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Jobbik wins defamation case

April 1st, 2013

Liberal commentators criticize the Hungarian justice system for what they see as the misuse of free speech, in their reflections on a court ruling which condemned a historian for calling Jobbik a neo-Nazi party.

In a talk show on what the left interprets as a restoration of the Horthy era in December 2011, the respected Holocaust historian László Karsai termed Jobbik a neo-Nazi party. Jobbik filed a complaint, claiming that the they had nothing in common with Nazi ideology. During the hearings, Karsai quoted several well-known historians who find similarities between the rhetoric of Jobbik and National Socialist ideas, and on these grounds Karsai claimed that he as a historian could legitimately express his opinion that Jobbik was a neo-Nazi party. The court dismissed Karsai’s argument and said that in the specific context of the roundtable discussion, the use of the neo-Nazi label was “completely autotelic and thus gratuitous” slander, rather than the reasoned opinion of a historian. Karsai said that he would appeal against the ruling.

The distorted interpretation of free speech reflected in the court’s decision helps radical voices to intensify, writes Tamás Szigeti of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) in Szuverén. Hungarian courts have protected the right to free speech of radical anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and homophobic politicians and groups, Szigeti alleges, but do not seem to apply the same standards in the case of a historian using the neo-Nazi label. Szigeti finds it highly controversial that political parties should enjoy the same protection of their fair name and reputation as individuals or companies. The liberal human rights activist believes that free speech by nature implies that one has the right to say without further reasoning what one means, and on this basis Szigeti finds the court’s requirement that Karsai provide a contextual underpinning to his argument, completely nonsensical. Such controversies could only be avoided by the full and unconditional recognition of the right to free speech, Szigeti continues. He concludes by suggesting that the current government has imposed further restrictions on free speech by stipulating in the Basic Law that free speech does not include the right to offend national, ethnic or religious minorities, and simultaneously restricting the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction by limiting its ability to ground decisions on repealed constitutional provisions and related precedents (see BudaPost February 11).

The court should have refused to discuss the case in the first place, Magyar Narancs comments. The left-wing liberal weekly points out that following a precedent created by the Constitutional Court in 1994, Hungarian judges have never ruled in favour of plaintiffs in defamation cases, unless statements involved false factual evidence. By deciding to hear the case, the court assisted Jobbik in refuting its links to neo-Nazi ideas, Magyar Narancs suggests. The liberal weekly wonders whether politicians labeled by journalists as ‘neo-liberal’ might also file complaints, by objecting to the use of the offensive neo-liberal adjective.

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