Return to a monarchy in Hungary?

This is András Gerő's latest idea. On October 18 he wrote an opinion piece entitled "Mozgássérült alaptörvény" (Constitution with disability) in Népszabadság in which he detailed some of his ideas concerning the shortcomings of the Hungarian Constitution. Perhaps not everybody knows that the current constitution is a thorough reworking of the Stalinist constitution of 1949 which, according to some, is so totally changed that the only sentence that remained from the original is "Budapest is the capital of the Hungary." This is a bit of an exaggeration because there are some "socialist" remnants in the constitution that surely don't belong to the basic law of a modern democratic country. But this is not what Gerő is complaining about.

Gerő thinks that Hungary's political ills stem from the shortcomings of the constitution. What are they? According to him there are several areas that should be changed. First, he mentions the question of "freedom of speech" followed by "lack of authority," "franchise," and "taxation." The problem of freedom of speech in Gerő's opinion can be cured by expanding legal remedies to cover not only individuals' rights but also the rights of groups. Gerő here uses the expression "collective stigmatization." In plain language legal remedies should be available to groups–Jews, Gypsies, gays–against those who use either racist or in Gerő's words "cultural racist" language. There is nothing revolutionary in this suggestion since hundreds if not thousands, including the Hungarian parliament, suggested this constitutional change only to be rebuffed by the majority of the Constitutional Court. Gerő's only unique contribution here is that perhaps the jury system could be introduced in such cases. Only a historian dealing with the late nineteenth century would come up with this suggestion because few people are aware of the fact that for a while the Hungarian judiciary provided for the use of juries in certain cases. Gerő thinks that introducing a jury here would ensure the representation of "public opinion" in the courtroom.

Although Gerő also talks at some length about the lack of constitutional guarantees as far as appointments for high public offices are concerned, I will quickly move on to the next and most controversial suggestion he offers. According to the constitution the president of the republic is supposed to express the unity of the nation, but, says Gerő, in fact the president in the last ten years or so has been elected by a simple majority vote. Again, according to the constitution, the ideal situation would be an election by a two-thirds majority. But if no two-thirds majority can be achieved in two tries, the third time around a simple majority will do. As a result the president will most likely be the candidate of one party or the other "no matter what the constitution says." Therefore, Gerő thinks that it "might be time to rethink the form of the government." If a monarchy were introduced, the head of the state would not depend on political whim and therefore could truly represent the unity of the nation. His legitimacy wouldn't depend on changes in the country's political life. The monarch's role would be only symbolic, so he or she would in no way get involved in everyday politics. One thing is sure, says Gerő. The "institution of the presidency didn't fulfill the constitutional expectations" of the legislators.

Gerő has a few more things to say that surely are not going to be welcomed by liberal jurists. He realizes that universal suffrage is a fact of life and he doesn't want to limit it in any way. But he suggests putting in a "filter" that would make sure that only committed people will actually vote. Those who take the trouble of "registering." The idea of course comes from the United States. Although he doesn't elaborate, I doubt that he means registration by party affiliation as is the case in the United States. I suspect he thinks simply in terms of a person's going to an office and registering his or her intention to vote.

And finally, Gerő reminds his readers that the constitution (paragraph 70/1) in no uncertain terms emphasizes the compulsory nature of taxation. Yet thousands and thousands of people refuse to pay taxes without serious consequences. Gerő has a radical suggestion, again based on Hungarian nineteenth and early twentieth-century practice: those who owe taxes should be deprived of their right to vote. After all, says Gerő, if the law can forbid those found guilty in a criminal court of law from exercising their rights as citizens why shouldn't that be extended to those who commit tax fraud?

The reaction was immediate. Zoltán Fleck pronounced Gerő ignorant and made fun of him by calling his solution (Népszabadság, October 30) "Magyar Csárdáskirályság," a takeoff on Imre Kálmán's operetta, the Csárdáskirálynő (Chardash Queen). He accuses Gerő of "stepping outside of the constitutional framework" and of undemocratic impulses. An extension of individual rights to communities could immediately be used against those who in the eyes of the far-right are "anti-Hungarian." Registration to vote? Outrageous. He even questions a suggestion of Gerő I didn't mention that perhaps a professional body should pass judgment on the qualifications of judges nominated to the constitutional court. As for Gerő's suggestion to change Hungary into a monarchy, surely the reader at this point must think that Gerő is joking. Fleck seems to think that "someone who today is advocating a monarchy in Hungary is actually choosing the governing traditions prior to 1946." According to Fleck, "today a democrat can choose monarchy in only one way: to move to the territory of a Western-European kingdom." Those countries have different traditions, a different history. According to Fleck the problem is not about the constitution but about the republic.

I think that Gerő makes some very valid points. He is certainly right about the impossibility, given the present constitutional setup, of having a president who represents the unity of the nation. Either the "job description" must be changed–as Fidesz would like to see it–or the office itself should be transformed. Whether a constitutional monarchy would be a better option is of course subject to debate.

I'm most likely more sympathetic to Gerő's suggestion than most people. Yesterday he was interviewed by György Bolgár while the listeners were chatting on the internet forum. Several people suggested that Gerő must have eaten a toadstool (bolondgomba). Or I'm sure a lot would agree with Károly Herényi who, in another context, said that in Hungary "imbecility is setting in." I don't think that Gerő is joking or has lost his mind, and I regret that the other side refuses to engage in dialogue.

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Bob
Guest

Gerő is an opportunist.
He is the head of the Habsburg Institute in Budapest, a right wing think tank supported by some of the most corrupt aristocrats of Europe. The Habsburgs are not welcomed anywhere in the EU – Hungary is different, they try to take over this poorly governed country.
The whole thing is disgusting…

Sandor
Guest
Well, let’s see them one by one! “Gerő here uses the expression “collective stigmatization.” In plain language legal remedies should be available to groups–Jews, Gypsies, gays–against those who use either racist or in Gerő’s words “cultural racist” language. There is nothing revolutionary in this suggestion since hundreds if not thousands, including the Hungarian parliament, suggested this constitutional change only to be rebuffed by the majority of the Constitutional Court.” As it was pointed out countless times before, there is sufficient legal framework to stifle racism, but neither the prosecutors, nor the judges are disposed to use it. They resist because the public sentiments are agains tightening jurisprudence in favour of letting all filth spread free. They call it freedom and it is, for those producing the filth, but not for its victims. The tendentious conduct of the courts can be captured every time such cases come before them. If the constitution would be changed, the courts would find, just as they do now, a way of interpreting it in favour of the perpetrators. Using juries would not help either, since public opinion is also in favour of suppressing some minorities. All we would need is juries stuffed with anti-Semites! What… Read more »
M2
Guest
Surely the whole idea of a monarchy in Hungary is nonsense. It seems a joke that does not warrant this much attention. Even the Jobbik with their ‘koronatan’ would not actually crown a king. In fact, the myth of the Crown Doctrine gives one good excuse to create a monarchy without the inconvenient figure of a monarch, as Horthy did in the twenties. It beats me what a monarchy has to do with fighting racism. Law is always based on the individual. I think it is a very good thing that groups cannot go to court. This right does not exist in any democracy as far as I know, and rightly so. It would open up a whole can of wriggling worms.Who decides a group is being insulted? Who is a legitimate representative of such a group? Who decides what is an insult, or even, what constitutes anti-Semitism? Should such a collective right exist, then I am certain that Jobbik would take this blog and anybody else it did not like to court for insulting the collective feeling of the Hungarian people. , because it is impossible to determine who is an injured party. Based on this notion, Vona Gabor… Read more »
Sandor
Guest

It is true that I live in Canada, also that the British Queen (god bless her) is the nominal head of state, the republican sentiments are rapidly growing and not the love of the monarchy, but respect for the tradition is what keeps the old system in place.
The prime minister appoints a Governor General every four years, who’s job is to open and prorogue parliament and proclaim the laws. She is seldom a politician and has absolutely no power: she cannot send back any legislation for reconsideration, never mind challenging them. She cannot even make a speech unless it is given to her by the government.
The Queen’s last act in Canada was when she repatriated the constitution in 1982. Since then she only comes here as a guest. I am certain it is the same in Australia and New Zealand as well.

Andras
Guest

Kingdom out of nothing, without aristocracy, living historical tradition? Just because one part of the country has not been happy with the elected President, be Göncz, Mádl or Sólyom? Hoping that a new institution would solve the inherent problems of political culture? Complete nonsense. Save one option: invite one Saudi Prince with a bag full of petrodollars to pay for all the accumulated debts of Hungary and Hungarians, and to begin a new start. Possibly with a dowry composed of a bunch of oilfields dedicated for financing the consumption of hard working, honest Hungarian people.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Actually Mr Sandor the position of ‘Governor General’ is very important to all of the Dominions. The Governor General has all the powers of the Monarch which are huge, but must NEVER be used –until push comes to shove- The monarch has the right to appoint (and remove) Governments, ministers and the right to refuse resignations! –You got us into this mess now you get us out of it principle. Dissolve Parliament and order new elections -this was done in Australia when the then Prime Minister and his government could not get the Budget through the Senate-. The Governor General is appointed only when a large majority of the Dominion and the states legislative assemblies agree the name. The Monarch and the (Governor General) have the right to council ministers -a job which HM has done quietly for over 50 years-. The right to look at bills before they become law (delaying them if necessary. The right to say La ‘Reign Vult’ – The Queen wishes it ‘La Reign ne Vult pas’ –Not on your Nelly old sun- last used in the reign of Queen Anne but has been threatened several times since! ‘La Reign na visera ca’ -Take it… Read more »
Andras
Guest

Éva, I really dont think that there is a living monarchic tradition, contrary, for example, to Spain, where a monarchy successfully re-established herself. If there is any longing for monarchy, it is on the extreme right, which direction, I think, juts the opposite what Gerő intends to achieve.

Mark
Guest
Why is anyone surprised? Gerő is both a liberal, and an historian of the nineteenth with a somewhat rose-tinted view of the political system in dualist Hungary (so much that a recent collection of essays edited by him, and published by his institute was priced at HUF 1867, even though the 2 Forint piece has been taken out of circulation!) These proposals are entirely consistent with that. People tend to mistakenly believe that liberals are somehow democrats. This is a gross distortion of the historical record. Though liberals have always believed in a limited state based on the rule of law and the idea of nation under which citizens are equal, they have never believed in democratic political participation. This is why throughout the period of liberal hegemony across Europe in the last third of the nineteenth century, political participation was based on a highly limited franchise, and why, in 1867, those proposing the British reform act were anxious to prove that those they were transferring the vote to were respectable. It is also why, when the age of democratic mass politics swept the European continent after 1918 in almost all countries they ended up as a small minority. A… Read more »
whoever
Guest

Once again Mark, I totally agree.
In the case of the UK, there was a massive diversity in the 19th C Liberal Party: the social liberals of the Campbell-Bannerman type were absorbed into Labour very quickly. But as you suggest, I think it’s because the left of the political spectrum opened up with the suffrage, allowing people to go their own way.
In Hungary now, liberals would might as well join the MSZP which is bound to rename itself at some point anyway, to the “Democrats” or something similarly anodyne.

Mark
Guest
Whoever: “In the case of the UK, there was a massive diversity in the 19th C Liberal Party: the social liberals of the Campbell-Bannerman type were absorbed into Labour very quickly. But as you suggest, I think it’s because the left of the political spectrum opened up with the suffrage, allowing people to go their own way.” In the case of the UK, one cannot understate the radical shock of the First World War. It was not only that a Liberal government took the country to war in 1914, but that it underlined for many working-class people that one did not have to participate in a political system, to be forced to die for it. Certainly this is what motivated many of my family of my grandparents’ generation to vote and in some cases campaign for the Labour Party from the beginning (I suspect of those I knew, they are turning in their graves at the thought of what the current Labour government is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that is another argument!) Post-socialist conditions (and the dead-end of Soviet-type state socialism) have obscured the way in which the transition to democracy across western Europe was underpinned by the… Read more »
Sandor
Guest

To Eva: “Two or three more thoughts concerning the topic. It just occurred to me that Sandor’s fear of a bunch of anti-Semites sitting in the jury might be baseless. After all, there is such thing as jury selection.”
Precisely. Anti-semite prosecutors filter out all but the anti-Semites and staff the juries with their choices.
Gypsy crime? No problem, almost any jury would convict them all.
The “well-trained” judges, like they have done so many times already, nudge and wink the innocent gypsy into jail with the assistance of the prosecutor, regardless of any facts. And when the innocent Gypsy sues for compensation for the years of jail time spent innocently, they pay him with peanuts.
The Supreme Court exonerated the war criminals in wholesale and the old Jewish lady, who suffered torture at their hands was thrown out on technicalities.

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