A first glimpse of the new constitution

Living in the United States, I’m always surprised that large nationwide newspapers in Hungary as well as local ones simply close up shop on Sundays. The “Sunday paper” in the U.S. usually takes half the morning to read. It has all sorts of extras, from the week in review to a magazine. In Hungary there are few Sunday papers. I’m familiar with one, Vasárnapi Hírek, that until fairly recently was a very modest paper with obviously limited funds. But even then the paper had some important scoops that made big news the next day in the other papers. Lately, however, a new editorial board took over the paper and the look of the internet edition also improved greatly. The downside of this new development was that for a good two months people living abroad couldn’t read the paper at all.

Why this long introduction? Because Vasárnapi Hírek came out with a fantastic scoop, a document that summarizes the main points of the new constitution. As you know by now, only Fidesz and KDNP (Christian Democratic People’s Party) are involved in writing the new constitution. All other parties left in disgust. We also know by now, because Viktor Orbán made it crystal clear in his answer to Ferenc Gyurcsány in parliament, that he has no intention of holding a referendum on the issue of the new constitution. The parliamentary two-thirds majority will vote it into law and that’s that. So, it will be a Fidesz-KDNP constitution. That is bad enough, but from the document published by Vasárnapi Hírek we learn that the constitution will be written into stone. It will practically impossible to change it in any way, shape or form. Close to the end of the document is the following sentence: MODIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION: The Constitution can be modified only if the proposal in unchanged form is approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of parliament in two consecutive sessions.” In practice, that means never.

A two-thirds majority is hard to come by. Or at least this is what most people thought in 1989-1990. Of course, it turned out not to be true. Yet in spite of the aberration that occurred this year, it is highly unlikely that there will be too many repeat performances. Unless, of course, Viktor Orbán comes up with something clever that would ensure a perpetual two-thirds majority for his party.

The present constitution might need some revision, but nothing like what Fidesz is planning to do with it. László Kövér threatened that nothing will remain of the old except the sentence: Hungary’s capital is Budapest. That might be an exaggeration (and it’s an old refrain), but if the working document is any indication, there will be some important changes that might not be welcomed by everyone.

I don’t think that anyone is surprised by now, especially after all the hullabaloo over the president’s rather unfortunate “essay,” that in the preamble there will be a mention of the Holy Crown and Christianity. At the moment the wording is as follows: “The Holy Cown expresses the constitutional continuity of Hungary.” That despite the fact that Hungary is a republic. A rather peculiar concept. The preamble will also stress the role of Christianity in the country’s historical development.

They are also planning to change the coat of arms and the national flag. The national flag is currently just the tricolor red, white, and green. The change would be to place the coat-of-arms in the middle, on the white stripe. That may not even be a bad idea since there are far too many red-white-green flags and this way it would be easier to distinguish it.

But the coat-of-arms is a bit more problematic, and that has nothing to do with Fidesz. The choice before the first parliament of the third republic (1990-1994) was either the restoration of the old Hungarian coat-of-arms that was in use until 1945 or the so-called Kossuth coat-of arms. MSZP and SZDSZ, then in opposition, championed for the Kossuth coat-of-arms on the grounds that Hungary was a republic and therefore having a crown in the coat-of-arms was inappropriate. Moreover, they said that the Kossuth coat-of-arms was used during the short-lived October revolution in 1956. However logical this might seem, the right-of-center majority voted for the current coat-of-arms.  The Kossuth coat-of-arms was banished. But it seems that even the old coat-of-arms is not entirely satisfactory for some people and they are planning to surround it with oak leaves. I guess it will look like something that.

I also heard, by the way, that Pál Schmitt in his newly found religiosity came up with his own coat-of-arms. There was something back before 1918 called “the middle coat-of-arms” which consisted of the “small coat-of-arms” in the middle and in addition there were the coats-of-arms of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Transylvania, and Fiume (Rijeka). As someone pointed out on the internet, a “more beautiful version” was when two angels were holding the middle coat of arms on both sides. Well, Schmitt really liked the angels, so he created a unique coat-of-arms for his own use. Of course, without the middle coat-of-arms. When György Bolgár discovered the president’s very own coat-of-arms he asked a historian of heraldry about it and was told that it was perfectly all right. Anyone can do whatever he wants with the official coat-of-arms. I hold a different view, but then I’m not a historian of heraldry.

So, there will be a modified coat-of arms and a modified national flag, but these are not really important issues. Much more important are a couple of other provisions. One is that the constitution would specify that only heterosexual marriage is legal. The constitution will also state that “life begins at conception,” which might mean the prohibition of abortion. Under certain circumstances (threats to national security or to public morality) they could also restrict some rights that we consider fundamental. Private property could be confiscated and restricted in certain cases, but “only with full compensation.”

 

The president could arbitrarily dissolve parliament. No referendum could be held on the constitution, and the constitutional court couldn’t “interpret the constitution and couldn’t annul laws.” Well, in that case I don’t know why Hungary should have a constitutional court at all. Perhaps that is exactly what the framers have in mind.

I find the seemingly insurmountable hurdles to amending the constitution in the future perhaps the most serious problem. Viktor Orbán and his crew want to make their own vision permanent. And that is very frightening.

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Paul
Guest

This is exactly the point I raised the other day – how does anyone ever change the constitution again?
Assuming Fidesz one day do get replaced in government, even under the present constitution it would be virtually impossible to change the constitution, as no party is ever likely to have a 2/3rds majority again.
What would happen if a new parliment takes over, needs to alter the constitution (e.g. for civil rights/media freedom/etc reasons), but can’t do it constitutionally? Can parliament pass a law to allow itself to amend the constitution, even if the current constitution says they can’t??

OpenDog
Guest

The 2/3 can come together from a coalition or people voting outside of their party lines. It doesn’t seem to be impossible.
Of Course amending the constitution after each election will make planet Hungary the laughing stock of the world.
The bright side of it is that we can apply for a place in Guinness book of records for country with the most founding fathers …

John G
Guest

If in fact it will come about that the new Constitution will resemble that which is now suggested one may safely assume that at the completion of it’s turn as President Hungary will leave, or be asked to leave, the EU.

Minusio
Guest
So everything goes according to plan. Although it didn’t declare how it would do it, the Orbán government is one of the few in the world that does as promised. With the new constitution and, as I expect, some tricky changes to the election laws it will be virtually impossible to change the government according to democratic processes – there won’t be any left. Perhaps there will be some early elections to show how democratic Hungary still is. But they will be already no longer free elections, I am certain. And in their naiveness the Fidesz faithful may make their cross again on some ballot-lookalike. What does it mean when a government cannot be voted out of office? Well, after Orbán will have driven the country against the wall economically, these poor Hungarians have to resort to riots and violence again. This means bloodshed at some point or another. Given the mentality of the electorate, rather later than sooner. There is one tiny glimmer of hope. Sometimes, the country that takes on the six-month EU presidency gets more attention than usual. With his Arafat-like double talk Orbán is already preparing for that. But it may not work, and Europe might… Read more »
Jo Peattie
Guest

Just when I thought things could not get any worse. To enshrine the statement that “Life begins at conception” into the Constitution is frightening. Ho hum at least the birth rate might improve but at what cost? I am here until the end of 2012 and at this rate I will be more than ready to leave.

GW
Guest

“The president could arbitrarily dissolve parliament.”
This provision alone means the effective end of a democracy. With this power, a president could dissolve and call new elections until s/he gets the majority s/he wants.

Sandor
Guest

Far be it from me to give ideas to Fidesz, but the perpetual 2/3 for fidesz, as you posit it: “…unless, of course, Viktor Orbán comes up with something clever that would ensure a perpetual two-thirds majority for his party.” is not difficult to accomplish. They just have to enact it in the constitution.
Columbuses egg.
But if it will work, and why not, next election may be a 100% socialist government and they will rescind this one, replacing it with a constitution of 100% socialist majority constitutionally mandated.
This surely would save some money, now-days wasted on elections.

GabeGab
Guest
With this outline it has become clear that the prime political goal of every democratically minded Hungarian should be to prevent at any rate the acceptance of this constitution. We may not reach that end, but now we must work on this steadily. We will have plenty of time to think about how to behave afterward if this attempt fails. There are a couple of things one can try: 1. Alert the international community and the liberal minded part of the Hungarian emigration in the world of the total lack of agreement among the Hungarian population about the basic tenets of this proposal. We should put pressure on the Hungarian government highlighting the unacceptable pieces of the proposed legislation. 3. Gain time: argue that this constitutional debate is especially damaging during the Hungary’s rotational presidency in the EU. 4. Gain time: argue that the constitution must be ratified by a referendum. (Even Chavez held a referendum about constitutional changes.) Petition for a referendum and if it cannot be done directly about the constitution, then about an intermediate issue that would prevent the simple acceptance of the legislation. (E.g. the issue that life begins with the conception, or the rules of… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

You could have simply talked about “Holy Clown” instead of Crown, and that would pretty well summarize tour viewpoint on all these matters mentioned here.
Too bad for you that the Constitution is written by people who have something to do with Hungary.
An this applies to all non-Hungarian posters scolding the new proposal. Go play with your own, but leave ours alone.
Of course, practically nothing in this post is true as-is. Gergely Gulyás, of the committee preparing the new Constitution, talked comprehensively in an interview lately where he addressed these specific issues.
He considers it very probable that the strict rule for changing the future constitution will be completely removed or significantly loosened (for example to a 4/5 majority), and abortion will NOT be prohibited in the constitution.

QWERTZ
Guest

– If Fidesz want to stick the Holy Crown in it, let them. It is just a symbol- who cares? Most Hungarians won’t. It just makes a small but loud minority happy who like to masturbate all over the Crown. They will have one thing less to moan about. With luck it will shut them up.
– It is a great idea to stick a coat of arms on a flag. As all Hungarians know, you can cut them out!
– Orbán’s irresponsible tinkering with the constitution shows it is probably a good idea to make it difficult to change. However, if he has any guts, he will subject his own constitutional changes to the same harsh rules.

QWERTZ
Guest

Actually, a 4/5 minority is far cleverer than having 2/3d majority in two consecutive parliaments. After all, Last time he got in Orbán made himself so unpopular the socialists got in twice in a row. Once Hungary is bankrupted and the laughing stock of the Union, the same could easily happen.

GDF
Guest

K.M.: “Gergely Gulyás, of the committee preparing the new Constitution, talked comprehensively in an interview lately where he addressed these specific issues.
He considers it very probable that the strict rule for changing the future constitution will be completely removed or significantly loosened (for example to a 4/5 majority), and abortion will NOT be prohibited in the constitution.”
How does changing 2/3 to 4/5 mean loosening the rule? To me this seems to be tightening it. Also, did he promise to remove the sentence about when life begins?

kormos
Guest

I take my chance here. Naturally Ms. Balogh has the prerogative to kick me out of her blog.
Someone has asked me the question: “why would I attack Dr. Balogh”.
I do not attack her, actually I respect Ms. Balogh. I respect her ability to write eloquently. I respect the long hours of work she put into this blog and into the work of Galamus Inc.
I acknowledge her long time involvement in Hungarian discussions on the net.
I detest the purpose of this blog; I dislike what this blog is doing.
In my opinion, the purpose of this blog is not to provide a wall, when all of us can scribe something.
The goal is to disseminate negative opinion to the English speaking populous of the internet about any part of the Hungarian (Political) Spectrum (sic) which is not following ideologies, practices of SZDSZ, MSZP and the latest aberration of MDF.
This blog uses a tool set of character assassination, slandering, and dispersing innuendoes, so the image of the present Hungarian Government is darkened to the point, where the other (losers) might look a bit more glimmering.

Sandor
Guest

My Dear kormos, you couldn’t be more mistaken, even if you tried.
To blacken the present Hungarian government, this blog is totally unnecessary. The job is brilliantly done by that bunch of yahoos themselves.
This blog is the wailing wall, where the last few remaining sober people can post, or paste, their laments for the late greate(?) Hungary.

John T
Guest

Kormos – this blog is far from the only source of information on Hungary. Clearly, Eva has a point of view, as does everyone on here. But they are varied views – mine certainly differ from Eva’s in key area’s, namely my opinion of Gyurcsány and that I’ve not been impressed by any Hungarian government since 1989.
But looking at it from a Western perspective, what shocks me is the rush to remove the checks and balances needed in a democracy. And there does not appear to be any debate on the changes. Additionally, whereas compared to the UK where public servants are mostly picked on merit, in Hungary it seems that people are appointed because of political allegiance rather than competence. This isn’t just something unique to Fidesz by the way, the other parties did this too. If you think I and others are negative, then maybe we are. But to non-Hungarians, what is going on seems at best puzzling, at worst disturbing. And I base my views on what the government is actually doing.

GabeGab
Guest

To Kevin Moore:
1. This forum is obviously for anyone who is interested in Hungarian politics. I assume most of us are Hungarian citizens, related to Hungarians, double nationals or just ethnic Hungarians living abroad, even if some of us speak/write better English than Hungarian. Do you mean that these people are not part of the Hungarian “nation”? Do you want to say that we are not entitled to discuss such matters in English or any other language?
2. That Mr. Gulyás has seemed to be ready to retract some of the worst clauses of the design just proves my point that it worth confronting this plan. I can imagine that at the end Fidesz may come up with a proposal that is weaker or even acceptable to most of the population. But based on the history of last several months, there is ABSOLUTELY NO guarantee that in the last minute there will not be an individual MP motion in the parliament that would turn over the whole consensus. The only guarantee would be a referendum on the final text.

Julie
Guest

I don’t think the crown business is too worrisome. Poland’s white eagle got its crown back and Poland is definitely a republic.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

To Julie. I didn’t say that the crown was worrisome. It is incongruous. The Polish eagle is not a crown in a republic.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Julie: you are right. However, one shouldn’t underestimate the efficiency and effects of the repeated and systematic attacks of this blog on everything that is somehow linked to Hungarian tradition.
I think that a zero tolerance attitude is appropriate against such malicious intentions that unfortunately thrived in the last 20 years, even during those 4+4 years when their political implementators were administratively not in power.
I’m glad to see that those elected are doing a pretty good job in trying to exclude such elements out of key positions such as the Media Council or leading press positions.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Kevin Moore once again I see the blindness of Fidesz and their wish to do whatever they want to please and gratify the ego of the ‘Mighty One’ –Orban Victor-, and to hell with their friends, treaty partners and allies. You do not want anyone who does not speak Hungarian to have any knowledge or say in what happens in Hungary. You wish to create a new Iron (or should I say Goulash) Curtain to surround this land and keep the rest of the world out. No Mr Moore, you governments have entered into treaties (go and read them) these govern how you will behave towards your own people and to others. If you wish to abrogate them, then on your own heads be it. If Fidesz wish to become the perpetual government of this land (just as did Raksoi, Gero, Kador and those other toads) then that is O.K. by me BUT Hungary will have to pay back (or return) everything you have been given, lent or granted. People like me will not like it as I do not like any form of oppression or ‘Management of the People’. I will do all I can to see that people… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin: “repeated and systematic attacks of this blog on everything that is somehow linked to Hungarian tradition”
So, the Kossuth coat-of-arms is not a Hungarian tradition?

Joe Simon
Guest
Look, the Crown is a symbol of the continuity of the Magyars. Also a reminder of historical Hungary. My father was hiding a glossy picture of the Szent Korona, like an ‘ereklye’, knowing that under Rákosi even possessing it was a crime. So they are bringing it back. As to reference to Christianity being included in the Constitution, again many people would like to see that. Here Orbán has to defer to the KDNP, a partner. Also, with the new Constitution the government wants stability. If it is written in stone, it would be hard for any governing party, including the FIDESZ, to change it later. Donot forget the Jobbik, Orbán has to take them into account, even as he is trying to distance himself from the extrene right. As to the Constitutional Court, my understanding is that they can annul laws, otherwise there is no need for such a body.As to the other issues, many people are opposed to the liberal abortion laws. My dear Aunt always tells me that it is designed to deplete, ‘elsorvasztani’, the Hungarian people. It is to be hoped that Orbán will steer a middle course and will not overreach himself. People want democracy… Read more »
OpenDog
Guest

@Kev “repeated and systematic attacks of this blog on everything that is somehow linked to Hungarian tradition”
Like laziness, ignorance, racism, incompetence?

GW
Guest

Kevin Moore wrote:
“However, one shouldn’t underestimate the efficiency and effects of the repeated and systematic attacks of this blog on everything that is somehow linked to Hungarian tradition.”
This is close to slander. The author of this blog has done a superb job of trying to sort through received tradition and to evaluate it, based on the best historical evidence. Anything less than that would be both poor scholarship and a disservice to that tradition. The description here of the various versions of the coat-of arms and, in particular the synthetic version recently cobbled together by Schmitt Pal is a perfect example of such scholarship. If these symbols of state are to be vested with any real significance, then being honest about their history and being careful about their associations is an essential precondition. Otherwise they are empty gestures: politically useful, perhaps, in the short-term, but ultimately meaningless. Taking a critical view of the historical record is sometimes painful, but it is a sign of deeper patriotism than simply making things up from scratch and declaring them to be true!

OpenDog
Guest

@Kev Coca Cola was illegal too in the 50s. Can we put it into your constitution?

GDF
Guest

Joe Simon:” As to reference to Christianity being included in the Constitution, again many people would like to see that. Here Orbán has to defer to the KDNP, a partner.” and “As to the other issues, many people are opposed to the liberal abortion laws. My dear Aunt always tells me that it is designed to deplete, ‘elsorvasztani’, the Hungarian people.”
A constitution is generally not based on what “many people” or “My dear Aunt” want.
I suggest you study the U.S. Constitution, it should give you an idea of what a normal constitution looks like. It survived centuries, despite the fact that a Supreme Court is allowed to dismiss any court decision or law that they consider to contradict it.

OpenDog
Guest

@Kev Seriously. I’m not a polling agency but I can guarantee you that the my generation (40 something) doesn’t give a hoot about the holy crown. I mean it’s cool and all, with that cutesy little slanted cross on the top (maybe that alcoholic king Bela II dropped it), but come on, this doesn’t represent “continuity” for us. Hungary is a republic. The Constitution will mean absolutely nothing, it will only be some lunatic right wing manifesto, if you stuff all this nationalistic crap into it.

GW
Guest

Open Dog,
All of the symbols are essentially window dressing, intended to be a distraction from the critical issues in the constitution, with regard to fundamental freedoms and to a balance of state powers. If these symbols were of real value to the people now writing a constitution, then they would certainly not play fast and loose with their history. As it is, the distraction is this: make these symbols the center of attraction so that anyone with a substantial disagreement with the constitutive elements of the document can be branded as anti-patriotic and anti-Christian.

OpenDog
Guest

@GW I think you assume too much intelligence from these people. Some kind of sinister plot to divert attention from the important things. I actually think that they actually mean it when it comes to the crown and the Christianity or gay rights. These are their values. Which is cool. Forcing it on us is not.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Open Dog: “@Kev Seriously. I’m not a polling agency but I can guarantee you that the my generation (40 something) doesn’t give a hoot about the holy crown.”
Most likely this is the case. Most of the people didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the crown while it was sitting at Fort Knox. Then came the upheaval over its handing it over to Hungary which a lot of right-wing people in the United States opposed. They made quite a fuss. On the other hand, some of my friends, like István Deák of Columbia University, were supporting the decision and I also thought that it should be handed over to Hungary after twenty years sitting in a vault in the United States.
I remember of seeing it on television before departure and it looked beautiful. But let’s face it, there is absolutely nothing holy about it. It was the crown of many but not all of Hungarian kings. It is precious because it is perhaps one of the oldest crowns in the world today. But its mention in a modern constitution of a republic is incongruous and I think wrong.