Releasing an Axe Murderer: Hungary Enters World Stage in Disgrace
While Hungary has been in the news lately with the prosecution of Laszlo Csatary (see my earlier postings), yesterday, 8/31, a new scandal has erupted that may finally put Hungary on the map–although not the way Hungarians would wish. As the BBC has reported, Hungary has extradited to Azerbaijan an Azeri convicted axe murderer of an Armenian solider (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19440661). The murderer, a former soldier, despite promises to the contrary, was immediately released and was reportedly even promoted. In response, Armenia has cut all diplomatic ties with Hungary. With 30,000 Armenians living in Hungary–and about 1.5 million Americans of Armenian descent populating the United States–this move may cost Hungary much more than the alleged back-room deal of 3 billion euros in Hungarian bonds the Azeri president promised Orban Azerbaijan would purchase in exchange.
Any way one examines this case, the first and most prominent impression one gets of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s decision to release the convicted axe murderer is that it could only have come from a man whose moral compass has seriously malfunctioned. A convicted murderer’s place is in jail–especially when the murderer confesses to hacking another human being with an axe simply because that other human being belonged to another ethnic group he hated. The excuse that the Azerbaijani president had assured that the man, Ramil Safarov who killed Gurgen Markarian in 2004, would serve his life sentence rings hollow. A quick glance at the celebratory reception of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in Libya in 2009 (when Scotland released the Lockerbie Bomber on compassionate grounds) could have given an idea about what would happen to Safarov back in Azerbaijan to the moral and political geniuses in Budapest advising Mr. Orban or Mr. Orban himself. (Megrahi went on to live another three years in luxury instead of the prognosticated three months).
That Mr. Orban and his ruling FIDESZ party have increasingly been disregarding international norms when it comes to civil political discourse should not come as a surprise to those who have been paying any attention to Hungary in the past few years. Orban’s complicity in employing terms that would find sympathy in the ranks of the wildly nationalistic and xenophobic JOBBIK Party and the undecided voters who leaned towards JOBBIK is clear. Today, anti-Jewish (and even more so, anti-Gypsy) sentiments are commonplace in Hungarian public discourse–not to mention on public transportation. The most outrageous incident to date did not even involve a Jew. It occurred just this past Wednesday (8/29) when the leader of the The Hungarian Resistance Fighters and Anti-Fascists Alliance, Vilmos Hanti, was beaten up by a gang of 10-15 people dressed in black after a demonstration against Hungarian fascism in front of the Uj Szinhaz (see my previous post on that story).
So far, the Hungarian government has not condemned the attack. The silence of elected officials (and even Jewish organizations!!!) in this case is deafening. The lack of vigorous protests (online, in print and in the streets) may be indicative of the depths to which general Hungarian sensitivities about outrages against human dignity have fallen.
Besides highlighting a serious moral lapse, Mr. Orban may have committed an equally fatal political misstep as well. While Azerbaijan celebrates the return of its “national hero,” Armenians are fuming. The Armenian president has made the following (rather stunning) declaration: “By their actions Hungarian and Azerbaijani authorities opened the door for the repetition of such crimes. By this decision they send a message to the murderers: from now on they know that the murder on the ethnic or religious ground can remain unpunished,” said President Sargsyan. “I cannot tolerate that. The Republic of Armenia cannot tolerate that. Armenian nation will never forgive that. I officially declare that we cease all diplomatic relations with Hungary and break all official connections.” (http://www.armenianlife.com/2012/08/31/armenian-nation-will-never-forgive-yerevan-breaks-diplomatic-relations-with-hungary/)
How fierce of a reaction in Armenia did Mr. Orban think his move would inspire? Did he not calculate the costs (both financial and political) Hungary would incur as a result of such an incredibly unjust extradition?
Armenia will never forgive Hungary? What will the 30,000 Armenians do in Hungary now as Armenians have reportedly protested the extradition by massing in front of Hungarian embassies and burning Hungarian flags? Will the Armenian minority now become a target of the far right in Hungary? Will Armenians living in the United States pressure President Obama, running for reelection, to act against Hungary in some meaningful way? Will the fury against Mr. Orban’s economically-inspired peacock dance (that has failed to deceive the Armenians) inspire physical violence? Will the Azeri president laugh all the way to the bank, telling his bankers to keep the three billion euros now that Hungary’s bargaining chip is back in his country?
Only time will tell.
The extradition, clearly, flies in the face of justice. No states should be allowed to extradite convicted criminals in exchange for money when the criminal is not only sure to be released but also celebrated as a national hero.
And that is precisely what happened last Friday.
Let the Armenians know: Mr. Orban is not Hungary despite his unsightly posturing to the contrary. This extradition fills everyone, not just Armenians, with a sense of decency with outrage. It certainly should inspire a huge backlash against Mr. Viktor Orban in Hungary. On Facebook, a picture with words in English expressing Hungarian dissatisfaction and condemnation of this move is already gaining some popularity. Yet, the FIDESZ (or more precisely, Mr. Orban) still does not get it with Gabriella Selmeczi, the FIDESZ spokesperson, indicating that “the FIDESZ Party identifies one hundred per cent with the government’s position [that] in this case everything took place according to the rules of international justice” and considers the case closed (http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20120901-lezartnak-tekinti-a-fidesz-az-azeri-gyilkos-ugyet.html).
The Hungarian government may think the case is closed. The Armenians and those they will inform about this case, on the other hand, will never again look at Hungary the same way.
Armenians are shocked and hurt by the extradition of Ramil Safarov.
Echoing some newspapers the day after 9/11, I want to say with a clear voice: We are all Armenians today!