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Seeking legal punishment for the debt

August 3rd, 2011

The latest left-right controversy has been sparked by an initiative of the Parliamentary majority to find ways to sue those politicians responsible for Hungary’s deep indebtedness. Left wing commentators believe that political mistakes cannot be criminalised in a democracy.

Last Sunday, after six months of deliberations, the parliamentary subcommittee investigating the cause of the debt crisis decided that it was the fault of the (Socialist) politicians who ran the country and its finances from 2002 to 20010. During that period, Hungary’s sovereign debt doubled, and the debt ratio rose from 57 to 80 per cent of GDP. The proceedings were boycotted by the left wing opposition. Péter Szíjjártó, chairman of the subcommittee and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s spokesman said three parliamentary committees would be asked to decide if those in question can be “held legally responsible, in addition to their political responsibility”.

In Népszabadság Ákos Tóth, who has distinguished himself as a vehement critic of the current prime minister, argues that Fidesz should immediately produce the evidence at its disposal if it believes that someone has profited from letting the debt grow beyond reasonable limits. Otherwise it should also sue its own mayors who have indebted their towns and cities throughout Hungary. Népszabadság mentions two of those mayors by name: deputy party chairman Lajos Kósa and floor leader János Lázár.

Tamás Mészáros, a leading left wing polemicist believes the suggestion is clear proof of Mr Orbán’s intention to send his predecessors to jail. But, he adds in a commentary in Népszava, under the present legal system it is not feasible. This is why, he speculates, the subcommittee headed by Péter Szíjjártó has addressed its request to the Constitutional Committee. The idea is to amend the constitution in order to be able to introduce substantial changes to the Penal Code, suggests Mészáros. Whilst admitting that “Hungary is not a totalitarian state,” he warns the lawyers who will work on those changes that among the defendants at the post-war Nuremberg Trials, a group of jurists got heavy sentences for their part in running Hitler’s legal system.

In 168 óra, Győző Mátyás contends that if taken seriously, the suggestion could also lead to PM Viktor Orbán’s imprisonment, for he contributed to increasing public debt at the end of his first term, in 2001-2002.  Mátyás also mentions that in Greece public debt amounts to 160 per cent of GDP, and still, nobody intends to fill Greek prisons with politicians. “To put the legal system at the service of political interests and revenge is a graver sin even than raising the debt ratio to 200 per cent” – the left wing commentator asserts.

In Magyar Hirlap, editorial writer Gyula T. Máté points out that Socialist leaders do not deny their responsibility for indebting the Country. They merely say that to sue them would amount to a return to the show trials of the early nineteen-fifties. Máté refrains from facing the question whether indebting the country can serve as a legal basis for criminal investigation and indictment. He just finds it absurd that the Socialist politicians involved would like the voters to forget what happened and reappoint them at the next elections. “Fidesz might enact good and bad laws; it may induce people to demonstrate on the streets against one tosh or another it produces.  None of that would alter the fact that this country has been ruined by a dozen politicians who believed they were statesmen.”

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