Saturday, October 19, 2013

Human Rights Watch: Homelessness now criminalized in Hungary

There is a wind blowing among right-wing circles (mostly in their vacant minds) that is extremely dangerous. In Hungary, the homeless are the latest target, now subject to fines, community service and even jail time, after a vote in the Hungarian Parliament. The far right, clearly also a force for nihilism and human devastation in the U.S. given the impact of both the government shut-down and sequestration cuts to government spending mostly hitting those who are least able to defend themselves, has succeeded in achieving considerable electoral success in Hungary, winning 17% of the vote in the 2010 elections, and now achieving one of their nefarious political clean-up acts of wiping Budapest streets clean of the homeless.
No one feels good knowing there are thousands of homeless living on the streets of our towns and cities, sitting on the main thoroughfares, with their empty hat begging for a few coins from passersby. And yet, criminalizing those people for their ghastly plight, one which none of us would welcome, only shows our refusal to make the needed changes that would make it possible for them to secure a better life, including a home, food, health care and most importantly, honourable work with a decent wage.
And building more prison cells only removes the issue from public view, thereby enhancing our opportunity for denial of our complicity in the plight of the homeless...out of sight, out of mind, as it were.
Punishment, as a philosophy of government, is really a bankrupt imagination seeking absolute control. It refuses to deploy a spirit that would have the courage and the confidence and the insight to look behind the data into the root causes of homelessness. It refuses to acknowledge that there is always an opportunity for creative, partnered and collaborative solutions to almost every social problem, if the political will and the human compassion and creative spirit and energy are available.
The political right wing likes punishments, for a variety of reasons: it is cheap and efficient on the surface; it is absolute in removing the issue from view; it is clinically enforceable under the appropriate legislation; and once written into legislation, it is very difficult to remove....and it expresses complete and absolute control of the problem, but only superficially and temporarily.
It is the superficial and temporary that are really frightening because their approach relies on a very powerful "instant gratification" need and also a "nano-second memory" on the part of the public, thereby enabling both their seductive wooing of votes and their even more dangerous exercise of their kind of political power.
Short-term cost effectiveness, also, breeds social policy that favours the right wing. They can point to the elimination of the problem, as a result of their draconian measures, without having to engage in public debate and discussion over the root causes.
Symptomology, it seems, fits the gnat-like concentration of the public consciousness, as well as the very dangerous and malignant, narcissistic motives of the frightened right wing in politics, on every continent.
And the left, as a voice of reasoned and humane and much more tolerance of complexity, has to find and propose different strategies and tactics as a way of slowing down the right's tidal wave of pursuit of power. We have to engage more voices, more radio and television programs, more books and periodicals and more blogs in our defence of long-term social policies that incorporate both the economic and the human needs of individuals, towns, villages and cities...And because our voices are more diverse and diffuse, and because our cause is funded, if at all, differently and less abundantly, we have an added burden of being a more difficult "sell" to a public grasping for straws.
Nevertheless, we must persist, lest the creeping fascism of the right consumes all the public airwaves, all the affluent pocket-books and eventually all the legislative seats in all our countries.
The right wing, in many countries, although deploying different tactics and strategies than AK-47's and IED's and car bombs of the terrorists, are in many ways just as dangerous, and far more difficult to defend against.
The left must defend against those in left-leaning parties, like the NDP, from eliminating the activists from seats at the table of governments, as was apparently the case in the recently defeated NDP government in Nova Scotia. The story of its demise, while obviously dependent on more than one single cause, nevertheless has been traced back to the exclusion of one prominent, and exemplary activist from that cabinet, when it was elected in 2009.
Here is one account of that serious omission:

Election Nova Scotia: Orange crush to red tide

By Christopher Makka, in, October 12, 2013
Christopher Majka studied oceanography, biology, mathematics, philosophy, and Russian studies at Mount Alison and Dalhousie Universities and the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, and was a guest researcher at the Edward Gray Institute at Oxford University. He has written articles for many national and international publications. His scientific work includes over 150 scientific papers and contributions to five books. He is a review editor for four international publications, a research associate of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS, a recipient of the Tom Brydges Award from the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network, and was included as one of Canadian Geographic's Environmental Scientists of the Year in 2010. Majka is a member of the Project Democracy team.

Its dissolution began at the instant of its creation.
I clearly recall being in the cavernous Cunard Centre on the Halifax waterfront where Darrell Dexter chose to present his new cabinet on June 19, 2009, shortly after the triumphant Nova Scotia election that brought the first NDP government in history to power -- and a majority one, at that. It seemed an auspicious occasion and location. Just as shipping magnate Samuel Cunard had launched what was arguably the most successful steamship company of all time from this spot on the Halifax waterfront in 1840 when the RMS Britannia began to ply the waves between Liverpool and Halifax, so a new ship of state was poised to set sail -- an NDP government in Atlantic Canada, a new political phenomenon. Social-democratic anchors away!
After a literal or figurative drum-roll (I've now forgotten which; perhaps it was bag pipers …?) the cabinet ministers filed into place behind the newly minted provincial premier. There was a moment of confusion and then an audible gasp swept through the audience -- where was Howard?
MLA Howard EpsteinHoward, of course, was Howard Epstein; lawyer, law professor, and peerless environmental activist. Epstein was also a former city councillor, and one of the NDP Young Turks elected in 1998 when the party came within a hair's breadth of taking power under then provincial leader Robert Chisholm (the Liberals and NDP tied with 19 seats, however the Liberals, by the prerogative of incumbency, went on to form government). Running in the riding of Halifax Chebucto, Epstein became one of the most successful and popular politicians in the province, re-elected in 1999, 2003, 2006, and 2009. His encyclopedic knowledge, uncompromising integrity, relentless activism, and genial and engaging manner had won him supporters throughout the province as the de facto standard-bearer of the progressive, activist wing of the NDP. With great oratorical gifts, a strong following, stellar legal and environmental skills, he was an extraordinary political asset for the party.
After the 2009 NDP victory, the talk in activist circles was which portfolio Epstein would receive. He would make an environment minister the like of which Nova Scotia had never known, although his considerable gifts would be well utilized as Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of Energy, Justice Minister, or even Deputy Premier. The notion of Epstein, one of the most-talented and longest-serving NDP politicians, being shut out of cabinet was simply unthinkable. Yet, there he wasn't on stage, a glaring omission, conspicuous by his absence. I still recall a momentary confusion as those gathered for the ceremony looked to one another thinking there must be some mistake, and then the flushes of anger, people stalking out of the hall.
Howard Epstein is a friend, but I recount this story not to dredge up arcane minutiae of past political maneuverings, but because of what was signalled to the progressive, activist wing of the NDP, namely that they would have no voice at the cabinet table. And so, it came to pass. And, arguably, this exclusion of an activist agenda was precisely what led to the spectacular flameout of the NDP on October 8, 2013 when it sank from being a majority government with 31 members, to third party status with a mere rump caucus of seven, thereby becoming the only government in Nova Scotia's history not to have won a second mandate. It was a stellar rise followed by an even more spectacular fall, all the more perplexing because the NDP actually accomplished much of significance.

Hungary passes law criminalizing homelessness

By Rick Westhead, Toronto Star, October 19, 2013

As if being homeless wasn't bad enough.
Hungary is a country whose government has been making news for unfortunate reasons recently. Many Roma from Hungary have fled to Canada, claiming they have been persecuted by both the government and its supporters.
HRW and other human rights activists have been worried by what they've seen happening in Hungary since the country's 2010 elections, when the far-right political party Jobbik won 17 per cent of the popular vote, stoking mistrust of Roma and whipping up anger over alleged "Gypsy crime."
Now, Hungary seems to have its sights set on the homeless, another vulnerable group.
Hungary has passed a new law that criminalizes homelessness. (Hungary has about 30,000 homeless.) Parliamentarians voted 245 to 45 for the new bill, Human Rights Watch reports.

"Municipalities across the country now have a green light to impose fines, community service, and even jail time (if convicted twice within six months) on the homeless," HRW researcher Lydia Gall writes. "And it’s straight to jail for those convicted of erecting makeshift shelters."
The new law follows a decree passed this summer by the city of Budapest that banned "dumpster-diving." That law introduces fines of up to 150,000 Hungarian forints ($655), or even jail sentences for repeated violations.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead


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