Who is surprised and who is not?

I watch with great interest the reactions of the readers of this blog. Most of you claim that you were not at all surprised by Fidesz's answer to the constitutional court yesterday. Most of you say that this is exactly what you expected from Viktor Orbán and his team all along.

Anyone who read József Debreczeni's volume (Arcmás, 2009) cannot really be surprised. In 450 pages Debreczeni meticulously collected all of Viktor Orbán's specific references that lead in this direction. Debreczeni's conclusion was that if Orbán manages to receive a two-thirds majority in parliament, Hungarians can say goodbye to democracy. Because, says Debreczeni, Orbán's plan is to introduce an authoritarian regime with the mere veneer of democracy.

In one of his articles Debreczeni actually claims that Orbán's ideas closely resemble those propagated by Gyula Gömbös, prime minister of Hungary between 1932 and 1936, who if he hadn't died suddenly and if the governor, Miklós Horthy, didn't have as much power as he had to stop him, would have introduced a fascist regime. Or, considering that he was also an anti-semite, perhaps his regime eventually would have resembled that of Adolf Hitler.

In a way I wasn't surprised about the systematic weakening of the democratic institutions, but I didn't anticipate that the changes would be introduced so fast. As for Orbán's answer yesterday to the constitutional court, I was surprised only at the crudity of the action. And as for Debreczeni's book, most people even in liberal circles thought that he was exaggerating. I wasn't among them because I took Orbán's words at face value and in his speeches of the last eight years there was plenty to indicate what his plans for the future were.

Where the real surprise lies, I think, is in the reaction in right-wing circles. Even among leading politicians of Fidesz and I assume among the right-wing intellectuals who have been faithful supporters of the party. And it seems among some right-wing journalists. I must say that I was surprised at Matild Torkos who wrote today's editorial in Magyar Nemzet. Torkos somewhat naively supposes that the Fidesz legislators didn't realize the unconstitutionality of the bill they voted for. Torkos adds that there are enough Fidesz politicians with law degrees who should have warned their colleagues. Of course, Torkos is either naive or pretends naivete. It is fairly clear to me that the Fidesz leadership knew all along that this piece of legislation was unconstitutional and prepared their answer to the court's reaction way ahead of time. In any case, Torkos considers the Orbán-Lázár reaction an attack on democracy. She finishes her article by saying that "democracy is a cumbersome thing" which we have to get used to.

The other newspaperman on the right, András Stumpf of Heti Válasz, uses stronger words. His editorial is entitled "Unconstitutional Republic." Stumpf recalls in the article that yesterday afternoon at 3:00 he received a request from his editor to write a short piece on the decision of the constitutional court. He wrote it, ending on the optimistic note that there is no need to worry since even with the Fidesz appointees Mihály Bihari and István Stumpf, the court came to the right conclusion. So there is no problem here with checks and balances.

A few minutes after Stumpf finished the piece his editor phoned him again, saying that the article is excellent but it is out of date. János Lázár had made the announcement that they will change the constitution and that they will vote again on the bill in its unaltered form. Stumpf was infuriated. Suddenly he realized that with the two-thirds majority Orbán and his friends can do anything they feel like. Suddenly it dawned on him that after all there are no checks and balances anymore. If Orbán has the sorcerer's stone there is no need even for elections. But then, he tried to reassure himself: "Of course there will be elections. But what if Fidesz doesn't win them and let's say Gyurcsány comes back. Then there will be no control over him and retroactively he can do whatever he wants. That would be great, wouldn't it?" Otherwise, Stumpf  hails the government's decisions made until now and adds only that it would be unfortunate to ruin the government's excellent record with this and similar moves.

But even Fidesz and Christian Democratic politicians' reactions were interesting. Yesterday Péter Harrach, leader of the Christian Democratic caucus, was the guest of Egyenes beszéd and his face spoke a thousand words. He is not the kind of man who is at a loss for words, but he was very visibly uncomfortable. First, it turned out that the decision to fly in the face of the court's decision was not discussed with the Christian Democrats. Harrach tried to cover up his disappointment or perhaps even ire and pointed out that the head of the party, Zsolt Semjén, was abroad. One had the feeling that the move surprised him too and that deep down he disapproves of it.

Then this morning Gergely Gulyás, the new young star of Fidesz, was the guest on ATV's Jam. This is a fellow who came out of nowhere and was immediately thrown into very important positions. Chairman of the committee that is investigating the disturbances and Gyurcsány's "guilt" as well as vice-chairman of the committee whose job it is to come up with the text of a new constitution. As soon as I saw Gulyás I predicted a great career for him in Fidesz. He is the quintessential young Fidesz man. A smooth guy with a law degree who sounds very convincing and who can twist the truth like nobody's business. Well, even he was in a difficult position because he knows enough law to realize that what Fidesz did yesterday is unacceptable in a constitutional state. This was the first time I saw Gulyás somewhat rattled.

Yes, these are the ones who are really surprised, and I wonder what will happen within the party as a result of this very unfortunate move. Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and András Schiff of LMP gave a joint press conference. Both parties decided to quit the parliamentary committee charged with drafting the new constitution. It is also almost certain that the opposition's attitude will be a great deal less cooperative after János Lázár's announcement. I think Orbán made a big mistake with consequences that we can't even imagine in full. Unless of course they will change their minds and alter the bill somewhat so that it might be accepted by the judges.

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Kevin Moore
Guest

They could change the proposed law instead of the Constitution in this case.
Let’s emphasize that the new law’s endeavour is admirable. It’s the way they’re forcing it through that isn’t.
Not because this modification of the Constitution leads to anyone’s misery: it doesn’t. But it renders the Court helpless against governments with the intent to cripple the population. This is not the case with Orbán’s, but was the case with Gyurcsány’s.
Orbán should at least think of the yet unknown future governments. Hungary was saved many times from Gyurcsány’s and even Horn’s despotism; the constitutional brakes shouldn’t be disabled for the sake of the future. Now we don’t need the brakes but we may at any time encounter a situation when the country starts to roll down a descent.

Alias3T
Guest

You’re finding this difficult, aren’t you?
To be clear, your argument is that constitutional checks and balances are needed to guard against the likes of Horn, who never even considered moving against the Constitutional Court, but that the population needs no constitutional protection from the man who has just announced plans to dismantle the Court, nationalise pension funds and who has festooned public buildings with his fatuous Declaration of National Cooperation?
You don’t really believe it yourself, do you?

Kevin Moore
Guest

You don’t have the slightest idea of what you’re talking about, do you?
How many passages of the Bokros package was destroyed by the Constitutional Court?
How many times was Hungary saved by the Court from Gyurcsány’s madnesses aimed at crippling the conscious middle class, the segment of population so much hated by the ‘Socialists’?
No need to ask anyway, you won’t get any brighter on this.

kincs
Guest

Kevin, you appear to be missing 3T’s point.
When the Court overruled the Gyurcsány or Horn cabinets they accepted the decision and moved on. They did not question the court’s purview. That is the behaviour of a democratic government respectful of other institutions of the state.
A democratic government does not unilaterally change the rules of the game when it faces a setback. That, in part, is what is meant by the rule of law.
Unfortunately such playground petulance is nothing new from Viktor Orbán, as attested by his graceless response to losing the elections of 2002 and 2006. Once he lost control of Parliament, he sought to denigrate its significance, rarely bothering to turn up, and fomenting street politics as an alternative. “If I’m not allowed to win, then I’m taking my ball and going home!” I can imagine what he’s like on the football pitch.
Do you suppose that someone who has never allowed anyone to run against him in a party leadership election has a real understanding of fair competition? Or of democracy?

Paul Haynes
Guest

“How many times was Hungary saved by the Court from Gyurcsány’s madnesses aimed at crippling the conscious middle class, the segment of population so much hated by the ‘Socialists’?
No need to ask anyway, you won’t get any brighter on this.”
Could someone explain what this means please?
Some facts and/or examples would be nice too.

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

Kincs: “I can imagine what he’s like on the football pitch.”
Maybe that’s why the Puskas Academy in his hometome Felcsút hasn’t produced any world stars, yet. Since Fidesz wants to decide what we see in TV, I’m sure that Orbán defines the curriculum in Felcsút, too… 🙂

cba
Guest

The real question here is; are Orbán footballs available at the Fidesz web shop? I could kick one of those around for hours…

Hank
Guest
The only thing which surprises me, with hindsight, is how incredibily easy it is for a party with a two-thirds majority in seats (based on 53% of the vote only) to change the constitution at will. Basically, the 2/3 rule was the only safeguard to protect the constitution and there is no second one. Theoretically, the Constitutional Court was this second safeguard, but as we have now seen, this depends only on the benevolance of the government and the government party (are there dissidents in the caucus or not). If they stick together (or are forced to stick together if they don’t want to be sidelined, expelled, demoted etc.) they can decide to ignore and curtail the Constitutional Court at any time and do as they please. They might be decent or they might be not. That is not the rule of law, that is – at best – enlightened dictatorship. Compare this to, for example, the Netherlands where a proposal to change the constitution must first be approved (with normal majority) by the two chambers of Parliament (which are elected with a different time interval of two years so they always have a different composition). But if approved, new… Read more »
Odin's Lost eye
Guest
There is one little problem with the parliament changing the constitution. Can the changes to the constitution be referred to the Constitutional Court? If the Constitutional Court were to says ‘No’ to a change in the constitution (even if the President had signed it) what then? I think OV (the Mighty One) would mealy arrest the Constitutional Court. Professor you report Stumpf’s words * “If Orbán has the sorcerer’s stone there is no need even for elections” *. If this comes true then Hungary is deep in the brown and smelly as far as Europe is concerned. I think that the leaders of Fidesz, who are now so dazzled by the fact that they seem to have absolute power, they have forgotten that they have three ‘Tigers’ in the corner of the room. The first is the European Court, the second is the Charter of Human Rights and the third is the European Council of Ministers, all of which take precedence over Hungarian law. As Mark comments, sarcastically, in his comment on the previous article called “On the road to dictatorship”. * “FIDESZ hasn’t actually made too much of a secret of their attitude on this score. After all the… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest
Odin: In the early 1990s, the Court ruled decided that it could not rule on constitutional amendments. However, this is a self-imposed limitation, and the Court could decide to revisit that limitation. Furthermore, the amendment leaves it to the Court to decide what constitutes a budget-related law, which means that, in practice, the Court can still rule on anything after the amendment has been pased. Hank: Other countries have much more robust systems of checks and balances – though remember also, that the Netherlands has a much longer democratic tradition. It’s not all about institutions: the UK has no constitution at all, and the country only acquired it’s first qualified majority law (55 per cent needed to dissolve Parliament) a few months ago. It’s about attitude. But perversely, I find events of the past few days encouraging. The institutional checks and balances aren’t working, but there’s some social capital around. As we’ve seen on this blog, people who were prepared to explain away anything in the past have doubts about this one. There’s a real possibility that the amendment won’t pass. Whether it does or it doesn’t, OV is weakened by this, even among his core supporters. The chances of… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

“The chances of him not surviving as PM until the end of this cycle just rose sharply.”
Yes it just jumped from about 0.1% to at least 0.2% now.

Alias3T
Guest

How would you feel about a Rogan-led government?
Or a Semjen-led government? Kosa? Lazar? Navra?
Which of the leading Fidesz-KDNP politicians would you like to see as PM in the case of OV being, say, abducted by space aliens?

Mark
Guest
Alias 3T: ” Other countries have much more robust systems of checks and balances – though remember also, that the Netherlands has a much longer democratic tradition. It’s not all about institutions: the UK has no constitution at all, and the country only acquired it’s first qualified majority law (55 per cent needed to dissolve Parliament) a few months ago. It’s about attitude.” The UK does have a constitution – it is just not codified in one single document and is obscured by the doctrine of the “crown in parliament”. But the history of successful constitutional states suggests that the best constitutions are those which the people are prepared to fight to defend, and extend (at least in my view). I’m both surprised and unsurprised at the same time. I know – contrary to much comment – that Hungarians value their democracy, and the rule of law, and largely abhor political extremism. I have been surprised by how far the politics of emotional nationalism and anti-Communism have been deployed by FIDESZ to Jobbik to manipulate otherwise sensible people to debase that democratic culture. I did wonder how this contradiction would play out, as I never believed that Orbán would desist… Read more »
Mark
Guest

“This is normally how people who have an innate sense of their historical mission, and who at the same time a lacking to an extent in self-confidence”
Sorry – this is normally how people behave, who have an innate sense of their historical mission, and who at the same time are lacking in self-confidence

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “I therefore go further than Alias 3T – I’d consider it entirely possible that he will not be Prime Minister in twelve months time, let alone by the end of the cycle. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, this is not a new view.”
Someone just called my attention to facebook where there is a “let’s defend the constitution” type of gathering. In two days almost three thousand people signed up. So, I wrote a brief sentence also: “he may fall as a result of this.” In Hungarian it was shorter: Ebbe belebukhat.

Kevin Moore
Guest

LOL… wishful thinking.
Say, why would Orbán fall as a result of this? Gyurcsány didn’t fall upon much-much more serious issues, such as direct and outright violations of our personal freedom rights (think October 2006), basically the whole 8 years of ‘socialist’ governing was a huge sequence of violating every law possible.
There were constant gatherings, even riots, and Gyurcsány’s gang was completely unejectable despite they had a very narrow and a worse-than-questionable legitimacy right from the beginning.
Now that Orbán has won like noone has won before, the vast majority of population supports him, and we still have everything we expect to have (freedom rights, working economy). Why would he fall?
This case doesn’t even scratch the surface of what would be needed to eject Orbán or anyone.

Öcsi
Guest

Kevin Moore wrote: “LOL… wishful thinking.”
Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagy a feje!
(The owl says the sparrow has a large head!)

An
Guest

@Eva” So, I wrote a brief sentence also: “he may fall as a result of this.” In Hungarian it was shorter: Ebbe belebukhat.”
We’ll see… I’d think it may start something that may lead to his fall in the end. Only if he starts loosing some of his support in the right and somebody emerges within Fidesz who’d offer a different kind of leadership.
I am not against having a right wing government in Hungary, but I would like to have one that respects democracy and its institutions.
In fact, I think what Hungary needs most is not only the rebirth of the left, but the rebirth of the right. Without having a right wing party that is committed to democracy, it is very difficult to have a well-functioning left party .. as it would naturally be pushed into populist moves to compete with the populist moves of an authoritarian right wing.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest

And every one is forgetting the three ‘Tigers in the corner’.

Paul
Guest

“Say, why would Orbán fall as a result of this? Gyurcsány didn’t fall upon much-much more serious issues, such as direct and outright violations of our personal freedom rights (think October 2006), basically the whole 8 years of ‘socialist’ governing was a huge sequence of violating every law possible.
There were constant gatherings, even riots, and Gyurcsány’s gang was completely unejectable despite they had a very narrow and a worse-than-questionable legitimacy right from the beginning.”
Could someone explain what this means please?
Some facts and/or examples would be nice too.

Gábor
Guest

Unfortunately this piece is in Hungarian (and I wouldn’t entirely exclude the influence of spin-doctors):
http://nol.hu/belfold/20101029-a_tulelesre_jatszanak_
However, the main point is the blind belief in the possibility of a sustainable 6% GDP growth that will restore fiscal balance without pain and the will to subordinate everything to it. Poor Hungary, Gyurcsány gambled for about one year in order to retain government and introduce reforms many of which ultimately failed. Now Orbán is determined to gamble for four years in order to achieve the impossible. This is the real lost decade, not Japan’s.

Passing Stranger
Guest
Though I completely agree Gyurcsány had a legitimacy problem, mainly of his own making, forcing any democratically elected government to step down by pressure from the street similarly has its legitimacy problems. This is how the MKP destroyed the Smallholder party: by piling up the pressure, by forcing the party to dismember itself after mass demonstrations organised by the Left Wing Bloc in 1946. Had this happened in 2006, then Orbán really would have had his ‘revolutionary’ mandate, which in the circumstances of elected government would have been nothing short of a putsch. What is happening now is different. There is no pressure from the street, but rather from within the right itself. Most people supported Fidesz out of disgust with the Socialists, not out of any affinity with Orbán’s delusions of granduer, let alone his bizarely outdated christian nationalism. They’ll be wondering wether Orbán is the man to repeat the victory in four years time. In theory the MSzP is so unpopular that it should be unelectable for the next 8-10 years. If other Fidesz grandees fear that Orbán will squander their victory, like he did in 2002, because of ill chosen confrontational policies, he’ll be up for the… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

Paul, why do you pretend to not understand clear text?

Kevin Moore
Guest

Passing Stranger, I don’t think it will come down to Orbán staying in the pole position of Fidesz or not. His political death was prophesized long ago and many times, both in 2002 and in 2006, and see where he is now.

Paul
Guest

No pretense, ‘Kevin’.
Your posts baffle me completely. For instance, do you really mean “basically the whole 8 years of ‘socialist’ governing was a huge sequence of violating every law possible.”?
If so, I think your are duty bound to prove what you say – i.e. that the WHOLE 8 years was a huge sequence of violating EVERY law POSSIBLE. If you can’t offer proof that this statement was true and not just hot air, then you shouldn’t post such nonsense.
But, as for pretending – at least I don’t pretend to be two different posters…

Paul
Guest

“see where he is now.”
A hell of a long way from where he started. The ‘D’ in Fidesz originally stood for ‘democratic’.
Basically, this man will do anything, say anything and believe anything it takes to get into power. And then he will do whatever it takes to stay there.
And sod Hungary in the process.

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