Can Hungary back out of ‘lex Heineken’?

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The Hungarian government is allegedly backing out of a draft bill that would ban the use of what it calls “totalitarian symbols” for commercial purposes, thought to have been aimed at Dutch brewing company Heineken, Hungarian online news portal hvg.hu reported. However, bill drafters Zsolt Semjén and János Lázár have denied the report.

Hungarian lawmakers of the governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition submitted a bill to Parliament that would ban the use of what it calls “totalitarian symbols” for commercial purposes, according to reports. Local media has noted that this could hit Heineken, which uses a red star symbol in its logo, and started to call the proposal “lex Heineken,” although the firm has so far declined to comment.

According to hvg.hu’s unnamed government sources, the governing parties have already backed out of supporting the draft bill, as Fidesz lawyers have found it “impossible do defend.”

However, when asked by independent TV station atv.hu about the proposal losing support, Semjén commented “no way,” while Lázár said “it is unimaginable that we withdraw from lex Heineken,” according to online news portal index.hu.

Lázár said in Parliament on Monday that Heinekenʼs steps to squeeze out competitor Igazi Csiki Sör (Real Csiki Beer) from the Romanian market is one of the reasons for the submission of a bill that would ban the use of totalitarian symbols for commercial purposes, according to Hungarian news agency MTI.

“Hungarian national interests, be they in Hungary or beyond the countryʼs borders, may not be violated without consequences,” Lázár said, according to MTI. However, he added that the main reason the bill was drafted was to preserve the dignity of the victims of the Holocaust and communism.

Lázár also acknowledged that Heineken is a strategic partner of the Hungarian government, thus the bill does not assail the company as an employer or a taxpayer; rather, it aims to achieve a level of respect for Hungaryʼs national interests from multinational companies, MTI reported.

In the past months a diplomatic row has been unfolding between Heineken and Lázár over the naming of a beer produced by a small ethnic Hungarian-owned brewery in in the Transylvania region of Romania. A Romanian court banned the use of the name Csíki Sör for the local beer when Heineken brought the matter to court after it bought a competitor with a similar name, Ciuc beer.  Csíki Sör was renamed Tiltott Igazi Sör (which translates as Banned Genuine Beer), though it still sports the original name in runic writing. Ever since, many Hungarian politicians, including Lázár and far-right Jobbik MPs, have called for a boycott of Heineken products in Hungary, a call the local Dutch Embassy has described as worrying.

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