MINELRES: Minority news from Hungary

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Mon Nov 25 13:33:21 2002


Original sender: Judit Solymosi <solymosij@mail.datanet.hu>


Selection compiled by the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities,
Budapest, Hungary 

Selection of news on national and ethnic minorities in Hungary
November 2002

Results of the 2002 autumn minority self-governments elections

As a result of the municipal elections held on 20 October 2002, local
minority self-governments will be set up in 1317 settlements of Hungary.
On the basis of 1977 initiatives, elections were held for 1870 bodies,
out of which 1811 proved to be valid and effective. This number in
respect of the individual minority communities is as follows: Armenians
30, Bulgarians 30, Croats 100, Germans 318, Greeks 30, Gypsies/Roma
1004, Poles 50, Romanians 43, Ruthenes 31, Serbs 43, Slovaks 108,
Slovenes 12, Ukrainians 12. A total of 7,772 elected representatives
will work in the local minority self-governments: 5,273 of them got
elected as an independent candidate and 2,499 representatives were
fielded by minority organisations.

There are 78 settlements in the country in which the proportion of
minority representatives in the municipal government exceeds 50 per
cent. These bodies may decide if they want to fulfil also the duties of
a minority self-government; in this case they will function as "minority
municipal governments". 

On the other hand, 1,371 minority candidates got elected in the
municipal governments: 548 of them belong to the Roma and 453 to the
German minority. The mayors of 35 settlements will be Germans, Croatian,
Slovak, Roma, Romanian and Slovenian mayors were elected respectively in
20, 12, 4, 1 and 4 settlements.

Only a few cases of abuse occurred but their proportion shows a growing
trend. Different forms of abuse affected to a different extent almost
all minority communities. The most serious situation can be observed in
the case of the Ruthenian and the Armenian minority where even the
setting up of an authentic national self-government is threatened.
Minorities had to face not only the already familiar phenomenon of the
election of candidates who until then had been unknown to the given
minority community, but also a new problem which consisted in some
politicians and members of marginalised political parties trying –
sometimes with success – to make their way into local political bodies
by using the preferential way guaranteed to minority representatives.

According to the presidents of the national minority self-governments
this conscious and organised attack on minority self-governance
infringes upon the basic rights ensured to minorities in the
Constitution. Minority leaders asked the Government not to support from
the state budget self-governments composed of persons who are unknown to
the traditional minority communities. Several minority leaders are
determined to go to law in order to enforce their rights. 


Series of consultations between the representatives of the Hungarian
Government and the national leaders of
national and ethnic minorities 

Consultations between minority leaders and the new Hungarian Government
established in 2002 were started soon after the parliamentary elections.
Already on 13 May minority leaders compiled and sent the list of their
minority policy expectations to the Prime Minister. In this document
they stressed the importance of continuing the practice of consensual
minority policy, ensuring the necessary financial and legal conditions
for the implementation of cultural autonomy, the stabilisation of the
system of minority self-governments as well as the elaboration and
passing of legal provisions ensuring the representation of minorities in
Parliament.

In its Government Programme published on 19 May the Government declared
that it regarded national and ethnic minorities as integral part of the
Hungarian nation and it considered the implementation of their
parliamentary representation as an urgent moral and political task of
majority society. According to the Government the preservation of Roma
ethnic and cultural identity should run parallel with the process of
social integration. In the interest of the development of creative and
successful national cultures the Government Programme promised to
provide increased support to the cultural aspirations of national and
ethnic minorities.

The meeting between Mr Péter Medgyessy, Prime Minister of the Republic
of Hungary and the presidents of the national minority self-governments
took place on 6 June. The Prime Minister expressed his wish to gradually
ensure the participation and the presence of minorities in parliamentary
work. He told minority leaders that the Office for National and Ethnic
Minorities would be replaced in the future under the supervision of the
Prime Minister’s Office, and a new Roma Political State Secretariat as
well as a Council of Roma Affairs under the Prime Minister’s
Chairmanship would be specifically set up in order to tackle Roma issues
more effectively. Minority leaders pointed out that they regarded as a
most urgent task the modification of the Act on municipal elections
before the autumn elections.[1]

Minority leaders and the representatives of the Office for National and
Ethnic Minorities held a two-day consultation in August that was
attended by Mr Vilmos Szabó and Mr László Teleki, State Secretaries of
the Prime Minister’s Office responsible respectively for minority policy
and Roma integration issues as well as by Minority Ombudsman Mr Jenő
Kaltenbach. 

The working meeting focused on the discussion of issues related to the
autumn municipal and minority self-governments elections, on the
evaluation of the results of the 2001 census as well as on the common
consideration of the most important minority policy issues of the
government term. Participants agreed that all acts concerning minority
rights whose adoption or amendment was of general interest should be put
before Parliament by the end of 2003. Minorities considered it important
to incorporate in the state budget from 2003 onwards a special fund
facilitating the founding, the operation and the takeover of cultural
and educational institutions. This amount should be later on built in
the budget of national minority self-governments. 

At the end of September Mr Elemér Kiss, Minister of the Prime Minister's
Office met the presidents of the national minority self-governments. The
parties discussed the state of affairs in budgetary planning and the
possibility of ensuring the parliamentary representation of minorities.

After the meeting with the minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, a
series of meetings started with the leaders of individual line
ministries. The first meeting of this kind was held in the Ministry of
National Cultural Heritage. The parties agreed to set up experts groups
and the establishment of a permanent minority cultural committee was
also discussed.

The October consultation with the leaders of the Ministry of Informatics
and Communication focused on the place of national and ethnic minorities
in the information society. In the interest of effective co-operation
the political state secretary of this ministry proposed the setting up
of a Minority Information Forum. Similar meetings will be held in the
near future with the leaders of the Ministry of Education and the
Ministry of Children, Youth and Sport.

In the period of the preparation to the 2002 autumn elections the
highest leaders of the Hungarian Radio and the Hungarian Television also
met the presidents of the national minority self-governments. The
consultation resulted in the definition of a concrete time frame put at
the disposal of minorities to assist their electoral campaign in the
public service media. These meetings have been part of the series of
regular meetings between minorities and the two institutions. Since
2000, a co-operation agreement has been in force between the Hungarian
Television and minority self-governments. At the autumn meeting, leaders
of the Hungarian Radio confirmed their willingness to conclude a similar
agreement with minorities in the near future. 

In parallel with these consultations, the Office for National and Ethnic
Minorities worked out the preliminary concepts for legislation (act on
the rights of minorities, act on parliamentary representation, act on
municipal and minority elections) and handed them over to the presidents
of the national minority self-governments. After this, at the beginning
of November the Office organised another consultation with the aim of
discussing the possible forms of amending the related legal provisions. 

It is clear that regulations concerning the election of minority
self-governments have to be changed before the 2002 elections since they
are currently not fit to filter out cases of abuse. Legal provisions
should allow the setting up of minority self-governments only in
settlements where national minority communities have been traditionally
present. Changes would aim on the one hand at having in minority
self-governments only people who are members of the authentic minority
communities and who are Hungarian citizens, and on the other hand at
allowing only members of these communities to make use of the
preferential electoral forms ensured to minorities. It is therefore
necessary to create a link of legitimacy between minority voters and
candidates.

Minority leaders discussed the possible ways of restrictive measures.
Besides separating the venue and/or the timing of minority elections
from those of municipal elections, these possibilities include among
others the restriction of the circle of voters. This implies the
compilation of specific voters’ lists, which would help avoid the
imaginary or real danger of "the majority manipulating the minority".
Another possibility consists in defining eligibility conditions
(definition of the objective criteria of belonging to a minority
community, declaration about the fact of belonging to a minority and the
fulfilment of the objective criteria, necessity of possessing the
recommendation of a minority organisation in order to become a
candidate, etc.). No consensus was reached in that respect whether both
active and passive voting rights should be restricted. The idea was
raised that candidates should be fielded exclusively at nominations
meetings. If someone had already been elected at one time as the
candidate of a minority, s/he should not be allowed to stand for
elections under the colours of another minority: this could also be one
element of the restriction planned. The free declaration, the free
assumption of one’s identity should not mean its constant interchanging.

As far as parliamentary representation is concerned, minority leaders
asked for the possibility of getting involved in the work of Parliament
during this governmental term. The proposal according to which the
institution of "national delegates" without voting rights should be
introduced offers only a temporary solution. As a durable solution, the
Minister of the Prime Minister's Office proposed the setting up of a
Minority Council (a Minority Faction) including representatives of all
minorities. This group would have
all rights ensured to party factions and standing committees, and its
members would get the same benefits as other MPs. However, they would
not have individual voting rights: the group as a whole would have 2 or
3 votes in Parliament. Several minority leaders would agree with such a
solution, however, they think the group should have a higher number
(5-7) of votes.

It should be also decided whether proposals concerning temporary and
durable solutions should be submitted to Parliament together or it is
more suitable to make use of the probably easier and quicker adoption of
a temporary solution, and to urge then the adoption of a durable
solution "from inside".

Leaders of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities insist on
reaching a consensus with minorities in the legislative matters
mentioned above. However, if no common position is found before the
middle of the governmental term, the Government will take the
responsibility to elaborate and submit the related bills in the interest
of having these issues settled before the end of the term.

Financial requests and demands of minorities were taken into
consideration by the Government in the draft budget for 2003. In order
to facilitate the takeover and the operation of educational and cultural
minority institutions and to raise the professional level of their work,
support provided to national minority self-governments increased not
only with some 10 per cent (a proportion that exceeds inflation rate),
but a complementary amount – equal in the case of all minority
self-governments – was added to permit these bodies the employment of
two more staff members. At the request of minorities, a special item of
the next year draft budget consists of an amount of HUF 440M that would
be serve the takeover and the operation of already existing minority
institutions or the founding of new ones.


Pupils should not be segregated any longer in the future

The Administrative State Secretary of the Ministry of Education has
recently declared that the ministry will review all legal provisions in
order to prevent segregation on any ground in the future. Mrs Viktória
Mohácsi, Roma ministerial commissioner has told that a National
Integration Network will start working in January. The tasks of the
network would consist in implementing different programmes in the field
of teachers’ training and the development of educational institutions of
disadvantaged regions and settlements. At 53 different places of the
country, co-ordinators will assist the education of socially
disadvantaged and Roma pupils. From next September onwards, a so called
"integration normative support" will be introduced to help institutions
eliminate segregation that does not necessarily stem from malevolence.


Line ministry waiting for EU position for sanctioning hate speech

At the end of October, Minister of Justice Mr Péter Bárándy said that
within the next months, the sanctioning of hate speech would become part
of the Hungarian Criminal Code. The Ministry of Justice is just waiting
for the framework regulation of the European Union in order to work out
its proposal in harmony with international regulations.


New country report by the European Commission

Mr Jürgen Köppen, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in
Hungary said the Regular Report of the Commission on Hungary, published
at the beginning of October was very positive. Still Hungarians should
not be over-confident: the fight against  corruption and the social
integration of the Roma constitute long-term problems. When speaking of
the Report, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr László Kovács stressed that
the very favourable assessment was the result of 12 years’ work after
the change of the political system. 


[1] Unfortunately, time proved to be too short for holding the necessary
consultations and working out a bill that would be
acceptable for all parties. (Note of the editor)