Constitution, Europe, World — January 25, 2012 12:10 pm

A Unitarian Constitution

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How Hungray’s Conservative Wing Wrote a New Constitution for Itself

Thousands of Hungarian citizens protest the new constitution in Budapest

In 2010, Hungary embarked on one of the most important tasks for the survival of their government by beginning to draft a constitution. Members of the parliamentary drafting committee wrote the document on their iPad. The “iPad” constitution attempts to completely undue the nation’s communist history, but when looking at the process of writing the constitution and the reactions to the final document, the legitimacy and longevity of the proposed constitution has been questioned. The party in charge of drafting the constitution, the Fidesz, has incorporated conservative party ideology into the constitution with little input and support from the opposition. A partisan document us unlikely to create a government framework in which all Hungarians can equitably participate.

International perception

The international community is not staying quite in regards to Hungary’s “democracy.” Germany has recently said that Hungary’s new constitution is “hardly compatible with European Union values.” With the EU barely being held together by Germany, Professor of Law Gabor Halmai, a Visiting research scholar at Princeton University, points out that “Germany was unfortunately very cautious with its criticism.” Beyond the fragile state of the EU, Halmai points out that “the EU has no real mechanisms to sanction those countries that violate Article 2 of the Treaty on the EU, which requires from every Member State to respect the values of rule of law, democracy.” Despite international concerns over the new Hungarian constitution, the current political climate in Europe and the EU’s lack of authority would probably limit the consequences on Hungary from the international community.

Why is a democratic constitution bad after all?

The movement to create a new constitution has been led by the right winged, conservative Fidesz party. The constitution reflects an extension of the political philosophy of the Fidesz party. When asked if this is just a way in which a party is asserting their power or if the constitution is a true framework for the government, Professor in Political and Social Theory at the New School for Social Research Andrew Arato stated, “What is a true framework of government? Certainly the first option is true.” Keeping this statement in mind, there are clear illustrations of this are seen in the articles of the constitution itself. Under Article L of the constitution, “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.” Despite the fact that the constitution guarantees the right of religious freedom and separation of church and state under Article VII, the preamble to the constitution refers to Hungary being a part of “ Christian Europe” to “recognizing the role of Christianity  in preserving nationhood.” Inserting these ideological beliefs raise the question of how a political party was able to pass such a document. The opposition was nowhere to be found, and the people remained silent bystanders to the entire process.

The people were a non-issue for the Fiedsz party. While questionnaires regarding the constitution were distributed, only about eleven percent of the population responded. In addition, any attempt made by the government was weak and limited at best. In a presentation outline given at Stanford by Professor of Public Affairs and the University Center for Human Values Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University, Lane points out that “Civil society was barely engaged. Only a few public debates were held.” People were barely involved and if they were, they had a limited voice. This leaves them with no ability to exercise their democratic rights to have a say in what takes place in their own country, a paradoxical and alarming tone to set when writing a constitution that is supposed to denounce ties to the old Soviet regime. With regards to the opposition, Fiedsz had two thirds of the majority, with the other third remaining out of the process. Professor Scheppele’s outline points out that “the opposition parties refused to participate, except Jobbik, which ultimately voted against the new constitution.” By refusing to partake in the democratic process, Hungary might have lost the right to a democracy since the new conservative constitution passed with the two-thirds majority it required.

What does the future hold for Hungary?

With both the domestic and international unable to derail the conservative constitution from being passed, its implications must now be analyzed. Its impact will depend on its ability to stand the test of time.  Professor Arato says that he certainly hopes that the constitution is not passed “because it is pretty awful and perhaps has serious functional problems too.” But how and when calls for change will rise in Hungary is the big question. So far, the Fiedsz party has a strong foothold not only in government but also in controlling the media and the national value system because of the constitution. This leaves the possibility of change to only come from an insurrection against the government who is epitomize through the document. Will Hungary recoil back to the Soviet way of revolution, causing internal conflict, or they try to take it to the ballot box like all other democracies? Only time will ultimately tell the direction that Hungary will take and if they will take one at all. In the process of instituting democracy, Hungary might have asserted the power of a party, instead of setting up the proper infrastructure for government.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

  • Matt R

    change us to “is”

  • Matt R

    constructive criticism: 
     A partisan document us unlikely to create a government framework in which all Hungarians can equitably participate.

  • Bulldog1928

    Constructive Criticism: When one announce Constructive Criticism they are probably not worthy of giving Constructive Criticism.

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