Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

In 1990 Hungary evolved into a working multiparty democracy.
The Hungarian Socialist Party was defeated in free
parliamentary elections in March and April, and a coalition
government was formed by three of the parties represented in
Parliament. Jozsef Antall from the Hungarian Democratic Forum
became Prime Minister, and Arpad Goncz from the opposition
Alliance of Free Democrats was elected President by the
Although the Minister of Interior no longer directly controls
the police on day-to-day matters, he remains ultimately
responsible for the police to Parliament. The State Security
Service also has been removed from control of the Ministry of
Interior and now reports to a separate Minister without
Portfolio. The discovery in January that state security was
continuing to wiretap opposition political figures forced the
resignation or dismissal of the then Interior Minister and
other officials. As a result, security matters came under
closer scrutiny, and after the elections persons without
Communist connections were appointed to high Interior Ministry
positions. The Government on March 10, 1990, concluded an
agreement with the Soviet Government for the withdrawal of all
Soviet troops from Hungary by June 30, 1991.
Hungary's economy continued the process of transformation from
state to private market regulation. Government leaders
committed themselves to privatization and economic
restructuring along market lines, while struggling with the
mechanics of these processes. Major external issues were
Hungary's $21 billion external gross debt, the movement away
from trade ties with Communist countries toward world markets,
and currency convertibility. Internally, the Government
grappled to control the budget deficit, high inflation fueled
by subsidy cuts, and the specter of rising unemployment as
inefficient state industries were shut down or privatized.
In 1990 Hungary consolidated the signal human rights gains of
1989. Independent media continued to proliferate, although
not without some vestiges of government interference. The
year saw the official death of the Communist labor movement
and continued development of independent unions and
organizations. The 1989 landmark law on freedom of conscience
and religion, which removed restrictions on religious
practice, paved the way for the reopening of scores of
religious orders and schools. The Government in February
restored full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and a
Papal Nuncio has since been accredited to Hungary.
Anti-Semitic expression reappeared in the freer political
atmosphere, but the Government reiterated its commitment to
respect and protect the Jewish community.
In cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, the Government continued to receive and provide for
a flow of refugees into Hungary that has approached 40,000
since borders were opened in 1989. Preferential allocations
of scarce housing and employment to refugees and immigrants
remained troublesome issues.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There is no evidence that such killings occurred.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported disappearances.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No known instances of torture occurred. There are three
levels of punitive incarceration: "workhouse," which allows
some privileges such as visits, outside work, and leave;
"jail," which is more punitive; and "prison," which means a
maximum security penitentiary. With varying degrees of
frequency, depending on levels of imprisonment, prisoners have
rights to visitation by family members, other relatives, and
friends. There does not appear to be systematic mistreatment
of prisoners, and no such cases were reported in 1990.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Persons no longer are subject to arbitrary arrest. Upon
arrest, they must be informed of the charges against them and
may be held for a maximum of 72 hours before charges must be
filed. Persons are allowed access to counsel from the moment
they are suspects undergoing questioning and throughout all
subsequent proceedings. The authorities must specifically
offer counsel when a person is mentally handicapped, juvenile,
or unable to afford counsel. There is no bail system.
Incarceration is limited to 1 year while criminal proceedings
are in progress. There is no evidence that these procedures
were violated during 1990 or that any illegal or incommunicado
detention occurred.
Search warrants are generally obtained. House searches are
conducted on the basis of court-approved warrants and must be
carried out in the presence of two witnesses. A written
inventory of items removed from the premises must be
Under 1989 changes to the Constitution and penal code,
antistate crimes are defined as those which threaten the
constitutional principles of the political system or the
existence of the State. Public criticism of government
programs and actions is not a punishable crime. There is no
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Under the Constitution, courts in Budapest and at the county
and local levels function under the guidance of the Supreme
Court. No judge or member of the Supreme Court may belong to
a political party or engage in political activity. The
Constitutional Court's 15 members are elected by Parliament
for one 9-year term.
Trials are public. Defendants are entitled to counsel during
all phases of criminal proceedings and are presumed innocent
until proven guilty. Judicial proceedings are generally
investigative rather than adversarial in nature; there is no
trial by jury. Decisions of the courts may be appealed if
they are believed to infringe on individual rights guaranteed
by the Constitution.
Hungarian citizens are no longer imprisoned for the peaceful
expression of political, social, or religious beliefs. Many
persons convicted and imprisoned by the former regime for
political reasons were retried or released during 1989 and
1990. Hungary reportedly released its last four political
prisoners in September 1990.
      f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
In January evidence was uncovered that the state security
apparatus was continuing to collect information about
opposition politicians and public figures by using clandestine
methods, such as wiretapping. As a result of the public
outcry, several investigations were launched, and the
Communist Minister of Interior and other high officials
resigned or were dismissed. After the parliamentary elections
of March-April, there were no further reports of such
interference with private communications. In 1990 the
Ministry of Justice was given legal authority to use
wiretapping for national security reasons. Although the
legislation does not refer to criminal investigations, the
Ministry of Justice may authorize wiretapping for legitimate
criminal investigations.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
These freedoms are provided for in the Constitution and
respected in practice. The media routinely reported on the
full range of world and internal events without restriction,
and there was no apparent self-censorship in their analysis
and criticism of government policies and actions.
Administratively, major Hungarian radio and television
stations continued as state properties, but the Prime Minister
and the President, as part of the reform process, appointed
new management. The new directors appeared to enjoy a high
degree of autonomy, and opposition views were fairly
reported. The top directorship of the official Hungarian news
agency was opened to public competition. Private radio and
television stations operated in 1990.
Independent news publications continued to proliferate, and
several foreign publishers purchased interests in new and
existing ventures. Alleged behind-the-scenes government
interference in foreign media investments, including a scandal
in which a senior government minister favored one of two
foreign firms seeking to invest in a major newspaper because
of its editorial views, caused public concern. By September
the Socialist Party had relinquished all of its national and
county-level newspapers to private control. Former state-run
publications, however, were troubled by continuing uncertainty
over who actually owned their facilities and equipment.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Under current law, peaceful public gatherings are allowed as
long as they do not result in the advocacy or commission of
crimes, or infringe on the rights of others. In general, no
permits are required for assembly except when a public
gathering is planned near sensitive installations such as
military facilities, embassies, and key government buildings.
Police may sometimes alter or revoke permits, but there does
not appear to be official abuse of this right. Gatherings and
demonstrations to promote a wide variety of political and
social causes continued on a broad scale throughout 1990.
Although mass gatherings were carefully monitored by police
for public safety reasons, there were no reports of
interference with the right to assemble.
Any 10 or more persons may establish an association, provided
that it does not commit criminal offenses or disturb the
rights of others. Associations with charters and elected
officers must register with the courts. Private Hungarian
organizations, such as trade associations, political parties
and legal groups, enjoyed numerous contacts with their
counterparts abroad in 1990.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The law on freedom of conscience and religion adopted at the
end of 1989 radically altered conditions of religious
expression and education after decades of official
suppression. Religious denominations became free to establish
places of worship and instruction. From late 1989 on, more
than 60 religious orders and numerous seminaries and schools
were established or reopened. Instructors in religion must
register once with their local governments, but yearly
renewals were abolished. Official control of religious
education ceased.
Work continued on the return of confiscated church properties,
which is difficult because many such properties were converted
into social and cultural institutions. Denominations are free
to establish relations with counterparts abroad. In February
full diplomatic relations were reestablished with the Vatican,
and a Papal Nuncio was accredited to Hungary. As of mid-1990,
several foreign missionary groups were operating in Hungary,
some setting up institutes for the training of clergy.
Although many elements in the new Government are influenced by
pre-1956 Christian traditions, there is no officially preferred
religion, and religious affiliation carries no benefits or
penalties. Hungary is largely Roman Catholic by tradition;
members of many other faiths practice their religions freely.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The movement of Hungarian citizens within the country is
unrestricted. All residents carry identity cards and must
register with the local town or district council when they
change residences.
Foreign travel is generally hindered only by the shortage of
hard currency for individual use. Nevertheless, the
unrestricted availability of Hungarian passports valid for all
countries resulted in an overwhelming flood of "economic
tourists" to neighboring countries as well as travel
elsewhere. Current law establishes the right of Hungarians to
emigrate and of emigres to return freely. Emigration may be
delayed, but not denied, for those who have significant
court-assessed debts or who possess state secrets. From
mid-1989 on, several exiled dissidents returned to Hungary and
successfully regained their revoked citizenships. A notable
example was Bela Kiraly, who went into exile after the defeat
of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, regained his citizenship
in early 1990, and is now a member of the new Parliament.
Hungary's 1989 accession to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the
Status of Refugees and the 1967 Additional Protocol included a
reservation whereby it bound itself only to accept and care
for European refugees. In practice, however, persons of all
nationalities were accepted in 1990 and provided to the best
of the Government's ability with housing, education, and
employment aid, despite increasingly severe strains on
Most refugees seeking to stay in Hungary in 1990 continued to
be Romanian citizens; of these, ethnic Hungarians generally
had little trouble finding work and acceptance. Public
tolerance of ethnic Romanians and Gypsies was lower; as
economic conditions deteriorated, public resentment over what
was perceived as these groups ' preferential access to housing
and jobs became an increasingly sensitive issue. There were
several accounts that authorities turned back Romemian
refugees at the border, and on August 11 Romanian refugees
threatening a hunger strike at the American Embassy were
reportedly forcibly repatriated.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Events in 1990 demonstrated the newly acquired right of
Hungarian citizens peacefully to change their government.
Parliamentary elections in March and April, which saw the
overwhelming defeat of the Communist regime, resulted in a
peaceful transition to a coalition government formed by the
Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Independent Smallholders
Party, and the Christian Democratic People's Party which
together hold 230 of the 386 seats. In opposition were the
Alliance of Free Democrats, the Federation of Young Democrats,
and the Hungarian Socialist (formerly Communist) Party.
In late summer. Parliament passed a local government bill
designed to transfer many powers to local authorities, and
local elections were held in September and October. Elections
were characterized by the participation of multiple parties
fielding freely chosen slates of candidates, secret balloting,
and universal suffrage. There was no evidence of fraud or
coercion in the election processes.
A late July referendum sponsored by the Hungarian Socialist
Party to have the president elected by popular vote instead of
by Parliament failed because of insufficient voter turnout.
Executive autonomy is promoted through statutes prohibiting
Members of Parliament from holding any other governmental
There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on the
participation of women in government or politics.
Participation of women in the highest levels of government,
however, remains very limited. A few Members of Parliament
are of minority ethnic background, but no minority party
candidate ran for office in the national legislature. In an
attempt to promote minority representation, the Government
devised a system of minority lists for elections to local
governments and in September authorized a $240,000 fund to
support minority candidates in local elections.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
At least four well-known human rights monitoring groups
operate freely in Hungary; the Hungarian Helsinki Committee,
the Hungarian Chapter of Amnesty International, the Wallenberg
Association for Minority Rights, and the Hungarian Human
Rights Federation. A 25-member parliamentary committee for
human, minority, and religious rights oversees the field of
human rights. Hungary in 1990 was not subject to allegations
or investigations of human rights abuses by any international
or nongovernmental body. It worked actively in the United
Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in
Europe to promote human and minority rights. Hungary's
particular preoccupation is the welfare of its ethnic
minorities in neighboring countries; a separate government
office was established during 1990 to promote the rights of
Hungarians abroad.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Hungary's largest minority group is the Gypsies, who account
for roughly 5 percent of its population of 10.3 million.
Conditions of life within the Gypsy community are
significantly poorer than among the general populace. Gypsies
tend to be considerably less educated, have lower than average
incomes, and have a life expectancy that falls several years
short of national norms. Gypsies reportedly account for over
half of Hungary's unemployed, and the crime rate in the Gypsy
community is nearly double that in the general population.
The Government sponsors programs both to preserve Gypsy
language and cultural heritage and to assist social and
economic assimilation. Beginning in mid-1990, the media
increased public discussion of Gypsy issues and reflected
official sensitivity to heavyhanded treatment of Gypsies under
the Communist regime. Widespread popular prejudice continues,
however, along with de facto discrimination in housing and
jobs. In June the various Gypsy rights organizations were
assembled under the umbrella of a new national oversight body,
the Nationality Council of Gypsy Organizations.
Hungary's Jewish community in 1990 was the object both of
rising expressions of anti-Semitism and of government efforts
to affirm and protect its status. There were scattered
reports of anti-Semitic provocations, including an
inflammatory January radio broadcast by a nationalist Member
of Parliament, Istvan Csurka, and a September incident of
verbal abuse of children in a largely Jewish school supported
by private American funds. The Government consistently
condemned all anti-Semitic activities and responded with
action when reguired. For example, the police promptly
arrested those in the school incident. In July the Government
demonstrated its support for the Jewish community when
President Goncz, Prime Minister Antall, and a score of top
leaders attended the dedication of the new holocaust memorial.
Legally, women have the same rights as men, including
identical inheritance and property rights. There is no overt
employment discrimination against women. However, the number
of women in middle or upper managerial positions is low.
The embryonic women's rights movement has had no noticeable
impact on societal attitudes, although at least one official
feminist organization was in operation as of late 1989. Wife
beating is reportedly common. While there are laws against
rape, it often goes unreported because public attitudes toward
crimes of rape have not kept up with legal prohibitions.
Marital sexual abuse is not an acknowledged legal concept.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
In March the old Communist labor umbrella organization, SZOT,
disbanded, and a successor body, the Confederation of
Hungarian Trade Unions (MSzOSz), took its place. With the
demise of SZOT, Hungary cut its ties to the Communistcontrolled
World Federation of Trade Unions. Although
nominally reformed, the MSzOSz ' credentials suffered because
of its holdover leadership and perceived efforts to retain
control of trade union properties and assets. Initially, a
majority of trade unions formerly affiliated with SZOT joined
the MSzOSz, but several later left, and many elected to join
other umbrella groups or remain independent. At year's end,
four major groupings dominated the labor scene: MSzOSz; the
Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions, formed in 1989;
Workers' Solidarity, a small blue-collar coordinating group;
and nonaffiliated unions. Independent unions continued to
proliferate, and workers, on the whole, were able to join them
without interference. There remained, however, a so-called
checkoff system that workers must go through to relinquish
MSzOSz membership, which other union groups denounced as an
unfair pressure tactic and sought to have abolished.
Legislation passed in 1990 gives all workers, excluding
judicial and military personnel and police, the right to
strike. A miners' strike in July resulted in changed plant
management, higher wages, and improved pension provisions for
the striking workers; a major transport strike occurred in
October. Unions are free to form confederations and affiliate
with international labor organizations. Hungarian unions now
maintain extensive relationships with such bodies as the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for labor-related
legislation, while special labor courts enforce labor laws.
Legally, the right to organize is ensured, and striking
workers are protected against antiunion discrimination.
However, there were reports in 1990 of enterprise managers,
including Western managers involved in Hungarian firms,
attempting to interfere with labor organization inside their
enterprises. The Ministry of Labor pledged to work with labor
groups to prevent such activity.
No change occurred in the mechanism of "interest
coordination," or wage negotiation between labor and
management based on government guidelines, which provides for
some degree of collective bargaining. There are no
export-processing zones or other special economic zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Compulsory labor laws were abolished by Parliament in June,
1989. There were no reports of forced or compulsory labor in
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The labor courts enforce Hungary's minimum employment age of
15 years. There does not appear to be any significant abuse
of this statute.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Hungary's legal minimum wage was raised in 1990 to about
$82 per month. With price increases resulting from the
lifting of subsidies on many basic goods and services, this
does not provide an adequate living for workers and their
families; real incomes dropped during the year by around 4
percent. In order to maintain a decent standard of living,
many Hungarians supplement their primary employment with
second and even third jobs.
The average official workweek is 40 hours. This does not
apply to secondary employment. Under existing law, workers
receive overtime, a minimum of 15 days of paid leave per year,
free health care, and pensions. Federal labor courts enforce
occupational safety standards for work places, but specific
safety conditions are not up to internationally accepted