What should Europe do about a mafia? – The Weekly 14

Márton Gyöngyösi

04/07/2020

           

If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law.   

We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. 

Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.

For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. 

In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.

I am afraid we were bitterly disappointed. This European Union and its agencies are apparently willing to do nothing to protect us. Let me tell you an example to explain what I mean.

In 2017, one year before the national elections that brought another two-thirds Fidesz majority, Jobbik, as Hungary’s second largest party, was preparing for ousting the government. We planned our campaign, got ready for the competition and put out our first billboards presenting Fidesz’ corrupt dealings to the people. The feedback showed us that the message hit home. We also felt it from the reactions of the governing party as they immediately called for banning Jobbik, or at least for removing our billboards while they kept sending messages to the supposedly independent Hungarian authorities to the effect that it was time to silence our party. Meanwhile, Europe kept silent. However, Fidesz’ outburst was followed by action. First they attempted to ban the opposition, especially Jobbik, from setting up billboards. When they couldn’t fully succeed, they raised the stakes. The supposedly independent State Audit Office, which was led by a former Fidesz lawmaker, conducted a kangaroo court procedure to impose a fine of € 3 million on Jobbik, thus depriving the party of all its state funding right in the middle of the election campaign. The term “kangaroo court procedure” is hardly exaggerated as the State Audit Office doesn’t have the legal power to impose fines, it can only issue its opinion on the financial management of political parties. Nobody seemed to be bothered by that however, as nearly all state offices were headed by Fidesz members or people with close ties to Fidesz. These individuals then carried out the decision, influencing the outcome of the elections. 

Jobbik was unable to appeal the decision as the State Audit Office could not have imposed the fine in the first place. There was no way to appeal the unlawful fine imposed by a non-existing authority. And Europe kept silent.

Putting our trust in Europe and its truly independent institutions, we turned to the European Court of Human Rights which, after two years, recently sent us an answer in eight lines, including the cynical explanation that they declared our application inadmissible because we failed to exhaust domestic remedies.

At first we didn’t understand how it was possible for the ECHR to communicate with us in Fidesz’ cynical style in such a grave matter. Then the picture became clear.

The ruling was signed by a Slovenian judge called Marko Bošnjak, who used to work for a Slovenian law office owned by UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin. Aleksander Čeferin maintains good relations with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, he often visits Hungary and meets the football-addict Hungarian premier. They particularly enjoy watching sport events together. Besides sports, Viktor Orbán’s other favourite pastime is to exert his influence on Central European states. The North Macedonian examples are just as well known as the Slovenian ones.

As far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, it hardly comes as a surprise that he wants to occupy new grounds after he has obtained everything and planted his people in every position in Hungary. The only surprise is that the European Union and the ECHR silently assists him in that, apparently.

I don’t mean the official forums where some politicians conduct verbal duels without any real weight. What I mean is the area of law, where justice is supposed to be served by competent, honest judges who are beyond any potential conflict of interest. When it comes to this area however, Europe keeps silent and allows Viktor Orbán to do whatever he wishes.

Of course, we know that many western corporations profit from the Hungarian conditions since Viktor Orbán’s country has record-low taxes and wages, the labour force is vulnerable and the regulatory environment can be customized to any company’s needs.

Some may believe that being in cahoots with a political mafia is not too high a price since the business is so lucrative. 

We have seen things like that in history: the weak leaders in Europe’s frontiers often used to kowtow to certain clans, oligarchs and mob leaders. Their disgraceful actions were followed by oppression and social decline.

So it is time for Europe to ask the question whether she wants to be a strong community or would rather become a cheap servant to political criminals. Values or profit? The mafia is growing and there comes a time when the decision cannot be put off any longer…

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