Each year, the first months invite us to be retrospective, to look back a little. This year is no different, either. The Holocaust Remembrance Day in the end of January and the Communism Remembrance Day in the end of February provide us an opportunity to face our past. Invasion by totalitarian systems, the spread of totalitarian ideologies, and the inhuman crimes committed during this era have left their particular mark on the historical faith of Central Europe, including Hungary. Looking back and remembering, therefore, is our duty as citizens and lawyers, law practitioners.
According to the motto of the Association, in the words of Gábor Vladár, former Minister of Justice, law is not only a matter of the mind but also of the heart, which means that law is not only a system, a structure, but also culture, an ethos, which serves to make people’s life better. The truth of these words is reflected also by our obligation to face and remember on totalitarian systems and crimes, permeating the entire Hungarian legal system. It has a constitutional basis, as the Fundamental Law of Hungary commemorates in several sections, among the principles of the National Avowal and in Article U), the victims of the inhuman crimes committed under the rule of the National Socialist and Communist dictatorships, and denies the protection of the communist constitution, which served as basis for the tyrannical rule. It protects the dignity of national, ethnical, racial, and religious communities, and it acknowledges, when defining the nation, that national minorities living in Hungary are members of the Hungarian political community and are constituent parts of the State.
The Constitutional Court has reinforced this approach in its practice when, around the millennium, it proclaimed that due to the outstanding constitutional value of human dignity, acts violating the dignity of communities, endangering public peace may be subject to legal protection. It declared that acts that endanger also public peace by violating the dignity of communities committed to the values of democracy are constitutionally impermissible.
At the same time, however, the obligation to face the past pervades not only the Fundamental Law and the connected constitutional culture, but also every other part of the legal order. According to the rules of civil law, private persons and communities against whom hate speech is committed are entitled to restitution. Any member of a community shall be entitled to enforce their rights in the event of any legal injury that was committed with great publicity in relation to their belonging to some community, and is grossly offensive to the community or unduly insulting in its manner of expression. According to the new rules, it is no longer a precondition to the enforcement of claims that the person of the victim be identified individually. The protection of the dignity of communities are ensured also by criminal law provisions as ultima ratio. Several provisions of acts of law, for example the ban of incitement against the community and use of symbols of despotism serve this interest. Requirements following from remembrance pervades, in addition to classical branches of law, also mixed disciplines like media law.
Nowadays the memory-preserving approach of the Hungarian legal order is particularly timely and justified, as thanks to the digital spaces that are increasingly present in public life, hate speech and hate-mongering behaviour spread in a matter of seconds, and across borders. In addition, in many cases the identity of the perpetrators of hate crimes published on online platforms remains unknown. The words of the famous Hungarian Lawyer, Károly Eötvös, defender of the Jewish defendants in the blood libel of 1883 in Tiszaeszlár who in the end proved innocent, are becoming more and more actual again. He then called “soul poisoning” what we call today hate speech. He believed that prejudice against communities is most like slow-killing poison, which also destroys slowly the soul of the person whose mouth or, if we think of the current channels of expressing opinions, whose community media page it came from.
Remembering does not make the past undone, but it is a moral duty, and is inevitable for the protection of our values, identity, and democratic rule of law. Remembrance, therefore, always evokes our past, but at the same time it is for our future. This is reflected also by the approach pervading the Hungarian legal order, the primary aim of which is to let us live in a country where law, justice, and equity can unfold.
In addition to its duty, never to be forgotten, of looking back on the past, the Hungarian Lawyers Association always stands up for the protection of universal human dignity.
With kind regards,
Prof. László Trócsányi