Changing the constitution – without asking first - Monocolumn | Monocle


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6 May 2011

Hungary has a new constitution – but it could cause more problems than it solves on the diplomatic front. The new charter states that Hungary “shall bear a sense of responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living outside her borders,” something which is almost certain to antagonise its neighbours. Several million ethnic Hungarians live abroad after Hungary lost two thirds of its territories at the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The vote on the new constitution was slammed through parliament in a month after the government refused to hold a referendum. As a result, the opposition Socialists and LMP, a green-liberal party, boycotted the drafting process and the vote.

The government dismissed their complaints. The ruling Fidesz party’s two-thirds majority is all the mandate it needs. “From a constitutional point of view the two-thirds majority has the right to change the constitution and have a new one,” Jozsef Szajer, a Fidesz MEP who drafted the constitution on his iPad, told Monocle. Attila Mesterhazy, the Socialist leader, called on Pal Schmitt, the president, not to sign the new Constitution into law, claiming, “The Hungarian Republic, which the country has built together for 20 years, could fall with the stroke of your pen.” Schmitt, a Fidesz loyalist, is unlikely to oblige.

Politically, Mesterhazy’s claim is over the top. Hungarian democracy is not about to collapse, although the new constitution institutionalises Fidesz’s centralising drive. “The Hungarian Republic” is now, officially, called “Hungary”. The document blends history and modernity: there is a heavy emphasis on the holy crown, history and Christianity. Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman and the constitution pledges to protect the foetus. However, abortion and same-sex partnerships, which are legal in Hungary, will not be affected. Human trafficking is outlawed, biodiversity protected and the national debt will be reduced to 50 per cent of GDP.

Attention will now turn on the government’s relationship with its ethnic kin abroad. Neighbouring countries, especially Slovakia, which did not prosper under Magyar rule, are extremely sensitive about what they regard as attempts to impinge on their sovereignty. European officials are also wary of any such moves. Szajer says there is no intent to extend Budapest’s writ to ethnic Hungarians abroad. “The constitution does not claim that we have any kind of power or law over those who are not citizens of Hungary. We help them, consider them part of Hungarian ethnic nation, but we are not claiming rights over them.”

But in both parliament and the media there is increasing talk of extending the franchise to Hungarian citizens resident outside the border, although though they do not pay taxes in Hungary. Even Hungarian-Americans are asking to be given the vote. Hungarians have long been known for their innovations, bringing the world numerous inventions, from vitamin C and the ballpoint pen to nuclear weapons. Perhaps representation without taxation will be next on the list. That will be less widely welcomed.


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