Critics of Hungary’s center-right government may not agree with all of Hungarian Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi’s views, but they must admit that he is an intellectual force to be taken seriously.
Like Israel, Hungary has critics for its handling of migrant issues, critical NGOs and its balance of collective versus individual rights, but for every criticism, Trocsanyi, a former Ambassador to several European countries, has a list of well thought-out answers.
But speaking in Hungarian with a translator explaining in Hebrew his views to The Jerusalem Post
on a range of issues in his first ever visit to Israel, Trocsanyi’s main initial message had to do with his admiration for the Jewish state and for Jews throughout Hungary’s history.
“As Justice Minister, it is very important to recognize Jewish participation in Hungary,” he said, noting that Jews are the third largest subgroup.
Honing in on integration, Trocsanyi got animated in discussing how Jews integrated “better than many others” and also historically integrated better in Hungary than in “many other countries in the 19th century,” which he refers to as “the golden age of Jews in Hungary.”
There is tremendous respect for Jews for their role as “leaders of the 1848 rebellion” for their “beautiful synagogues, higher culture” and their pre-World War II achievements as lawyers and even members of parliament, he said.
Pausing intensely and turning darker, he noted that all of this positive history was pre-World War II which “was the biggest embarrassment and cannot be forgiven.”
Clearly, having thought a lot about this issue beforehand, Trocsanyi interjected immediately after that all of this was “one of the reasons I visited Yad Vashem and placed a bouquet in memory of those tragically killed.”
Trocsanyi continued on with a thorough history lesson of the oppression of Jewish and all other Hungarian identities other than pure and unadulterated socialism during the decades of Communist rule in Hungary.
When Communism departed Hungary with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he explained that the country had to be “reborn” and people had to rediscover their roots and unite around a national identity and constitution.
The renewal included a “rich and beautiful festival for Jews” which Trocsanyi said he had “the honor of opening the ceremonies” for the festival in his city of Szeged and “thinking a lot about remembering” the Holocaust.
All of this brought Trocsanyi to some of the present disagreements between Hungary and other EU members over how strongly to keep their borders closed to the current stream of hundreds of thousands of Syrian migrants.
The justice minister praised the EU on a range of issues, but then veered sharply toward criticizing its “weakness and lack of pride in Christian-Jewish Europe.”
Reflecting on Hungary’s still newish democracy, he said “we have built many institutions” but that the focus still needs to be “solidifying our identity and common values” – a goal which would be setback by absorbing large numbers of Syrian migrants.The Post
asked Trocsanyi whether in Hungarian he preferred to use the term “migrants,” considered neutral to positive, “refugees” the most positive term and what most human rights groups use or “infiltrators” the most negative term and the one most used by Israeli politicians to refer to Africans who have illegally crossed into the country.
He opted for migrants, saying it described the actions of the people in migrating to another country and left an opportunity to distinguish between legal refugees and illegal migrants.
Trocsanyi expressed doubt that “everyone who is coming is actually Syrian” and actually individually in danger. He implied that many may be Middle Eastern migrants who are just jumping on the band-wagon once they heard of the Syrian migration to Europe.
He complained that “many come without papers, refuse the standard procedure of having themselves finger-printed and do not understand that the EU can’t take all of them in immediately.” On the eve of Hungary’s October 23 National Holiday in memory of the 1956 Revolution and War of Independence, Trocsanyi recalled that he believes strongly in absorbing migrants where possible and in an orderly fashion since 250,000 Hungarians left the country within seven days of the outbreak of the revolution which the USSR eventually crushed.
Contrasting those Hungarian migrants with the current crisis, he said that “all who left, went to camps in Austria and cooperated with Austria and waited until the authorities told them where to go.” He characterized the current wave of migrants as “having no patience.”
Further, Tronsanyi cited having absorbed 20,000-30,000 migrants from the former Yugoslavia when that state broke down into civil wars, all of who he said were patient, followed the rules and mostly eventually returned home.
Trocsanyi was also exasperated that essentially all 200,000 migrants that Hungary has registered “left and went on to Germany,” objecting to the concept of huge numbers of migrants just using a country and its borders as a transit hub to another destination.
This was also Trocsanyi’s answer when asked how many migrants Hungary was willing to absorb – namely, “it didn’t come up…because no one wants to stay,” preferring Germany instead.
Compared to Israel, which still has a 60 day deadline for reviewing a migrant’s refugee status on the books, but with many of the current African migrants has dragged the review out for one to two years or longer, he said Hungary’s review typically should take six months or less.
Getting serious again, he stated “all governments need to guard against public disorder,” to defend citizens’ rights who live on the border and stated that Hungary needed to build a fence to secure its border from migrants streaming in illegally.
He attributed criticisms of Hungary’s policies on migrants to critics general dislike of Hungary’s center-right government dating back to 2010, some of its economic policies which stabilized Hungary’s economy but “hurt certain interests, some new laws that were passed and that it came up with “its own solution” and “did not wait until the EU gave a solution.” Israel has also faced heavy criticism for a set of policies directed at convincing around 50,000 African migrants to leave the country, but Trocsanyi wanted to stick to discussing Hungary.
Moving to comparing Israeli and Hungarian treatment of NGOs which criticize their governments, Trocsanyi stated that Hungary has 60,000 NGOs many of which robustly criticize the government.
He said he also “checks their claims” and that sometimes they “have good ideas.” At the same time, he admitted that Hungary recently “rethought” the role of the Constitutional Court, placing certain limits on its jurisdiction while “not reducing its importance” and emphatically stating “I do not want to be a part of” criticizing courts.
On an interstate level, just as Israel finds itself explaining many of its policies to other countries who are critical, Trocsanyi said he spends significant time explaining to other EU members and has found them very responsive to his explanations.
Though his government has been accused of squeezing NGOs in certain areas similar to criticism that Israel has faced, Trocsanyi said he opposed placing “limits” on NGOs, especially after being reborn from “a dictatorship.”
Then again, a moment later he pivoted to asserting that NGOs need to “know what their job is,” that the government can “check whether they are following the law” (without specifying what laws they might be violating) and that the “government decides” with the general public being able to weigh in during elections, which he called the heart of democracy.
While Trocsanyi met with Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, one issue which did not come up was Shaked did not hand him a list of NGOs funded by Hungary which support boycotting Israel. Shaked has told The Post
she hands that list over to all visiting justice ministers, with the implication here that Hungary just may not have any organizations on her bigger list.
Closing out the NGO discussion, Trocsanyi added that the courts are the ultimate arbiter and failsafe for all parties being treated fairly.
Enter the dispute in Israel over whether the Supreme Court has invaded the turf of the Knesset, especially in its three decisions in recent years voiding the government’s migrant policies.
On one hand, Trocsanyi, himself a former justice on Hungary’s Constitutional Court, appeared to defend the court’s prerogative to intervene without limits to its jurisdiction or independence.
Taking a position different from many Israeli officials, he emphasized that domestic laws must conform to international law (Israel mostly voluntarily conforms its domestic laws but reserves a somewhat free hand to dissent.) At the same time, he admitted that Hungary recently “rethought” the role of the courts, placing certain limits on its jurisdiction while “not reducing its importance” and emphatically stating “I do not want to be a part of” criticizing courts.