“Fidesz is using toughs to try and prevent MSZP from again submitting a referendum initiative that would make it possible for shops to once again open on Sunday. . . . Only dictators do such things! Come this afternoon to the National Election Office and let us demonstrate against oppression together!”
Thus read the invitation issued Tuesday afternoon by the Budapest chapter of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) after muscle-bound private security guards prevented Socialist MPs earlier that day from initiating a referendum on mandatory Sunday shop closures.
Ever since the unpopular Sunday closures came into force last year, MSZP has been trying to persuade the National Election Office (NVI) to hold a referendum on the subject. The previous attempt was challenged on legal grounds.
Confident that Hungary’s highest court, the Curia, would issue a ruling some time after 10 am Tuesday clearing the way for the referendum to be held, MSZP deputy chairman Zoltán Lukács (center) went to the National Election Office at 6 am only to find a phalanx of private security guards blocking the entrance. They turned out to be employees of Fradi Security, a security company owned by the Ferencváros (Fradi) Football Club run by Fidesz managing director Gábor Kubatov.
The musclebound, black-clad skinheads were holding dossiers, as only individuals wishing to submit applications for a national referendum were to be admitted to the building that day. It was subsequently revealed by 444.hu that at least one of the dossiers contained a copy of an application signed by László Erdősi, the wife of the Fidesz mayor of Herceghalom. Once gaining access to the building, applicants had to remain in the vestibule until their application could be time-stamped.
Even though Lukács arrived at the Alkotmány street building before Mrs. Erdősi, the private security guards saw to it that her petition was the first to be time-stamped once the Curia’s decision was published shortly before noon.
A constitutional crisis in the making?
The Curia previously ruled that the National Election Office must examine requests for national referenda in the order they arrive, and that only one application on a given subject can be examined at a time. In this way, Kubatov’s security guards managed to prevent opposition politicians from initiating a referendum on the subject of Sunday shop closures.
Of fifteen attempts on the part of opposition politicians to initiate a referendum on the subject of Sunday store closures, none have succeeded in even getting the requisite number of signatures verified. The main reason for this is that the laws in force can be broadly interpreted. The law states the National Election Office can only evaluate one initiative on a given subject at a time and that new questions on a given subject can only be submitted upon the rejection of the previous one. Because the law does not specify a time for submitting applications, the first to know an application has been rejected is the first to be able to submit a new application.
According to Attila Mráz, a lawyer at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, NVI is required by law to accept the first petition submitted on a given question, and does not have the right to determine the legality of the manner of submission.
According to the Criminal Code, “who employs force, the threat of force, deception, or material inducement to obstruct the initiation of a referendum . . . commits a crime punishable by up to three years imprisonment.”
Mráz says the mere presence of musclebound toughs does not necessarily constitute a threat. Rather, officials need to investigate the degree to which the individuals were influenced by a third party.
Socialist deputy chairman Zoltán Gőgös, who arrived at the NVI office at around 9 am, told the press that what was happening was:
“The final gasps of a miserable dictatorship”
“What is happening in Hungary is shameful and disgraceful,” said former MSZP MP István Nyakó. “The powers that be are prepared to obstruct initiatives they don’t like at any price.”
Nyakó said that once inside the building a phalanx of private security guards prevented him from submitting his petition until after they had submitted Mrs. Erdősi’s.
He said that by law only those should have been admitted to the building’s vestibule who possessed a document issued by the National Data Protection and Information Authority (NAIH) verifying that they had been registered to collect signatures, but nobody checked this.
Several hundred opposition party supporters arrived at the NVI Alkotmány street offices Tuesday afternoon carrying banners, flags and signs. MSZP president József Tóbiás was the first to speak while the crowd chanted “we won’t allow it!”.
Tóbiás told them Hungary will be strong if the people can say their opinion, but that what happened this morning was not in the people’s interests. “Are the powers so afraid?” asked the MSZP chairman, to which the crowd responded with a resounding “yes!”. He told them that “these days the rule of law state was only to be found in textbooks”, but that “eventually power would have to look voters in the eye”.
“Referendum” chanted the crowd while Tóbiás handed the microphone to Gőgös, who told the crowd that the ones who obstructed the submission had clearly been trained and hired. “This is a private army,” he said, adding that there is nothing lower than what happened today.
The MSZP politician then turned to the subject of the sale of state lands. He said that as the Curia had formally approved the question, they could now start collecting signatures for a referendum that would prevent additional state lands from being stolen.
Gőgös had the following message for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “Do not wish for a revolution because that won’t be good for anyone . . . Change things up to the point where you can barely escape with your skin.” He asked what would happen in Sunday’s by-election in Salgótarján “if this happened here today”.
“Cheap and vile politics”
MSZP Budapest chapter president Ágnes Kunhalmi told the crowd that “they look down on us and insult us”. She said politics were not bad, only the “cheap and vile politics” practiced by Viktor Orbán and his followers. “It appears as though a crime was committed,” said the MSZP MP, to which the crowd responded by chanting “to prison!”. Kunhalmi told the crowd such things only happen in a dictatorship, a certain sign of which was fear. She said Orbán is afraid because he had yet to produce a single result since 2010. “His accomplishments are zero. He has no perspective for the future, he cannot govern. He never could,” stated Kunhalmi.
She closed her speech by saying that “Hungary deserves a lot better than this” and “the problem isn’t with politics but with the vile and abject, self-defeating dastardly politicians, who should be driven away”.
One demonstrator told the Beacon he did not understand how it was possible that the street wasn’t full of protestors. Another complained that once again the demonstrators had departed peacefully where such a power cannot be broken by employing such means.
Együtt deputy chairman Péter Juhász told the Beacon that it was “perfectly clear that an organized action had taken place”.
“Orbán chose the path of Putin in that he is beginning to use force to prevent citizens from using the democratic institutions.” He said MSZP should report the incident to authorities and he hoped there would be consequences to what happened today.
“As a politician I can say with confidence that the governing party’s men committed a crime here with the use of lawful criminals,” said Juhász, adding that he was confident “this is one of many steps by which Viktor Orbán is building a dictatorship, and not a rule of law state”.
Dialogue for Hungary (PM) said:
“It seems that the Fidesz government is prepared to resort to any and all means, including physical violence, to protect its power. PM believes that wherever this is allowed to happen, one can speak of the winding up of democracy. It is unacceptable and scandalous that in the 21st century Europe must grapple with toughs in order to realize participatory democracy.”