After a rather dull weekend–except for the Romanian municipal elections–Hungarian politics are back in full force. The highlight of the weekend in Hungary was the unveiling of a memorial over the grave of Ferenc Mádl, Fidesz-nominated president of Hungary between 2000 and 2005. As you can see from the photo, Mrs. Orbán and one of the daughters were also in attendance. There was quite a bit of pomp and circumstance, but interestingly enough it was performed before a select audience. I suspect that the reason behind “the closed ceremony” was that few people would have been interested in attending the event, and a sparsely attended ceremony would have been an embarrassment. Ferenc Mádl wasn’t exactly the kind of president that people got terribly excited about.
Nonetheless, this weekend I sensed an attempt on the part of the Hungarian right to make a hero out of him. The perfect president for Hungary. The pride of the Hungarian right.
The effort to transform Mádl into something he wasn’t took a bit of effort on the part of the key speaker, Viktor Orbán. “Mádl was a hero” and “he died for freedom.” How did Mádl achieve that feat when he most likely suffered a heart attack? According to Orbán, he died for freedom because “he lived for it, he lived in it, and lived with it.” We are repeatedly encountering this tendency to create new meanings for words.
Why do they want to make a hero out of Mádl? There could be several reasons. One might be the extraordinary popularity, both on the left and on the right, of the first president of the Third Republic, Árpád Göncz, a former SZDSZ member. He served two terms between 1990 and 2000 and his popularity was normally between 70 and 80 points out of 100. Fidesz cannot boast such a popular president. Göncz’s successor, Mádl, was less popular with his 60-65 points. From there on it was all the way down to Pál Schmitt’s 23 points before his resignation. László Sólyom, president between 2005 and 2010, was Fidesz’s choice out of necessity and his tenure was controversial. It would be hard to make a hero out of him even if Fidesz wanted to do so, especially since he is still alive. So remains Mádl, but it will be difficult to glorify him. Not even Viktor Orbán can achieve that feat easily, especially in the current situation when his own popularity stands at 30 points.
In any case, while Orbán was busy eulogizing Ferenc Mádl the Council of Europe was hatching a plan to place Hungary under monitoring procedures. If on June 15 at the full session of the Council the majority accepts the proposal, Hungary will be the first member state to be subject to such monitoring. Of the many reasons for this possible reaction from the Council of Europe the most important ones are the new constitution itself and some of the key cardinal laws. It seems that half of the European People’s Party in addition to the conservatives are ready to support monitoring. So, it looks as if monitoring is in the offing unless the Hungarian government is ready to change the constitution and some of the cardinal laws in order to conform to the European norms.
One of the sticking points is the change in the law on the judiciary that will be discussed in the Hungarian parliament this week. If you recall, the Venice Commission suggested five important modifications in the law, but as things stand now the Orbán government is ready to change only “half a law.” What is this “half a law”? The Venice Commission demanded a change in the tenure of the chairman of the Országos Bírósági Hivatal. To jiggle readers’ memories, we are talking about Tünder Handó, wife of one of the original founders of Fidesz and currently Fidesz EP member, József Szájer. She was appointed to a nine-year term, and the original law stipulated that she can be reappointed for another nine years. Moreover, if for one reason or other there is no agreement about her replacement, she can continue in her position indefinitely. The Venice Commission objected to her reappointment to another nine years and argued that if no replacement can be agreed upon she shouldn’t remain in her position but her job should be taken over temporarily by a deputy. The “half a law” in this case is that the only change the Hungarian government was ready to make was Tünde Handó’s reappointment. The rest was forgotten. The Venice Commission also has similar objections to the same arrangement in the case of the person of the chief prosecutor, Péter Polt.
And finally, at the end of May there was a summit of the Visegrád 4. The Visegrád Group is an alliance of four Central European states–the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia–for the purposes of cooperation and furthering their European integration. The name of the group is derived, and the place of the meeting selected, from a meeting of the Bohemian, Polish and Hungarian rulers in Visegrád in 1335 who agreed to create new commercial routes to bypass the port of Vienna and obtain easier access to other European markets.
At this summit Viktor Orbán indicated that he in the name of the Visegrád 4 will prepare a plan dealing with the financial arrangements of foreign banks having affiliates in their countries. He suggested among other things stopping the outflow of capital from these foreign banks. Initial reactions are not favorable to Orbán’s suggestions. Reuters’ reporters inquired from the Slovak ministry of finance about their reaction, but they got the answer that “they have never heard of” Orbán’s plans. The Poles don’t seem to be interested either. They already received their credit line from the IMF, which is enough to keep the Polish budget under control. In Prague the answer was that their banking system is so solid that they don’t have to adhere to Orbán’s plan.
Meddling in Romanian affairs backfired. The Council of Europe is contemplating monitoring, and Orbán’s suggestions about foreign banks in the Visegrád countries found no takers. All that while Orbán is trying to make a hero of Ferenc Mádl who “died for freedom.” The whole thing is bizarre.