Council of Europe criticises racism in Hungary, Poland

A Jobbik supporter at a rally in Budapest, file photo [Reuters]

The Council of Europe’s expert group on racism and intolerance today (9 June) called for action to fight prejudice in Hungary and Poland, after publishing damning reports on the two countries.

The ECRI’s 59-page report on Hungary says that “a radical right-wing populist party openly engages in anti-Roma, antisemitic, homophobic and xenophobic hate speech”.

The report states that anti-Semitism is extensively documented in the speech of Jobbik, the far-right political party which secured 20.54% of the votes at the 2014 parliamentary election and whom the authorities basically refrain from criticising. In 2012 a Jobbik MP called for lists of people of Jewish ancestry to be drawn up, claiming that they represent a national security risk.

>> Read: Hungarian far-right leader requests ‘lists of Jews’

The report also says that hate speech is not restricted to extremist parties but occurs across the political spectrum.

“As a result of the climate of impunity, derogatory remarks about Roma, Jews, LGBT persons, asylum seekers and refugees have become commonplace in the public sphere. Some media publish or broadcast blatantly racist material, and cyberhate poses a particular challenge,” the report says.

The report mentions that a regular columnist for the Magyar Hirlap, a pro-government newspaper, has a track record of attacking Jews, whohe once called “stinking excrement”.

Channel ‘Echo TV’, founded in 2005 and reported to be favourite among neo-fascists, broadcasts blatantly racist material, the report says. One of the presenters reportedly spreads anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and on one occasion called the Roma “apes”.

In an astonishing move, the Minister of Human Capacities awarded him the Tancsics prize, the country’s highest journalistic award, on the occasion of the national day in 2013.

Racist violence against Roma is one of the most important problems in Hungary. Paramilitary groups have been marching and organising demonstrations and illegal patrols in villages, harassing and intimidating the Roma community in their own neighbourhoods, the report further reads. Indeed, as early as in 2011, it was reported that dressed in black paramilitary uniforms, extremists of the so-called ‘Hungarian Guard’ marched through the town of Gyöngyöspata, governed by Jobbik, in an apparent effort to intimidate the Roma population.

>> Read: Hungary puts its Roma to work

Hungary’s National Social Inclusion Strategy has had little impact so far, and does not address segregation in education, says the report. However, similar conclusions could be made about the Roma community in several EU member states. As a whole the Decade of Roma inclusion, put in place by 12 European countries in 2005 and which should expire later this year can hardly be called a success.

The report recommends that the Hungarian authorities should move to punish hate speech, that public leaders should take stance against racist and homophobic speech, that a policy against segregation in school should be put in place and that the authorities should refrain from forcing out Roma from their homes without ensuring alternative housing.

Muslim community targeted in Poland

Regarding Poland, the 44-page report says that homophobic statements are a recurrent feature of political discourse. Hate speech on the internet has reportedly found a new target in the Muslim community, while self-regulatory bodies have difficulty in applying appropriate sanctions against persistently offending media outlets.

The existence of nationalist groups remains a problem, says the report, adding that although few in number they were becoming constantly more numerous. That was demonstrated by disturbances on the fringes of the Independence Day celebrations (11 November) which have increased in scale over the years.

Five years in a row nationalist groups who champion traditional Polish values — including a strong attachment to the Catholic Church and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriages – have organised marches in which tens of thousands participate and which traditionally degenerate in violence.

Despite the initiatives taken by the prosecutor general to deal more effectively with racist crime, the results have yet to be seen, says the report. It also deplores racism at sports events, with few cases of racist crime resulting in convictions or being the subject of administrative measures.

The report says that Poland’s criminal code doesn’t explicitly prohibit incitement to violence, hatred and discrimination, or public insults and defamation, or the making of threats, on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Homo/transphobic violence is present in schools, while homosexuality is still seen by a large section of the population as a disease and transgender persons are subject to certain instances of discrimination in access to healthcare,” the report says.

Among the recommendations ECRI makes to the Polish authorities is that they should bring the country’s legislation in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, that the criminal code should be reviewed to punish racism and racial discrimination, and that the dignity and the equality of LGBT people be enshrined in the Polish law.

ECRI also published a report about racism in EU candidate country Albania. The report identifies gaps in legislation, hate speech by politicians, increased used of internet for spreading racism and intolerance, incoherence in the strategies for Roma inclusion and intolerance vi-a-vis LGBT people similar to those identified in the case of Hungary and Poland.

The ECRI group is preparing reports on other countries as well, among them France and Lithuania. A number of country reports published recently, including those on Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Romania, identify an increase of hate speech and intolerance.

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