PECS, Hungary — A ladder, paint, and glue weren’t 62-year-old lawyer Peter Heindl’s first choice as the tools of his trade.
The petitions of the person who has long opposed the rights to the police of the election, the lawyers, and the courts have been stopped for more than a year, the most days can find Heindl. roadside patrols his southern Hungarian province to vandalize government billboards and advertisements in an attempt to challenge the narrative of the Fidesz political party.
He said that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is breaking the law, not him. “The government puts up these billboards to support political parties that hold on to power and expand endlessly,” he told RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service last week, adding that such actions ” it rejects and mocks the basic rules of democracy.”
“A person who loves freedom has a duty to oppose this,” he said.
Public opponents have noticed that he often mimics Fidesz’s slogans, bashing the left, threatening hot-button issues like gender, or canceling Orban’s EU – it always seems for the benefit of the state and all 10 million Hungarians.
After a year of complaints to local and state prosecutors, the Hungarian Election Commission, and even the European Court of Human Rights, his declaration of civil disobedience to facing an important test.
Informed in December 2022 that the prosecutors in Pecs officially reclassified an accusation of violation of criminal damage after he refused his own acquittal on principle, Hendl requested this month in court in local authorities to request a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg before hearing the case.
The Pecs district court has one month to decide whether to proceed with the indictment, a spokeswoman told RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service, and then it can decide whether to appeal. an opinion of the European court.
The issue could spread widely in Hungary, at least, where the government and the European Union are still arguing over the power of Orban, showing the retreat of democracy, and the happiness of Budapest. in law and other EU “principles.”
The self-proclaimed activist has been roaming the streets of Baranya District with his ladder and his anger almost every day since November 2021, in search for the visual perception of social media.
A professional lawyer in cases concerning the rights of minorities, Heindl was careful to act within the law during a night trip to carry out his practice of civil disobedience in before the election last year. With an RFE/RL Hungarian Service reporter traveling with him, he stayed 10 kilometers per hour under the speed limit. There are no cars stopping at stop signs. He usually uses his flashlights. And once he found a target, even on a deserted road, he made sure to park legally.
A roadside billboard urges parents to “Protect our children!” by turning for a Fidesz-backed referendum on election day that would ban or limit discussion of sexuality or transgender issues, both of which are prominent in the illegal message of the party. Once up on his ladder with a flashlight, Heindl scrawled “from Putin” in black letters below “Protect our children!” Other times, his addition may read “from Fidesz.”
He often works in broad daylight, and says he rarely encounters passers-by or even the police.
Some of his regular targets include posters everywhere paid for by the Public Information Office that seem neutral reading, “Hungary is moving forward! Not backward.” As soon as the election campaign started last April, they were reflected in the Fidesz slogan “Let’s go forward, not back.”
Sometimes he puts up A4 sheets with the title “Not Democracy!” explains a decision of the Constitutional Court from 2008 which dictates that “the state must remain neutral in the struggle between groups political.” He can also add more documents to prove that the German Constitutional Court made the same decision in 2020.
In criticism of the public prosecutors as well as the ECHR, he cited those and other examples that prohibit the state from speaking or advocating on behalf of special groups.
“If we don’t take action against this, we have succumbed to injustice and unequal opportunities,” Heindl argue with lawyers in one of his first legal battles. “Parties can do this at war with each other, but the government has no right to do it.”
International observers tend to agree with Heindl, both generally and specifically.
In their findings from the April 2022 elections, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) noted that “the gap between the government’s rhetorical messages and the government’s information , giving access to collective governance and blurring the line between the state and the party.”
A repeat of a many complaints from the Hungarian elections four years earlier and only one on the long list of Fidesz’s good positions that upset the playing field, which also included the inappropriateness of the use of administrative resources, a large amount of airtime in a captive media environment, and limited independent access to public information. .
Fidesz won last year’s election in another landslide, the fourth in 12 years, giving Orban a four-year term as prime minister and a two-thirds supermajority that would have allowed him to remain in power. acknowledge the opposition.
Two days after the election, researchers relaunch an investigation and Heindl’s actions redecorating or posting billboards have been reclassified from a minor infraction to a felony.
In his protest, he argued that by repainting the posters he was actually trying to prevent a government crime.
The Pecs court acquitted him in April 2022 due to the lack of evidence of the crime, the difficulty of identifying a victim, and the small amount of damage.
Dissatisfied, Hendl appealed his acquittal. He argued that he was acting in the self-defense of the society and that the leaders of the government committed a crime by promoting the benefit of a particular political party.
He gambled that a judgment in his favor would allow other Hungarians to destroy or even tear down other such posters and leaflets.
In August 2022, he appealed to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg. But with so many disputes, that organization may take years to hear its case.
Unless, as Heindl did, the Pecs court decides in the coming weeks, Hungary’s judiciary may be better off in the long run by first hearing what the supreme court of rights will be. what Europeans have to say on the matter.
In any case, he said that he is not disappearing from the public eye unless the government also makes requests through billboards and posters funded by the state.
“I will continue my non-violent struggle using the tools of civil disobedience until success is achieved,” said Heindl last week. “I believe that more and more of us will do the same, and we will be able to restore the democratic rule of law in Hungary.”