Curia rules against government in LGBTQ case, new facility for refugees, a credit-line yet too far, and OSCE not happy

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Curia rules against government in LGBTQ case

Last year, a bookshop chain has been fined 250,000 forints for selling an LGBTQ book, a children’s story depicting a day in the life of a child with same-sex parents.

Following the penalty, the company went to court, and the Budapest District Court has ruled that the punishment was unlawful.

The government office filed for an appeal, but it was rejected by the Curia, which acts as a Supreme Court in Hungary. The decision was final: the punishment of the government was unlawful.

Two courts have ruled: there is no place for punishment in Hungary if a storybook includes families with small children, who have same-sex parents, the Foundation for Rainbow families, the publisher of the book said on its Facebook page.

“The final verdict is very important for the families concerned, especially in the light of the recent decisions of the last years that had an adverse, and stigmatizing effect,” the foundation added.

“Every young child deserves the right to recognize itself or its parents in a storybook,” the foundation also underlined, adding that they did not understand why the government was so eager to impose a fine. 

At the time, the government argued that Líra Csoport had violated rules on unfair commercial practices by failing to clearly indicate that the book contained “content which deviates from the norm”. 

The picture book, “Micsoda család!”, is a Hungarian translation combining two storybooks by American author Lawrence Schimel and illustrator Elīna Brasliņa: Early One Morning, which shows a young boy’s morning with his two mothers, and Bedtime, Not Playtime!, which tells about a young girl who is reluctant to go to sleep, and has two dads. 

“In these stories, the fact that the parents are two mums or two dads is incidental to the story, as it is to the daily lives of children in rainbow families. These families don’t only experience homophobia, they also have fun,” Schimel commented on the fine last year.

Hungarian government opens new facility for refugees

The Defense Committee of Budapest opened a huge transit hall for the refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine on Monday.

The new transit hall is very close to the large Keleti railway station of the Hungarian capital.

The facility provides free services such as a heated waiting room, interpreting services, a baby and children's corner, toilets, medical care, mobile phone charging stations as well as internet access.

“On site personnel will help refugees with organizing accommodation, travel and administration of asylum applications,” the Hungarian government said in a statement before the opening.

Humanitarian organizations are able to distribute food, toiletries and other donations to the people fleeing war, according to the statement, adding that an international ticket office would also be part of the facility.

The new facility also provides assistance in helping the transport of refugees: an international MAV (Hungarian national railways) ticket office has been opened in the waiting room, and passengers are provided access to the main railway stations as well as to the Liszt Ferenc International Airport. 

The Prime Minister’s office said that the new facility was necessary because the government was expecting to deal with a larger influx of refugees in the future.

So far, MAV has given some 120,000 free tickets to refugees from Ukraine, the railway company informed on Monday.

MAV also informed that most refugees quit Hungary towards Austria, Germany and Poland.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a video message posted on his Facebook page, that more than 500,000 refugees have entered Hungary in the last three weeks.

More than half of them came directly through the Ukrainian border, while the rest came through Hungary by crossing the Romanian border, according to the International Communication Office of the Hungarian government. 

Orbán also visited the new shelter on Tuesday. “People are coming here from Transcarpathia, but now most of them are coming from the interior of Ukraine – mostly from the cities under military attack and bombardment.”

“For them to flee is a shocking experience, a traumatic experience,” Orban underlined.

“We are providing special care for the children, there is a medical service, and soon there will be employment agency representatives,” he added.

Orban also said that the majority of refugees would move on to other countries, but for those who chose to stay, Hungary had many jobs to offer.

Government confirms Orbán was seeking a large EU credit line

Viktor Orbán urged the President of the European Commission to give Hungary access to the EU's reconstruction fund as soon as possible. Orbán also asked Ursula von der Leyen to provide the country with the credit line that the Prime Minister had personally refused in Brussels last April.

444 was the first to report about a letter sent to Brussels by Viktor Orbán last Friday, and three hours later the government published the letter on its website, abbreviated in Hungarian and in full English.

“Hungary only asks for immediate and effective access to EU funds allocated to it, and to be able to use them in a flexible way for the purposes best suited to dealing with the crisis,” Orbán wrote.

“I ask the Commission to approve, as a matter of urgency, the Recover and Resilience Plans, Partnership Agreements and operational programmes of the Member States protecting the eastern borders of the European Union,” Orbán added.

In order for the Hungarian government to have access to the money, it would be necessary for the European Commission to accept the Hungarian plan for spending it. For a year now, the Hungarian government has failed to submit a plan which, according to the Commission, meets the criteria set by the Member States. 

In his letter, Orbán also calls for the criteria to be relaxed: “I ask the Commission to allow rapid, targeted and flexible use of EU budgetary resources by removing pre-financing, co-financing and transferability limits.”

Benedek Jávor, the representative of the Budapest City Council in the EU told Klub Radio that seemingly Orbán does not understand how the spending of EU funds occur, this is not Russia when the President wants something paid and gets it done with a phone or a letter, the Hungarian government failed to provide a credible recovery plan, failed to justify the spending of the money, and failed to provide insurance against the corruption surrounding the disbursement of EU funds.”

On Thursday, government media started to publish news about the success of Orbán’s letter, with the head of International Communications Zoltán Kovács tweeting: “Mission accomplished: In response to PM Orbán’s letter, Hungary received 300 million euros of support from RRF.”

The original Hungarian statement was very vague, used conditional and failed to mention which EU fund the money was coming from, a day later, Brussels correspondent Katalin Halmai tweeted: “FYI: Hungary has no approved recovery plan and cannot receive a eurocent from the RRF. If HUN receives 300 million euros from Brussels it would come from various funds released by the Commission to help countries most affected by the war. It's nothing to do with Orban’s letter.”

OSCE denounces unfair Hungarian election system in preliminary report

OSCE concluded a 16-page preliminary report ahead of next week’s general elections, listing a series of concerns that all point to an unfair event, where all the circumstances favor the government. The report says that election campaigning by public officials is commonplace, and goes hand in hand with the massive use of administrative resources in the elections campaign. 

Under the media legal framework, the report mentions a "systemic political bias and a virtual absence of opposition politicians in the programmes of the public broadcaster.”

It also takes note of the increased concentration of media ownership, and a distortion of the advertisement market which is dominated by government commercials. 

The amount of money that can be spent on the campaign of the referendum concurrent with the elections is unlimited, and initiated by the government. In addition, spending on referendum campaigns is not limited or subject to any disclosure or reporting requirements.

According to consultations of the OSCE, this issue is a ground for concerns, as this lack of regulation facilitates the government’s considerable spending on the referendum campaign. 

A recent change in the definition of residency may result in so-called voter-tourism, i.e a kind of tactical relocation of voters to constituencies too close to call. A fact that would only add to the gerrymandering process that has been going on for several years.

Voting by correspondence in case of ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary, mostly in Romania, Ukraine and Serbia, was also criticized for its limited security guarantees. 

Opposition MPs have revealed that the Hungarian election authorities have not revised the list of voters and as such, may contain the date of several hundreds, if not thousands of people already deceased. In theory, anyone could cast their vote in their place.

Contrary to Hungarian ethnic minorities, several hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have left the country to work abroad, mostly in the UK and in Germany, they kept their citizenship and maintained a domicile in Hungary.

Because they are not known to be Fidesz-voters, they cannot vote by post, but only in person at the diplomatic missions abroad, which often requires them to travel a long way to cast their votes.

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