The Universality of Human Rights from an Eastern European Perspective

Rudolf Bernhardt Lecture by Orsolya Salát

Human rights and Europe are universalistic, normative, aspirational, and interconnected ideas. The term “Eastern Europe”, in contrast, denotes a particularistic, nonaspirational concept, in which the adjective is in some tension with, derogates from, or invalidates the noun. The tension in the term “Eastern Europe” necessarily points to a tension within the concept of Europe: Eastern Europe is the mirror held up to Europe.

Human rights law, being under a necessity of interpretation, can be understood as the locus where such tensi-ons unfold. This interpretation – in addition to its general limitations – has created various concessions to particularism or pluralism: imaginary proportionalities, balances, lack of consensus, margins, floors, etc. are taming the universalistic aspiration. While universality does not mean uniformity, there is a point where minimalism ceases to be universalistic.

The talk will examine against this background some recent examples of Eastern European, especially Hungarian, human rights stories. In the post-1989 euphoria, human rights and rule of law have become institutionalized in Eastern Europe more strongly than in most of Western Europe. When after 2010, domestic institutions had been dismantled, Europe quickly proved unable to provide a safety net. The talk will inquire the causes, and analyse the implications for the concept of Europe and the concept of human rights.

Orsolya Salát has a law degree from ELTE University Budapest. She also holds a Diplôme en droit français et européen from the Université Paris II-Panthéon Assas, an LL.M from the Universität Heidelberg, and another LL.M in comparative constitutional law from the Central European University (CEU Budapest). Her doctoral dissertation in comparative constitutional law (CEU, 2012) received a best dissertation award. She has taught at ELTE University Faculty for Social Sciences, Department for European Studies, and as a visiting professor in the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations, and in the School of Public Policy at CEU. She has been a research fellow for the bEUcitizen project on barriers to European citizenship, and a junior research fellow at the Legal Institute of the Centre for Social Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She was visiting researcher at the Yale Law School, and at the universities of Heidelberg, Paris-I, and Zürich. Her book, The Right to Freedom of Assembly: A Comparative Study was published in 2015 by Hart.

The lecture will be followed by a discussion and a reception at Palais Prinz Carl.

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