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Another prominent Faith Church member sides with government on referendum

“Not only do I consider the Helsinki Committee’s decision to be anti-democratic, I also do not agree with the substance of it. Because I am a democrat, I do not want some outside power to strip our nation of its sovereignty, not on this quota issue or any other issue. That is why I will take part in the referendum on October 2nd and will vote ‘No.’ Furthermore, I am a Christian and a Hungarian patriot. While I do consider it important to help protect the legal rights of real refugees, the migration crisis affecting Europe is primarily a security issue and one that determines the fate of our nation. For us, Hungarians and Europeans, we also have rights which need to be defended: the right to national self-identity, the right to our own culture, the right to protect our traditions.” – István László Mészáros

“We are not campaigning against the referendum, rather we are calling attention to the fact that this is not a real referendum. We are not questioning the judgement of the citizenry, we are calling on them to use their judgement. We are asking them to make their opinions known and to send a message to the government: that they do not agree with the government’s hate campaign and they will not allow the government to abuse the institution of the referendum. For us, this amounts to casting an invalid vote. . . . you accuse us of engaging in party politics when our position does not align with that of a single political party. In this situation, it is difficult to rationalize your statement that we are ‘pulling the cart of a well-known political camp’.” – Helsinki co-chairs Márta Pardavi and András Kristóf Kádár

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István László Mészáros has resigned from the board of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

While an SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats) member of parliament in the 1990s, Mészáros also served as deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on human rights and minority and religious affairs. Mészáros, who practices law, joined the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in the early 1990s.

In a piece published on the Vigyázó blog, Mészáros said he is leaving the Helsinki Committee because he believes the NGO’s activities (encouraging Hungarians to cast invalid votes in Hungary’s upcoming anti-EU refugee quota referendum) are anti-democratic.

According to Mészáros, it is dumbfounding that an “organization which was founded to stand up for democracy and civil rights …  has arrived to the point where it is now campaigning against the referendum, one of the most important institutions of democracy.

“Furthermore, this is anti-democratic, and it essentially questions the ability of citizens to make sound decisions.”

According to Mészáros, the Helsinki Committee did not even consult with its members before deciding to encourage Hungarians to cast invalid votes in Sunday’s referendum.

“For the organization’s leader to make decisions over the heads of the members (regardless of the merits of the decision – although I do not even agree with the decision) is itself anti-democratic,” Mészáros writes.

“Not only do I consider the Helsinki Committee’s decision to be anti-democratic, I also do not agree with the substance of it. Because I am a democrat, I do not want some outside power to strip our nation of its sovereignty, not on this quota issue or any other issue. That is why I will take part in the referendum on October 2nd and will vote ‘No.’ Furthermore, I am a Christian and a Hungarian patriot. While I do consider it important to help protect the legal rights of real refugees, the migration crisis affecting Europe is primarily a security issue and one that determines the fate of our nation. For us, Hungarians and Europeans, we also have rights which need to be defended: the right to national self-identity, the right to our own culture, the right to protect our traditions.”

Helsinki co-chairs retort

Shortly after Mészáros’ announcement, Helsinki Committee co-chairs Márta Pardavi and András Kristóf Kádár issued a response to Mészáros on the organization’s blog.

According to the co-chairs, the organization had discussed this matter at their annual meeting in May. Furthermore, the issue had been discussed openly in the organization and even the Helsinki Committee’s founder, Ferenc Kőszeg, had published a piece in the media outlining the reasoning for the decision.

“As even you know, the by-laws of the Helsinki Committee leave it to the co-chairs to decide whether they wish to consult with the members [of the board] regarding strategic questions,” the co-chairs write. “Our position [on this referendum] is that it is an abuse of this legal institution, and we made it clear from the outset that we have very serious objections to the manner in which government is handling the refugee crisis — as we pointed out during the annual meeting in May which you also attended.

“We are not campaigning against the referendum, rather we are calling attention to the fact that this is not a real referendum. We are not questioning the judgement of the citizenry, we are calling on them to use their judgement. We are asking them to make their opinions known and to send a message to the government: that they do not agree with the government’s hate campaign and they will not allow the government to abuse the institution of the referendum. For us, this amounts to casting an invalid vote,” they write.

According to the co-chairs, there are times when human rights are political issues. Because politics revolves around taking and practicing power, human rights work is using the law to advocate on behalf of the individual and to supervise how power is being practiced. The Helsinki Committee had raised its voice after the police crackdowns in 2006 and as Hungary’s democratic institutions were dismantled after 2010.

“But you did not signal to us on those occasions that [the Helsinki Committee] had stepped onto the political scene,” they write.

Furthermore, they add, “you accuse us of engaging in party politics when our position does not align with that of a single political party. In this situation, it is difficult to rationalize your statement that we are ‘pulling the cart of a well-known political camp’.”

Food for thought: Is there a concerted effort by the Faith Church to drum up support for the government’s referendum?

Mészáros is a member of the Faith Church (Hít Gyülekezete), which happens to own Hungary’s only “opposition” television station and is completely behind the government concerning the October 2nd referendum. It also happens to be one of the non-historical churches that the government did not strip of its state-recognized status when it adopted the unlawful Church Law of 2011.

In recent months, Faith Church founder Sándor Németh came out in support of the referendum in a somewhat uncustomary display of Orbánesque rhetoric. Shortly after that, Németh’s son, Szilárd, who is also ATV’s news chief, maintained that, while the church has strong feelings on this issue, no deal was struck between Fidesz and the church regarding ATV’s editorial content or the Faith Church’s legal status.

A few weeks later, Faith Church member, notable legal scholar and former SZDSZ politician Péter Hack also announced he would vote ‘No’ in the referendum.

ATV.hu, the “opposition” television station’s news website, has also been urging people, via a Facebook-sponsored post, to take part in the referendum.

Speaking this morning on state-run radio, Sándor Németh reiterated his support for the government’s position in the referendum.

Mészáros’ decision to resign from the board of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee only days before the country goes to the polls falls in line with the political statements and actions of his fellow church members and their “opposition” media outlet.

Benjamin Novak :