The first draft of the new Hungarian constitution, Part II

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.

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Kirsten
Guest

The national creed sounds like a party programme. And a history book (a very short one) at the same time. A weird idea to use the constitution of a democratic state to hammer out an official interpretation of the past and of what to be proud of in it. But once that is the case I miss some credits for the turul bird who made it all possible.

GDF
Guest

Kristen:”But once that is the case I miss some credits for the turul bird who made it all possible.”
Just wait, this is only a draft, they may add it.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

The idea of ethnic homogeneity of Hungary before 1918 was one of the main causes of Trianon. And those advocating it implicitly in Hungary today will have difficulties when teaching history. The majority of the 13 Arad martyrs (1849) were not ethnic Hungarians.
By the way the famous count Széchenyi wrote his diary in German. And I could go on.

Sophist
Guest

Eva,
” Hungarian Calvinists don’t believe in saints and are horrified at the very thought that a crown can be holy”
Can you support this by quoting some sort of reaction by either by the Reformed Church or leading Calvinists?
My impression is that Hungarian Christians of any denomination, after 40 years of suppression of the Church, don’t know what they’re meant to beleive. My Calvinist mother-in-law wears a crucifix and has a medal of the pope! I’m godfather to my wife’s Calvinist neice, baptized in the Nagy Templom itself, and I’m baptized (not confirmed) Church of England.

Sophist
Guest

Eva,
” So, what are we talking about?”
I think it is obvious what we talking about, the realm of St Stephen – back before 1526, the only thing we lack is a monarch.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sophist: “” Hungarian Calvinists don’t believe in saints and are horrified at the very thought that a crown can be holy” Can you support this by quoting some sort of reaction by either by the Reformed Church or leading Calvinists?”
(1)I agree with you that most Hungarians are very confused as far as the differences between religions are concerned because few of them went to “Sunday School.” A good example of this lack of knowledge is Viktor Orbán himself.
(2) Naturally the Calvinist church leaders know that this preamble is not written having the Hungarian Reformed Church in mind. But they like this regime and they certainly don’t want to alienate the political leadership. They would like to get as much goodies from them as the Catholics are getting.

Paul
Guest

A strange Wiki moment:
When I nipped into Wikipedia to check out the nationalities of the 8 non-Hungarian martyrs* (see Karl’s post above), I discovered that Wikipedia regards Arad as “currently in Romania”.
Do they know something we don’t?
*since you ask, “four Germans, two Armenians, one Serb and one Croat”.

Jano
Guest

“four Germans, two Armenians, one Serb and one Croat”. – who all considered themselves proud Hungarians (I don’t think one can really understand the self-identification of a highly multiethnic country in today’s terms of being Hungarian so this argument of Karl and yours is not legit)
About the national creed, this is exactly (or even less extreme) what I expected from Fidesz, to be honest this is not the most important part of a constitution, I’d rather say it tells a lot about the authors.

Kirsten
Guest

@”four Germans, two Armenians, one Serb and one Croat”.
I also would not exaggerate the importance of the ethnic origin in this case, they fought for Hungary and not for Austria or Armenia. I thought the definition of ‘Hungarian’ could be rather all-encompassing as long as these were nobles and dedicated to independence of Hungary.

Member
Jano: “”four Germans, two Armenians, one Serb and one Croat”. – who all considered themselves proud Hungarians (I don’t think one can really understand the self-identification of a highly multiethnic country in today’s terms of being Hungarian so this argument of Karl and yours is not legit)” I think the point what was made her that what qualifies as True Hungarian. By Fidesz being so wishy-washy about Jews, gypsies, “foreigners”, their definition (when it edged in stone in the Constitution) will be open for interpretation according to their terms, and their moment of interest. Just with the media law, when Hankiss made the statement that “anyone can publish whatever they want”, which is true today, but will it be true two years from now? Personally I would like to hear what Fidesz considers Hungarian, I would like to know what they consider Christian values (especially since they love to go back in history until the 12th Century). Why is it important to emphasize Christianity in this document? It is not written for the Vatican. It is about Orban’s current values, and not about Hungarians’ current value. and that is the problem. THis document is not looking forward but it is… Read more »
Jano
Guest
Someone:”By Fidesz being so wishy-washy about Jews, gypsies, “foreigners”, their definition (when it edged in stone in the Constitution) will be open for interpretation according to their terms, and their moment of interest.” I don’t think Fidesz has been wishy-washy about jews gypsies or foreigners. As far as I know they have an MP of libanese origin. If you said the same about Jobbik or some group of Fidesz supporters I’d agree, but I honestly have no recollection of Fidesz being restricting with the definition of who’s Hungarian. “Why is it important to emphasize Christianity in this document?” Because it’s important to a large group of people, and to be honest as it is in the text is acceptable for me. I was afraid that it was going to be declared that Hungary is a christian country. I’m not religious but it’s true that the system of my basic values is close to christian ethic and the Hungarian (and almost all the European culture is mostly based on the Jewish-Christian cultural tradition. Therefore I have no problem with mentioning it in a constitution in a modest way. I’m liberal enough to accept that it makes some people happier. I think… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
@Jano: “but I really don’t think that this “creed” is the most important part of the constitution.” The constitution should be a document containing the basic rules according to which a society works and which can be used as a basis for the work of the Constitutional Court. For me the creed does not seem to be of much help in that (“we are proud of St Stephen”, “we are proud of that this nation has survived until now”, “we believe that our culture is a valuable contribution to the European cultures”). I got the impression that the meaning of “law” and “constitution” for Fidesz is left to be determined since they consider an interpretation of history or a valuation of the contribution to European cultural heritage as being part of the most basic political procedures of Hungary. Not to speak of that they consider the period after 1949 to be somehow outside of (any) law. That also shows that they have some different idea of law in mind than what others might consider to be “law” nowadays. I would not expect a “normal, democratic” constitution following such a creed, which is why one should take it seriously. This is… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I was quoting Wikipedia, not in any way supporting any points about ethnic origin, or awareness of Hungarianess.
The very reason I kept the list of origins in quotes was because it’s never wise to take anything in Wikipedia as fact.
In fact that was sort of the point of my post. I had assumed that was fairly obvious.
Liszt, proclaimed as (I think) “the greatest Hungarian”, couldn’t speak Hungarian. What does that prove or not prove?

Jano
Guest

Kirsten:”For me the creed does not seem to be of much help in that”
No but it’s not a huge obstacle either.
“(“we are proud of St Stephen”, “we are proud of that this nation has survived until now”, “we believe that our culture is a valuable contribution to the European cultures”
What are exactly the problem with that? Would you rather see something like “We know how pathetic and insignificant our culture our but we rejected the idea of mass suicide, so please tolerate this puny state here?” This is an introductory part of a constitution with historical references, I expect it to be self confident. The details (which I have a lot more problems with) comes later. I really feel that this is searching for the káka on the knot:)
Paul: Sorry, I wasn’t even referring to yours but to Karl’s post earlier. Btw Arad is currently in Romania (google maps is a credible source:) )

Kirsten
Guest

“we believe that our culture is a valuable contribution to the European cultures” What are exactly the problem with that?
I would not have doubted that before. I thought the introduction should lay down some basic principles (human rights, rule of law, democracy etc.) to give the document direction but not more, certainly not something that sounds as if it were in doubt that Hungarians are a nation with valuable culture or as if Hungarians were still uncertain whether they are accepted as Europeans after 1100 years (an exaggeration to illustrate the point).

Member

Jano: I disagree with you regarding the Fidesz stance on Jews and gypsies. By not distancing themselves from various actions and doings, by not acting upon highly questionable practices even in the Parliament (Gabor Vona in the Magyar Garda uniform) they are making a statement. Just because they have an “MP of libanese origin” means nothing. Jobbik has members who were III/III agents, and members who have married Jews but that does not make them any friendlier towards even socialists or Jews. Putting that kind of statements in do not bridge various demographical groups but points toward differences. What Hungary could benefit from is finding common values and common grounds, like 1848, like the fight against common enemies (Turks, whatever) if something needed to be brought into the picture.

Paul
Guest

Jano, it was the “currently” that made me smile. This might not strike non-native English speakers as an odd word within the context, but for us native speakers it is the same as saying “but only for now”.

Jano
Guest

Paul: Ok, I get it, you’re right, my bad:)

Jano
Guest

Someone:”I disagree with you regarding the Fidesz stance on Jews and gypsies.”
Well, then this is just something we have to live with:)
I personally remember Orbán talking unambiguously negatively many times about Jobbik, about racism and antisemitism. Fidesz is not antisemitic, neither is racist that’s clear to me (but it might not be for you, I accept that), some of their followers are.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Fidesz is not antisemitic, neither is racist that’s clear to me (but it might not be for you, I accept that), some of their followers are.”
Perhaps not but as Bálint Magyar said in an article published in Népszabadság,”the leaders of Fidesz aren’t xenophobes, racists or anti-semites, they are cynics” because they stand by and use the hatred whipped up by xenophobes, racists and anti-semites.

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