THE GREAT HUNGARIAN DEBATE

The adoption of a brand new constitution in Hungary has been met with celebrations from Fidesz and its supporters, groans of anguish and theatrical gestures from its opponents, and not a few glances of blank incomprehension from abroad. The argument boils down to this: the government argues that Hungary needs a strong, strict, but compassionate state to lift the still healthy Hungarian infant from its rotten cradle; barely half the population of working age actually work, and this is leading the whole country to ruin; the constitutional architecture built under successive governments since the days of the National Round Table in 1989 is no longer up to the task. Based on these premises, the government has set about rebuilding Hungary with an energy not seen since the great reformers of the Nineteenth Century – István Széchenyi, Ferenc Deák, and Lajos Kossuth.

Stop thief! Bellow its opponents. They argue that its two-thirds majority in Parliament does not bestow on Fidesz the legitimacy to stamp its own ideological imprint on the country – using laws which may prove difficult, if not impossible to change, long after this government has been replaced; the constitutional architecture built up since 1989 has stood the test of time, and did not need root and branch reform; the government’s actions resemble a bulldozer, run amok, crushing democratic rights under its tracks. They conclude that it has to be stopped. Fuelling this debate, a plethora of new groups and initiatives ranging from new political parties, interest representation groups, think-tanks and other initiatives take shape every week, many of them based on Facebook and other social media. The weeklies see a chance to survive and update their webpages by the minute, and a furious and often intellectually stimulating battle is waged from blog to blog.

What excitement, what ferment! You might comment, gentle reader. A drama worthy of the 21st century, unfolding on the great Pannonian stage! A time of renewal, and God only knows where it will all end!

Strangely, with an ancient pessimism born of a time, perhaps, when most of today’s Hungary was under water, few Hungarians see it like this. How dare they criticise our vision, when they have no vision of their own! Lament the government’s supporters. Democracy is lost! Wail its critics – let us throw ourselves into the Danube before they push us into it!

In this edition of the Hungarian Review, our contributors dip their own, long oars into these turbulent waters. László Salamon, one of Hungary’s most experienced legislators, provides a stout defence of the country’s new basic law. Hungary will continue to be based, he argues, “on constitutional rights, democracy, and the inviolate and inalienable liberty and rights of the individual, which the state is obliged to respect and defend.”

Former President (2000–2005) of the Republic, Ferenc Mádl, a legal scholar of international renown, puts forward the legal and political arguments for a new Constitution, also indicating the larger perspective that justifies the legislative dynamism of the new Orbán government, which meets so much apparent incomprehension abroad.

In fact, Ferenc Mádl, who is also the Chairman of our Editorial Committee, has just turned eighty; therefore, we also celebrate him by publishing a tribute by Gyula Kodolányi to a statesman with the increasingly rare ability in the modern world of reading and loving books.

State Secretary for the Environment Zoltán Illés talks about red sludge, the green Danube, and Hungary’s nuclear dilemma.

Our regular columnist Péter Ákos Bod is joined by Central European University Professor László Csaba for more insights into Hungary’s economic reform plans, their potential flaws, and their chances of success.

As North Africa burns, and Syria rises, Boris Kálnoky graces our pages once again with his analysis of the impact the Arab Spring may have on Central Europe, and especially how the new preoccupation with the South may affect the European Union’s relationship with the East. Based in Istanbul, Kálnoky concludes his essay with a spectacular quote from the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a recent visit to Kuwait, “This region has the potential to shape the whole world”, if only Arabs and Turks could work together, he said.

David Hill takes us on a walk through the Secessionist architecture of Budapest, with a powerful plea for more to be done to preserve and restore this natural treasure. Thomas Cooper introduces the Romanian Nobel laureate Herta Müller’s poetry, and offers his own, slightly tongue-in-cheek remarks on the Hungarian public’s propensity to force vast sums of money on its deserving or undeserving doctors. And Géza Jeszenszky and Nick Thorpe steer the reader through the intricacies and consequences of international policy in the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union collapsed and first Croatia then Bosnia went to war.

Just some of the precious, or semi-precious stones which stud this May edition.

We wish you a peaceful, prosperous and fruitful Spring, and happy reading.

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