Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

The Hungarian Socialist Workers (Communist) Party maintains a
monopoly on political power. The party leadership rules the
country through the Council of Ministers (executive branch)
and the National Assembly (legislative branch). The Soviet
Union has over 60,000 troops stationed in Hungary.
The secret police and other coercive institutions are active
and powerful. Through the 1968 Police Surveillance Law and
subsequent decrees strengthening the powers of the police, the
authorities have ample means to enforce party policy and state
control over the activities of the population.
As a result of party policy initiated in the 1960's launching
of economic reforms and fostering increased personal economic
well-being, Hungarians now enjoy a relatively high standard of
living in Eastern Europe. Moreover, Hungary remains the most
tolerant and innovative of the East European Warsaw Pact
countries in the internal economic and political arrangements
used to maintain control. In recent years, the regime has
increasingly staked its legitimacy on an ability to deliver
goods and services more succesfully than elsewhere in Eastern
Europe. However, recent problems, e.g., slow economic growth
and the high foreign debt burden, led the Government in
September to announce austerity measures, including personal
income and value-added taxes and price increases, which will
cause the standard of living to fall.
Hungary's human rights record in 1987 continued to be flawed
but has not deteriorated since 1986. The police have
harassed, searched, convicted, and fined dissidents for
various activities, such as publishing uncensored underground
materials. They have sometimes denied dissidents passports
for travel abroad and broken up unauthorized public
demonstrations. Since the mid-1970's, however, the
authorities have refrained from imprisoning dissidents, most
of whom participate regularly in political and other
discussions in private gatherings and are not prevented from
traveling abroad.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
There is no evidence that killing for political reasons
     b. Disappearance
There were no reported disappearances.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No known instances of torture have occurred in Hungary in
recent years. Citizens, in principle, may bring complaints
against the police.
There are three levels of punitive incarceration in Hungary:
"workhouse," which allows some privileges, such as visiting,
outside work, and leaving; "jail," which is more punitive; and
"prison," which means a maximum-security penitentiary.
Confinement conditions vary in relation to the category of
incarceration, but all levels are believed to provide adequate
diet and health care. Hardened criminals are confined
separately from those convicted of petty crimes. With varying
degrees of frequency, depending on levels of imprisonment,
prisoners have rights to visitation by family members, other
relatives, and friends. While there does not appear to be
systematic mistreatment of prisoners, there are possible
exceptions. Zsolt Keszthelyi, who was sentenced in April to 3
years' imprisonment (reduced in May to 2 1/2 years) for
refusing compulsory military service on political grounds, has
reportedly been incarcerated together with felons and beaten
while in custody.
The Hungarian authorities have rarely engaged in abuse of
psychiatry, i.e., the commitment of sane persons to
institutions for the mentally ill as a form of punishment, and
there were no reports of such practice in 1987.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Labor
Citizens are generally not subject to arbitrary arrest. Upon
arrest, a detainee must be informed in writing of the offense
he or she is suspected of having committed and may be held at
a police station for a maximum of 72 hours before charges must
be filed. There is no right of bail or provisional pretrial
liberty. In cases of suspicion for major crimes, a person may
be held in jail for 30 days before trial, and this period may
be renewed twice for a maximum of 3 months.
The penal code contains an article on incitement which permits
officials to prosecute for a wide range of utterances or
statements. It is not clear how many cases of incitement
involve political matters. A vaguely worded penal code
provision concerning espionage allows the authorities to
interpret broadly the kind of "data" which may not be conveyed
to a foreign government or organization. The Police
Surveillance Law was strengthened in 1985 to permit the police
to place under surveillance or in internal exile any citizen
or resident of Hungary above the age of 16 for a period of 2
years, renewable for an additional year, if that person's
attitude is judged to represent a permanent danger to the
internal order or public security of the country. There is no
indication that the law was used for political purposes in
Under an amendment to the penal code which went into effect in
1985, a person "who is capable of working but follows a way of
life of vagrancy" may be punished by loss of liberty for up to
2 years, by reformatory and educative labor, or by a fine.
Under this law, "work-shirkers" may be sentenced to a specific
workplace, such as a state farm, a mine, or the state
railways. Although Gypsies have been prosecuted under this
law, there is no evidence of its use against political
dissidents. There have been no reports of forced labor.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
There are few closed trials in Hungary. The Constitution
stipulates that all court proceedings are open, except for
cases specifically exempted by law. Those which are closed
usually involve "national security," not otherwise defined.
In general, judicial procedures are investigatory rather than
adversarial in nature. There is no trial by jury. Defendants
have the right to choose their own counsel. Nonpolitical
trials are more likely to be handled in an impartial manner
than are trials involving offenses considered to be political.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for citizens' personal freedom and
inviolability, the secrecy of correspondence, and the privacy
of the home, but these provisions are violated when it is in
the State's interest to do so. Search warrants are generally
obtained. House searches are conducted by a court order and
must be carried out in the presence of two witnesses. A
written inventory of items removed from the premises must be
prepared. These procedures are generally adhered to. In
politically motivated cases, however, police have been known
to conduct house searches without warrants on the pretext of
"suspected housing code violations."
Since the 1960's, Hungarian authorities have become more
tolerant with respect to a person's private activities.
Formal systems for gathering information on people, such as
the widespread use of informers and block wardens and overt
intrusions of the police into the daily life of persons, have
been substantially curtailed. It is widely assumed, however,
that the authorities tap private telephone lines and open
correspondence when they have an interest to do so. They also
use job-related sanctions and occasional harassment, control
of duplicating machines, searches and seizures of printing
materials, and penalties for persons without officially
approved employment as means of exerting social control.
Hungarians may subscribe to Western publications although such
subscriptions are relatively expensive. Parents who provide
religious instruction to their children in their homes are not
harassed. Membership in the Communist party or in party youth
and other organizations is not mandatory, though the absence
of membership may have an adverse impact upon career
possibilities in some fields. Nonetheless, membership in
youth organizations seems to have declined substantially.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Presso
The Constitution provides for free speech and a free press,
but these provisions are qualified by the need to conform to
the "interests of socialism and the people." The Government
has shown a general willingness to tolerate some expressions
of dissent without making an explicit reply or rejoinder.
The Prime Minister told an international press conference on
September 18 that the Government is open to dialog with those
who hold opposing views but not with those who do not respect
the law. He stated that the authorities assume those who hold
differing views also are interested in advancing the
development of the country, although by using different
methods and instruments. The regime, therefore, maintains a
distinction between well-intentioned and hostile opposition,
and political expression remains subject to rigorous scrutiny
and substantial control.
The Government is prepared to harass political dissidents to
keep them in check and has occasionally expelled them or
encouraged their departure to the West. No prominent
dissidents were arrested in 1987 for opposition activity.
although several faced potential jail terms for having failed
to pay fines for various alleged offenses, including improper
receipt of child payments and possession of an unauthorized
mimeograph machine. In all cases, however, tacit compromises
were achieved between these persons and the authorities which
avoided jail terms, even though the fines were not paid.
Identified dissident activity in Hungary remains largely
confined to several hundred intellectuals who live primarily
in Budapest. Hungarian dissidents meet regularly for private
discussion of political and other topics. Two documents
circulating almost openly during 1987 merit particular
mention: the 60-page special edition of the samizdat
(self-published) Beszelo entitled "The Social Contract:
Prereguisites for Resolving the Political Crisis," and a
7-page September 8 "open letter" to members of the Hungarian
Parliament from over 100 prominent intellectuals, including
some members of the opposition. "The Social Contract"
included what amounts to a listing of deficiencies in
Hungarian human rights performance: one-party rule outside of
legal checks and controls, arbitrary censorship, and the lack
of cooperative trade unions or freedom of association. The
"open letter" pointed out that the reconciliation of diverse
interests within Hungary is not aimed at achieving democracy
and is unable to secure consensus or strengthen governmental
power. The documents were focal points for dialog between the
opposition and the regime, which included a letter from the
Prime Minister to a signer of the open letter, a public
meeting in late September attended by the Secretary General of
the Patriotic People's Front, and other private meetings.
Several groups of dissidents are active in the preparation and
distribution of prohibited books and articles in samizdat form.
More established samizdat journals, such as Beszelo,
experienced limited harassment during 1987, including a March
11 police raid in which 100 copies of the latest issue were
confiscated. Demokrata coeditors suffered house searches and
some confiscations of manuscripts and printed materials.
Two-thirds of a freshly printed edition of Demokrata was
confiscated by 20 policemen on the evening of August 27. The
printing press of the fledgling Egta-jak Kozott (Between the
Posts) was confiscated on May 26 and July 13, and a large
quantity of copies was also seized on April 1. Gabor Demszky,
an editor of Hirmondo, was detained overnight June 29 after
police stopped him for "illegally" parking his car near his
Budapest apartment. The police used the opportunity to seize
a number of copies of a novel by the Czech emigre author Milan
Kundera which was being translated into Hungarian.
Party and government authorities closely supervise the press,
radio, and television, all of which are government owned. All
must adhere to the party's ideological guidelines. While
carefully nuanced differing views appear in the press, they
are usually well within the general constraints imposed by the
party; direct criticism of the Government and party is not
permitted. By East European standards, Hungary permits
substantial access to Western literature, films, television
programs, and publications. Major Western periodicals,
including the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, The
Times, and Die Presse, are available for local currency at
selected kiosks and transportation centers.
Western viewpoints can infrequently be heard on Hungarian
radio and television, which tend, like Hungarian newspapers,
to establish their editorial lines through appropriate
selective quotation from Western and other Eastern press
agencies and sources. The views of Western spokesmen have
been broadcast together with those of other participants in
panel discussions, and there is straight reporting of Western
officials' comments on issues such as U.S. -Soviet arms talks.
Hungary does not normally jam Western radio broadcasts.
Austrian and Yugoslav radio and television broadcasts reach
much of the country.
Pervasive self-censorship supplements formal censorship in
determining the boundaries of free expression. The Hungarian
army's chief censor said in an interview in the April 14
official newspaper Magyar Hirlap that the Constitution
"guarantees" freedom of the press and, accordingly, everyone
has the right to publish his or her ideas through the press,
provided that they do not contravene the Constitution. De
facto guidelines provided by the 1986 press law have had a
mixed impact.
Film is the public medium which enjoys the greatest degree of
freedom of political expression. Significantly, Hungarian
films are produced before undergoing governmental review for
public showing. This means that the making of controversial
films is not prohibited, but politically controversial
productions may be kept from public view for years.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
the right to form associations, governmental approval or tacit
acceptance is required for the exercise of such rights. For
example, the police in January confiscated an art exhibit
commemorating the 1956 revolution, but on March 15 deftly
handled a major demonstration and march commemorating the 1848
revolution. The Government allowed the erection and
dedication on May 15 of a major Budapest monument to missing
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of
Hungarian Jews prior to his 1945 arrest by the Soviets. A
Western ambassador, however, was denied permission to address
the gathering. Heavy police presence at the dedication
ceremonies symbolized official unease and was responsible for
limiting public attendance. While demonstrations were for the
most part handled without resort to force, about 70-80 police
physically broke up a wreathlaying ceremony on June 16 at
Budapest's Batthyany Memorial commemorating former Prime
Minister Imre Nagy's death and used low-level force to disrupt
a June 23 demonstration which had the same purpose. The
significant police presence may have contributed to heading
off demonstrations for the October 23 anniversary of the 1956
uprising. In general, the authorities remain more tolerant of
gatherings in private homes.
The Hungarian National Trade Union Council, the largest of all
mass organizations, is for the most part controlled and
directed by the party. It serves the purpose of indoctrinating
workers in party policy as well as representing worker
interests within certain bounds. The chairman of the council
is a member of the party Politburo. He represents the council
in meetings with the party leadership and with the Government
over labor policy, economic planning, prices, wages, and other
economic issues. At the local and enterprise level, the
council has a veto right over state nominations of managers
and administers a system of distribution of bonuses, profit
sharing, enterprise-controlled housing, health care, union
vacation plans, and other benefits. Stewards can veto
management decisions on personnel actions, plant safety, and
other work-related issues which do not comply with collective
agreements and labor regulations. Disputed questions are
referred to higher authorities for arbitration.
The Constitution does not provide for the right to strike.
Although work stoppages have reportedly taken place in local
industries in recent years, there has not been a major strike
affecting an entire industrial sector in over a quarter of a
     c. Freedom of Religion
Although freedom of conscience and freedom of religious
practice are ensured in the Constitution, they are subject to
restrictions. The State in principle opposes but does not
rigorously impede the practice of religion. Steadfastly
committed to atheism, the authorities for tactical reasons
profess the acceptability of believers and nonbelievers working
together in the interest of "Socialist society." All
denominations that will accept the Socialist state are
officially recognized. The Government has generally
maintained good relations with the hierarchies of the major
religious denominations, many of which have representatives in
the Parliament. The profession of religious beliefs, however,
can limit the citizen's advancement in government, industry,
and the professions. Party members and those in the teaching
profession are not allowed to be active religious
Religious denominations in Hungary have generally good access
to religious materials, including Bibles and prayer books. In
many cases, they print their own. They also publish
periodicals and newspapers. The State sets numerical limits
and imposes censorship on books, but for some smaller
denominations the main limiting factor is financing.
Churches do not act as organizing centers for dissent.
However, a growing number of primarily young believers have
formed loosely affiliated, grass-roots organizations called
"basic communities," which function outside or on the
periphery of official church structures. The authorities have
not detained or arrested clergy, but over 100 young men were
sentenced to prison terms ranging up to 3 years for refusing
military service. The right of conscientious objection to
military service is recognized for two denominations, the
Nazarenes and the Seventh-Day Adventists, because it is a
precept of these religions.
The major religions have theological training institutes,
though limits are imposed on the number of seminarians. The
State permits construction of some new places of worship. At
the request of the late Catholic primate. Cardinal Lekai, a
new church was built and dedicated in 1987 in a fast growing
suburb of Budapest. In the last 20 years, approximately 50
new Baptist churches have been built in Hungary. The Baptist
construction, partially funded by overseas contributions,
illustrates the close connections Hungarians maintain with
their coreligionists and hierarchies in other countries.
Religious leaders may generally travel abroad so long as they
have adequate hard currency resources for the purpose.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
All adult citizens are issued an identity booklet, which they
must carry at all times. They must register with local police
when moving from one locality to another. However, no
permission is reguired for moving within Hungary, except to
Budapest, where overcrowding has led the Government to
restrict the number of new inhabitants.
Foreign travel is relatively easy, the chief constraint being
restrictions on the amount of hard currency available.
Hungarian citizens may travel freely in Eastern Europe, with
visas required only for the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. They
may travel to the West on family visits once a year if
relatives abroad pay the costs. Nonfamily trips are allowed
every 3 years, and a modest hard currency allotment is
available. According to Hungarian sources, 5.2 million
Hungarians--Hungary s population is 10.6 million—traveled
abroad in 1984, 5.5 million in 1985, and 6.2 million in 1986.
The Government, however, reserves the right to refuse
permission to travel in cases of "state security."
Officially, some 0.2 percent of passport requests have been
refused, or between 4,200 and 5,200 per year. The authorities
continue to invoke security provisions of the law as grounds
for denying or impeding passport issuance to a small number of
dissidents. On the other hand, Sandor Racz, Budapest's 1956
Workers* Council leader, was allowed to leave Hungary for the
first time to travel to the United States as a guest of the
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial
Organizations .
In October, amid considerable publicity, the authorities
announced details of a new passport regulation taking effect
on January 1, 1988, which abolishes exit visa requirements but
requires that the traveler have a passbook showing sufficient
legally acquired foreign currency. Passports will be valid
for 5 years for travel to any country. Passport applications
reportedly will be simplified and distributed at 135 police
stations rather than at police headquarters only. Although
the new procedures should enable virtually any Hungarian with
the requisite amount of legally acquired hard currency to
travel abroad, the requirement for currency exchange
certificates, as well as regulations providing for rejection
of passport applications of persons subject to prosecution,
could provide scope for manipulation and continued delays of
passport requests.
Emigration for those of working age is allowed only for
reasons of family reunification, defined as joining a parent,
spouse, or child abroad. It may be refused, if the relative
is abroad without permission from the Government, until 5
years have passed since that person's departure. However, the
law provides for exceptions to all restrictions in individual
cases, and persons who are refused permission to emigrate may
appeal and reapply. Reapplications are sometimes successful,
especially if there are special humanitarian considerations.
Approximately 90 percent of Hungarians who are eligible to
apply to emigrate for purposes of family reunification receive
permission. Permission is virtually guaranteed to a Hungarian
over 55 years of age.
Those who do not receive permission to emigrate normally
suffer no official sanctions, such as loss of employment or
housing. Emigrants are allowed to take a modest amount of
personal property with them. Persons who have emigrated
legally from Hungary may apply to return for resettlement, but
their right to return is not guaranteed. They must establish
that there is housing and employment or other income available
to them. Persons who have left Hungary illegally or who have
defected are subject to criominasl penalties. Such persons
may be tried in absentia and sentenced to the confiscation of
their property and a suspended jail term of up to 3 years.
Those charged with minor travel-related infractions may be
denied permission to travel abroad for up to 5 years.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
Citizens are not free to change the system of government.
Hungary is ruled by the leadership of the Hungarian Socialist
Workers Party. Open political activity is not possible
outside the party or party-sanctioned organizations. The
party uses mass organizations such as the Patriotic People's
Front, trade unions, and the Communist Youth League to elicit
public support. To a growing extent, the party invites the
opinions and recommendations of nonparty organizations (for
example, cooperative associations) on policy proposals in
which they have an interest, but implementation is at the
discretion of the party.
Official theorists are exploring the possibility of redefining
the leading role of the Communist party in a more limited
fashion. A party leader told a national conference on
ideology in February that the Hungarian Socialist Workers
Party, in pressing the hegemony of Marxism-Leninism on
Hungarian society, nevertheless realized that a plurality of
views continued to exist in that society.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government refuses to accept outside charges or
investigations of alleged human rights violations on the
grounds that this is "interference in internal affairs."
Hungary has shown, however, a willingness to engage in
discussions with other governments on all aspects of the
Helsinki Final Act, including its human rights provisions.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Both in theory and in practice, Hungary is sensitive and
responsive to the cultural aspirations of its recognized
ethnic minorities. Schools providing instruction in the
mother tongue and varieties of ethnic expression are
encouraged on a nondiscriminatory basis. A major reason for
this policy is the hope of creating a "demonstration effect"
which will indirectly benefit the millions of Hungarians
living as minorities in adjacent countries. Although national
minority groups are encouraged to form their own associations,
nonnational groups do not enjoy the same degree of freedom.
A large number of Gypsies (estimates range up to 5 percent of
the population) live in Hungary. They are not recognized as
an official minority. The Government engages in many programs
specifically designed to raise the standard of living of
Gypsies and to help them to be absorbed into the mainstream of
Hungarian life. However, Gypsies are, on the average,
considerably less well educated and poorer than the majority
Magyar population or the recognized ethnic minorities. Candid
discussion continues to appear in the press and specialized
literature about the social and economic difficulties
experienced by Gypsies, including the fact that considerable
popular prejudice against them exists.
Women account for one-eighth of the management positions in
Hungarian industry and agriculture. Approximately half of
them attained these positions in the past 5 years. Women's
share of senior positions, such as general director at state
industrial complexes, is considerably lower. Women's share of
professional positions has been increasing. About 8 percent of
Hungarian women are professionals, compared to nearly 9
percent of men.
More than one-fifth of the members of the National Assembly
are women. There are very few women at top levels in the
Government or party. One member of the 23-person Council of
Ministers and a cabinet-level official are women. In the
19-member Presidential Council (collective presidency), there
are 4 women.
The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, with
restrictions pertaining to shift and night work. There are no
restrictions on minors older than 16 years of age. Although
there is no national minimum wage in Hungary, wage charts are
set for each profession according to the qualifications of the
jobholder. The average official workweek is approximately 45
hours. All Hungarians have a right to a minimum of 15 days'
paid vacation per year; they are entitled to 1 additional day
for each 3 years of service