Hungary has a new constitution

It was passed this afternoon but in the morning János Lázár, the maverick leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, was still turning in last-minute changes. For example, the government came to the conclusion that it might not look too good if only judges had to retire at the age of 62. Perhaps by singling out the judges who have been independent for the most part the government’s intentions would be far too obvious. However, one cannot say the same about the prosecutors who were willing accomplices of Fidesz even while the party was in opposition.

When Lázár announced that before voting on the constitution there might be a change that would take care of the prosecutors’ retirement age, government critics were laughing their heads off: “That means that Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, will most likely have to leave before the expiration of his tenure?” Hahaha! Well, no. Fidesz has an answer for everything. Péter Polt is a sacred man. He must stay there for as long as possible. Perhaps until he dies. So, the announcement was made last night that the chief prosecutor’s case is different. He and the chief justice of the Kúria can serve beyond the age of 62 because, said Lázár, these two men are appointed by parliament. Given the fractious relationship between the chief justice of the Supreme Court, András Baka, and the government it is very unlikely that Baka will be parliament’s choice to head the new supreme court or, as it will be known from here on, the kúria. Naturally, the friendly prosecutors are complaining about the early retirement age: over 100 prosecutors, mostly in higher positions, will have to leave service. However, they promised that they would do their best to cooperate with the government. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from an organization headed by Péter Polt.

As for the vote there were no surprises. MSZP and LMP were not even present. Jobbik members were there but voted “no.” Two independent MP’s also voted “no”: Katalin Szili, former socialist MP, and Gábor Ivády, former LMP member. The “yeas” came from Fidesz and the Christian Democrats, all 261 of them; the independent Lajos Pősze, formerly of Jobbik, voted with them. There was one abstention: the infamous Oszkár Molnár, formerly Fidesz, who has made a name for himself as an anti-Semite and a racist.

Although Hungarian critics call the constitution a “botched up job” (in Hungarian constitution is “alkotmány” and the botched up job is “tákolmány”), the Fidesz-KDNP MPs are terribly proud of their handiwork. According to László Kövér the vote on the new contitution was “a historic moment.” The acceptance of the new constitution “put an end to the transitional period between today and October 23, 1989” and the whole sixty-seven years between today and 1944 which were marked by the absence of a legitimate constitution. He also emphasized that this new constitution originates in national interests but “their realization can be achieved only in a cooperating Europe of the twenty-first century.” The Hungarian constitution is Hungarian, but as the thousand years of Hungarian history demonstrates, it is welcoming of others.

Kövér is obviously quite satisfied with the constitution: “it is legitimate, it is national, it is not exclusionary but integrating, aware of tradition, but looks to the future. It is an honorable creation.” He added that he is thankful to the Almighty that he could be part of the process.

Some people have a radically different opinion. For example, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Andreas Zielke called it a “European scandal.” In his opinion the new Hungarian constitution is intended to revive the “historical collective greatness” of the Hungarians. He had some harsh words about a constitution in which “human dignity is not paramount but [which] considers a crown the highest and untouchable value of the national spirit.” I’m sure that in the next few months there will be a lot of negative reactions to the new Hungarian constitution, and not only from journalists. I think Fidesz made a big mistake by ramming this constitution through. Abroad it will be condemned and domestically it will give the oppositional forces a unity of purpose, thus posing a more serious threat to Fidesz than they are now in their splintered form.

April 18, 2011