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Thursday, 12 January 2012 09:13

Danube dilemmas

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As the new year began, tens of thousands of Budapest's residents rallied against the politics of the Hungarian government. Prime minister Viktor Orbán, once "a national hero," who was supposed to offer Magyars "a new social contract" is now more well known as 'Viktator', "a disgrace for the nation." The main European newspapers don't usually pay too much attention to this beautiful country over the swirling Danube but now seem unable to publish an article without mentioning 'the destruction of democracy' and the 'violations of the human rights' perpetrated by the governing Fidesz party at the moment. The Hungarian Forint exchange rate is at its lowest level since the turn of the century. This is a bitter sign of the state's nosediving economy. 

Quite a lot of things to face for one nation, even one so experienced in surviving "the rough ages" (as it says in their passionate national anthem).

The most controversial act of the Hungarian government so far is the implementation of the new Constitution. For some (including the author) it contains some inaccurate provisions. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the previous constitution was dictated by Stalin in 1949 and then only partially changed in 1989 (by the undemocratic assembly of the day), and was the subject of constant political violations during the last 20 years. In the light of these facts any critics should be a bit more careful. To me it seems that the new "Hungarian basic law" doesn't necessarily lead the country towards an autocratic regime.

What Prime Minister Orbán is doing is clear. Moreover, it's necessary. Hungary needs a resilient executive to outlast the current situation.

I cannot agree with new E&M author Simon's opinion a few days ago that the absence of the word 'republic' in the new (or the old, in fact) name of the country means the restoration of monarchy. When it comes to the President's right to dissolve parliament it's the same in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland; and we are not claiming these countries are under tyranny.

I also can't quite understand some of 'the ideological accusations' in the wider European press. The reference to Christianity, the crown of St. Stephan, or mentioning the fact that there was political dependency between 1945 and 1989 in the preamble are now rather typical phrases that could be read in most of the neighbouring states' constitutions. What's more threatening is the restoration of the concept of the Great Hungary at every mention of Hungarians living abroad. This is rather exaggerated. So is this Amnesty International statement.

Nevertheless, some of the controversial provisions are not raising questions because of their inaccuracy. Firstly, the 'constitutional laws' – ie. some crucial legal acts that are basic for the political system. According to the Easter Constitution (as the basic law is called) these laws are now less flexible and demand the same procedure as the constitutional amendments to be passed. On the one hand this can be seen as a guarantee of the political system's stability, but on the other it is also a stabilisation of a certain political configuration. The best example of that 'constitutional law' is the new electoral regulation that promotes the biggest party (which is still Fidesz).

The other issue, and here I can fully agree with Simon, is the reduction of the role of the Constitutional Court (CC).The new constitution article 6 is due to the complicated procedure that is practically precluded from effective review of legal acts. The role of constitutional jurisdiction in post-communist countries is not to be overestimated. Of course, there are some accusations that the CC members are sometimes more faithful to certain political powers than they should be and their role is also a bit fetishised sometimes. Still, it is one of the good practices of post-communist transition to protect the CC's independence.

Apart from the regulations there is also some empirical evidence to show that Orbán has already made use of the new constitution. He has already filled the new (or at least reformed) constitutional bodies with his own people. It's not an accident that the famous Media Council, the National Judicial Office, the Budget Council and the National Bank of Hungary are now experiencing a mass influx of new faces, such as the wife of Fidesz MEP József Szájer.

What Prime Minister Orbán is doing is clear. Moreover, it's necessary. Hungary needs a resilient and consolidated executive to outlast the current situation. There's no space for bad decisions or time-consuming and fruitless Parliamentary debates. Hungary needs to make the next step in the political transition from Communism. It's high time to defeat the post-Communist heritage. In particular, the most bloated (and pathologically outmoded) welfare system amongst the Visegrad Group states, the incredible and structurally dysfunctional economy (that for a last few years was given credit by the EU), the obsolete legal frame (such as the old constitution), and finally the political class… including the current rulers.

No one knows how the current Hungarian rhapsody ends. We can only wish for the dear Magyars that the conclusion will be more like Liebesträume than Totentanz.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 January 2012 12:45
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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