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Strasbourg red star ruling stirs emotions

November 9th, 2011

Conservative and liberal commentators ponder whether the European Court of Human Rights was correct to rule that Hungary violated the principle of free speech when it banned the red star symbol.

The parliamentary parties should call in unison, upon (House Speaker) László Kövér to resign,” writes a conservative liberal commentator under the pen name Elek Tokfalvi (Alexis Tocqueville) in Heti Világgazdaság. He does not believe, however that they will do so.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in an unanimous decision, that the Hungarian state should pay compensation to the leader of a minor Communist party who was reprimanded by a tribunal for wearing a red star on his jacket. In the verdict, the Court admitted that the red star is a symbol which may hurt the victims of past Communist regimes, but that was not judged to be sufficient cause to curb free speech. In response, László Kövér, Speaker of the House and chairman of the Fidesz National Board, retorted that “in Strasbourg some idiots have no idea what was going on (here) for fifty years … and thus consider it tolerable if someone ostentatiously exhibits the red star.” He also suggested that many of today’s leading Western intellectuals used to be naive leftists, or even Maoists in the 1960s, and “would have trampled on the internal organs in their naive search for a nicer and more just society.”

Tokfalvi remarks that the European Court of Human Rights is the highest jurisdictional body of the Council of Europe and its judges are well-known and experienced legal scholars. He adds that the Court’s ruling was based on the European Convention on Human Rights, which has also been ratified by the Hungarian Parliament.

Tokfalvi finds it outrageous that the parties in Parliament, or at least the opposition parties, have not demanded Kövér’s resignation, after he branded a respected European institution a body of idiots. “I can only assume that the Parliamentary parties have no clue where we live.” (Since then LMP has criticized Kövér’s statement.)

I do not know if the judges in Strasbourg are idiots or not. … It is also possible that some of them had a Communist past. But I am absolutely sure that [according to Kövér] I am an idiot, since I fully agree with the ruling,” András Stumpf comments in the pro-government Heti Válasz.

Stumpf finds banning any symbols, including the swastika and the red star, unnecessary, for a ban would simply make these symbols more appealing. In addition, radicals will always find alternative ways to express their views. To which, according to Stumpf, they should be entitled. “It is not enough if such symbols incite fear. Unless instigation to violence is involved or the overthrow of the state is proposed, one should have the right to express – and to brand – oneself. (…) Anyone could label himself ‘an aggressive, frustrated and ignorant animal’ instead of wearing a swastika, or ‘a naive, utopian, unsympathetic jerk” instead of putting on a red star,” Mr Stumpf suggests.

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