Pastor Gábor Iványi, rival of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, has published a text the “Advent Statement” in which he denounces Orban’s policy. In an interview, he criticizes this “Christian country” for having a constitution in which one can be put in prison for being homeless. He is right.
In the Guardian article « The pastor versus the populist: Hungary’s new faith faultline », published the 29th of December, Julian Coman interviewed the Pastor Gábor Iványi. The journalist confirms to me that Iványi said to him: “Is there any other Christian country in the world where it is written in the constitution that you can be jailed for being homeless?”
Pastor Gábor Iványi
Now at the head of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, Gábor Iványi was once close to the Hungarian prime minister. As students the two fought together against the communist regime. Orban converted to Catholicism and asked the pastor to bless his marriage and baptized his children. As a result of political tensions and Orban’s rise to power, the two men drifted apart. In 2011, the Parliament excluded the Hungarian Evangelical Association from the list of state-recognised religious institutions. Gábor Iványi lost its subsidies. Today, the pastor criticizes Orban’s use of religion.
In Hungary, according to the Act III of 1993 on social administration and social services, a homeless person is described as “any person shall be deemed to be homeless who spends nights in public areas or premises not designed for housing purposes” (PDF download link). Concerning the number of homeless people, the figures are not always accurate. In 2018, the European Federation of National Organizations with the Homeless (FEANTSA) statistics show that 8,650 Hungarians are homeless. However, they point out that these figures only include undocumented migrants who are in contact with organizations and NGOs. Regarding the number of homeless people put in jail, the numbers are even more imprecise.
A controversial Constitution
In the country’s history, the first written constitution dates back to 1949. It was only in 2011 that the government decided to introduce a new constitution, entitled The Fundamental Law of Hungary, which was adopted by Parliament in April. But this text has been amended many times. In 2013, the government first passed a law that made it a criminal offence to sleep in certain public places, which were protected as Hungary’s World Heritage Sites.
In October 2018, the new amendment to article 22 of the Constitution (PDF, in English) will strengthen the crackdown on the homeless. The new article introduces: “In order to protect public order, public safety, public health and cultural artefacts, an Act or a local government decree may, with respect to a specific part of public space, provide that using a public space as a habitual dwelling shall be illegal.”
Contacted by email, Warren Richardson, a freelance photojournalist working with homeless people in Budapest, explains the situation: “Any homeless person found sleeping on the streets – that is an imprisonable offence, giving authorities the right to move that person as a warning and a second time the authorities have the right to imprison and destroy the persons belongings.” That same month, the government published a post on its official website entitled “There are sufficient places for those in need”, in order to justify these new rules. It states: “the act of residing on public premises for habitation illegal will enter into force on 15 October.”
In an interview with the journalist of The Guardian, the Pastor Gábor Iványi said that “it is written in the constitution that you can be jailed for being homeless» about the Hungarian Constitution. Indeed, the amendment to the article 22 of the Constitution adopted in 2018, the text says that living in the public space can be illegal. The claim is true.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Perrine Basset, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, NL