Since yesterday a number of opinions have been published about the new constitution, and the criticisms continue to multiply. I left off at the very beginning of the "national creed" or "national declaration." The members of the Fidesz-Christian Democratic delegation loved the whole constitutional draft and there wasn't very much discussion of the details with the exception of a provision that would give an extra vote to mothers with one or more children. Although according to Gergely Gulyás this "Hungaricum" will most likely not get into the final text. I can well imagine what the developed democratic world would think of transgressing the universally accepted one man (person), one vote rule. There was apparently a discussion about what to call the preamble and the Fidesz-KDNP members naturally preferred "national creed" over "national declaration."
So, let's get back to the creed. God was smuggled into the constitution by incorporating the first line of the lyrics of the Hungarian national anthem. It might be worth mentioning that the framers of the U.S. constitution very carefully avoided the mention of God in the document because, I believe very rightly, they thought that the new government should not involve itself in matters of religion. But the whole "national creed" is full of religious references, and it is clear that it was written in the spirit of not just Christianity but specifically the Catholic Church. Consider the reference to King Stephen as a saint or the Holy Crown. Hungarian Calvinists don't believe in saints and are horrified at the very thought that a crown can be holy.
Yesterday I quoted the opening phrase of the creed: "We, the members of the Hungarian nation, at the beginning of the new millennium with responsibility for every Hungarian, state the following…" I wrote about the problem of defining who is Hungarian but didn't say anything about the notion that I should have responsibility for every Hungarian. A few years ago a friend came to visit and as a joke brought an article about a certain János Balogh who was caught stealing a car. If I took these great Fidesz framers of the constitution seriously, should I have gone to the jail and bailed out this fellow? Just because he was a Hungarian? Surely, this is nonsense.
Then come a whole slew of sentences all starting with the words "we are proud." So, what are we supposed to be proud of? St. Stephen, who placed the Hungarian state on solid foundations and made it a part of "Christian Europe." Anyone familiar with the times following the death of Stephen knows that those foundations were not nearly as solid as this document would lead us to believe. We are also supposed to be proud of the fact that Hungary survived over the centuries. Why should we be proud of that fact? It was simply part and parcel of the flow of history and sometimes the result of happy circumstances. After all, there were many occasions when the ancestors behaved in a way that jeopardized the country's survival.
Hungarians are supposed to be proud of "the outstanding intellectual accomplishments" of Hungarians. Well, I have some problems with this sentence as well. There is a Hungarian saying about using the colorful feathers of other birds in order to show off, but we normally consider such behavior contemptible. The mention of outstanding intellectual accomplishments here is especially distasteful because the framers most likely are thinking of the numerous Nobel prize winners who were born in Hungary. Unfortunately, most of them left the country not on their own volition but because they were not allowed to enter university due to their ethnic origin.
The last sentence about national pride is historically inaccurate. We are supposed to be proud because "our people were fighting and defending Europe for centuries." One assumes that the reference here is to the wars against the Turkish invaders. But in the famous battle of Belgrade it was an international force led by János Hunyadi, a man of Romanian origin, that repelled the Ottoman armies in 1456. Or later, Miklós Zrínyi/Nikola Zrinski, the hero of Szigetvár (1566), is a national hero of Croatia as well. Moreover, all these people, the Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Hungarians fought the Turks not to defend Europe; they fought an Islamic invader against Christianity. One ought to mention also that not all Hungarians fought the Turks so ferociously as this sentence would indicate. It is enough to think of Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania, who often was on the side of the Ottomans or the stepfather of Ferenc Rákóczi, Imre Thököly, who ended up on the Turkish side fighting against the Austrian forces that finally expelled the Turks from the territory of Hungary. It is dangerous to make sweeping pronouncements without solid historical knowledge.
The next paragraph doesn't begin any better. The first sentence reads: "We recognize the role of Christianity in the maintenance of nations." Wow! That's something. Christianity is a universalist religion. The Catholic Church's true aim was a unified Christian Europe under the leadership of the Church. Surely, anyone with an ordinary high school education learned something about the struggle between the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor. Stephen's decision to convert his subjects to Christianity helped him in establishing a state but a nation? In the same paragraph there is a reference to "our unique [egyedülálló] language." Every language is unique. One cannot mix up Spanish with Danish or Swedish with Finnish. Hungarian is as unique as any other language in the world. András Gerő, the historian, called this reference to the uniqueness of the Hungarian language a sign of the "national pomposity" to which he thinks Hungarians are prone.
Here I will skip a paragraph in which "we acknowledge" all sorts of things, including that the basis of human existence is human dignity or that we promise we will help the poor and the downtrodden.
But then comes a truly confusing paragraph. "We honor the achievements of our historical constitution and the Holy Crown that is the embodiment of Hungary's constitutional continuity." What do they mean by "historical constitution"? As we know, Hungary didn't have a written constitution and therefore all medieval and early modern laws must be considered part of the historical constitution. And, I'm afraid that includes feudalism, the nobility's privileged position, István Verbőczy's Tripartitum that bound the serfs to the soil, and one could go on and on. Surely, we cannot honor all of this. As for the Holy Crown embodying Hungary's constitutional continuity, this sentence is also very problematic. The Holy Crown at one point was indeed the symbol of the Kingdom of Hungary but that kingdom was the pre-1918 Greater Hungary. Today there is no Greater Hungary and the country is a republic, so how can a crown be the symbol of today's Hungary's constitutional continuity? Today's Hungary has no continuity to that alleged historical constitution.
But that is not enough. Someone who was responsible for this "national creed" fell in love with the idea of the "historical constitution." The author/s claim that this so-called historical constitution was suspended because of foreign occupation. As we find out from the next sentence, this suspension of the "historical constitution" is applicable only to the German and Russian occupations because then the country was not independent. The trouble is that Hungary, with the exception of the 1918-1944 period and recent history, hasn't been independent since 1541 when the Turks occupied Buda. An independent country has an independent foreign and financial policy. Hungary had neither under the Turks or the Habsburgs. So, what are we talking about?
Finally, if we take the "national creed" seriously, we must contemplate the possibility of criminal proceedings against politicians of the Rákosi and Kádár periods. Because "we deny that statutory limits can be applied to the barbarous crimes during the rules of the national socialist and communist dictatorships." This was always the case when it came to crimes committed during the national socialist period, but now it has been extended to the post-1945 period as well. That would be a radical change in attitude. After all, the regime change took place after peaceful negotiations and the understanding was that there would be no retribution. Now, the situation might change although Gergely Gulyás assured us today that only those would be prosecuted who "stained their hands with blood."
Further incredible statements will be discussed tomorrow.