Friday, February 17, 2012

Hungary: The gallows of capitalism

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


Hungary: The gallows of capitalism

It will come as no surprise to find out that the Hungarian Government has outlawed homelessness and that people who have lost their jobs and homes, with nowhere to go, now face criminal sanctions. Let us be honest, being born in Hell would be better than being born in Hungary. The actions taken today serve to explain many untold stories in the past.

To call Hungary the gallows of capitalism is as right as calling it the gallows of human decency. Recently, the Hungarian Parliament legislated that homelessness is a criminal activity, meaning that those forced to live on the streets, through no fault of their own, can be thrown into a jail and be locked away. So inhumane is the nature of the new laws that the United Nations Organization has stepped in.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to acquire housing, and Magdalena Sepúlveda, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, issue the following statement: "People who have no choice but to live on the street are now in danger of criminal sanctions. By a wave of the legislative pen, the Hungarian Parliament has labelled tens of thousands of homeless people in Hungary as potential criminals. Moreover, the law has a discriminatory impact on those living in poverty."

Hungary has between 30,000 to 35,000 homeless, and among these are many defenceless older persons, women, children and the disabled. Eight thousand of these live on the streets of Budapest, the capital.

And as central Europe faces freezing temperatures, what do the police do? They evict them from the temporary shelters they now call home. "Particularly during harsh weather conditions, as Europe has been experiencing during the past weeks, States have an increased obligation to provide shelter to those in need. However, this cannot serve as an excuse for the criminalization or forced detention of homeless persons," stated the UN experts Ms. Sepúlveda and Ms. Rolnik, who called for the Government to use public funds.

The tremendous social gains made by Hungary since the time of Béla Kun at the beginning of the XX Century have been swept away. Little over two decades ago, Hungary had full employment, guaranteed accommodation, free education and healthcare, good and subsidised or free public services, security of the State, safety on the street. And now?

Over one million of the ten million inhabitants of Hungary are unemployed; two million others live below the poverty line; the minimum salary is a miserable 250 Euros a month, three million workers receive this amount or little more; the cost of living is the same as elsewhere in Europe; the European Union destroyed the country's industry and agriculture.

Energy prices are astronomical when before they were free. Unemployment grows by the day. People live far worse than they did in 1989. No jobs, no homes, no livelihoods. Welcome to the European Union.

What was that they were saying about capitalism?