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.