Excerpt from the Testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas O. Melia (House Foreign Affairs Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee) “Eastern Europe: The State of Democracy and Freedom” on July 26, 2011. Source.
Several recent events are cause for significant concern about Hungary‘s democratic trajectory. Hungary is an important EU and NATO member. At the same time, we have seen the current one-party government use its unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority to lock in changes to the Constitution that could solidify its power, limit checks and balances, and unduly hamstring future democratic governments in effectively addressing new political, economic and social challenges. The government replaced members of a media oversight board, for example, with candidates aligned with the ruling party. More disconcerting, the board has been given the power to issue decrees and impose heavy fines – up to $950,000 – for news coverage it considers “unbalanced” or offensive to “human dignity.”
Secretary Clinton stated during her June 30 visit, “As friends of Hungary, we … [call] for a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press, and governmental transparency.” We are urging the government to temper the pace of change, to be more inclusive and to limit the number of issues covered by so-called ”cardinal laws,” which require a two-thirds majority to change. In particular, we will ask the government to carefully reconsider the new law on “the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities,” which requires re-registration of all but 14 religious groups, negatively impacting the religious freedom atmosphere in Hungary. We will continue to engage Hungary in a broad dialogue in coming months, as the government works to implement its new constitution.