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Like other criminal justice systems in Marxist-Leninist countries, Hungary's criminal justice system was, until the late 1980s, heavily politicized. The system, like other aspects of the political system, was subject not to the rule of law but rather to the whims of the party. As part of its efforts at democratization in the late 1980s, the government began an effort to create an independent judicial system.

Incidence of Crime

Crimes against both people and property soared during the 1980s. Violent crime, which also increased dramatically, was disproportionately committed by Gypsies (see Minority Groups , ch. 2). Gypsies made up about 4.7 percent of the population, but they numbered 54 percent of those persons convicted of murder and rape and 49 percent of those convicted of robbery.

Criminal offenses against the state and private individuals cost the economy nearly US$50 million in 1988, or 0.5 percent of the country's annual budget. Losses from criminal offenses against private property doubled from 1987 to 1988. White-collar crime, especially bribery of office executives, also rose, and the country's efforts to increase the role of private enterprise led to a new type of criminal activity--money laundering.

By contrast, certain other types of activities formerly considered illegal by the state had become legal under new more tolerant laws. Thus, in the late 1980s liberalized passport and customs regulations reduced currency crimes by 25 percent and smuggling cases by 20 percent.

In the 1980s, the level of alcoholism in Hungary grew at the fastest rate in the world. In the 1950s, the communist regime considered alcoholism to be a "remnant of the past," but the increase in alcoholism over the years had forced the government to pay attention to this problem. The rapidly rising rate of alcohol consumption was fueled by an increasing number of women and youth with drinking problems. About 120,000 children lived in families in which one or both parents were heavy drinkers, and reports surfaced of youth gangs drinking in Budapest subway stations.

However, the government's data showed that at least in the workplace the problem of alcoholism was diminishing, rather than increasing. Surveys taken between 1985 and 1987 showed that drunkenness in the workplace dropped each year: from 9.1 percent in 1985, to 3.7 percent in 1986, and to 2.2 percent in 1987. Nevertheless, alcohol, rather than controlled substances, was related to virtually all of the crimes committed under the influence of any type of drug. In the first eight months of 1988, more than 18,500 crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol, while 37 crimes were committed under the influence of hard drugs (heroin and cocaine) and 84 under the influence of drug substitutes.

According to the Ministry of Interior, although hard drugs were shipped through Hungary, they did not appear to be a serious problem for Hungarian society. In the late 1980s, Ministry of Interior statistics cited only forty-five to fifty prosecutions per year for narcotics violations. Nevertheless, the use of hard drugs did appear to be rising.

The use of drug substitutes or the abuse of prescription drugs, however, caused the government serious concern. Abusers obtained opium-based and other drugs from hospitals, pharmacies, and drug factories by stealing, by forging prescriptions, or by buying drugs from staff looking for extra money. Glue sniffing was also a problem, especially for children aged seven to fifteen. In the late 1980s, the press admitted that the country possibly had 50,000 drug addicts but did not mention the drugs responsible for addiction.

Before 1984 the government had denied the existence of a drug problem, but since then the subject has received wide public discussion. In the late 1980s, laws against the use of controlled substances were flexible and gave judges the ability to adjust sentences according to the quantity of the drug involved and the age of the seller. Those persons in possession of "excessive amounts" could receive up to an eight-year prison term.

Data as of September 1989

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