Acquittals after red mud tragedy in Hungary

Just over five years after the environmental disaster near the city of Ajka in Hungary all 15 defendants have been acquitted. The tragedy occurred when toxic sludge, or "red mud" leaked from a reservoir at an alumina plant. The verdict has triggered protests which some commentators see as justified, while others don't.

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Népszabadság (HU) /

Human error very much to blame

Although all 15 defendants have been acquitted by a trial court, human error was responsible for the disaster of October 2010, the centre-left daily Népszabadság contends:

“Regardless of the court's findings human error was most likely to blame. Ajka was not the scene of a natural disaster: the red mud was set in motion neither by an earthquake nor by a tsunami. Nor, we assume, by a terrorist attack. The reservoir is part of an industrial complex. Nevertheless with industrial accidents there's no getting around the fact that certain people are responsible. Someone made a mistake. ... And the first place to look for the culprits is among the people who designed the reservoir and chose its location. ... The only problem is that was decades ago. Either the culprits are no longer alive, or the statute of limitations applies.”

Kisalföld (HU) /

Victims' suffering unforgotten

Attila Cséfalvay, commentator for the regional paper Kisalföld, voices his dissatisfaction not only with the verdict but also with the reaction to the tragedy which claimed ten lives near the city of Ajka in central Hungary:

“I would like to know what the relatives of the victims have to say about this verdict. … I simply can't understand why there were no compulsory checks on statistics and subsoil for such a dangerous process as the storage of red mud. And I remember that after the tragedy in Ajka two other red mud reservoirs were immediately checked. Why did it take so long? People who witnessed the tragedy are still tormented today by the memory of a young mother clutching her 14-month-old baby, sinking into the mud and drowning together with a man rushed to help her.”

Mandiner (HU) /

Judges right not to bow to will of the people

Many Hungarians are unhappy with the verdict because no one was found responsible for the toxic mud accident. But it is not the task of the judiciary to find scapegoats, stresses journalist Tamás Lándori on the opinion portal Mandiner:

“Is the judges' task to apply the law or to satisfy the people? It is not good for the judiciary when the general public tries to tell it what verdict and what sentence to hand down on the basis of lacking information. … 'That's what ten lives were worth?' politician Lajos Kepli [of the right-wing populist Jobbik party] asked after the sentence was pronounced. … We must decide whether after a tragedy that triggered public outrage we simply want to see people behind bars or whether we want the real causes to be uncovered. If the former is the case then courts are completely superfluous. The people could have reached a judgement on the very day of the disaster.”