Human dignity vs. freedom of expression: the choice nobody wants to make
Historically, Jewish affairs are particularly sensitive subjects in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately – but for obvious reasons – in the last few decades, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination against minorities have not disappeared. What’s more, intolerance among some extremist groups has intensified greatly. Based on these, last week’s events in Hungary became quite rightly a national topic for discussion.
Namely, it came to light that on the planned Day of Remembrance for Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust (The march of life), another event by the Nationalist Motorcyclists Association was announced. So, both of them were scheduled for April 21st. But why did it become a question under debate? First of all, the motorcycle procession was supposed to pass the Jewish quarter and a downtown synagogue. Secondly, the event of the motorcyclists has been named after a former German expression Give Gas! According to the Spiegel Online, two years ago the German National Democratic Party was accused of deliberately invoking the Holocaust election poster that showed the leader, Udo Voigt, on a motorcycle with the slogan “Gas geben!”. This expression can be used to mean “get moving”, but it could also literally be translated as “give gas”. The name, which is apparently an unambiguous reflection on the The march of life movement, and the date of the motorists’ procession, provoked a massive indignation from many people, so they started to protest and urge to ban it.
At that point, the government faced an obvious dilemma and had to answer the question: how can we solve this problem to meet every requirement? In this case they only had two choices: ignore the legality of AND and ban the counter-event, or ignore the protesters AND taking the accusations of anti-Semitism. Which is more important in a situation like that, human dignity of the Jewish community or freedom of expression and assembly? The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, chose to protect the marchers and decided to ban the offensive procession.
From a political perspective, his choice is understandable, but it is problematic if we take democratic rights into consideration. From some points of view, a system where the right of assembly is not regulated by law, but only by a leader’s decision, cannot be considered a constitutional state. In the last few years functioning of democracy in Hungary has been questioned several times by the European Union, and many Hungarian voters think they have little voice in public affairs. It is more than disquieting for the future, because after this action of the government, how can we speak about the right to freedom of association, which is recognized as a human right, political right and a civil liberty? What is the next step? Are they going to ban the Gay Pride or the Coming Out Day only because they are offensive to some individuals or groups?
Furthermore, some radical libertarians can easily conclude that every civil movement or organization is exposed to a threat from government’s unpredictable decisions. What is the point for civil organizations to try to be active, if the government can drop their plans and calculations at any time? And we thought this era is over once and for all – meaning Eastern Europe is over not just as an economic, but a political transition too.
Restriction of freedom is not a solution and we cannot afford to have governments making this option popular or “often used”. Punishing or silencing individual opinions is not acceptable, if they do not conflict with any categories of fundamental criminal law – even if they are clearly offensive or insulting to certain groups. As the Hungarian Association of Human Rights (TASZ) also stated in their announcement, it is the police’s duty to enforce the law, and protect the citizens against provocation and insulting, if necessary.