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Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts

Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Hungary was one of the most successful post-Soviet countries in Europe, having made a gradual shift from socialism to democracy and free market economy. However, the country has been experiencing certain challenges since the Global Recession. Since 2010, Hungary is led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the Fidesz (Civic Union) party. In its last election in 2014, Fidesz received 44.54% of the vote.

During Viktor Orban’s term as Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing Fidesz party, Hungary had adopted several legislative norms that can be considered discriminatory. First of all, this concerns the new Constitution, which came into force on 1st of January 2012. Hungarian Basic Law has nationalistic overtones. The preamble to the Constitution states that Hungary lost sovereignty on March 19, 1944 (Nazi invasion into the territory of Hungarian ally), and only regained it on May 2, 1990. Thus, Hungary’s responsibility for allegiance with Nazi Germany in the Second World War is glossed over, while the Nazi occupation is equated to the political regime that replaced Nazis. This can be regarded as an attempt to revise the results of World Wars and the current frontiers.

The Constitution also contains the definition of the family, which excludes lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT).

The Law “On the right to freedom of conscience and belief, churches, religions and religious organisations” can also be considered discriminatory. Adopted by the Hungarian Parliament on July 12, 2011, the new Law contains retroactive provisions, namely – the “deregistration” of 346 religious minority communities, registered in Hungary since the adoption of the Law on Religion in Hungary in 1990. According to the new law, only 32 churches were to maintain their status as registered religious organisations, with the appropriate rights and privileges. These include Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, as well as several Protestant groups. All other religious groups lost their status of religious organisations and had to re-register. Re-registration also led to some problems. First, it was to be considered not by the courts, but by the Parliament, based on submissions of the Minister of Social Resources (church affairs are within his competence). Secondly, according to the new law, the registered religious organisations had to have been acting in Hungary for at least 20 years, have a constitution and an elected administrative body, as well as at least 1000 followers (previously, only 100 were required) who permanently reside in Hungary and confirm their religious affiliation in writing. These problems were relevant to the followers of Islam, Buddhism, Mormons, Hare Krishnas, etc.

In February 2013, Constitutional Court of Hungary lifted the ban on the use of Nazi and Communist symbols, as it “unduly restricted freedom of expression”. Thus, swastika became one of permitted symbols.

Hungary has a large number of national minorities. According to official figures, they amount to 6% of the total population, while unofficial data shows that their number reaches 15%. Roma is the largest ethnic minority in the country. With the total population of 10 million, the number of Roma in Hungary amounts to 700 000 – 800 000 people. Roma is also the most discriminated minority in the country.

Segregation of Roma in schools remains one of the problems of modern Hungary. Almost 80% of Hungarian correctional schools are filled with Roma. Authorities explain this with the weak educational background of the Roma population, but in fact, the majority of Roma children are automatically assigned to these schools. This discriminatory practice, based on long-standing prejudices, remains in spite of all court rulings. 70% of Hungarian parents do not want their children sharing a desk with Roma. 86% of 16-year-old school pupils agree with them. Roma children are placed in special “gypsy” schools and classes. They are often subjected to segregation outside of the classroom as well – for example, they are not allowed to use common playgrounds or canteens.. Currently, out of 400 thousand able-bodied Roma, only one in every four has income. Usually, Roma take on low-paid seasonal or part-time work. At the same time, Roma are almost always the first candidates for dismissal, and often cannot achieve reinstatement through legal means. Mayor of Erpatak (member of the Jobbik party) introduced a community service programme for local Roma as a condition for them to receive additional social benefits. On the street, police is three times more likely to stop the Roma than other citizens. Courts often sentence them to more severe punishments.

In 2014, there was an attempt to evict 450 Roma families in Miskolc to free up space for a stadium. In May, Miskolc council offered 6.5 thousand euros in compensation if Roma families leave their homes before July, prohibiting them from selling or letting their houses for five years. No alternative housing was offered. By December 2014, 30 families have been evicted without alternative housing.

On August 7, it was reported that two films depicting discrimination of Roma were not allowed for screening at CineFest International Film Festival in Miskolc. DPA agency reports that CineFest administration explained that due to the upcoming elections in Hungary, such film can have political repercussions in the country.

On September 26, Minister of Human Resources Zoltan Balog met with representatives of the Association of Free Evangelical Churches and the Hungarian Evangelical Alliance, where they discussed the tight provisions of the Church law. Mr Balog said that changing status cannot be difficult for active religious communities.

In 2015, Hungary’s social welfare system had undergone some radical changes relative to the role of local government in benefits distribution and subsidies. Local governments were given the power to determine the criteria and the extent of social welfare in most regions of the country. Government in Budapest retained control only over regions with the lowest tax returns. As a result many groups on local levels have been deemed as “unworthy” and not requiring social assistance, which allowed nationalist parties in power in some of those regions, such as the Jobbik party (and others), to stop support for the Roma minority group.

in Hungary in a number of municipalities in 2016, local legislative decrees were adopted, legalizing the "popular patrolling" of areas with a compact residence of the Roma population, the eviction of Roma from illegally constructed houses without providing alternative housing, etc. This was mainly in the municipalities, headed by representatives of the radical nationalist party Jobbik. At the state level, these initiatives were not condemned. Moreover, at the very end of 2015, the Hungarian government changed the law on education to allow segregation in specific cases, for example, in the case of private schools managed by recognized churches. According to the Roma press service, in fact, this reform was directed against the Roma people.

So the Minister of Human Resources of Hungary Zoltán Balogh, who presented the proposal to the parliament, declared back in 2010 that "more religious schools are needed, where the majority of pupils will be Roma". As L. Nóra Ritók, a prominent educator and activist of the anti-segregation movement, said, "The situation with segregation continues to deteriorate, despite all our efforts, because this is allowed even in rural schools."

The problem in 2016 became the tightening of migration laws. This was especially acute in Hungary, where in March 2016 the government declared a state of emergency regarding migration throughout the country. According to the Cabinet, this was caused by the closure of the migration route through the Balkans. This decision was extended in September 2016.

In April 2016, Hungary adopted an amendment to the Migration Act and ceased to pay a monthly cash benefit to asylum-seekers, as well as a school allowance previously granted to asylum-seekers.

At the beginning of June 2016 in Hungary, new amendments to the Asylum Act introduced the so-called "Deep border control". It allows the arrest of refugees if they deepen into the territory beyond 8 km from the border and returns them to the transit zone between Serbia and Hungary. At the same time, refugees were deprived of the right to apply for asylum outside the transit zone. That is a violation of both international law and EU legislation, since the authorities must begin the procedure as soon as a person asks for asylum anywhere in the country.

As a result of amendments to the Asylum Act adopted in June 2016, refugees also pledged to "leave the reception center where they were located, just one month after being granted status." However, they did not receive any targeted support for their integration (financial payments, housing allowance, free language course, etc.). As a result, to stay in the country for many of them became physically impossible - they were squeezed out of the country economically.

Considering that the main target of the government’s rhetoric and thus its legislative efforts were asylum-seekers, refugees, and illegal immigrants, no discriminatory legislation aiming at the Roma was approved at the national level in Hungary in 2017. The main legislative amendment affecting the asylum process came into effect on March 28, 2017.

The law implemented changes to asylum policies when a “special emergency situation caused by mass immigration” (hereafter referred to as immigration emergency) was in force. The immigration emergency has been in force since September 2015, and most recently it was extended until September 2018. The requirements to extend this special legal situation by half a year have not been met since 2016, but the government keeps it in force regardless. The immigration emergency allows the police to examine anyone’s identification documents in Hungarian territory without any justification, but it also has serious implications for asylum applications.

The changes also mean that the previous “8-kilometre rule,” which basically allowed Hungarian police to take any asylum-seeker caught within 8 kilometres from the Serbian-Hungarian border back to Serbia, was extended to the whole territory of Hungary. The March 28 amendment to the law on the right to asylum declares that when an immigration emergency is in force asylum applications can only be submitted in transit zones, where only five and, later, one applicant was allowed to enter every day. These provisions are valid for families (children are detained simply because their parents are) and people between the age of 14 and 18 not accompanied by an adult as well.

Children under 14 are transported form the transit zone to the children’s home in Fót, but there are considerable issues with determining the age of applicants, including the implementation of sufficient legal remedies against the conclusions of police doctors. Asylum-seekers must remain in the transit zones until the final verdict on their case is announced, to which there is no legal remedy – although they can return to Serbia whenever they want to. The new law also creates an absurd situation: theoretically, even Ukrainian or Russian asylum-seekers entering the country from the direction of – for instance – Ukraine will be transported to the transit zones, which they can only leave towards Serbia, a place they may have never been to.

In December 2019, Parliament passed a law (omnibus bill) on judicial reform that gave public authorities the right to appeal judicial decisions to the Constitutional Court if they claim that a lower court decision violates their rights. An appeal to the Constitutional Court would allow the government to bypass the traditional route of appeal through the Curia (Supreme Court), where the government's appeals had previously ended. Local lawyers said they believed these reforms would allow the government to overturn adverse rulings through the Constitutional Court, where all judges were appointed by Fidesz-led governments, and which had consistently ruled in favor of the government in politically sensitive cases all previous five years. While the Curia was seen as largely apolitical and staffed by professional judges, many Constitutional Court judges were seen as politically oriented legal scholars with limited previous judicial experience.

On December 1, 2020, the Hungarian Parliament adopted an amendment to the Equal Treatment and Promotion of Equal Opportunities Act. The amendment merged the Office for Equal Treatment and the Office of the Ombudsman. However, judging by the remarks made by the Venice Commission in its opinion, in fact it was a question of abolishing the Office for Equal Treatment. At the same time, the commission cited the following arguments: the amendments were adopted in a hurry, without consultation with civil society and other interested parties; The Equal Treatment Unit of the Ombudsman's Office was not recruited (the Director General for Equal Treatment was appointed only 9 months after the impact), which resulted in his work being effectively paralyzed. In fact, this had a negative impact on countering discrimination in the country.

September 1, 2021, Hungary passed the Law on strengthening the fight against pedophile offenders and amending certain laws to protect children. EU experts assessed this law as an attack on LGBT rights, since it provides for the "encouragement or depiction of deviation from [gender] identity associated with birth in the field, gender reassignment or homosexuality" available to persons under 18 years of age, which, in their view , is contrary to the fundamental values ​​of the EU, including non-discrimination.

Meanwhile, Hungarian officials believe that in this way the state protects the right of children to self-identify in accordance with their sex at birth. Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated on this occasion on October 4, 2020, that we can say with certainty that “with regard to homosexuality, Hungary is a patient, tolerant country. But there is a red line that cannot be crossed, and this is how I would summarize my opinion: “Leave our children alone.”

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