|A Rush to Judgment: AHF Statement on the Hungarian Media Law|
01/04/11 - AHF Issues its First Statement on Hungarian Media Law: "A Rush to Judgment: The Reaction to the Hungarian Media Law."
It is our "unassailable and firm conviction that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and liberty." But the unprecedented rush to judgment and vitriolic media coverage of the Hungarian media law seems to have been based on a partial understanding of the law itself and, in some cases, appears to be motivated by bias or political considerations. The statement is below:
A RUSH TO JUDGMENT:
As Americans of Hungarian descent steeped in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is our unassailable and firm conviction that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and liberty. Our conviction is reinforced by the fact that many of our members or their parents fought against and fled from tyranny, as in 1956 when the Hungarians rose up against Soviet Communism and occupation or when they fought and fled Nazi occupation and persecution in 1944. At the same time, it is our steadfast conviction that judgments made about a country whose liberty was denied for over four decades by the force of tanks, secret police and their collaborators in all walks of life, including the media, should be objective, fair, balanced and based on facts and not generalizations.
The Hungarian government supports a full review of the media law by the European Union and has stated it would make changes as needed. The Ministry responsible released an English version on January 3rd. Judgment should be reserved until the law has been fully reviewed. Such reservation is especially indicated since the Hungarian government has insisted its new media law is based on elements of already existing media laws in Europe. The English and Hungarian versions of the new media law are available on http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org.
As the charge has been made that the media law violates European Union standards, fundamental fairness demands that the law be compared with the laws governing media in other West European countries. All European democracies have varying laws and regulations governing free speech based on their own societal norms – norms Budapest claims to have incorporated in its law – yet none have evoked such hostility as Hungary’s law.
Following the adoption of Britain's Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, Tony Blair was not compared to dictators as has been Hungary’s democratically elected Prime Minister. Furthermore, Hungary successfully emerged from its Communist past and is only 1 of 8 former Soviet-bloc countries with a “free” press according to Freedom House’s 2010 International Press Rankings. Many of the established Western democracies, including Britain, are not in the top 25. Hungary and France, for example, are ranked 40. Italy, however, is ranked 72 and only "partly free.”
The American Hungarian Federation, representing a broad cross section of the Hungarian-American community, believes this complex subject deserves in-depth and objective analysis rather than hyperbole.
(January 11, 2011, cosigned by former Yale Professor Bela Liptak. Special thanks to Freedom House for their work and for permission to use their 2010 rankings information.)
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5/11/2010 - "Meggyőzni Washingtont..." American Hungarian Federation president calls for even-handedness in media coverage on Hungary in Heti Válasz interview following Fidesz's landslide victory in recently held parliamentary elections. "Miben tudna segíteni az amerikai magyar emigráció az óhazának, amikor a jobbközép győzelmét ismét fanyalogva fogadja az amerikai sajtó?" [tovább]
7/22/2010 - AHF reacts to The Washington Post Editorial: "...the editorial, 'Hungary's Strongest Leader Targets the Media,' [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth." AHF letters reminded editors about the current extremism [see Slovak Language Law] in neighboring countries and explained that the legacy of Trianon continues to affect the lives of millions of ethnic Hungarians today. The letters also pointed out the fact that dual citizenship is a common and globally accepted practice even in those same countries that would discriminate against an ethnic Hungarian exercising his rights. AHF feels The Post missed the point and mixed unrelated issues. However, we appreciate the fact the The Post's editorial included a link to AHF's page on the Treaty of Trianon.
Letters included those from members Frank Koszorus, Jr., AHF President; Bryan Dawson, AHF Executive Chairman; and Geza Cseri, former Science and Technology Advisor to the Allied Supreme Commanders of NATO. The Post published a Letter to Editor from Geza Jeszenszky, former Ambassador to the United States and Foreign Minister.
All four letters appear in that order below:
Based on erroneous assumptions and a casual understanding of the challenges confronting Hungarians, the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth. Consequently, the editorial appears biased and falls short of the high standard The Post sets for itself.
Remembering the Treaty of Trianon, which transferred over three million ethnic Hungarians to foreign rule, is neither polarizing nor a concern of only the right, as the editorial also suggests. Rather it is an issue today because some of Hungary's neighbors discriminate against their Hungarian minorities. Slovakia, which adopted a language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a former Hungarian university, are examples. If these countries respected minority rights, Trianon would be relegated to the history books.
Perhaps next time The Post will examine the facts a little more closely.
Frank Koszorus, Jr.
I was confused by the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19]. The merits (or lack thereof) of government media controls has little or nothing to do with passports or citizenship which are matters of national identity, not nationalism. Dual-citizenship is a common practice throughout the world as is autonomy and respect for local, historic communities. Is the U.S. nationalist for allowing Americans to live abroad and keep their passports? Is the US extreme for accepting dual citizenship with Britain, France or Mexico? Is Hungary extreme for accepting dual citizenship for ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary? Slovakia accepts dual citizenship for some, but will not extend the same rights to ethnic Hungarians who have lived in their own communities for over 1,100 years. As such, it is clearly discriminatory. Unfortunately, the law to rescind Slovak citizenship for ethnic Hungarians who exercise their right to apply for Hungarian citizenship on Saturday, July 17, 2010.
Is the concern for the basic human rights of an ethnic minority an extremist, extreme right-wing position? Are Catalonians extreme for wanting to speak Catalan with the postman in Catalonia? How about speaking French in Quebec? Spanish in Miami? Italian in Switzerland? Slovakia, under a truly nationalist government that include Jan Slota who called Hungarians, “the cancer of the Slovak nation,” passed a law making it illegal to converse in Hungarian with a Hungarian postman in a post office in an 1100-year old Hungarian village.
For the 40 years of communist rule, it was taboo to discuss topics such as Trianon and asserting rights for ethnic minorities as to not disturb the “socialist brotherhood of nations.” Does the Post long for the brotherhood’s return? As the link you provided explained so well, any objective observer would see Trianon as a huge miscarriage of justice that continues to affect the lives of millions today. It is not a right-wing, extremist issue, it is an issue of human and minority rights that should transcend the political spectrum. The firm re-establishment of democracy in Hungary allows for a full examination of these topics, however uncomfortable for the West who bears the responsibility for creating these minorities and ethnic strife in the first place.
When it comes to the Treaty of Trianon, you are telling to the Hungarians to forget it. How can you forget that your arms and legs are cut off, and millions of your brothers are under foreign rule, because that is what happened at Trianon. The Treaty unjustly, with malice, deprived Hungary of 65% of her inhabitants and 72% of her territory, an area as large as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio or Kentucky combined. The dismemberment also created 16 million ethnic minorities, including millions of Hungarians. This treaty totally altered the political balance of Central Europe which then led to the Balkanization of the area and created the political and economy hardships and turmoil to the country and the area. There are no extremists on this issue since practically the whole nation laments the injustice of Trianon.
If there is revisionalism in Hungary, it is fueled by Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia because of their oppressive and discriminatory policies. Slovakia, by the Benes Decrees and its language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a Hungarian university, or the continuous physical beatings of ethnic Hungarians by the Serbs in Voivodina are examples.
I hope that in the future, The Post will be more mindful of the facts and reality.
An unfair portrayal of Hungarian politics - 7/24/2010
The July 19 editorial "Hungary's rightward lunge" was as inaccurate as it was unfair. It also revealed a superficial understanding of Hungary and Fidesz, the party that just won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections this spring. A few examples:
In 2002, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, did not cater to "Hungary's extreme right," as the editorial stated, but successfully opposed it and helped oust its representatives from parliament by defeating them during the elections.
Although Washington did not welcome Hungary's decision to purchase fourth-generation Swedish-British Gripen fighter planes rather than used American F-16s, it did not make Mr. Orbán persona non grata and a pariah, as the editorial suggested. In March 2002, President George W. Bush telephoned Mr. Orbán and invited him to visit the United States following the elections, which looked like an almost certain victory for Mr. Orbán's Fidesz Party.
As a staunch friend of the United States and an appreciative reader of The Post, I hope that the editorial policy relating to Hungary will be more balanced and factual in the future.
Géza Jeszenszky, Budapest