If you haven’t taken a look at Balint Szlanko’s piece today on TOL, I’d suggest doing so. Not only does Balint lay absolutely bare the main criticisms behind the passage of Hungary’s new constitution, but his bitterness captures the anger that a growing part of society feels over the imperiousness of the Orban regime. As Balint writes:

There was nothing inherently wrong with the basic structures and rules of the state until this Napoleon-complex’d, provincial megalomaniac came along and decided that he just had to have his own goddam constitution as if it were a toy.

As you will see from our author’s well-reasoned rant, he seems practically ready to explode, so I asked how widespread that feeling was in today’s Hungary. He responded:

Yeah, I am really angry, but I guess that’s obvious. I’d say a lot of people are but you have a lot of others, too, even among the liberal intelligentsia, who still haven’t quite noticed the writing on the wall, heaven knows why. Perhaps they don’t want to really face up to it. Or maybe not everybody has a real notion of how things are actually and really supposed to be run in a republic. And yeah, there is a sort of basic cynicism, too. Things have been weird for years, you know, and the lying politician living in his own world is not a new figure.

But I’m sure this lot is something new, something much more serious. Really, I think the best example is the changing of the country’s name. Looks innocent enough, right. Everybody I’ve talked to says this
is no big deal: Republic of Hungary or Hungary. Who cares? And in a sense they’re right. It IS the same, right, at the end of the day. But the mere fact that you have a governing party that think they can just come in and change the country’s name, even one single letter, at a whim, without any meaningful consultation, is beyond belief to me. I don’t think that could happen anywhere in the Western world, or not supposed to, at any rate.

I find this staggering. Because constitutional government is all about process. About following the rules, and consulting, and abiding the law and precedent. Not just doing stuff you sort of wake up and decide you like. And you don’t have to be especially paranoid to ask, okay, what are they gonna change next, just like that, at a snap of a finger? They’ve already nationalized the private pension system, which is basically theft of private property, and when the constitutional court said no, they cut them out of the decision-making process. Surely this is Venezuela, nothing less. I think it’s game over for the third Hungarian republic.

I think that point about changing the name is particularly prescient. It really does take a certain level of arrogance to simply change a country’s name without much, if any, public debate. This is just more evidence of what I’ve written about earlier on this blog: the people in power in Hungary feel that they have been empowered by the last election’s results to make over the country in their image, and essentially act as if their critics don’t exist.

Eva Varga, a TOL board member from Hungary, told me that the “other” half of the country is getting increasingly disillusioned and frustrated that the government doesn’t even really acknowledge their point of view.

We talk here about watching two different movies. The governments and their supporters have one reality, and the rest of the country has another, and these two realities don’t really connect. More and more people are starting to consider leaving the country to look for a reality of theirs — in case things don’t change.

I was trying to think of comparisons in recent Central Europe history and I wonder if a good chunk of Poland felt that way when the Kaczynski brothers were running Poland. Or maybe we’d have to go all the way back to the darkest of the Meciar years in Slovakia to view the kind of polarization now evident in Hungary?

Photo courtesy of the European Parliament’s photostream on Flickr.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

More Posts