Joseph K. Grieboski then and now

Most of us know, if not in the original at least in translation, a Latin saying about changing times and changing people (tempora mutantur, et nos mutamus in illis). Well, very true but some people change a bit faster than would normally be expected. For example, Joseph K. Grieboski, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, who today thinks that the law on the churches and religion recently adopted by the Hungarian Parliament "is a danger to all Hungarian society and a terrible indication of the state of democracy in the country." He added that he "had known and worked closely with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, most recently on the new constitution, and expected much more from him."

I must say that I was surprised to hear that Viktor Orbán had consulted Joseph K. Grieboski when, as we know only too well, the authors of the new constitution consulted with practically no one. A friend of mine who knows Grieboski personally was also taken aback. My first thought was that since Orbán often expressed his admiration for the preamble of the Polish constitution, perhaps he felt that it would be useful to talk to someone who is involved in religious matters and is of Polish descent.

Lately someone called my attention to two articles, both published in The Huffington Post, written by Grieboski. The first article appeared on March 30, 2011, only a few days before the "Easter Constitution" was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament. Grieboski was ecstatic about the new constitution, which even then was severely criticized the world over and which since then has been squarely condemned by the Venice Commission. The title of the article is telling: "From Dictatorship to Democracy: Hungarians United in Drafting Constitution." Anyone who knows anything about the birth of this new constitution knows that Fidesz refused to incorporate any suggestions coming from the opposition until the representatives of the two democratic opposition parties finally left the parliamentary committee in disgust. So much for the united Hungarians.

Grieboski claims that "this month the era of Soviet domination was finally and completely put to rest in Central Europe" due to the adoption of the Basic Laws, as it is officially called. The author considers the former constitution "illegitimate and tyrannical put in place by the Stalinists in 1949." Moreover, according to Grieboski, Hungary had no written constitution prior to 1949–so far so good–but "its basic law was governed by the Doctrine of the Holy Crown," which is of course nonsense.

As for the Basic Law itself, Grieboski is thrilled with the much criticized preamble and sees nothing wrong in calling it a "national testament." He is delighted that the preamble begins with the first line of the Hungarian national anthem, "God bless the Hungarians," and that it refers to Hungary's Christian roots, the Holy Crown, and the legacy of the 1956 revolt against the Soviets.

Grieboski finds it "interesting that Hungary does not accept the legal continuity of the 1949 constitution which served as the basis of a tyrannical rule." Well, other people called this so-called suspension of legal continuity between March 19, 1944 and May 1, 1990 something else. For example, an attempt to rid Hungary of any blame for what happened to its Jewish citizens in the summer and fall of 1944. 

All in all, Grieboski knows next to nothing about Hungarian history or the constitution adopted in 1989. His enthusiastic embrace of this new constitution reflects the kind of government propaganda pouring out of every government official's mouth. And he swallowed all that propaganda hook, line, and sinker. And now a few months later he suddenly wakes up. The details of the law on the churches and religion brought home, it seems, that perhaps there is something very wrong with this democracy Hungary just arrived at after the tyranny of the last few years.

Perhaps one reason for Grieboski's change of heart between April and July when his second article appeared is that he knows more about religion than about the Doctrine of the Holy Crown. And it hit him a little harder. Suddenly he was faced with "the worst religion law in Europe." He thinks that "this law stands at odds with the newly drafted Hungarian Constitution," but if he listened to the critics of the constitution instead of only to Fidesz party propagandists he would have realized that not all is well with the constitution either. It would still be useful for Grieboski to read the opinion of the Venice Commission. He might realize that the so-called cardinal laws will bring more and more very ugly surprises until we might not be able to talk about Hungary as a democracy.

At any event, now that Grieboski's eyes have been opened he has discovered that "the passage of this religion law is the latest and most disturbing example of this serious setback of human rights and the rule of law in Hungary." So, there have been others. Indeed! Where was Grieboski in January and February when for weeks the whole world could talk about nothing else but the outrageous, most restrictive Hungarian media law? 

Grieboski ends by saying that "the government in Hungary must realize the terrible mistake it has made." Well, if Grieboski worked with Viktor Orbán he should know him better than I do, but I can assure Mr. Grieboski that Orbán will not change his mind. As for Grieboski's insistence that "the president of Hungary must not sign the religion law," he is too late. Pál Schmitt has already signed it, as he signs everything Viktor Orbán's government puts in front of him.

The only thing I can suggest to Mr. Grieboski is: wake up! It is not the Soviet past that threatens Hungary's democracy but Viktor Orbán himself.

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Member

Weird. I wanted to ask the fellow about the change of heart but comments are closed for the article …

Ron
Guest

I have never heard about this man. But he claims also to be a Human Rights specialist.
http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/foundation-voices/joseph-k-grieboski/

Member

Oh, well. He is very interested now in Hungary:
http://www.religionandpolicy.org/cms
Get this. You can also apply for “The Institute on Religion and Public Policy” VISA card:
https://www.cardpartner.com/app/irpp
How many anti-Orban blogs can top that?
The internet is like a sewer.

Member

Way back I put up a comment that somehow said that anyone who thinks that he /she is the best new friend of Orban will be rudely awakened, as many of his previous friends. Orban has no loyalty to anyone but to himself.If Schmitt thinks that he will be not disposed when not needed any longer, he is also mistaking. Anyone who thinks that they will be the exception to Orban’s games will also be surprised. (I have mentioned the movie The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, but I can also mention here Szabo’s great work, Mephisto.)

Miklos Haraszti
Guest
I know Joseph Grieboski well — I had cooperated with him at OSCE — he is a fierce and efficient fighter for freedom of religion. Unfortunately, there is no way to defend his first comment about Orban’s “Basic Law”. But there is something to be commended about his second article. God knows what mislead him in the first piece — the rudest mistake there was his swallowing the falsehood that Orbans’s Basic Law replaced the Communist Constitution. Perhaps he believed the “Preamble/National Creed”, which also carries that lie. Perhaps he just could not imagine that a Constitution would dare to state such an impertinent untruth. In fact, the Communist Constitution was replaced by the 1989-90 perfectly democratic and consensual one. Based on which, by the way, Europe’s most progressive religion law was immediately passed (and is replaced now, as Grieboski puts it in his second piece, with Europe’ worst). But let’s credit his second, wake-up article with being the most precise listing so far of the horrors of Hungary’s new religion law. I have not read anything this concise and concrete even in Hungarian. I only would add one hellish feature to his list. He describes the retroactive stripping of… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Miklos Haraszti Freedom and the rights of the citizens (and everyone else) living in Hungary are finished with. Even the members of the party called Fidesz are only the servants of their leader. Orban Viktor has never worked for anyone. He has always been the ‘boss’. Now he has absolute power it is the duty of every Hungarian anywhere in the world to work for him without idea of reward. He has no friends and will sack/drop people when they are no longer useful to him or in any way displease him. Those who do not obey him and do their duty supporting him in all things are either ‘idegenszívű’ or ‘degenerate stupid foreigners’. All such peoples are ‘subversives’. He has not yet cottoned on to the fact that there are ‘institutions’ to which Hungary is subject by treaty and over which he has no control which will take him to task in due course. It will be very expensive for Hungary. What surprises me is that the parliament has not passed laws which would make it ‘Treason’ for any Hungarian or ‘Subversion’ for any foreigner to bring ‘problems’ to the attention of these ‘institutions’ (the European Parliament, The European… Read more »
Member

Odin’s: “His only justification in court would be that the Hungarian people voted for him and gave him his power in a free and fair election held by secret ballot.”
People did not vote for him! I said this before, if I would go in front of the people and promise 20% more wages, united Hungary, restored glory (whatever that is), I would get elected with the right marketing machine behind me. People voted for Orban’s promises and was mislead by his propaganda. The speedy decline of his support shows that people are waking up. For goodness sake, he has to hire people to clap for him. HIs still existing support shows that his muzzle on the media still works. Show me one single person who would be willingly accept the flat tax and makes under 300.000 Ft/month, show me someone who would willingly give up his pension from private investments. Are there any firefighters, policeman , teacher, doctor who got what they were promised? Fidesz is still blaming everything on the socialists, communists, whatsoever, without taking responsibility for anything what they have done in this last year (or prior). It is not what people thought are voting for.

Kirsten
Guest

Some1, I am afraid this is not how it works. People DID vote for Viktor Orban and many WERE euphoric after his victory despite many warnings from inside and outside. In late 2009 my worries were fully refused as propaganda by friends. It is still not certain that OV would get ousted in the next elections. I read it frequently here that the pure existence of Ferenc Gyurcsany is sufficient to make people willing to accept everything that Fidesz does. I know that the past 20 years were already difficult but the first step is to understand that it is not in the politicians alone why it is so hard.

Member
Kirsten, I know what you saying, but I think the reality is that Orban has a way better marketing machine that Gyurcsany has. People just do not realize it. Did Gyurcsany lie? Well, he said it, so he did. Orban never said he lied but there are numerous lies that came form him. It needs to be pointed out to people. WHy would people choose Orban above Gyurcsany? Because of the propaganda that Gyurcsany is a “communist”. Do the same people who made believe Gyurcsany’ sins actually realize that it is Orban iwho is moving Hungary closer to an antidemocratic, almost communist state? WHat I am trying to say that people are mislead by Orban way more how they assume Gyurcsany mislead them, but Fidesz is doing a better job covering the tracks. WE had our own brainwashed posters in here who had nothing to say about the cosy Hungarian-Chinese political efforts or loved the idea of privatizing money. In any case I think it is true for almost every country, winner will change the rules, but I do not believe that is democratic or that it should be legal in democracy. It is bait and switch and companies, in… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

“people are mislead by Orban way more how they assume Gyurcsany mislead them,”
I would say this too. Whatever unpleasant manners may be attributed to him, I also believe that he wanted to change MSzP (even if this may seem futile) and to modernise Hungary. But to have the choice of parties reduced to ex-Communists and two right-wing parties (one extreme and the other outright unspeakable) is for me part of the problem. I have not yet a good explanation why a liberal party, which SzDSz was at least for some years, has got even more discredited than MSzP. LMP also appears unlikely to be able to mobilise a large part of the population. I know there were hopes that MSzP could be interested in “teaching people democracy” but I am back to my earlier doubts, I do not see how an ex-Communist party, no matter how “liberal”, could do that. I still believe that the current disillusionment will not only lead to more apathy but also mobilise resources. It need not even knowledge of foreign languages or interest in “foreign thinkers”, many ideas were already voiced by Hungarians too.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “Whatever unpleasant manners may be attributed to [Gyurcsány]. The problem is that this kind of language is so widespread in Hungary that the languague he used in Őszöd is nothing out of the ordinary.
I have a funny story concerning the use of four-letter words in Hungarian discourse. I was doing some research on one of my blog topics and looked up the website of an elementary school in northeastern Hungary. The kids there are under fourteen years old. On the homepage the youthful editors asked the readers to refrain from using four-letter words. Two lines later I read one of these editor’s introduction to the website in which he called something or other “kurva jó.” That is no longer considered to be more than “very, very good.”

Member

Read Orban’s speech today in Tusnadfurdo. Scary! It really sounds like my Marxisim-Leninism teacher in college. “The old system will collapse”, “work-based societies”, etc. Run, run, run …

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “”The old system will collapse”, “work-based societies”, etc. Run, run, run …”
I will entertain you folks with Semjén and Hoffmann today. Tomorrow is Orbán.

Member

Mutt Damon: “”The old system will collapse”, “work-based societies”, etc.” I guess he recycled his speech what he gave to the Chinese President at his visit. I never really understood the work-based society thing. Work-based versus what?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “I never really understood the work-based society thing. Work-based versus what?”
He contrasts work-based society to welfare state. This might mean: no more welfare payments without work. See the plans for labor camps for the unemployed.

John T
Guest

Seems to me that Mr Grieboski is only complaining about an issue that he has a direct interest in. He didn’t seem that bothered when other equally important principles or institutions were cast aside. That said, neither do most Hungarians.

Joseph K Grieboski
Guest
I appreciate the interest of the authors in the articles I wrote about the developing situation in Hungary. I am grateful to my colleague, Miklos Haraszti, whom I admire greatly and whose human rights expertise is unparalleled and sadly missed by all who worked with him at the OSCE. While the authors did not chose to reach out to me to hear in my own voice my positions or beliefs, I would like them to know that, as Miklos can confirm, I am both easily accessible and approachable and quick to respond. I am a religious freedom advocate. That is the focus of my work and that of THE INSTITUTE. While we were significantly concerned about the roll back of the powers of the Constitutional Court and the media law, those areas are not our expertise nor where they areas of competency. One cannot deny the election of Orban or Fidesz. Nor can one deny that they both still hold significant support in the country. My hopes for Hungary expressed to the chagrin of the authors was for a free, open, transparent, democratic Hungary. That remains my hope now as it was when I drafted the first article. I look… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Joseph K. Grieboski: “I appreciate the interest of the authors in the articles”
These articles have only one author. Eva S. Balogh

Member
Mr Grieboski: I think it is wonderful that you took your time to respond, as it means you take the perception of your actions or non-actions seriously. I highly agree with your wishes for Hungary, as all of us on this forum wish the same. The problem is how people define what freedom, openness and transparency are. I am certain that Mr Orban believes his policies and actions are in correspondance with all. Although you state you are “no expert” in various issues, that did not stop you to applaud publicly to the News Constitution that was prepared without proper consultation, in haphazard but with your participation. Although you may not find it revolting that without the exception of the Jobbik, no other opposition party stayed with the “project”, even the foreign press took notice from very early on. You may not mind that MSZP or other parties were left out of the consultation as you were only listening to Orban’s side of the story about how the MSZP is the reincarnation of the communists, but you should have taken the time to look up Mr Orban’s background (people in glasshouses….). Overall, the warning signs were there from early on.… Read more »
peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear “Some 1”;
In case / I somehow doubt/ Mr. Grieboski ever bothers to revisit this site; let me ad my support to your letter.
Peter Litvanyi

Joseph K Grieboski
Guest

Some1, I appreciate your points and, frankly, do not argue with you on them. You are correct that I made assumptions based on information that was not fully correct or accurate when presented to me.
I also do not disagree with you that the first step seems to be the only one that this government will take. Despite that, I remain hopeful that positive change can occur, even as a result of external pressures.
Hungary cannot afford to be an isolated country, and the actions currently undertaken by the government are not in any way making friends.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Joseph K. Grieboski: “I remain hopeful that positive change can occur, even as a result of external pressures. Hungary cannot afford to be an isolated country, and the actions currently undertaken by the government are not in any way making friends.” Dear Mr. Grieboski, I myself am an optimist. My friends occasionally jokingly call Pollyanna, but this time I’m not optimistic. Please read my description of Orbán’s speech in Romania over the weekend. The man who wrote this speech is not a democrat. There are two possibilities: (1) he doesn’t really believe it all, and (2) he believes every word of it. I don’t know which is worse. In the first instance, he is dishonest and in the second, he is a fanatic who has a distorted view of the world. One thing is sure this man is driving his country into the ground. Economically as well as politically. And given the structure of the European Union there is no way of stopping him. I think that you were badly misled by the current government’s propaganda, but I’m glad that you wrote your second article which, by the way, has been translated into Hungarian and published in http://www.galamus.hu. The only… Read more »
Member

Thank you for your reply Mr Grieboski, and thank you for taking the time to write and publish your second article. I hope that International pressure, and the feedback from well respected individuals may make Mr Orban realize the opportunity that lies ahead of him, to become a man of positive changes for Hungary by the standards of First World countries.
I also thank Eva for her work with this blog.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Thank you for your answer Mr. Grieboski,
I am sure there are many things in life we just simply can’t agree about. Also there are the THINGS in life we MUST agree upon.
I also thank Eva for this blog.
Peter Litvanyi