Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising

Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
110th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mr. Chairman, this past October, Hungary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising. As President Bush said in his October 18 Presidential Proclamation, “the story of Hungarian democracy represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny.” Like the President, I honor the men and women who struggled – not only in 1956 but for many years thereafter – for democracy in Hungary. 

The following remarks were made by Istvan Gereben, a man who came to this country after the 1956 revolution, but who never forgot his homeland. They were delivered by Mr. Gereben in San Francisco on October 22, 2006, at the “Remember Hungary 1956” Commemoration, at the California State Building.

REVOLUTION, REBIRTH, FREEDOM: 
HUNGARY 1956

From the shadows of blood, iron bars, gallows and simple wooden crosses we step today into the sunshine of remembrance, hope, duty and responsibility. During the past sixteen years the ideas, guiding principles, heroes and martyrs of 1956 gained amends. The moral and political legacy of the Hungarian Revolution, however, still, even today, is misunderstood, misrepresented and waiting to be fully appreciated. 

We remember…our friends, the “Kids of Pest”, the colleagues, the relatives, the familiar strangers. The brave Hungarians. Let’s remember the dead here, thousands of miles away from their graves but close to their soul, grieving woefully, but full with hope. We pray for those who in their defeat became triumphant. “For what they have done has been to expose the brutal hypocrisy of Communism for all mankind” –declared Archibald McLeish in the Special Report of Life Magazine in 1957. 

Why did it happen? 

The best answer can be found in Sandor Marai’s poem: “Christmas 1956." Angel from Heaven.” 

The whole world is talking about the miracle. 
Priests talk about bravery in their sermons. 
A politician says the case is closed. 
The Pope blesses the Hungarian people. 
And each group, each class, everybody 
Asks why it happened this way. 
Why didn’t they die out as expected? 
Why didn’t they meekly accept their fate? 
Why was the sky torn apart? 
Because a people said, “Enough!” 

They who were born free do not understand, 
They do not understand that 
“Freedom is so important, so important!” 

The fight waged by Hungarians in 1956 was inspired by a burning desire for freedom of the individual and the nation, by want for national independence, by thirst for full national and individual sovereignty and by hunger for inner democracy. This Revolution against the Soviet occupiers was a defining moment in Hungarian history and in the nation’s political culture. 1956 was one of the most powerful nail driven into the coffin of an evil and fraudulent tyranny. 

Then and continuously since we witness the expression of praise, admiration of and support for the aims of this miracle that is called the Hungarian Revolution. 

Let’s refresh our memory with some of the more striking observations by our friends here in America and elsewhere in the World: 

President John F. Kennedy: 
“October 23, 1956 is a day that will forever live in the annals of free men and free nations. It was a day of courage, conscience and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the eternal unquenchability of man’s desire to be free, whatever the odds against success, whatever the sacrifice required” 
(Statement, October 23, 1960) 

President Ronald Reagan: 
“The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a true revolution of, by and for the people. Its motivations were humanity’s universal longings to live, worship, and work in peace and to determine one’s own destiny. The Hungarian Revolution forever gave the lie to communism’s claim to represent the people, and told the world that brave hearts still exist to challenge injustice” 
(Excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation issued on October 20, 1986.) 

President George W. Bush: 
“On the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, we celebrate the Hungarians who defied an empire to demand their liberty; we recognize the friendship between the United States and Hungary; and we reaffirm our shared desire to spread freedom to people around the world.” 
(Excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation issued on October 18, 2006.) 

Milovan Djilas: 
“The changes in Poland mean the triumph of national Communism, which in a different form we have seen in Yugoslavia. The Hungarian uprising is something more, a new phenomenon, perhaps no less meaningful than the French or Russian Revolutions…The revolution in Hungary means the beginning of the end of Communism.” 
(Excerpt from: “The Storm in Eastern Europe,” “The New Leader,” No. 19, 1956) 

The New York Times: 
“We accuse the Soviet Government of murder. We accuse it of the foulest treachery and the basest deceit known to man. We accuse it of having committed so monstrous crime against the Hungarian people yesterday that its infamy can never be forgiven or forgotten.” 
(In an editorial in the paper’s November 1956 issue.) 

I could continue with Statements made by Albert Camus, President Richard Nixon, Sir Leslie Munroe, Henry Kissinger, Leo Chern, Pablo Picasso, Nehru and I could read hundreds and hundreds of pages from the Congressional Record listing the praising remarks of hundreds and hundreds lawmakers uttered in the past 50 years. All the words were saved for posterity, everyone can find and savor them. 

October 23, 1956 happened when two powerful ideas – tyrannical communism and the eternal human principles of democracy – met and clashed in the middle of Europe, in the small and defenseless Hungary. In this inherently uneven conflict blood was shed and lives were lost. Imre Nagy and his colleagues were arrested, tried and most of them along with countless Freedom Fighters were executed on June 16, 1958. 

Since their death, the political and human challenge has been to find the rationale for their supreme sacrifice. This rationale is the indestructible dignity of every human being. By refusing to beg for his life, Imre Nagy repudiated his personal past for a more hopeful future of Hungary and the world at large. 

The significance of his and countless other Hungarians’ sacrifice is etched onto the political map of the 21st century. The invented hope of the Hungarian Revolution is taking shape in the recent developments throughout the world. That is the real miracle of the events of 1956 and the subsequent human sacrifices of Imre Nagy and his fellow Freedom Fighters. 

The Revolution was brutally and unavoidably defeated. 

Why was the fate of the Revolution predetermined? Why did it happen so that when we in the last days of October and the early days of November in 1956 enthusiastically and full with hope sensing victory strolled the streets of Budapest and the cities and villages of Hungary not suspecting that our fate, independently from us, already has been determined. The deadly sentence was delivered by the powers of the world? And if it is so why was the verdict such as it was? 

Even after 50 years there is still no answer. 

The questions are not new. The lack of answer frustrated many historians, political scientists but none had the determination, the skill, the objectivity and patience to provide an authentic answer. 

Robert Murphy, who, in the absence of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles from Washington, attended to the day to day business of the State Department during the Hungarian Revolution, summarized his frustration caused by not being able to find a satisfactory answer to Hungary’s demands in his autobiography, Diplomat Among Warriors, published in 1964 this way: 

“In retrospect, world acceptance of the Russian aggression in Hungary is still incredible. For sheer perfidy and relentless suppression of a courageous people longing for their liberty, Hungary will always remain a classic symbol. Perhaps history will demonstrate that the free world could have intervened to give the Hungarians the liberty they sought, but none of us in the State department had the skill or the imagination to devise a way.” 

This answer seems to be the most honest one. 

Hungarians have fallen back in the Soviet yoke. But the nation persevered. 

There are times when remembrance is the bravest action – declared Gyula Illyes the eminent Hungarian poet in the middle of the twentieth century. Today such times are present in Hungary. The time for bravery to remain faithful to the moral and political maxims of the Revolution. Bravery witnessed not against the tanks, soldiers and henchmen of the occupying empire, bravery not contesting a strange, inhuman ideology, but courage to face insensitivity, to confront and solve the problems of humdrum everyday life, the bravery necessary to assume the responsibility and sacrifice of building a truly modern country, which is democratic, committed to observe the rule of law and governed by the constitution. At the present this kind of bravery does not uniformly characterize all Hungarians. 

Hungary was redeemed 35 years after the defeated Revolution. During that 35 years her plight to fulfill the demands of 1956 gained respect and support in the West. The courage, the intelligence, the determination and the skill of the Hungarian Democratic Opposition to engage a first bloodthirsty, later sophisticated dictatorship resulted in recognition of the opposition’s leaders as authoritative spokesman for the fulfillment of the desires of the Hungarian people. They were inspired by the spirit of the Revolution and adopted its maxims. 

In the United States Presidents and ordinary citizens lined up in support behind the Democratic Opposition. The United States by publicly expressing support in words and in action provided protection for individuals and the whole community of the dissidents. 

The U.S. Government published English translations of selected samizdat literature produced by opposition activists. Many volumes each with hundreds of pages of these were printed and distributed in the 70s and the 80s. A collection of these is deposited in the National Szechenyi Library in Budapest. 

Information provided by the dissidents were used by the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation U.S.A. and the Coordinating Committee of Hungarian Organizations in North America in their countless testimonies before Congress, the U.S Commission on Security and Cooperation, and in numerous briefings presented in the White House and in the State and Defense Departments. 

A longstanding issue between the Hungarian Communist Government and the Opposition, Hungarians abroad and more significantly the United States Government was the unwillingness of the Communist Government to identify the secret location of the graves in which the executed Freedom Fighters were buried. A campaign covering several decades by U.S. Presidents, Congressman, the Commission on Security and Cooperation, hundreds of leading public figures and civic organizations culminated in a letter sent on June 20, 1988, by Congressman Frank Horton, along with forty-three other Representatives urging Prime Minister Karoly Grosz of Hungary to comply with the many requests filed with the Hungarian Government in the past and allow the family members of the executed to have access to the body of their relatives. Responding in letter dated July 18, 1988 the Prime Minister wrote: 

“My Government has the intention to settle this problem in a humane spirit in the near future, enabling the families to rebury the dead and to pay their tribute at the graves.” 

The public ceremony of the reburial took place on June 16, 1989 in the presence of 200,000 grieving Hungarians. With this act the road opened to free parliamentary and local elections in 1990 and the formation of a free Government. 

The demands of the Hungarian people were fulfilled. The building of a constitutional parliamentary democracy is under way. 

In these days worrisome news comes from Hungary indicating that the road is not smooth. The diamond of twentieth century Hungarian history that was formed in 1956 under the stresses of the circumstances and in the fire burning in every Hungarian’s heart is being tested today in Hungary. False prophets, eager mouths, zealous hands driven by dark emotions attempt to pulverize this gem into powder of coal and then burn it into ashes and dross. They will not succeed. History and we will not let them to succeed. 

On this 50th Anniversary when we remember and pay tribute to the ideals and heroes of 1956, we also affirm our deeply felt conviction that lasting freedom and democracy will not take hold in Hungary unless the precepts of the Revolution regarding resolute unity, sacrifice, human and political wisdom are practically and fully implemented. We call upon those who are responsible for Hungary’s welfare to heed to the principles for which so many died in 1956 and to whose memory we pay tribute today. 

We pray that it will be so! Lord Hear our prayer… God bless Hungary…Isten aldd meg a magyart! 
 

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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CARDIN United States Senate   RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                                   United States Senate   JOHN CORNYN                             United States Senate   ROGER F. WICKER                                 United States Senate                              DANIEL COATS                             United States Senate   CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                             United States Senate   DAVID VITTER United States Senate   KELLY AYOTTE United States Senate   LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER Member of Congress   JOE PITTS Member of Congress   MICHAEL C. BURGESS Member of Congress

  • Human Rights in Hungary

    Madam President, earlier this year I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on the situation in Hungary. Today, I would like to revisit some of the issues addressed by our witnesses. Since the April 2010 elections, Hungary has undertaken the most dramatic legal transformation that Europe has seen in decades. A new Constitution was passed with votes of the ruling party alone, and even that has already been amended five times. More than 700 new laws have been passed, including laws on the media, religion, and civic associations. There is a new civil code and a new criminal code. There is an entirely new electoral framework. The magnitude and scope of these changes have understandably put Hungary under a microscope. At the Helsinki Commission's hearing in March, I examined concerns that these changes have undermined Hungary's system of democratic checks and balances, independence of the judiciary, and freedoms of the media and religion. I also received testimony about rising revisionism and extremism. I heard from Jozsef Szajer, a Member of the European Parliament who represented the Hungarian Government at the hearing. Princeton constitutional law expert Kim Lane Scheppelle, Dr. Paul Shapiro from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska from Freedom House presented compelling testimony. Unfortunately, developments in Hungary remain troubling. Even though Hungary's religion law was tweaked after the Constitutional Court struck down parts of it, it retains a discriminatory two-tier system. Moreover, the Parliament is empowered with the extraordinary and, for all practical purposes, unreviewable power to decide what is and what is not a religion. This month, the government announced it is launching an investigation into the Methodist Evangelical Church, a church persecuted during communist times. Today, the Methodist Evangelical Church is known for its outreach to Roma, work with the homeless and is one of the largest charitable organizations in Hungary. As I noted at the Helsinki Commission hearing in March, it is also one of the hundreds of religious groups stripped of official recognition after the passage of Hungary's new religion law. The church has now complied with submitting the necessary number of supporters required by the law and, as a reply, the government has announced an unidentified "expert'' will conduct an investigation into the church's beliefs and tenets. This step only reinforces fears that parliamentary denial of recognition as a so-called "Accepted Church'' opens the door for further repressive measures. Veneration of Hungary's wartime regent, Miklos Horthy, along with other anti-Semitic figures such as writer Jozsef Nyiro, continues. In November, a statue of Hungarian Jewish poet Miklos Radnoti, who was killed by Hungarian Nazis at the end of 1944, was rammed with a car and broken in half. At roughly the same time, extremists staged a book burning of his works along with other materials they called "Zionist publications.'' At the beginning of December, two menorahs were vandalized in Budapest. Reflecting the climate of extremism, more than 160 Hungarian nationals have been found by Canada this year to have a well-founded fear of persecution. Almost all are Romani, but the refugees include an 80-year-old award winning Hungarian Jewish writer who received death threats after writing about anti-Semitism in Hungary, and was stripped of his honorary citizenship of Budapest on an initiative from the far-right Jobbik party, supported by the votes of the ruling Fidesz party. While there are many who suggest the real problem comes from the extremist opposition party Jobbik, and not the ruling government, it seems that some members of Fidesz have contributed to a rise in intolerance. I am particularly troubled that the government-created Media Council, consisting entirely of Fidesz delegated members, has threatened ATV--an independent television station--with punitive fines if it again characterizes Jobbik as extremist. If you can't even talk about what is extremist or anti-Semitic in Hungary without facing legal sanctions, how can you combat extremism and anti-Semitism? Moreover, this decision serves to protect Jobbik from critical debate in the advance of next year's elections. Why? Other new measures further stifle free speech. Unfortunately, and somewhat shockingly, last month Hungary amended its defamation law to allow for the imposition of prison terms up to 3 years. The imposition of jail time for speech offenses was a hallmark of the communist era. During the post-communist transition, the Helsinki Commission consistently urged OSCE countries to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws entirely. In 2004, for example, the Helsinki Commission wrote to Minister of Justice Peter Barandy regarding the criminal convictions of Andras Bencsik and Laszlo Attila Bertok. This new law, raced through under an expedited procedure in the wake of a bi-election controversy in which allegations of voter manipulation were traded, was quickly criticized by the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media. I share her concerns that these changes to the criminal code may lead to the silencing of critical or differing views in society and are inconsistent with OSCE commitments. Hungary was once held up as a model of peaceful democratic transition and is situated in a region of Europe where the beacon of freedom is still sought by many today. I hope Hungary will return to a leadership role in the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy. 

  • Bulgaria Holds Early Parliamentary Elections; OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Country-Wide Street Protests Trigger Snap Elections In early 2013, 30 Bulgarian cities were rocked by demonstrations. In some instances, violence erupted between demonstrators and police. In addition, in the months immediately preceding the elections, six people committed suicide by self-immolation in acts of public protest and desperation. The street demonstrations were triggered by sharply rising electricity rates in a country widely described as the poorest of the EU’s 27 members. Discontent was further fueled by dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board and widespread corruption. In February, following the street demonstrations, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned, paving the way for May 12’s early parliamentary elections. For those elections, 8,100 candidates stood for seats in the 240-member unicameral National Assembly allocated by proportional representation from 31 multi-mandate constituencies (with a 4% threshold for both parties and coalitions to enter parliament). Altogether, 63 parties (38 outside of coalitions and 7 coalitions) were registered as well as two independent candidates. The resulting ballot was roughly a yard long. OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission The OSCE mounted a full scale Election Observation Mission (EOM) – the first in Bulgaria since 1997 and the first ever in an EU country. Eoghan Murphy (MP, Ireland) was appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office Leonid Kozhara to serve as Special Coordinator and leader of the short-term observer mission (parliamentarians and observers seconded by OSCE participating States). The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) long-term observer team was headed by Miklos Haraszti. Roberto Battelli (MP, Slovenia) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Andreas Gross (MP, Switzerland) headed the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On Election Day, there were 158 observers deployed from 39 countries. Of an estimated 6.9 million voters (a number that, in any case, the OSCE and Council of Europe Venice Commission suggest may be high), 3,541,745 went to the polls. Voter turnout was at about 50 percent – the lowest turnout since the fall of communism – reflecting the voters’ antipathy even more than apathy. Approximately 850,000 votes were cast for parties that failed to overcome the 4% threshold to get into parliament. Reportedly 107,799 Bulgarian citizens voted abroad, with 63,152 votes cast in Turkey. The Mysterious Case of the Extra Ballots The administration of the elections on E-Day was largely unremarkable. It was, however, preceded by two separate but related wiretapping scandals suggesting that the Ministry of Interior had bugged journalists and state officials. The day before the elections, an “extra” 350,000 ballots were discovered in a printing house in Sofia. (A week after the elections, it was reported that more than 2,000 extra stamps for electoral commissions had also surfaced.) In its preliminary findings, the Election Observation Mission drew particular attention to the alienation of voters, lack of confidence in the electoral process, concerns over ballot security (the “extra” ballots), and persistent allegations of vote buying or voter intimidation. (A final report from the Mission is forthcoming.) Roma and Other Minorities in the Electoral Context Bulgaria has a population of 7.36 million (from almost 8 million in the 2001 census and roughly 8.4 million in the 1992 census). This continuing drop reflects declining birth rates and labor migration to other parts of Europe. The ethnic Turkish minority comprises 8.8 percent of the population. Almost 5 percent of the population self-identified as Romani on the last census, but Roma are estimated to be roughly 10 percent of the population. Last year, the Bulgarian Government estimated that 23 percent of the working age population is Romani. The Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, which is contrary to OSCE and other international norms on freedom of assembly. The OSCE has criticized this restriction in previous reports on Bulgarian elections. The Electoral Code stipulates that the election campaign must be conducted in the Bulgarian language only, also contrary to standards on free speech and minority language use set out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. These restrictions also impede get-out-the-vote efforts. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is, de facto, an ethnic Turkish minority party, although it has largely been allowed to function with a wink and a nod from the authorities. After the elections, it was reported that Lyutvi Mestan, head of the MRF party, was fined in Sliven for campaigning in Turkish. Bulgaria's last two local and Presidential elections (which were held simultaneously in 2007 and 2011) were preceded by outbreaks of anti-Roma violence. In 2011, just a few weeks before the elections, 14 Bulgarian cities erupted into anti-Roma riots. In July 2012, the headquarters of the EuroRoma political party were firebombed, killing one man. The investigation has not produced any results. On April 8, 15 Romani civil society organizations withdrew from their advisory role with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, effectively deeming the government’s work in this area and the consultative process to be a sham. There were no Roma in electable positions on the lists for any of the leading parties. As a result, the National Assembly produced by the May 12 elections will be the first Bulgarian parliament since the fall of communism to have no Romani MPs.

  • THE TRAJECTORY OF DEMOCRACY – WHY HUNGARY MATTERS

    This hearing focused on recent constitutional changes to the Hungarian Constitution which has brought concerns from the United States and the European Union. Recently, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes to its constitutional framework, effectively remaking the country’s entire legal foundation. In addition to constitutional changes, there have been some bills passed without the proper democratic spirit and has brought concerns about the trajectory of democracy in that country. The witnesses raised the changes that have created the majority government into a nearly one-party rule structure and compared such actions to President Madison’s written exposé in the Federalist Papers number 47.

  • Hungary

    Mr. President, as the Senate chair of the Helsinki Commission, I have a longstanding interest in Central Europe. For many years the Helsinki Commission was one of the loudest and clearest voices to speak on behalf of those oppressed by communism and to call for democracy, human rights, and freedom from Soviet oppression. It has been a great triumph and joy to see the peoples of this region free from dictatorship. Over the past two decades I have been profoundly heartened as newly freed countries of Central Europe have joined the United States and NATO and have become our partners in advocating for human rights and democracy around the globe. Leadership on those issues may be especially important now as some countries in the Middle East undertake transition, the outcome of which is far from certain. Even in Europe, in the western Balkans, there is a crying need for exemplary leadership, not backsliding. Americans know from our own history that maintaining democracy and promoting human rights are never jobs that are finished. As my friend and former colleague Tom Lantos said, "The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.'' For some time I have been concerned about the trajectory of developments in Hungary, where the scope and nature of systemic changes introduced after April 2010 have been the focus of considerable international attention. At the end of November, Hungary was back in the headlines when Marton Gyongyosi, a member of the notorious extremist party Jobbik and also vice chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that Hungarian Jews are a threat to Hungary's national security and those in government and Parliament should be registered. The ink was barely dry on letters protesting those comments when another Hungarian Member of Parliament, Balazs Lenhardt, participated in a public demonstration last week where he burned an Israeli flag. The fact is that these are only the latest extremist scandals to erupt in Budapest over the course of this year. In April, for example, just before Passover, a Jobbik MP gave a speech in Parliament weaving together subtle anti-Roma propaganda with overt anti-Semitism blood libel. After that, Jobbik was in the news when it was reported that one of its members in Parliament had requested and received certification from a DNA testing company that his or her blood was free of Jewish or Romani ancestry. At issue in the face of these anti-Semitic and racist phenomena is the sufficiency of the Hungarian Government's response and its role in ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law. And the government's response has been, to say the least, wanting. First, it has been a hallmark of this government to focus on blood identity through the extension of Hungarian citizenship on a purely ethnic basis. The same Hungarian officials have played fast and loose with questions relating to its wartime responsibilities, prompting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to issue a public statement of concern regarding the rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and political leaders from World War II. I am perhaps most alarmed by the government's failure to stand against the organized threats from Jobbik. For example, in late August a mob estimated at 1,000 people terrorized a Roma neighborhood in Devecser, taunting the Romani families to come out and face the crowd. There were reportedly three members of Parliament from the Jobbik party participating in that mob, and some people were filmed throwing bricks or stones at the Romani homes. The failure to investigate, let alone condemn such acts of intimidation, makes Prime Minister Orban's recent pledge to protect "his compatriots'' ring hollow. Of course, all this takes place in the context of fundamental questions about democracy itself in Hungary. What are we to make of democracy in Hungary when more than 360 religious organizations are stripped of their registration overnight and when all faiths must now depend on the politicized decision-making of the Parliament to receive the rights that come with registration? What are we to make of the fact that even after the European Commission and Hungary's own Constitutional Court have ruled against the mass dismissal of judges in Hungary's court-packing scheme, there is still no remedy for any of the dismissed judges? What is the status of media freedom in Hungary, let alone the fight against anti-Semitism, if a journalist who writes about anti-Semitism faces possible sanction before the courts for doing so? What are we to make of Hungary's new election framework, which includes many troubling provisions, including a prohibition on campaign ads on commercial radio and TV, onerous new voter registration provisions, and limits on local election committees, which oversee elections? I find it hard to imagine that Jews, Roma, and other minorities will be safe if freedom of the media and religion, the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary, and the checks and balances essential for democracy are not also safeguarded. With that in mind, I will continue to follow the overall trends in Hungary and the implications for the region as a whole.  

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes Unveiling of Berlin Memorial for Romani Genocide Victims

    On October 24, more than 600 people in Berlin attended the unveiling of the Memorial for the Sinti¹ and Roma of Europe Murdered under National Socialism. Leaders of the Helsinki Commission, who had underscored the importance of the monument, welcomed the event. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, observed that the memorial “marks an important step in acknowledging and teaching about the fate of Roma at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Axis powers: persecution, confiscation of property, forced sterilization, slave labor, inhumane medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide.” Proposals to erect a memorial to the Romani victims of genocide emerged in the early 1990s after the unification of the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic and at a time when German acknowledgement and remembrance took on additional dimensions. Those efforts, however, bogged down over questions regarding the location of the proposed memorial and the content of inscriptions. (Concerns raised by the artist over materials and weather-related construction complications also contributed to interruptions.) German government officials also suggested some delays were caused by differing views among Romani groups, particularly regarding the inscriptions; some critics of the delays suggested there was an insufficient sense of ownership and political will on the part of the government. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, noted the singular role of Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and “his tireless work to ensure that Romani victims of genocide are remembered and honored.” Rose, who lost his grandparents at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck, was a driving force to see the memorial completed. Cardin added, “I am deeply heartened that efforts to build this memorial, underway for over a decade, have finally been realized.” German government officials at the most senior level attended the unveiling of the genocide memorial, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Bundesrat President Horst Seehofer, and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Former President Richard von Weizsacker, in spite of advanced years and frail health, was also present. Federal Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann described the memorial “a pillar of German remembrance.” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Patrick Murphy and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson represented the United States. Dr. Ethel Brooks, who has served as a public member with the U.S. Delegation to the 2011 and 2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, also attended the ceremony. The memorial, designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, was widely hailed as a deeply moving testimony to the genocide of Romani people. Dutch Sinto survivor Zoni Weiss addressed the hundreds of people who attended the event. As a 7-year-old, Weiss narrowly avoided being placed on the Westerbork transport from the Netherlands due to the intervention of platform policeman, but watched as his immediate family was sent to Auschwitz where they perished. The unveiling ceremony was also accompanied by a week of events in Berlin focused on Romani history, culture and contemporary issues. Gert Weisskirchen, former German Member of the Budestag and former OSCE Personal Representative on Anti-Semitism, organized a round-table focused on contemporary challenges faced by Roma. In her remarks at the event, Chancellor Merkel also acknowledged the on-going struggle for human rights faced by Roma throughout Europe, saying bluntly, “let’s not beat around the bush. Sinti and Roma suffer today from discrimination and exclusion.” Romani Rose warned more pointedly, “In Germany and in Europe, there is a new and increasingly violent racism against Sinti and Roma. This racism is supported not just by far-right parties and groups; it finds more and more backing in the middle of society.” Background The Nazis targeted Roma for extermination. Persecution began in the 1920s, and included race-based denial of the right to vote, selection for forced sterilization, loss of citizenship on the basis of race, and incarceration in work or concentration camps. The most notorious sites where Roma were murdered include Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Jasenovac camp in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Romanian-occupied Transnistria, and Babi-Yar in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. In other parts of German occupied or German-allied territory, Roma were frequently killed by special SS squads or even regular army units or police, often left in mass graves. Many scholars estimate that 500,000 Roma were killed during is World War II, although scholarship on the genocide of Roma remains in its infancy and many important archives have only become available to a broader community of researchers since the fall of communism. In recent years, for example, Father Patrick Desbois has helped document the location of 800 WWII-mass graves in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including 48 mass graves of Roma. German postwar restitution legislation and its implementation effectively excluded almost all Romani survivors. Those most directly responsible for actions against Roma escaped investigation, prosecution and conviction. Several officials responsible for the deportations of Roma before and during the war continued to have responsibility for Romani affairs after the war. In 1979, the West German Federal Parliament acknowledged the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated. In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized that the National Socialist persecution of Romani people constituted genocide. The first German trial decision to take legal cognizance that Roma were genocide victims during the Third Reich was handed down in 1991. In 1997, Federal President Roman Herzog opened a Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma, saying “The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial hatred, with the same intent and the same desire for planned and final annihilation as that of the Jews. They were systematically murdered in whole families, from the small child to the old man, throughout the sphere of influence of the Nazis.” At the 2007 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Thommas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that, “[e]ven after the [ . . . ] Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.”

  • Hungary

    Mr. President, a year ago, I shared with my colleagues concerns I had about the trajectory of democracy in Hungary. Unfortunately, since then Hungary has moved ever farther away from a broad range of norms relating to democracy and the rule of law. On June 6, David Kramer, the President of Freedom House who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for President George W. Bush, summed up the situation. Releasing Freedom House's latest edition of Nations in Transit Kramer said: "Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances. They appear to be pursuing the `Putinization' of their countries.'' The report further elaborates, “Hungary's precipitous descent is the most glaring example among the newer European Union (EU) members. Its deterioration over the past five years has affected institutions that form the bedrock of democratically accountable systems, including independent courts and media. Hungary's negative trajectory predated the current government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but his drive to concentrate power over the past two years has forcefully propelled the trend.'' Perhaps the most authoritative voice regarding this phenomenon is the Prime Minister himself. In a February 2010 speech, Viktor Orbán criticized a system of governance based on pluralism and called instead for: “a large centralized political field of power . . . designed for permanently governing.'' In June of last year, he defended his plan to cement economic policy in so-called cardinal laws, which require a two-thirds vote in parliament to change, by saying, "It is no secret that in this respect I am tying the hands of the next government, and not only the next one but the following ten.'' Checks and balances have been eroded and power has been concentrated in the hands of officials whose extended terms of office will allow them to long outlive this government and the next. These include the public prosecutor, head of the state audit office, head of the national judicial office, and head of the media board. Those who have expressed concerns about these developments have good reason to be alarmed. I am particularly concerned about the independence of the judiciary which, it was reported this week, will be the subject of infringement proceedings launched by the European Commission, and Hungary's new media law. Although there have been some cosmetic tweaks to the media law, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has argued that it remains highly problematic. Indeed, one expert has predicted that the most likely outcome of the new law will be to squeeze out reporting on corruption. Hungary also adopted a new law on religion last year that had the stunning effect of stripping hundreds of religions of their legal recognition en masse. Of the 366 faiths which previously had legal status in Hungary, only 14 were initially granted recognition under the new law. Remarkably, the power to decide what is or is not a religion is vested entirely and exclusively in the hands of the legislature, making it a singularly politicized and arbitrary process. Of 84 churches that subsequently attempted to regain legal recognition, 66 were rejected without any explanation or legal rationale at all. The notion that the new framework should be acceptable because the faiths of most Hungarian citizens are recognized is poor comfort for the minority who find themselves the victims of this discriminatory process. This law also stands as a negative example for many countries around the world just now beginning tenuous movement towards democracy and human rights. Finally, a year ago, I warned that “[i]f one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home.”I am especially concerned by an escalation of anti-Semitic acts which I believe have grown directly from the government's own role in seeking to revise Hungary's past. Propaganda against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which defines the current borders of Hungary, has manifested itself in several ways. Most concretely, the Hungarian government extended citizenship on the basis of ethnic or blood identity--something the government of Viktor Orbán promised the Council of Europe in 2001 that it would not do and which failed to win popular support in a 2004 referendum. Second, the government extended voting rights to these new ethnic citizens in countries including Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. This has combined with a rhetorical and symbolic fixation on “lost” Hungarian territories--apparently the rationale for displaying an 1848 map of Greater Hungary during Hungary's EU presidency last year. In this way, the government is effectively advancing central elements of the agenda of the extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma Jobbik party. Moreover, implicitly--but unmistakably--it is sending the message that Hungary is no longer a civic state where political rights such as voting derive from citizenship, but where citizenship derives from one's ethnic status or blood identity. The most recent manifestation of this revisionism includes efforts to rehabilitate convicted war criminal Albert Wass and the bizarre spectacle of the Hungarian government's role in a ceremony in neighboring Romania--over the objections of that country--honoring fascist writer and ideologue Joszef Nyiro. That event effectively saw the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover; the Hungarian State Secretary for Culture, Geza Szocs; and Gabor Vona, the leader of Hungary's most notoriously extremist party, Jobbik, united in honoring Nyrio. Several municipalities have now seen fit to erect statues honoring Miklos Horthy, Hungary's wartime leader, and the writings of Wass and Nyiro have been elevated onto the national curriculum. It is not surprising that this climate of intolerance and revisionism has gone hand-in-hand with an outbreak of intolerance, such as the anti-Semitic verbal assaults on a 90-year old Rabbi and on a journalist, an attack on a synagogue menorah in Nagykanizsa, the vandalism of a Jewish memorial in Budapest and monuments honoring Raoul Wallenberg, the Blood Libel screed by a Jobbik MP just before Passover, and the recent revelation that a Jobbik MP requested--and received--a certificate from a genetic diagnostic company attesting that the MP did not have Jewish or Romani ancestry. We are frequently told that Fidesz is the party best positioned in Hungary to guard against the extremism of Jobbik. At the moment, there seems to be little evidence to support that claim. The campaign to rehabilitate fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is dangerous and must stop. Ultimately, democracy and the rights of minorities will stand or fall together. Hungary is not just on the wrong track, it is heading down a dangerous road. The rehabilitation of disgraced World War II figures and the exaltation of blood and nation reek of a different era, which the community of democracies--especially Europe--had hoped was gone for good. Today's Hungary demonstrates that the battle against the worst human instincts is never fully won but must be fought in every generation.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • The Escalation of Violence Against Roma In Europe

    This hearing focused on the discrimination, exclusion, and persecution faced by the Roma people in Europe.  Witnesses discussed the E.U. countries’ various national strategies for Roma integration and their effectiveness.  The witnesses also provided recommendations for the Commissioners on how to support European countries’ integration efforts on the government-to-government level.

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