continent that the British Government is considering withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights for reasons of national security and protecting its national sovereignty. The Conservatives are responding to growing voter preference for the Euro-phobic, nationalist UK Independence Party. Out of fear that they will lose their voters, the Conservatives are radicalizing their own policy to such a degree that they are willing to speculate about the option of taking up a position outside of the Council of Europe structures and joining the ranks of, for example, Belarus.

Let's admit to ourselves that even here in the Czech Republic we are not able to suppress latent racism and xenophobia in our own society. Economic problems are endangering the social contract today and represent a ticking time bomb in the socially excluded localities. Growing unemployment should therefore be taken very seriously by our government and measures must be presented to strengthen job creation in both the long and the short term. The emphasis on supporting exports which Czech Finance Minister Kalousek has spoken of is far from sufficient.

If we want to learn from the Greek or Hungarian scenarios, then let's not underestimate the impact of the economic crisis on a society already heading toward calling for an "iron fist". We may be closer to Hungary today than we believe.

Republished with the permission of the author from his blog.

Ondřej Liška, chair, Czech Green Party, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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