Fear and (Self-)Censorship in Academia

Concerns with media freedom in Hungary go back years and they are also used as the case study for the Reverse Solange proposal presented on this blog. The most recent event is the takeover of the largest online news portal, Index, where the entire staff left as a response. A less documented arena is the academic setting we work in and which influences our work and everyday life. In both fields, takeover and blatant censorship is but the tip of the iceberg: the most visible part and indicative of a larger problem. In this post, I describe the problem through illustrative cases and discuss possible responses.

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Aux armes, comédiens!

Revolutionary spirit in Budapest: students of the University for Theater and Film Arts blockaded the main entrance of their institution. The reason for resistance was another attack on academic freedom by the Fidesz government. It decided to “privatize” the university and to delegate the rights of control to a foundation established by the state – yet another stage in the government’s culture war.

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Blaming the People is not a Good Starting Point

A few days ago a very thought provoking article written by Prof. J. H. H. Weiler was published on ICONnect blog. I very much agree with the core of his argument that we need to pay more attention to the popular support enjoyed by the Orbán government and we cannot blame everything and anything on him alone. However, there are several points in his argumentation which I would like to address.

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Defending the Open Society against its Enemies

On 18 June 2020, in the case of Commission v Hungary (Transparency of associations), the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice held that Hungarian authorities “introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions on foreign donations to civil society organisations” when it adopted a new legislation on NGO in 2017. How will the Hungarian government react? Six potential scenarios can be outlined from not doing anything (scenario 1) – an unlikely option due to the threat of pecuniary sanctions – to full and good faith compliance with the judgment resulting in the total repeal of the Lex NGO (scenario 6) – equally unlikely. Between these two, four additional ones may be foreseen.

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From Emergency to Disaster

This week, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government put before the Hungarian Parliament two draft laws that, if passed, would end the state of emergency and create a new legal framework for handing the pandemic from here on out.  In doing so, the government was responding to those who criticized the unlimited power that the government had been given in the law creating a pandemic emergency, the Enabling Act of 30 March 2020.  That law allowed the government to override any law by decree, a power that was unlimited in both scope and time and that violated Fidesz’ own “illiberal” constitution the Fundamental Law.  

The new laws are no better, and may even be worse.   One of the draft laws is less than one page long accompanied by two pages of justification.   It purports to repeal the initial Enabling Act (about which, more below).    The other one is called the law on “transitional provisions” and at first it seems only to provide lots of technical answers to questions that arise about how to reset deadlines for various legal processes that were delayed when the economy stopped. The new laws are no better, and may even be worse.

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Showdown at the Last Chance Saloon

As a political slogan, and a guideline in times of crisis, ‘whatever it takes’ undoubtedly has enormous appeal, and may in certain circumstances justify novel and untried forms of action. However, in a polity governed by the rule of law, there are limits to this approach which, if not respected, may cause greater problems than those which provoked the action in the first place.

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The Last Chance Saloon

To all intents and purposes, Orbán and his government have ceased to be democratically accountable either to the Hungarian Parliament or to the citizens of Hungary. The words in that last sentence are chosen carefully and with meaning. This blogpost suggest that Article 10 TEU may provide a basis for the exclusion of Hungarian representatives from the European Council and the Council of the European Union.

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The Curious and Alarming Story of the City of Göd

Misusing its extraordinary law-making powers which were conferred to it by the controversial Enabling Act during the epidemic state of danger, the Hungarian government expropriated the city of Göd. Apparently the government did so in order to punish the opposition lead municipality – and it seems to prepare further expropriations.

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Warum Europa nicht auf Ministerin Varga hereinfallen sollte

„Die Welt” berichtete am 12. April von einem Gespräch mit der ungarischen Justizministerin dr. Judit Varga über die am 11. März in Kraft getretenen Notstands- und Ermächtigungsgesetze. Die Ministerin halte die Kritik daran (so auch hier) für „Falschnachrichten” und „Ausdruck einer liberalen Meinungsdiktatur in Europa”. Da es sich hier um ein Notstandsgesetz handelt, will ich vorsichtig vorgehen. Bei der Beurteilung des Gesetzes ist allein der Text die maßgebende Tatsache. Die Stellungnahme der Ministerin gleicht aber eher einer politischen Propaganda als einer sorgfältigen Analyse der Regelung.

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On Doctrinal Contortions and Legal Fetishes

There seems to be a belief – especially persistent among some EU legal scholars – that even the largest political problems can be solved through the law. It suggests that any balance of authority and legitimacy between the EU and the Member States is, in fact, a mere technicality of institutional configuration, and a mere doctrinal sleight of hand would suffice to tip the scale of authority one way or another. This belief also seems to be underlying a recent blogpost by Christophe Hillion.

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