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.