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.