Spanish – Both European politics and diplomacy have been convulsed in recent days by the scandal involving József Szájer on Friday night in an appartment located in Rue de Pierres in Brussels.
József Szájer has been not only an emblematic figure of the Hungarian Fidesz party but has also been a member of the European Parliament for no less than 16 years, 11 of which he served as “chief whip” of the European People’s Party, in charge of verifying that its members attended sessions and voted per the party’s directives.
On Friday evening, November 27, around 9:30 pm, the Brussels police -alerted by some neighbors- showed up at an apartment in Rue de Pierres. The police found that in violation of the lockdown regulations, around 20 men, some of them naked, were enjoying a sexual party.
But that’s not where they found Szájer. In fact, the MEP was trying to escape through a drain into the street. A passerby noticed this fact, and he was arrested. According to the Belgian police, a pill of the drug known as “ecstasy” was found in his backpack.
Since at that time, the diplomat lacked documentation proving his identity and, as a result of his peculiar attempt to escape, he even had bloody hands, the police accompanied him to his home so that he could show the alleged passport.
However, as immediately emphasized by the European Parliament, the diplomatic immunity of MEPs only applies to the exercise of their official duties, and not to the scope of their private acts, so at this time, József Szájer, until now a powerful figure of the Hungarian right-wing, is accused of at least two crimes and subject to criminal proceedings and consequent sanctions.
Szajer’s political and diplomatic career also seems to have gone down the drain simultaneously since on the same Sunday, he presented his resignation to the positions he held. Although he claimed not to know how the ecstasy pill got in his backpack, he admitted to having been present at the party and to violating the quarantine provisions issued by the Belgian government.
Differentiating the private from the public
To analyze the situation as a whole, we believe that the media scandal surrounding this issue should be purely anecdotal. Indeed, the participation of the MEP in any kind of party with other adults, who attended and stayed on entirely voluntarily, without affecting or infringing the rights of others, should not be our concern.
With the same criterion, the consumption of narcotic substances, as long as it does not harm third parties’ rights either, should also, strictly speaking, be of no concern to us. If the MEP chooses to run the risks inherent in such behavior, it is his decision, just as it is that of those who smoke, opt for a sedentary life, practice risky sports, or decide to have half a dozen fried eggs for lunch every day.
What is scandalous and outrageous is not that. Szajer was not even the only diplomat present: what upsets the citizenry is that these behaviors are occurring alongside Szajer’s public discourse as leader and spokesman of his party and right hand of the current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Because, as imperfect beings, we all have our failures and lapses, and to the extent that we do not try to place ourselves on the pedestal of guardians of moral values, it is very likely that we will not be judged with bitterness. But if what suddenly appears in the light of day is a blatant collision between words and deeds, public opinion will render its verdicts without mercy.
Szajer’s career at Fidesz
The Hungarian party Fidesz was born in 1988 under very promising grounds for freedom. Founded by a group of young people as an underground opposition to the prevailing communist regime, the movement began to grow within national politics.
However, a discouraging outcome in the 1994 elections pushed its members to shift their ideological stance towards less liberal and more conservative thinking, which ended up dominating the scene. This caused a split in the party, but in the end, the coalition with the Christian Democratic alliance achieved a historic victory in 2010, with 52% of the votes.
The tyranny of the majority
The dearness of power may have led the party members to that place that the thinker Giovanni Sartori stresses with great clarity: “The argument is that when democracy is assimilated to the rule of a pure and simple majority, that assimilation makes a sector of the demos into non-demos. Conversely, democracy conceived as the majority government limited by the rights of the minority corresponds to all the people, that is, to the sum total of the majority and the minority.”
And Alberto Benegas Lynch (h) adds: “Since Cicero- when he pointed out that ‘the empire of the multitude is no less tyrannical than that of one man,’- there has been a concern for unlimited majorities. Without exception, the democratic tradition has repeatedly pointed out the threats to freedom and rights by being guided by numbers alone.” As the constitutionalist Juan González Calderón has pointed out, the defenders of such a system do not even know about numbers since they start from two false equations: 50% plus 1%= 100% and 50% minus 1%= 0%”.
And so, the super-majority allowed Fidesz to modify the constitution of Hungary and draft new electoral laws. From a student movement of a liberal tone and style, Fidesz went on to become a right-wing populist. While favoring interventionist economic policies and adopting openly anti-immigrant positions, its social policies are imbued with certain values, against which the sex party scandal or the alleged ecstasy pill operates like a stain of red paint on an immaculate Greek sculpture.
As Nick Thorpe, Budapest correspondent for BBC News, says, “the sex scandal is particularly embarrassing for a party whose campaign revolves around traditional family values and has recently proposed a law to ban adoption for same-sex couples.”
But if the double-talk has certainly exasperated public opinion, so much or more embarrassing must be the situation also for Szájer’s wife, Tunde Hando, a prominent jurist, inaugural president of the National Judicial Office and current member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court.
In short, as far as the area of the private acts of the already former member of the European Parliament is concerned, which do not affect the rights of third parties, we understand that it is not our place to say anything, even if we eventually disapprove of his conduct and do not take it as an example to model.
What we do understand deserves to be reviewed are the public facets that have been exposed by this double discourse, which radically undermines the alleged moral superiority of its followers.
The final renunciation
Meanwhile, the Fidesz delegation to the European Parliament said about Szajer’s resignation: ” He made the right decision in resigning. He made the only right decision. We acknowledge his decision, as well as his apology to his family, his political community, and his voters.”
Let’s not get bogged down in the pettiness of whether or not a quarantine was violated with that party, orgy, or whatever you want to call it. Let’s not fly low criticizing sexual orientations or behaviors that do us no harm. Let’s not start wondering if the ecstasy pills in the backpack were owned by Szajer or planted: that’s what justice is for.
Let’s dare to look beyond the small, the sordid, the petty. Let us think, however, of the risks involved in falling into double-talk.