Hungary’s new constitution

Hungary’s new constitution

Last week Hungary’s conservative government has brought in a new constitution that could haunt and drag down the country for decades to come.

First I was troubled by the developments, but once I have read the details I became deeply worried and frankly, devastated.

The Guardian article Hungary heads in undemocratic direction is a succinct summary on the matter.

Fidesz, the conservative governing party has an unprecedented 2/3 majority in Parliament which has allowed it to completely re-write the constitution, bringing forward fundamental changes, an embarrassing nationalistic wording and also structural political changes that will entrench the power of Fidesz for many more electoral cycles to come regardless whether it wins office or not.

Such a constitution can only be regarded as deeply undemocratic and would make Hungary the first EU country to strongly move in this direction. Such a crying shame.

Fidesz attempted a PR campaign both towards the West and within. For foreign observers it has taken out ads in the Wall Street Journal trying to portray the new constitution as a clean break with communist rule (a ‘revolution’ they say), despite the fact that the communist era constitution was completely amended in the last 21 years out of its original form already. To the national audience Fidesz pretended to have consulted the Council of Europe’s Venice commission when this institution was only sent bits and pieces of the final document and expressed trouble over its content.

The details of the actual document are both embarrassing and frightening.

Firstly the new constitution contains ethnic and Christian references that have a decidedly illiberal flavour. There are references to Hungary’s historical role in Europe that are cringe worthy when compared to other constitutions and smack of an ‘inferiority complex of a country that has never quite overcome the impact of huge losses of people and territory after the first world war’. A constitution is no way of trying to patch up national pride. Liberal and human rights have also been dropped in favour of references that enshrine the heterosexual family unit and would likely make it impossible to enact laws for same-sex marriage.

Another troubling aspect of the constitution is that there was no national mandate from the citizenry: there was no real public consultation process and other parties in the Parliament did not participate in its writing. There won’t be a vote on it either, the constitution is simply written into law without asking Hungarians about it. This is also deeply disturbing and anti-democratic.

Furthermore after many months of wrangling the constitutional court is now completely weakened so the checks and balances on any present and future government are greatly undermined. The constitutional court was a bastion of democracy for 2 decades, now it’ll be a toothless institution. The new constitution will be virtually impossible to amend or change and future government budgets can be blocked unless the government have a 2/3 majority which will be almost impossible to achieve (future conservative opposition could simply veto budgets). The judiciary and other important bodies have been staffed with conservatives who will serve out long stints, making them immovable and influential for many years to come from the courts to media to banks.

Demonstrations and the Opposition’s protest absence in Parliament on the day of voting have done nothing to change the course of events (however there were some fun protests such as the above ‘packmanisation of Hungarian law’).

I’d laugh at the cringe-worthy nationalistic preamble if it wasn’t for the cunning and corrosive substantial details within this constitutional beast that potentially foreshadow long decades of semi-authoritarian rule. What will come of Hungarian democracy? These are sad times indeed.

Here are some good English language blog articles from the Hungarian Spectrum about the constitution:
Hungary has a new constitution The new Hungarian constitution: Reverberations Further concerns over the new Hungarian constitution

ps: to make matters worse there is a new crisis point where ultra-right self-appointed guardists have intimidated Gypsy residents to the point of Red Cross evacuating 270 women and children from a regional town. Some Roma have applied for refugee status with foreign embassies (mostly as protest I assume and to draw international attention). After many Roma killings in the last few years there is an escalation of ethnic tensions in the countryside that is unlikely to calm down with either local police ‘peace keeping’ or even foreign attention… unless poverty can be solved I see little chance for these tensions calming down.

The Orbán government and the Roma issue

National Broadband Network

National Broadband Network

Last week the current affairs program 4 Corners picked up the complex and rewarding topic of the National Broadband Network. I was reasonably new to the topic and came away with lots of insights. (you can still see it through iView)

4 Corners NBN page

The NBN is impossible to evaluate without knowing the recent history of telecommunications policy, the economic details of the plan and the underlying technical issues.

In short I came away with thinking that…

1) The federal governments of the last 15+ years have grappled with the complications of telecommunications in a country with a reasonably small market, large distances and a telecommunications industry that brew out of both. The decision to privatise Telstra didn’t gel well with the existing structural monopoly of the company and consequently the paradox of Telstra severely affected the birth of the NBN.

2) Regardless of the rhetoric of all sides the NBN is technically viable in its current form and is going to become the most crucial infrastructure project for Australia in the 21st century. Our technological demand on connectivity is rapidly growing and only fibre-optic cables can carry this demand over the long-term. It is a wonderful piece of nation building to roll this out to 95% of the country, connecting people across great geographical distances, enabling businesses, agriculture and the health care system to operate across vast areas, contributing to slowing further urbanisation that’s crippling cities and allowing regional and rural areas to strive, be able to compete and get equitable services.

3) I find the Opposition’s interference with the scheme malicious and Turnbull’s appeal to the base penny pinching instinct of already privileged city dwellers counterproductive. Because of the botched monopoly of Telstra and its hindrance to the NBN the government had no other option but to go ahead with the NBN on its own if it was to maintain its equitable nature and its quality. I struggle to recall any major political action in the last 18 years that was truly equitable and universal, the NBN might be one of the first for a long time. If it means a bit of cross-subsidy we should be proud as citizens that this is done with our tax money. Let’s tilt back a little the already existing structural inequalities that cripple Australia and are only becoming worse. Let’s support people in the bush who grow our food and remote industries that underpin our economic prosperity by giving them the basic tools they need to keep their lives going. This is only fair.

4) On the technical front our demand for more information flow is increasing. Despite having wireless technology there is no way to build substantial national capacity without fibre optics laid down across the country. All our iPhones and iPads rely on data points that in turn flow back into the general grid, satellites are not coping and cannot support the flow we demand of them. I can imagine a future very very soon where education, business, health care etc will rely ever more heavily on broadband, which in turn can help lower our carbon footprint in a country of great distances. This may not happen, but unless we have the infrastructure we cannot expect new applications and businesses harnessing this capacity and creating new ways of living that are more convenient and ecologically sound. I may not always agree with the direction of developments (I prefer face to face teaching at university instead of sending out instructions onto my remote students’ wireless devices) but it is a strong trend and we will have to adapt. The NBN will be the backbone of all of this.

5) And finally I was embarrassed to be agreeing with Senator Conroy throughout the program! Until now I have never agreed with him on anything and have considered his utterances stubbornly stupid, especially on internet censorship and media regulation. But here he’s actually talking sense and articulating the technical details with reasonable skill! Geez!! 😛

I’m really glad the NBN is already being rolled out in Tasmania. Yes, let’s start with those who are disadvantaged and work towards the more advantaged areas. Let’s roll it all out before someone or something cripples this development or before all the money goes to prop up primary industries who are already doing very well without taxpayers’ money funding their ‘adaptation’ to a carbon tax. Quick quick!

Pina

Pina

I have always been an admirer of the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch. Wim Wenders was always going to make a film with her but Bausch suddenly died in 2009 before filming could have started.

Wenders had been looking for decades for the format or medium in which he could fully convey what Bausch had to offer with her quirky and uniquely expressive blend of dance, movement and theatre. Finally 3D arrived and became developed beyond what an original prototype could have delivered and with it the right medium for the film has also arrived, one that would allow Wenders to tear down the ‘invisible wall’ between dancers and viewers that normal film presents.

It took 2 years for the film maker and the 40 or so dancers of Bausch’s company to render the choreographer’s work onto 3D film and the result is simply amazing. In fact this is the first ever art film, including dance, to be presented in 3D and it suits beautifully and without gimmicks. You get the raw (barely) mediated material.

‘Pina’ the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival a few months ago and last Sunday it also premiered at the Opera House in Sydney where it was the closing night film of the German Film Festival.

I was mesmerised by the richness of the experience, one that truly probed into the depth of human experience and has done so mostly without words, which is an integral part of Bausch’s philosophy. She worked for decades with dancers to establish a new language of movement and theatre that reached beyond the usual aesthetics and athletics of dance (she doesn’t use ‘average’ body types and dancers dance themselves), interrogated the authentic human experience of the hand picked dance artists of the company and distilled it all into a form that grapples with the elementary aspects of our shared humanity.

The film is mostly dance-movement-theatre but there are also snippets of Pina Bausch in her studio and the dancers reveal in short clips some of their deepest connections to Pina, to her work and through both of them to the world and themselves. Wenders has achieved a wonderful combination of letting the work speak for itself while also giving extra snippets of information from the depth of the dancers’ own experience in order to illuminate the whole, especially for newcomers.

It was filmed in and around Wupperthal where the company was based and populates the most amazing scenes with expression, movement and meaning, from mines to industrial landscapes to forests to a stage filled with water.

‘Pina’ not only honours an amazing artist but gifts viewers with an astonishing artistic experience. Because of the new 3D cinematic infrastructure this film should be able to get at least a limited release and it is worth seeing by all who want to contemplate and ponder our shared human condition and to those willing to venture into a new unique territory that rewards as much as it challenges.

This Guardian video reveals a lot about the film and is a wonderful intro. I highly recommend it!

Bolivia boldy goes…

Bolivia boldy goes…

Bolivia is set to be the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of Mother Nature in law. This new law could possibly prompt new environmental protection to control pollution and curtail exploitation or it could be a symbolic gesture that mining companies and social groups can ignore or laugh at. Perhaps it will also be a first that creates a precedent and paves the way for better legal protection for the environment in other countries.

(You can read more in this Guardian article “Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth”

This new piece of law grants all of nature equal rights to humans, redefines the rich mineral deposits of Bolivia as ‘blessings’ and grants 11 new rights to nature. Some of these involve the right to life and to exist, the right to be free from human alteration that would disrupt nature’s vital cycles, the right to pure water and clean air, the right to balance, not to be polluted, and even the right to not have cellular structures modified or genetically altered.

All these aim to bring humans and the environment into a new equilibrium and harmony. This is a lovely sentiment and goal but one wonders how much will actually be achieved through these laws.

These new rights represent both a spiritual heritage and a fraught relationship on the frontiers. Bolivia’s spiritual tradition is centered on an earth deity called Pachamama, a Gaia figure who stands for Nature. This new law could be seen as a way of enshrining her rights so that they can take effect in a modern setting. These laws can also be seen as a manifestation of a long standing contention between mining companies who have been exploiting the rich mineral heritage of the country and environmental activists who have been fighting the various environmental disasters caused by the mining industry.

Amazingly Bolivia will also soon have a ministry of mother earth and will also have a related environmental ombudsman in an effort to regulate industry and protect the rights of people and nature. However, prime minister Evo Morales and his socialist government will have to be careful, a third of foreign currency flows into Bolivia through mining companies. By radically cutting back on mining could cause economic hardship, unless Bolivia is able to draw on other forms of income.

Yet Bolivia, perhaps like the rest of the world, cannot wait… it isn’t just suffering from mining related disasters, it is also already suffering from climate change: glaciers in the Andes are melting, there are more extreme weather events and giant mudslides have buried whole neighbourhoods (probably partially caused by deforestation and mining also). If temperatures rise by 3-4C Bolivia could be the victim of seriousl desertification.

I find it wonderful that Gaia in a Bolivian guise has now been enshrined in a law that could possibly help create a better balance between industrial growth and the environment, perhaps even towards sustainability. Yet I cannot avoid seeing the vast rift between economic interests (difficult to re-structure) and the interests of the environment (already severely damaged). But all respect goes to Bolivia for daring to declare so publicly that striking a balance betwee the two is not only important but urgent and vital for the future of humanity.

Minchin and science

Minchin and science

Tim Minchin performs his fun beat poetry here, with luscious animation to go with it.

Yes, it’s an atheist pro-science rant but it’s also very fun and makes a number of important points about rationality, the contribution of science and technology to our well-being and the importance of evidence, proof and the scientific method.

However, it is also absolutist in its assumptions. Scientific evidence is not a means to an end and no, science simply does not have answers to everything and never will, and this isn’t only because we haven’t done enough science yet, but because many phenomena simply lie beyond the grasp of science.

Take global warming as a crisis for humanity. Does science tell us how to solve this predicament? Of course not, this is a ‘how’ question laden with values and conflicting interests that only humans can solve amongst them via complex social, political, economic etc means. Science can help us discover the details of global warming and climate change, it can help us amass the empirical details on the various aspects of particular actions, inactions, technologies and so on. But it cannot help us wade our way through the crisis beyond providing important facts, we have to make complex decisions that take into consideration sentiments, consciousness, logistics, culture and our own complex system of values. With the help of BOTH we may be able to make the right decision in the end.

Also, there are so many wonderful areas of human existence that lie beyond the bounds of science. The beauty of human existence lies in its richness: love, pleasure, consciousness, spirituality, art, music, law, values, connections and interactions… and also science and technology. It is foolish and reductionist to simply choose the logic of only one of these to encroach on the others and assume the mantle of an all-knowing omnipresent entity (does that remind us of anything? religious zealotry perhaps?), instead of what it is, an immensely important sphere of human life but only one of many.

The wonder of human existence is its richness, and science is only one dimension of many that is worth pursuing with passion.

Perspective man, perspective 🙂