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May 17, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

Here’s why the high court’s ruling failed the people of Gyöngyöspata

I’ll tell you what the international critics won’t be talking about this week. They won’t be talking about the independence of the judiciary in Hungary, although this court decision is clearly proof of that.

Hungary’s top court upheld the HUF 99 million compensation in the Roma segregation case of Gyöngyöspata. Our international critics will hail this decision and point to discrimination as a serious problem in Hungary. Some of these critics, however, will be the same people who have claimed that the courts in Hungary are not independent.

In the decision handed down on Tuesday, the Kúria, Hungary’s equivalent of a supreme court, upheld a lower court’s decision and awarded a total of HUF 99 million (EUR 280,000) compensation to 60 Roma families in the rural town of Gyöngyöspata whose children, the court found, were ethnically segregated in the local primary school.

“Students from the Roma ethnic minority were unlawfully segregated and given substandard education,” the Kúria said in a statement.

We see it differently. The main question in the case, Prime Minister Orbán said in an interview on Friday morning, whether a minority is able to build a network where it forces its will on the majority. The majority also need to feel at home, the PM said. It seems that Soros-funded, activist organizations launched this action with well-trained lawyers for a lot of money. The court decision as it stands is not fair.

I anticipate our international critics will hail this decision and point to discrimination as a serious problem in Hungary. Some of them, you’ll see, will be the same critics who claim that the courts in Hungary are not independent. The high court, however, failed the people of Gyöngyöspata.

While the ruling is, of course, lawful, its consequences will result in an unjust situation in Gyöngyöspata and create a dangerous precedent. As László Horváth, the region’s MP and the government’s special envoy tasked with resolving Roma issues, said, the ruling was a “bad decision that upends social peace, as it unilaterally and overwhelmingly punishes a whole town for the real or imagined grievances of a minority.” From a sociological angle, the decision is bad, and new rules should be put in place.

And he’s right in saying that. Segregation in any form is bad, and we are fighting it. But the case in the town of Gyöngyöspata is not as simple as that. There are some facts that neither our critics nor the court bothered to consider.

The decision handed down by the court offends the sense of justice of many in Hungary. It also ignores the question of whether the students involved in the case have lived up to their obligations. Between them, the students missed a startling 500 classes and had to repeat an entire school year. Only 16 obtained a high school diploma.

In a democracy based on the rule of law, certain rights (in this case, to compensation) and obligations (to attend classes) go hand in hand; one cannot exist without the other. Similarly, there are situations when what’s lawful is different from what would be just or good for the society. The segregation case of Gyöngyöspata serves up one such example.

This is why in January, PM Orbán called the lower court ruling “unfortunate” as it would “hand money in exchange for nothing.”

“If I were to live there,” the PM said, “I would pose the question: Why do people from a certain ethnic background, who live in the same community and same village as I do, receive a significant amount of money without doing any work…We need to bring justice to the people of Gyöngyöspata.”

Acting in this spirit, the government and municipality had offered an alternative solution: compensation that included both a financial award as well as education and training. But the victims refused this opportunity offered to them for a better life. With training, they could have achieved better jobs and higher pay, providing both themselves and their families more security.

Now, thanks to George Soros and the activist lawyers funded by him, those who pushed the case in the first place, the municipality of Gyöngyöspata is likely to be driven into bankruptcy, while social tension between Roma and non-Roma groups in the region is expected to rise. The case has, therefore, brought only division, not greater justice.

Photo credit: Lokal.hu