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.