The first draft of the new Hungarian constitution, Part I

The first draft of the Hungarian constitution was released late last night. It contains the ideas of the Fidesz-KDNP coalition and, as Gergely Gulyás, one of the framers, told the journalist János Dési in this morning's "Jam" on ATV, there are several points that may not be included in the final version.

A day before its release Marion Smith, a graduate fellow at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, wrote an article about the new Hungarian constitution in The Foundry, a conservative news blog of The Heritage Foundation "whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditonal American values, and a strong national defense." The Heritage Foundation has had strong ties with Fidesz. Even if the White House, under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, didn't welcome Viktor Orbán, the Heritage Foundation always had a welcome mat out for the Hungarian prime minister.

Marion Smith, who seems to be a student of the American revolution and the constitution, talks at length about the drafting of the U.S. constitution. James Madison "steeped himself in the classics and studied the early Greek democracies and Roman republic in order to learn from their successes and avoid their mistakes." John Locke and Montesqueieu were inspirations. Madison arrived with a draft, which then was debated for five months in Philadelphia. The debates focused on philosophical points, the proper relationship between government and society, and the best methods to limit governmental power.

Marion Smith admits that the five weeks allowed for the discussion of the Hungarian constitution seems to be very short, but he consoles himself and his readers with the fact that "the constitutional process begun last September has gone according to schedule." He brushes off the criticism that the constitution will be the product of only one party "without opposition support." He misleads his readers by claiming that this new constitution will "replace the amended communist constitution of 1949." In 1989 the original document was completely rewritten, not just amended.

Finally Smith expresses his hope that the new Hungarian constitution will resemble "America's own [that] was anchored in the universal truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence." According to him, "it takes serious philosophical work to apply timeless truths to the particular circumstances at hand." Otherwise, Smith would seem to be unfamiliar with the current constitution because he thinks that "the world will watch with expectation Hungary's new experiment in establishing good government."

Well, to think of József Szájer and Gergely Gulyás as the Hungarian Madisons makes me laugh. As for the establishment of good government, most people realize that there was no burning need for a new constitution without which there could be no good government. The Fidesz urge to draft a new constitution was almost an afterthought: once they came up with the idea of a "revolution" they had to find a way to make their revolution permanent.

The reactions to the released draft are mixed and still somewhat superficial. There simply hasn't been enough time to ponder all the details and their possible implications. Some changes may not be as important as some critics fear. To give a few examples: there are today 19 "counties" (megyék) in Hungary. In the new constitution they are called "vármegyék," a term that was discontinued in 1945. Or, the name of the supreme court of Hungary (Legfelsőbb Bíróság) wil revert back to Kúria, the name of the institution between 1867 and 1945. Critics charge that the Orbán government is returning to the times of the Horthy regime. And some people feel that changing the name of the country from Magyar Köztársaság (Hungarian Republic) to Magyarország (Hungary) shows Fidesz's dislike of the very institution of the republic.

These changes may not by themselves have great significance. Let's face it, no one calls Hungary Magyar Köztársaság in ordinary speech. Moreover, it makes sense to keep traditional names for certain institutions. I was, for example, pleased to hear a few years ago that the reestablished appellate courts would be called by their traditional name: "ítélőtáblák." The important consideration is not the name but how the institution functions. Unfortunately, there are signs in this draft that the independence of the courts might not be assured. And it is worrisome that the government will appoint the heads of counties. 

There are some very distasteful elements in the constitutional draft, especially in the preamble. Because President Pál Schmitt succeeded in putting his two cents worth into the constitution, Hungarians are supposed to avoid foreign words. This kind of nonsense was tried once, naturally during the first Orbán government, when on store fronts foreign words had to be translated into Hungarian. Once Orbán was gone so were the signs. And now that most Hungarians have learned what "preambulum" means, they can forget the word. It will either be called "national creed" (nemzeti hitvallás) expressing a mixture of nationalism and religiosity or, perhaps more acceptably, "national manifesto" (nemzeti nyilatkozat).

The first sentence of the constitution is the first line of the Hungarian national anthem: "God bless the Hungarians!" and the last sentence of the preamble is the hackneyed Fidesz slogan that appeared on the ill-fated declaration that had to be displayed in government offices: "Be there peace, freedom, and harmony." I hope for their own sake that they leave these out because otherwise no one will be able to deny that this is a Fidesz constitution and nothing more.

If we compare the American and the new Hungarian constitutions there is one very basic difference. The first three words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution are: "We the People of the United States…" The new Hungarian constitution says in its second sentence that "we, the members of the Hungarian nation, at the beginning of the new millennium with responsibility for every Hungarian, state the following…" This is a huge difference. The American constitution talks about all people living in a geographic area while the Hungarian draft talks exclusively about the members of the Hungarian nation. Perhaps the framers are so insensitive that they don't realize the possible consequences of this formulation. I see no explanation in the constitution or elsewhere about who is considered to be a member of the Hungarian nation. Who will decide? When in common parlance Gypsies refer to non-Gypsies as "magyarok" and non-Gypsies don't consider Gypsies Hungarians, we may be in trouble.

This is just the very beginning. It continues with a litany about the greatness of the nation and its intellectual and spiritual unity. But more about all this tomorrow.

 

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Johnny Boy
Guest
Eva: “He misleads his readers by claiming that this new constitution will “replace the amended communist constitution of 1949.” In 1989 the original document was completely rewritten, not just amended.” No, you are the one misleading the readers, as the introduction of the 1989 text clearly states that this is a temporary Constitution and the text is laid down only until the real Constitution is created. For those who understand Hungarian, here is the current (obsolete) intro: “A többpártrendszert, a parlamenti demokráciát és a szociális piacgazdaságot megvalósító jogállamba való békés politikai átmenet elõsegítése érdekében az Országgyûlés – hazánk új Alkotmányának elfogadásáig – Magyarország Alkotmányának szövegét a következõk szerint állapítja meg:” For those who can’t read Hungarian, I suggest putting this text into Google translate to see how the blog author is lying to them. “There are some very distasteful elements in the constitutional draft, especially in the preamble. […] It will either be called “national creed” (nemzeti hitvallás) expressing a mixture of nationalism and religiosity or, perhaps more acceptably, “national manifesto” (nemzeti nyilatkozat).” What is distasteful is your pathological aversion towards anything that has something to do with religion or the word “national”, but for people with no serious personality… Read more »
a3t
Guest

The 1989 constitution does indeed state that it is temporary, but this new draft doesn’t say that.
“Nem ismerjük el az 1949. évi kommunista alkotmány jogfolytonosságát, amely egy zsarnoki uralom alapja volt, ezért kinyilvánítjuk annak érvénytelenségét.”
It implies i) that the 1989 constitution is one and the same as the 1949 “communist constitution” (excuse me, but bullshit), and ii) that the 1989 document was illegitimate and never had legal force.
As for talking about members of the Hungarian nation – you know why, Eva! It’s the only way of getting the hataron tuli magyarok in there.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Johnny Boy: “In 1989 the original document was completely rewritten, not just amended.” No, you are the one misleading the readers, as the introduction of the 1989 text clearly states that this is a temporary Constitution and the text is laid down only until the real Constitution is created.”
Well, the word “temporary” (ideiglenes) doesn’t show up anywhere in the text. Second, even if it did, it wouldn’t mean that it was not completely rewritten. Logic, logic! Take your time and compare the two texts instead of just talking.

a3t
Guest

Germany’s Basic Law is also a temporary document, meant to be replaced as soon as Germany is reunited. It was proclaimed in 1949, and remains in force today.

John G
Guest

@Johnny Boy: I must ask. Why all the vitriol and venom? Are you able to communicate without aspersions and insults? By all means express your disagreement but in a civilized manner. This forum is not some kocsma! However much you may disagree with comments here.

Sandor
Guest

Well, Johnny Boy, I think rather that you are mentally ill. If you want to mix religion, a private conviction, based on delusions, with politics and national aspirations, then obviously you are in no position to address any issue of the world and even less matters of substance.
I think you should go to a monastery and pray, preferably in silence, instead of interfering with any intellectual enterprise.

Jim
Guest

Time to find REAL Hungarian words for these horrible syllables of foreign origin that are being foist upon the people. Dreadful Slavic words like
paprika,
pálinka,
kolbász, and
túró. And
vacsora and
ebéd and
rózsa and
padló.
I hope Schmitt can get the Hungarian Republic (sorry, let me use it one last time) out of this mess.

Kirsten
Guest

Éva: “Smith expresses his hope that the new Hungarian constitution will resemble “America’s””. and “”we, the members of the Hungarian nation…”
I am not sure whether Americans can fully understand the problem that Europeans have when they speak of “nations”, it is a blend of a political definition (and therefore Fidesz could argue that with “Hungarian nation” they speak of the political nation and not of an ethnically defined nation) and an ethnic, language-based, “cultural” etc. definition.
“And it is worrisome that the government will appoint the heads of counties.”
How are these heads of counties chose currently? I read that these counties are not fully self-governing entities so would that be a difference to the current arrangement?
“Be there peace, freedom, and harmony.”
Hope dies last.

Kirsten
Guest

@Jim: and szerda, csütörtök, péntek

Paul
Guest

Perhaps trolls have their uses after all?
If ‘Johnny Boy”s loony posts can produce replies of the quality of Sandor’s and Jim’s (to pick just two), then long may he dribble his vitriol into this blog!
As for ‘foreign’ words, from my reading of Hungarian histories, etc, it seems that almost all ‘Hungarian’ words aren’t actually Hungarian. Most seem to be Slavic borrowings and even many of the oldest words were imported from other peoples before the ‘conquest’. The only real Hungarian thing about Hungarian would appear to be its grammar.
And, not only is the word ‘paprika’ not Hungarian, but the plant itself didn’t exist in Hungary until more than half way through the nation’s history.
Still, anyone (or party) that can believe the St Stephen Crown was a) made as one piece and b) actually used to crown old Pisti himself, can believe anything else it wants to.

Öcsi
Guest

a3t wrote: “As for talking about members of the Hungarian nation – you know why, Eva! It’s the only way of getting the hataron tuli magyarok in there.”
Well, it better not include me if my freedoms are diminished in Hungary. And they will be. The constitution will not recognize my marital status. My same-sex partner (of 35 years!) and I will be second class. No thanks. Shame on Fidesz!

LittleFun
Guest

Hungary could restore the ideas of Ferenc Deak, who was one of the greatest human being ever born.
His acts were conceived in the spirit of peace, the law, the enlightened thinking, and the unity of the nation.
FIDESZ is not a party of Deak.

Member

@Johnny I took your advice and punched in your quote into the Google translator. This is the result:
“A multiparty, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law to implement the social market economy in order to facilitate a peaceful political transition in the National Assembly – Hungary’s adoption of a new Constitution – the Constitution of Hungary as laid down in the text of the following”
English is certainly not my mother tongue, but WTF does the above mean??
By the what do you think about the following in the new preamble (sorry, the “creed”):
“világkommunizmust halálra sebző 1956-os forradalmunk”
something like
“our 1956 revolution that dealt the death blow to the world communism”.
With all due respect to the 56ers (the real ones), why does this have to be in the constitution? Do you really want to world to laugh at us?

Member

A tongue-in-cheek article in index.hu tries to calculate the cost of changing the country’s name from “Hungarian Republic” to “Hungary”. Well, to change the coins, the personal documents (ID cards, passport, etc) and the stamps will be in the billions. Of course only if we care …

a3t
Guest

Öcsi: It’s very carefully phrased. They’re defending marriage as between a man and a woman, but that doesn’t actually necessarily exclude same sex marriage existing alongside it…
My guess is that it’ll be left to a judge to declare that, no, same sex marriage is ok under the constitution, and then they’ll take a leaf out of the Republican playbook and start fulminating about “activist judges” defying the “will of the Magyar Zemberek”.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Mutt Damon: why do you want me to assume responsibility for Google’s translation? I had hoped that if someone can’t understand Hungarian, Google may help them out. Nothing more. If Google’s text is as senseless as this, that’s Google’s “fault”, not the Constitution’s.
The other quotes you cite may be a basis for discussion, I don’t necessarily agree with them. The Constitution usually lays down the most influential historical facts that have a fundamental impacts on a nation’s life. The 1956 revolution can be thought as one of those, or differently. I’d personally favor a rephrasing of that sentence, but it is not against my will to have 1956 included in the Constitution.
John G: “Why all the vitriol and venom?”
The answer is easy. Because this blog is a so obtrusive attack on sanity that one can’t bear it otherwise. Look at my initial comment and the author’s response. She is trying to fool non-native Hungarians into believing that the to-be-replaced Constitution doesn’t declare its own temporariness, by twisting the meaning of words with obvious context in the one-sentence introduction. For all native speakers, its meaning is completely unambiguous but those who rely on indirect information may be mislead with effort.

European citizen
Guest

@Johnny Boy. What is your point? The 1989 constitution was meant to be temporary. So was, as it was pointed out before, Germany’s constitution. Eva’s point was that the text she discusses implies that the 1989 constitution was somehow “communist”, which is untrue, since its content had been completely changed. Prove this wrong first, please, and then we can continue the debate. Otherwise, it is not clear what the aim of your post is except trolling.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “it seems that almost all ‘Hungarian’ words aren’t actually Hungarian.”
Not quite. There is a core Finno-Ugric vocabulary and a lot of Turkic words from before the conquest in addition to a lot of Slavic borrowings.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Dutton: “With all due respect to the 56ers (the real ones), why does this have to be in the constitution? Do you really want to world to laugh at us?”
Golly, you’re running ahead of me. I’m a real 56-er and I was astonished to hear that we were so successful that communism expired right there and then. Big smiley.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Öcsi: “My same-sex partner (of 35 years!) and I will be second class. No thanks. Shame on Fidesz!”
Shame on you, if you, a deviant, want to enjoy the same circumstances for example raising a child with your same sex partner.
I don’t want to see children grow up with disturbed sexual identity around me.
European citizen: “What is your point?”
My point is obvious.
“The 1989 constitution was meant to be temporary.”
Thanks for backing me up on proving that the blog author wants to mislead the readers.
“Eva’s point was that the text she discusses implies that the 1989 constitution was somehow “communist”, which is untrue, since its content had been completely changed”
No it wasn’t her point, and the text clearly states that the 1949 constitution was communist.
“Prove this wrong first”
It is proven to everyone who reads the text.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“I’m a real 56-er”
LOL, the biggest lie here. And an attempt to disgrace ’56ers.
You NEVER fought against communism.

European citizen
Guest

“Eva’s point was that the text she discusses implies that the 1989 constitution was somehow “communist”, which is untrue, since its content had been completely changed”
No it wasn’t her point, and the text clearly states that the 1949 constitution was communist.
Poor Johnny-Boy, I am disappointed. I thought you had a point to discuss. I am not going to try to teach you how read texts, be they constitutions or blog posts.

Öcsi
Guest

ESB wrote: “This is a huge difference. The American constitution talks about all people living in a geographic area while the Hungarian draft talks exclusively about the members of the Hungarian nation.”
And, as Johnny Boy already pointed out, it won’t be all Hungarians. Queers will be excluded. Of course Hungarian Jews aren’t really members of the Hungarian nation so they will be excluded. So will the growing number of Roma. Maybe it will exclude people who are of mixed ethnic background. Perhaps the Hungarian nation should exclude heterosexuals who give birth to sexual “deviants,” as Johnny Boy likes to call us. That would be their fitting punishment for soiling the purity of the Hungarian nation. I’m sure other groups can be excluded until Johnny boy lives in a perfect, white-faced, god-fearing nation. What a fricken loser!

An
Guest

@Johnny Boy: “”I’m a real 56-er”
LOL, the biggest lie here. And an attempt to disgrace ’56ers.
You NEVER fought against communism.”
So now reserve yourself the right to say who was a 56-er? Like actually being there and having to leave the country doesn’t count?
Outrageous.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Outrageous”
What is outrageous that someone with obvious affiliation to the Communist dictatorship pretends to be a former opposer, as it is the “trend” nowadays. Both the offenders and victims can call themselves “56er, smearing the responsibilities and defaming the victims.
Someone who so clearly lacks any morale and respectability as the author can never claim any positive role in our revolution that was based on morale and respectability.
“”deviants,” as Johnny Boy likes to call us”
You are clearly deviant, by the very definition of this word. And your lamentation on how everybody, according to you, will be excluded, shows only your own frustration and crisis of identity. Those without disorders don’t feel themselves excluded by seeing others supported rightfully.
Your basic problem is that the Constitution clearly favors virtue and genuine values which you cannot comply with. But that is your problem, and yours alone.

European citizen
Guest

I think it is is useless. Mr. Johnny-Boy clearly hasn’t understood what the purpose of a constitution is. For him, it is an instrument for one group in society to cram some ideological conviction down the throat of all others. It is not about organizing a pluralist society by ordering the relationship between the state and the individual (which the current constitution does very well). So what is the point of arguing with him?

Öcsi
Guest

Johnny Boy wrote: “Someone who so clearly lacks any morale and respectability as the author can never claim any positive role in our revolution that was based on morale and respectability.”
“…our revolution?” You were there? Did you have swords like in 2006? 🙂
I was in Hungary in 1956 but I bet you weren’t even born. But do keep entertaining us!

European citizen
Guest

It is useless. Our Mr. Johnny-Boy clearly hasn’t understood what the purpose of a constitution is. For him, it is an instrument to cram one particular group’s ideological vision of “morality” down the throat of the rest of the society. It is not the secular modern idea of the constitution as a means to order a pluralistic society by a set of rules that define the relationship between the individual and the state. If he is serious, he is an interesting example for the sociological analysis of pre-modernity.

European citizen
Guest

sorry for posting twice, I thought my first comment didn’t come through.

Member

This 56 mania is worth a discussion by itself. It brought so much hatred to the country, it’s unbelievable. We should put it to rest. Whoever fought the Russians in 56 deserve all the respect as other veterans of the country but the 56 political ballon should burst. By the way I just learned that one of my 56er heroes became a secret service informant after/during prison time and stayed active for more than 10 years. But this is off topic.
Regarding the new constitution here is a quote:
“There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.”
Nigel Powers

wpDiscuz