The first draft of the new Hungarian constitution, Part III

Yesterday I left off with a sentence of the preamble which might open the door for sanctions against the still surviving political leadership of the Rákosi and Kádár regimes. I wrote that Gergely Gulyás, our youthful constitutional expert, assured us that only those people would be prosecuted who are responsible for the loss of life. Mind you, he also said that the competence of the Constitutional Court would be restored in the new text and that turned out not to be true.

Something happened a couple of days ago that indicates to me that the Orbán government's political retribution, until now directed only toward their political opponents, might be extended to the socialist period as well. In Hódmezővásárhely where János Lázár, head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, is the mayor, the local government established a mini-House of Terror that is supposed to show the locals life in the town before the change of regime.

A few months ago they asked three historians–Zoltán Boér, Olivér Fráter, and Krisztián Ungváry–to compile a list of known "strictly secret officers" (szigorúan titkos tisztek or szt-tisztek). The diligent historians found over 600 names and made the list public at http://szigoruantitkos.hu/ These officers drew a salary and held military ranks. Their job was intelligence gathering. The immediate result: seven employees of the Foreign Ministry have been fired. Krisztián Ungváry, about whom readers of this blog have already heard, is horrified. He never thought that the publication of the names would have such consequences. After all, several lists had been compiled and made public earlier, but people didn't lose their jobs.

Ungváry found it especially galling that these firings occurred in János Martonyi's ministry because it is a known fact that the current minister of foreign affairs was himself an informer. Moreover, a strictly secret officer was a member of the first Orbán government (Imre Boros), and Péter Medgyessy, prime minister between 2002 and 2004, was also an officer. I suspect that the firing of these people was initiated by Zsolt Németh, a close friend of Viktor Orbán, who is a zealous anti-communist.

Independently of the happenings at the Foreign Ministry, Mária Vásárhelyi, a sociologist and the daughter of Miklós Vásárhelyi who spent five years in Kádár's jails out of which seventeen months were spent in solitary confinement, wrote a piece in yesterday's Népszabadság. In this article she notes that at the time of the regime change two-thirds of the people rejected the idea of any retribution against the leaders of the former regime. Yet the parliamentary majority of the Antall government voted for a law that would have initiated such proceedings. It was the Constitutional Court led by László Sólyom that rejected the law as unconstitutional. The court maintained that the statute of limitations on these alleged crimes had expired and that allowing a change would threaten constitutionality. As Iván Vitányi (MSZP) said, "such a law would revive the spirit of revenge without satisfying it." The majority of the people and their relatives who suffered as a result of the activities of these political criminals were also against criminal proceedings. Not because they forgot or forgave the sins committed against them but because they thought that the "historical administration of justice" shouldn't be the job of the law. They were hoping for some kind of moral cleansing–that historians would make public everything there was in the archives and that public scorn toward the villains would suffice. As we know, this is not what happened.

If criminal proceedings are initiated now, twenty years later, I hate to think of the consequences. The hatred that permeates Hungarian society is bad enough as it is. But I have the feeling that very soon there will be another commissioner appointed who will work on cases from forty-fifty years ago. Most likely on the basis of reports by the alleged victims.

But let's go back to the constitution. The sentence that follows the barbarous sins of the communist dictatorship is equally worrisome because it says that "we don't recognize the legal continuity of the communist constitution of 1949 that was the basis of a tyrannical rule and therefore we declare it null and void." That sentence must refer to the present constitution, which most likely means that all the decisions of the constitutional court based on the present constitution are also null and void. That is a truly frightening prospect.

The reference to 1956 as the "revolution and war of independence that mortally wounded (halálra sebző forradalom és szabadságharc) world communism" is almost laughable after the threat of the preceding sentence. After all, the Soviet Union lived happily for another thirty-six years and there are still at least three communist countries left in the world: China, North Korea, and Cuba.

The "national creed" tries to finish on an upbeat note. "We believe that our children and grandchildren with their talents, persistence, and strength of character will make Hungary great again." This constitution is supposed to be a contract between "the Hungarians of the past, the present and the future, a living framework that expresses the will of the nation, the structure in which we would like to live." I don't want to sound facetious but I wonder in what manner we are going to communicate with our ancestors. How do such sentences end up in a serious document? Moreover, unless the national creed comes with a time stamp and an expiration date there is an implicit assumption that the restoration of Hungary's greatness will forever remain a project for future generations.

The final three words, all in caps: BE THERE PEACE, FREEDOM AND UNITY comes straight from the much maligned declaration of the Orbán government that is supposed to be displayed in public buildings. Even Fidesz politicians consider the declaration a political mistake. But Orbán doesn't like to admit mistakes and hence elevates these trite words to a most prominent place in his constitution. Because be there no mistake, this will be Orbán's constitution.

I mentioned András Gerő's reactions to the preamble's historical inaccuracies. The historian also complains about something that is missing: the most important Hungarian event, the 1848 revolution that made the tricolor the official flag of Hungary and that abolished serfdom and the privileges of the nobility. The revolution that established a modern government responsible to the parliament. But there is not a word about 1848 which signalled the arrival of the ideas of the American and French revolutions in Hungary. Today's Hungary has mighty little to do with the short-lived revolution of 1956, but it cannot be understood without 1848. Going back to the eleventh century for inspiration is not a good foundation for a modern democratic constitution.

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Paul
Guest

When was Hungary ever ‘great’?
OK, the country was three times the size it is now, and may have looked pretty impressive on the map, but in what other way could the adjective ‘great’ be used? Hugary wasn’t even independent during the so-called ‘golden’ period. It may have been called the ‘Austro-Hungarian Empire’, but we all know whose empire it was and who was the secondary country.
Is that what Orbán wants to go back to, a country most of which was uneducated peasantry, living (or not) hand to mouth, and which was about as independent as Wales is within the UK?
Or is it the medieval kindom of jealous princes and barons and weak kings – so weak and so busy fighting each other, that they couldn’t stop the Turkish invasion?
Or maybe it was the Hungary feared by the rest of Europe for its bands of robbers, who stole, burned and raped their way across Europe, and sold their services to the highest bidders without a moment’s moral consideration?
How can Hungary ever have a chance of sorting out its future, if its leaders won’t even face up to the realities of its past?

Jano
Guest

Just a note Paul (I don’t really care about being great or not)
“Or is it the medieval kindom of jealous princes and barons and weak kings – so weak and so busy fighting each other, that they couldn’t stop the Turkish invasion?”
Like Nagy Lajos? or Hunyadi Mátyás and I could continue? I think it’s a little far fetched to describe a 500 years long period this simply. Also btw, along the same lines, whole medieval Europe could be labeled pathetic.

Leo
Guest

The mysterious “historical constitution” might be the so called “doctrine of the holy crown” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_Holy_Crown) – a historical fancy wide spread in extremist right-wing circles. The vague reference in the draft constitution seems a compromise between pro- and opponents.
On the other hand, the several declarations of the unity of the Hungarian nation are also rather clouded. And then there is that curious phrase about the “beginning of the millennium”, which can only be read as a claim to one more realm of thousand years. These vague allusions indicate a regrettable lack of courage and integrity.
Hungarian history in itself is not pathetic, but the way Hungarians deal with it can lead to this impression. The main psychological problem to me is the question what drives Hungarians to childish bragging in one moment, while degrading themself as utterly worthless shit in the next. Because these two phenomena cannot be separated. It is very painful.

GW
Guest
Having a complex, contentious, and often tragic history, and one supported by often a vague paper trail, shocking blanks in recent memory, a good dose of pseudo-historical imagination and the perpetual instrumentalization of selective bits of history by political regimes, Hungarians have a natural — and naturally unresolved — obsession with national history and identity. While I think that this may often be a stumbling block on the path to becoming a modern state in the community of developed democracies, much of this, and the preambulatary rhetoric in the draft constitution is a prime example — is harmless and what is not harmless — the extension of a state franchise to nationals beyond internationally recognized borders or the tacet exclusion, within the border, of those with “insufficiently Hungarian” origins — will, ultimately, be legally moot within the EU. For this reason, I think obsessing with this nationalist window dressing may be a dangerous distraction to actually dealing with the essential matters of rights and the organization of the state. That said, for those who support this constitutional draft, as a moral matter I do have to wonder, though, do you really believe that embedding so much contentious history in a… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

@Leo: The mysterious “historical constitution” might be the so called “doctrine of the holy crown” – a historical fancy wide spread in extremist right-wing circles.
I understood that this doctrine is (so to speak) an original contribution of Hungarians to constitution theory – in the middle ages. According to a rather unsuspicious text (Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan) it was “developed to embody a conception of state sovereignty independent of any particular monarch. Sovereignty rested with a ‘community of the realm’ which possessed the right to select its own ruler.” Why such a doctrine should stand in the way to adopting a more modern definition of a ‘community of the realm’ I could not yet find out. Perhaps it is not needed to take the idea of an embodiment of state sovereignty in a crown so literally.
And rather generally, if Hungary had no complete written constitution but only some acts that required constitutional majority before 1946 I wonder what kind of legal system OV and Fidesz intend to go back to. For me the main outcome is an increase in intransparency.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Leo: “The mysterious “historical constitution” might be the so called “doctrine of the holy crown” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_the_Holy_Crown) – a historical fancy wide spread in extremist right-wing circles.”
You may be right. The vaguer the better.

LetUsBeLiberalFinally
Guest
LetUsBeLiberalFinally

Let us be liberal in the sense of Ferenc Deak, because the 1848 revolution was not the turning point. The history changed, when Ferenc Deak introduced the enlightened liberalism to Hungary singlehandedly, and has changed history forever.
His wisdom was unlimited.
In that cradle came to life Tivadar Herzl, Tivadar Puskas, Otto Banki, Kalman Kando, Blathy, Szilard, von Neumann, Jokai, Mikszath, Arany, Vorosmarty.. etc.
Hungary is great, thanks to Ferenc Deak.

late night
Guest

We need to think about the present O.V. regime much more in the context of the E.U. than in the context of Trianon. The E.U. makes the borders ever more irrelevant. Posessing the political power in a land makes it possible to profit economically. As we see now, this profiting mostly results in deficits and borrowing, which cannot be tolerated by the E.U. any more. So, in the coming years, posessing the power will be ever less lucrative. When even the Arab youth becomes politically savvy, let’s hope, the E.U. youth will not stay much behind, and the fortunes of populists will decline.

Paul
Guest

Jano, I was describing Hungary as it was just before the Turkish invasion, not its entire medieval period.
Although much of that wasn’t too ‘great’ either.

Jano
Guest

Paul: Then the description is accurate just don’t forget to indicate what you’re talking about.
The entire medieval period has great and not so great periods, but the Hungarian kingdom was an important regional power. I don’t really see why it’s good for you to prove that the entire Hungarian history is a piece of garbage, we have things to be proud of and things not to be so proud of and of course thing to be ashamed of, just as any other country. I think you want to disprove the JB types so much that you’re falling on the other side of the horse (to use a Hun phrase).

Johnny Boy
Guest

I hate to call the attention of mostly unworthy people to anything here but what the “historian” author of this blog does is just so miserable it is below any humanly standard.
She cites 1848 as an important point of reference yet she has no clue that the sentence “Legyen béke, szabadság és egyetértés” (LET THERE BE PEACE, LIBERTY AND CONCORD) is NOT of Orbán’s origin but it is the first and foremost sentence in the famous 12 Points which carried the message of the 1848 Revolution.
For the minority of people here actually capable of reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_points
And I’m not even trying to enter any discussion here on the Holy Crown, for example, where the author displays so little clue of religion again it isn’t even worth laughing, as the title “Holy” is granted by the Catholic Church and it becomes a fact that it is granted, similarly to for example the fact that there are people pronounced cardinals, who are then cardinals regardless of whether you are of Catholic religion or not.

Paul
Guest

Let me just remind you before anyone falls into the ‘Johnny Boy’ trap and wastes their time arguing with him. Not only is this poster a Fidesz troll, but he has previously posted on here that homosexuals are ‘deviants’.
Such is the nasty cess-pit of a mind of this poster. Not only should be not be argued with, as a troll, but he doesn’t deserve to be argued with as a ‘human’ being.

Paul
Guest

Jano, my meaing was perfectly clear within the context of my post and the point I was making.
As for Hungary’s ‘great’ moments in its medieval period, just how many of any real substance can you list?
Hungary may have been ‘great’ in terms of its area, there’s no denying that, and it may have had substantial local ‘regional’ influence, but, in terms of true significance within greater Europe, it was always a minor player.
The only time Hungary features as a significant element in European history is as the lesser part of the infamously badly named ‘Austro-Hungarian Empire’. And look where that got you.
This bizarre fixation on Hungary having once been ‘great’ is a serious problem for Hungarians. The tension between constantly being told that Hungary was/is ‘great’ and the knowledge that for most of the last 500 years Hungary’s actual experience has been only of loss and defeat, creates a kind of schizophrenia which leads to an inability to deal with reality.
And if you want any proof of this, just look at what’s happening in Hungary today.

Jano
Guest

Paul:”Jano, my meaing was perfectly clear within the context of my post and the point I was making.”
No it wasn’t. Although your point is clear. Hungary has always been an insignificant, pathetic country, it’s mere existence is useless in the first place and everybody should apologize for being Hungarian and shut up.
I’m sorry we didn’t conquer half of the world as the British Empire, but this still doesn’t mean that we can’t consider Hunyadi Mátyás’s reign, or the thriving years of the Árpád dinasty or the Anjou period. To be honest your attitude is what drives anybody with normal patriotic feelings mad.
“This bizarre fixation on Hungary having once been ‘great’ is a serious problem for Hungarians.”
Maybe not according to your definition of greatness, I think economically thriving periods and being a dominant regional power can be considered great, although yes in our “empire” the sun did set. It seems that you have a fixation about what the problem of “Hungarians” (yes, all of us). Why do you have to insult another country’s history this agressively? Nobody but you meant greatness in any of the senses you might mean under great here.

Jano
Guest

Sorry this previous post might have been a little too harsh, I didn’t mean it to have such a sharp tone.

Member
Jano – interesting post, I would have some questions for you. I don’t personally subscribe to Paul’s overly negative view of Hungarian history, but I do find the view of their own history taken by many Hungarians very difficult to understand. Like you I think that Hungary was a great nation for long periods during the Medieval era. Following this in the post Reformation era, Transylvania pioneered freedom of religion, an idea we now take for granted. In more modern times the architecture of Budapest itself is a great testimony to Hungary’s prosperity in the late 19th century. What I find difficult to understand is the elevation of the Horthy era. It is a bit like Brits ignoring Henry VIII and Queen Victoria instead turning the 1920s and 1930s. the era of the Great Depression, Hunger Marches and Appeasement, into an imagined golden age. I just don’t get it. When it comes to the far right and their addiction to the Arrow Cross it seems even more bizarre. Celebrating a quisling government held in power by foreign troops seems to fall far outside any definition of patriotism that I can think of. I don’t for one moment believe that you… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

It shall never be overlooked that the “historian” author of this blog has no clue about that the the sentence “Legyen béke, szabadság és egyetértés” (LET THERE BE PEACE, LIBERTY AND CONCORD) is NOT of Orbán’s origin but it is the first and foremost sentence in the famous 12 Points which carried the message of the 1848 Revolution.
For the minority of people here actually capable of reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_points
Sadly, this is an excellent tell-tale sign of the intellectual niveau of the author, and, as it entails, of most of its readers who swallow every nonsense posted here.

kis fiu
Guest

@David: I can imagine that at some level most Hungarians view the period of the Dual-Monarchy as the ‘golden age.’ This was brought to an abrupt end with WW1. Those looking to Horthy or the Arrow Cross are looking for a way to return to the golden period – to reverse the losses of Trianon, revert back to an aristocracy, ect. In other words they view a return to Horthy-era policies as a necessary (and proper) step to returning to the golden age of the dual-monarchy.
Of course, I dont agree with this view point at all- just making a guess as to why some people are still enamored with Horthy.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Johnny Boy: “hate to call the attention of mostly unworthy people to anything here but what the “historian” author of this blog does is just so miserable it is below any humanly standard. She cites 1848 as an important point of reference yet she has no clue that the sentence “Legyen béke, szabadság és egyetértés” (LET THERE BE PEACE, LIBERTY AND CONCORD) is NOT of Orbán’s origin but it is the first and foremost sentence in the famous 12 Points which carried the message of the 1848 Revolution.” I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, Sonny Boy, this miserable historian has a clue after all. See May 18, 2010 blog: Viktor Orbán began his proclamation of national cooperation with the words of the “March Youths” of 1848. Sándor Petőfi, Mór Jókai, Pál Vasvári, Józse Irinyi, Alajos Degré, and others are collectively called the March Youths; they represented the most radical wing of the reformers. These were the people who, ignoring censorship, printed their demands entitled “What does the Hungarian nation want.” Before they listed their twelve points one can see the following: “Let there be peace, freedom, and harmony.” It is with this sentence that Viktor Orbán began his own proclamation. How… Read more »
Öcsi
Guest

ESB wrote: “I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, Sonny Boy, this miserable historian has a clue after all. See May 18, 2010 blog:”
🙂
I think Johnny Boi should be paying for his Hungarian history lessons!

Member

@Jano “I’m sorry we didn’t conquer half of the world as the British Empire, but this still doesn’t mean that we can’t consider Hunyadi Mátyás’s reign …”
We tried. Our archers got all the way to St. Gallen then their asses were kicked. Also King Matyas was poisoned in Vienna after he occupied it. Too bad.
See, what the problem is? It’s the way we look at the past. This isn’t patriotism. Ok, comparative exercise: Hey, Paul? What do you think about Cromwell?
By the way this isn’t only about history. There are numerous websites listing Hungarians who invented basically everything in the modern world. Most of them are exaggerated. Irinyi: inventor of matches. Wrong. It was invented before him, he just perfected it. Tihanyi: Television. Wrong. Television sets are very complicated. A lot of scientists contributed to it. If you argue, Hungarians will go: yeah, but the UNESCO says so … OMG. And the list goes on.
Also I would risk the opinion that this is not only a Hungarian phenomenon. Just watch the Slovaks (Slovak kings? Say what?) or the Romanian. It’s probably some kind of inferiority complex we couldn’t shake off for centuries.

Jano
Guest
“We tried. Our archers got all the way to St. Gallen then their asses were kicked.” That’s not really this simple, Hungarians never intended to conquer these territories, they were plunderers, just like so many nomad tribes before. We were actually very successful plunderers, but it was inevitable that with the western states getting more stable and stronger the nomadic way of life was not sustainable. And that’s when came Géza and István (and the first successive kings of the Árpád House) and turned a half-nomadic group of tribes into a modern state (in the medieval sense, and yes that meant christian back then) “Also King Matyas was poisoned in Vienna after he occupied it. Too bad.” And? Does that mean that he was an unsuccessful or not “great” king? Or that after decades of disarray he created stability under his reign (which was gone with his death, yes) Along the same lines, the Roman empire was pathetic, since it got defeated by the barbarians and ceased to exist eventually. Never said that we were the greatest nation on the face of the earth (that’s actually the most annoying American tradition I encountered here), I just said that we had… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

As to the pre-amble well it seems to claim all persons of Hungarian descent as Citizens. In the event this will cause many problems under the Geneva Convention.
The best comment I have found on that load of ‘flapdoodle’ came from Politics.hu and is called “New constitution to open with anthem blessing”
The comment simply said …** “Leave me out of this, bless yourselves” … signed …God.” **
Mut you write * “We tried. Our archers got all the way to St. Gallen then their asses were kicked.” *.
Our Archers got to Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt etc and the French asses got kicked. Then along came the ‘Black Death’ so every one’s asses got kicked. That put ‘paid’ to that little game

Member

“Never said that we were the greatest nation on the face of the earth (that’s actually the most annoying American tradition I encountered here)”
We went grocery shopping with my wife when we came to the US. I saw a bucket of ice cream that said: “The world’s greatest vanilla ice cream”. I went: “Awesome! That’s what I want!”. Then my wife who I guess is a lot more Hungarian than I am: “Wait a minute … how can they prove that …” I say who cares. What’s great is great.
“Personally, as a young Hungarian scientist in the USA, I draw a lot of motivation from the respect here towards these so called ‘martians'”
Personally, I’m always the butt of jokes regarding Hungarian inventions. “Oh, you guys invented that too? Awesome! Bottoms up!” Happy St. Patty’s (the greatest saint).

Kirsten
Guest

@Jano: To speak of “we” in this sentence: “We were actually very successful plunderers” summarises the problem. I never think of me as being part of a Germanic tribe attacking the Roman Empire nor of some Slavic tribe skirmishing with German or other Slavic tribes, successfully or not.

Paul
Guest
Jano/Mutt/et al – I don’t know why you turn my (fairly) accurate statements about the lack of Hungary’s ‘greatness’ (within a pan-European context) into a battle between Britain’s history and yours, or a question of my patriotism. Anyone regularly reading my posts on here would know I am: a) very partial towards Hungary (and very upset by what OV is doing to it), and b) the least patriotic Englishman you are ever likely to meet. I am merely commenting on what I have learnt from reading a number of Hungarian histories (etc), and comparing them to what I know of European history. I ask again, when was Hungary ever a truly ‘great’ country? Or, if you want to be more Fidesz-specific, in what ways was Hungary ‘great’ between 1867 and 1914, when it was the lesser ‘partner’ in the Austrian Empire? The fact that I don’t think Hungary was ever a ‘great’ country does not in any way mean I don’t like Hungary or don’t wish it all the best (half my family – and a considerable part of my ‘wealth’ – live there, after all). I am simply applying the same objective judgement that I would apply to any… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Jano – interesting that you specifically pick von Neumann, Teller, Wigner and Lax from the long list of Hungarians who had to ‘go abroad’ to be successful. Also intesresting that you aren’t specific about their reasons for ‘going abroad’.
Unfortunately, this particuluar piece of “history” is most certainly not history in Hungary.

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