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Death penalty issue still in focus

May 11th, 2015

The Prime Minister proposed a discussion on the death penalty and has got his way: the internet is bursting with comments on the issue. Most object to the idea of re-opening the debate, but some back the Prime Minister’s initiative.

In Heti Válasz’s regular weekly debate between two political scientists, Ágoston Sámuel Mráz says the Prime Minister represents a centrist view between the radical right-wing position in favour of the death penalty and the left liberal opposition’s view which consists in repeating old “mantras”. Gábor Török replies that a centrist position is impossible over an issue where you have to choose between yes or no. He himself would rather be in favour of the death penalty, he says, but accuses the Prime Minister of staging an empty show, since capital punishment simply cannot be introduced. Mráz on the other hand says he is against the death penalty but remarks that the Prime Minister has never said he would be in favour of capital punishment.

Following his original statement that the death penalty “should be kept on the order of the day” and his assurance to European parliament speaker Martin Schultz that he had no intention of introducing the death penalty in Hungary, Mr Orbán told National Public Radio on Friday that the he was pro-life, and would oppose the death penalty as long as citizens’ lives could be protected without introducing it. He also said individual countries within the European Union should be free to decide whether to allow capital punishment or not.

On Alternatíva, Dávid Lakner criticises Török for simply remarking that he would be in favour of capital punishment without explaining why. The state, he argues, cannot exercise the right of life or death over the citizens. How could it condemn murderers if it became one itself?, he asks.
In his answer on his Facebook page, Török argues that in extreme cases the death penalty should not be ruled out. For instance had Hitler survived World War II, Török wouldn’t have wished him to live on peacefully in a German prison. For the same reason he fears it unjust that Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer is spending his days in a comfortable Norwegian prison.

In Magyar Nemzet, Zsuzsanna Körmendy condemns those who discuss reintroducing capital punishment “without having the slightest idea about the long struggle that led to its abolition in European countries”. This tradition, she continues, is part and parcel of European identity. As long as Europe remains Europe, Körmendy warns, it is unworthy of any European country to reintroduce the death penalty, irrespective of whether the given country is a member of the European Union or not. The Union treaties merely codified an all-European cultural and moral consensus over the matter, she says. “We are not America. This continent has suffered too much in two world wars and so many revolutions to accept the electric chair or a lethal injection as the ‘final solution’ to guilty lives.”

In Reposzt, an opinion blog run by a group of Catholic priests, Rev. Bálint Jakab believes that Christian culture is a much more secure antidote against violent crime than fear as a deterrent. But if morality fades and justice is exclusively rendered by the law, then fear remains the only weapon society can brandish against manslaughter. This is why the issue of the death penalty is a periodically recurrent topic in western public discourse, the Catholic analyst believes.

In an emotional interview with Kisalföld, Dr Zoltán Nagy, the retired Hungarian judge who handed down the last death sentence in Hungary in 1988, recalls the moment when he had to order the execution of his own sentence and witnessed the death of an unrepentant killer who fought and screamed desperately on the gallows. “I said to myself: we should never do that again. ”

On Mandiner, Gergely Szilvay deems it unfortunate that Viktor Orbán should have so abruptly challenged the European Union on such a sensitive issue, when “we are already regarded as a not exactly good boy in the international community.” At the same time he doesn’t understand why liberals who are supposed to be the promoters of dialogue and critical thinking should be so appalled when an issue that they believed had been closed forever is reopened. He brings up the 1987 prison revolt on the island of Elba, where the authorities were helpless against the leader of the uprising who had been given three life sentences before and had nothing to lose with a fourth one. Szilvay also recalls the case of a Hungarian murderer who killed three guards and one inmate during an attempted escape from his life sentence. In such extreme cases he would not rule out the reintroduction of the death penalty.

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