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.