“National consultation”: Questions on the new Hungarian constitution

All adult citizens received a questionnaire in the last few days concerning what should or shouldn’t be in the new constitution. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was provided so that citizens could easily send back their glorious thoughts on twelve questions. The questionnaire is appropriately printed in red, white and green. Here is the first question just to give you an idea:


Every question starts with “there are those according to whom…” which is pretty cumbersome, so I will dispense with it and replace it with the phrase  “should the new constitution declare….”

(1) Should the new constitution declare only the rights or should it also declare the obligations of citizens (work, study, national defense, environment)? What do you think?

The possible answers: (a) The new constitution should declare only the rights of the citizens; (b) The new constitution should cover the obligations as well as the rights; (c) I can’t decide. The third or sometimes fourth possible answer is always “I can’t decide.”

(2) Should the new constitution restrict the extent of sovereign debt and thus accept responsibility for future generations?

Here those who answer can either opt for a maximum that should be adhered to under all circumstances or allow for the possibility of exceptions depending on the economic situation.

(3) Should the new constitution bring under its protection common values such as family, labor, home, order and health?

Here the answer is simple enough: yes or no.

(4) Should the new constitution grant voting rights to the parent of a minor on behalf of his/her child?

Here are four possible answers. First, the parents should have extra votes depending on the number of children; second, the parents should receive only one extra vote regardless of the number of children; third, there should be no extra vote on behalf of the children.

(5) Should the new constitution permit taxing the cost of raising children?

Again four answers: (a) the government should tax the expenses of child rearing; (b) the government should recognize the costs of bringing up children but shouldn’t forbid taxation; and (c) it is not necessary to recognize the expenses of child rearing.

(6) Should the new constitution undertake responsibility for future generations?

Answers: yes or no, but it sounds familiar to me. Didn’t they ask this question already?

(7) Should the constitution declare that only companies with a transparent ownership should have access to state funds?

Possible answers: yes or no.

(8) Should the new constitution express the value of national togetherness with Hungarians living beyond our borders?

Here there are three possible answers: (a) yes, and it should oblige the government for the defense of this value; (b) yes, but the government shouldn’t have any obligations; and (c) there is no necessity to express such value in the constitution.

(9) Should the new constitution provide protection for the biodiversity of the Carpathian Basin?

Well, I wonder what the other countries in the Carpathian Basin think of this particular question. According to Wikipedia the Carpathian Basin covers all of Hungary and Slovakia, as well as parts of Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Austria and Ukraine.

The answers to this question are interesting. The first possibility is that the Hungarian government should protect all plants and animals. The second that only “traditional Hungarian varieties” should be defended and, third, that the new constitution “should not defend biological diversity.”

(10) Should the new constitution provide special protection of national assets, especially arable land and water supplies?

Two possible answers: yes or no.

(11) Should the courts have powers to give life prison sentences that cannot be changed?

This question is an odd man out in this series. This is a legal question that belongs in the criminal code, but knowing the thinking of Viktor Orbán and his men they have some reason for posing this question here.

(12) Should the new constitution define sanctions for no-shows before a parliamentary committee for a hearing?

Three possible answers; (a) no-show would have legal consequences; (b) appearance would be compulsory without legal consequences; (c) everything would remain as it is now.

Under normal circumstances I would vote for (a) but considering the nature of these hearings I think that no one should be forced to appear at a “show trial.”

 * * *

And now to cheer up those who know Hungarian and who would like to read some Mór Jókai (1825-1904). We were told by one of our readers that today’s teenagers shouldn’t have any difficulty reading Jókai and that the only reason that I think that Jókai is hard to read is because I have been living abroad for a long time. So I went to one of his famous novels, A kőszívű ember fiai (The Heartless Man’s Sons), and picked the beginning of one of the chapters, “Tallérossy Zebulon.” I have to admit I picked this particular one because the name “Zebulon” always reminds me of one of my favorite childhood books about a bear called Dörmögő Dömötör and his nephew Zebulon.

Here are a few sentences: “A tor mindenképpen hasonlít más egyéb lakomákhoz, azzal a különbséggel, hogy nem tósztoznak benne.” I suspect that most children would have difficulty with the words “tor” (wake) and “tósztozni” (to toast). A few sentences later I found the following words: “bagósüveg” (I guess some kind of cap but don’t ask me what kind); “kandírozta” (crystallize like fruit but here it is about a face); “exorbitans” (I know it from Latin and English but I doubt that today’s ordinary Hungarian teenager has a clue); “Nem kaptam utolsó stáción forspontot” (I have an idea about the last station but for “forspont” one has to go to the Dictionary of Folklore to find out that it used to mean a change of horses); “Az a pap bizonyosan valami subscust ejtett!” (After some search I found that subscus in Latin means “dovetail connection” but what it means here is beyond me.) And at the end: “Citaltatnam consistorium elejbe.” Consistorium is the Sacred College of Cardinals. The rest?




  1. There can be no explanation for this particular set of oddly-framed questions other than, in the absence of a referendum on the whole document, to lock in some apparent popular approval for some very specific and potentially controversial items in the new constitution. Question 10, for example is clearly intended to forbid foreign ownership of land with question 11 may well be designed to allow the life imprisonment, without possibility of appeal, of politically inconvenient persons.
    If this were a legitimate questionnaire about the new document, it would surely include some specific questions about the structure and processes of the new state as well as specify rights that ought be protected; it does neither which is a good sign that the authors already know what they want in the document.

  2. Reading these again, I do question the sanity of those people who put it together. Question 4 in particular is stunning.

  3. (2) Should the new constitution restrict the extent of sovereign debt and thus accept responsibility for future generations?
    Here those who answer can either opt for a maximum that should be adhered to under all circumstances or allow for the possibility of exceptions depending on the economic situation.
    Wow. I wonder how they want to implement this rule in the Hungarian society. Does this mean we will have a planned economy and a very strict budget? Can they implement this? Do they know how to budget? Questions, questions, questions.

  4. “The first possibility is that the Hungarian government should protect all plants and animals. The second that only “traditional Hungarian varieties” should be defended and, third, that the new constitution “should not defend biological diversity.””
    The first answer goes against mainstream thinking in conservation biology. Since some plants and animals are invasive species that are not part of the native flora of Hungary. Some of these invasive plants and animals if left uncontrolled will harm the native flora and fauna.
    What do they mean by “traditional Hungarian varieties”? Does this mean native species?
    The potential answer to this question, from a population that may not have the technical background to make an informed decision, could result in enshrining bad biodiversity policy into the constitution. I think most people without any background, who favor supporting biodiversity, would answer in favor of the first answer. You’ll find some invasive species here: http://www.termeszetvedelem.hu/_user/downloads/invazios_fajok/invazivfajok.pdf that would be provided with protection if the answer number is taken both literally and is written into the Constitution.

  5. Well, it’s a relief that our “founding father” want’s the constitution to protect the animals, at least the Hungarian varieties (shoot those pesky Slovak deers).
    Who’s gonna protect these animals at the next election?

  6. I think that I must be a bit dim but I do not understand number 5. Are costs associated with kids exempt from AFA? In the UK things like kids clothes and shoes are VAT free. To be honest I do not understand most of the questions but then I am probably not alone…. Once again I feel very uncomfortable living in Hungary.

  7. Jo,
    “Once again I feel very uncomfortable living in Hungary.”
    You’re not alone. When are you going to post on your own blog again?

  8. I find the first point already pretty bizarre.. as far as I know, it was in the communist constitution where they spelled out the responsibilities of citizens. Isn’t the whole idea of a constitution is to protect citizen’s rights over the State? As the State will always have the power over the individual to enforce all kinds of “responsibilities”. And these responsibilities are spelled out in the laws of the country, not in the Constitution.

  9. Dear An,
    You are absolutely right. These questions may force Hungary to the time before 1222 when The Golden Bull of Andrew II was implemented. The first “constitutions” of Hungary and one of the first in the world. It was all about citizen (in this case nobility and middle class rights).

  10. I always learned that some laws are higher than others, like the consttution prevails over the Civil Code. The questions here are therefore, which are more important the rights or obligations of the people. The people or the animals and plants. The current people or the future people. The state or the plants and animals.
    It seems to me that they want to include everything in the Constitution and therefore they to not have to make a decision. They can always blame the Constitution for anything that goes wrong or what the government has to do. For example if Fidesz needs to implement an austerity plan thay can always blame the constitution (if accepted) that they were required to implement this (question 2).

  11. Jo Peattie: you are free to leave. Listen to your boss Gyurcsány, he screamed, “el lehet innen menni!”
    Are you packing already?

  12. Why not be done with it and suggest introducion of capital punishment and its application to solve the problem of “gypsy crimes”? That way OV can both say he’s following the people’s will and ensure he still has a majority in case not all of KDNP are bigoted god-botherers?

  13. Oh Johhny-child, you’re so resilient you should rename yourself Rubber Johnny. It’s was only a matter of time before dissenting foreigners were invited to leave Bunkósztán

  14. The problem wit this flee circus type of questionnaire that many of those questions are loaded. Of course biodiversity should be preserved, but it is only the Carpathian Basin that Hungary should be worried about? How would they enforce any kind of protection in the whole Basin (like the media law on those pesky Western television streaming)?
    Who wouldn’t want the “protection common values such as family,” but what does that mean for the FIDESZ. Common family values include partnerships, not just marriages in my brain.
    I wonder when the EU will pick up on this one?

  15. “Bunkósztán?” I love it! How apropos, given the current political situation.

  16. Eva:
    Thank you for citing Kőszivű Ember fiai. I was my fathers favourite book when he used to be a teenager. It is actually a perfect example why I don’t like reading Jókai (acutally nothing at all happens on the first 100 pages, I found Aranyember to be a much better read) but I didn’t have any problems with understanding it as a teenager (which was fortunately not very long ago). As I added to my claim, the common vocabulary of the 19th century has differences compared to the everyday language nowadays (but I doubt that would make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle unreadable in English today) and I had to ask my dad a few times but most of the cases I was able to figure things out from the context. This reminds me of a funny story when I didn’t know what the original meaning of muff was only the slang meaning it has nowadays (I leave the rest for your imagination:) )
    Some of the cited sentences are not really good examples.
    “tor” (wake) and “tósztozni” (to toast)
    “halotti tor” is still the name for what happens after a funeral. And tósztot mondok is also very common, see also “disznótor”.
    “Citaltatnam consistorium elejbe.”
    “Elejbe citálni” (For my ear it’s clear that) elejbe is “elébe” and then if I use the sentence which wouldn’t sound weird anywhere: “Biróság elé citálta” then I’m sure it’s clear.
    For the record, where did I used the word teenager in my inspiring comment?:) On the other hand, just as a note, Jókai is still amongst the mandatory literature to read in High School (which I might not agree with or at least not with the way it is done)
    Also I don’t really feel you understood exactly what I was saying. My point was that it’s not archaic such that “most of the people don’t understand it” which is not true. Of course the vocabulary is tough but part of the point in reading is to widen our vocabulary and make our language knowledge and usage more colorful, so just because people don’t read nowadays and only willing to understand text with the complexity higher than of the Velvet Plaza articles on Index doesn’t mean that it’s too archaic to understand (also did those cited sentences actually made you a lot harder to understand what was going on?).

  17. About the questions. I don’t see any problems with asking the people about the new constitution but it would sound a lot better if the people could actually vote for it when they see the final version.
    The questions are quite relevant so I refuse to have a low opinion just because it was issuead by the Fidesz government.
    “9) Should the new constitution provide protection for the biodiversity of the Carpathian Basin?
    “Well, I wonder what the other countries in the Carpathian Basin think of this particular question.”
    You wouldn’t if you knew that in the biological literature, the Carpathian basing is considered as one region (squirrels and wild boars are rarely asked for passport and are less involved in historical hatred) and this question is clearly of wildlife nature. It’s questionable though if it should be included in a nations constitution, I say it should rather be a topic of international agreements between countries of the CB. On the other hand it wouldn’t do harm and would look noble in the const. but I have no illusions about how much it would actually force the governments to be more biodiversity protective.

  18. The second question – on a constitutional ceiling for public sector debt – has already been pre-empted. Navra and Matyo just said the day before yesterday that there’s to be a 50 per cent cap in the sodding constitution! Nice to see how earnestly meant this survey is….

  19. Jano: “Slight correction: My old man’s favorite was Egri Csillagok.”
    That was written in 1901. Big difference.

  20. Jano: “[The Carpatnian Basin] question is clearly of wildlife nature. It’s questionable though if it should be included in a nations constitution,”
    Exactly. For that matter every single question is relevant to Hungary, and you are right it should not make difference if it comes from the Jobbik, from the Fidesz or from the MSZP. THe problem is that, just like the media law, every single point is open for interpretation, as it is not defined what direction your answers support.
    Again, I know that Orban does not support a family partnership outside marriage. So if you say yes, I support “protection common values such as family” does this mean you do not support common law partnership and gay rights? And this is really what Orban wanted to ask, we all know that, but was to chicken to stir the pot with the EU again. He simply knows many of these questions (what they really refer to) are unacceptable.
    Why wouldn’t he ask Should the protection Hungary biodiversity be included in the new Constitution? Very straightforward question. No, he had to include all and only the Carpathian Basin.
    What is transparent ownership has to do with the Constitution and what is transparency means for Fidesz (name, citizenship, religion, gender, age, height, total assets…)?
    and the list goes on.

  21. A very late reply to “Johnny Boy”.
    “Jo Peattie: you are free to leave. Listen to your boss Gyurcsány, he screamed, “el lehet innen menni!”
    Are you packing already?”
    I do not have a boss. If I did it would certainly not be someone who told such big porkies. I am as free to stay here as any other European- at the moment anyway. I lean towards the left on my politics but I do not subscribe to the MSZP view of the world or any other party for that matter.

  22. Many of the questions are either directly counter to the European Charter of Human Rights or seek to diminish their effect. I know Johnny bach you will say that and that the foul European pigs and those Jewish swine should keep their snouts out of Hungary and that the European Union has absolutely no control what so ever over Hungary.
    Why then did Hungary join it? For the money of course! So you will say ‘give us the money’ and then all you European slime can naff off. For we are the mighty Hungarians, the privileged of God! But remember as Stalin said to Rakosi the question of the Carpathian basin is settled!
    Hungary has no right to interfere in the rights of other Sovereign States unless that state is part of European Union and is breaking the rules. As to giving citizenship to other of Hungarian origin I read somewhere that some 10 to 15% of the state of Israel would qualify how would you like them all back here? I have feeling that the Europe Union is going to have something to say about that little trick.
    Professor as you say most of these questions are so vague that any answer will be interpreted just as his ‘Mightiness’ wishes. It is designed, Johnnykins, to keep Fidesz in power for ever -and that is one hell of a long time- but I know that you will get No advancement by doing their wishes. They will say it is your DUTY!
    Jo Peattie I agree with you. I will stay just to annoy the beggars/winkers (excuse the spelling mistake). I lean towards Mr Cameron not Mr Brown, but these tosspots of Fidesz are beginning to annoy me, -and that is not a good thing to do.
    Vidra ‘Bunkósztán’ yes I like it. Vidra I doubt that we will be invited to leave These Nurks will throw us out in our shirt tails so they can loot our bits and pieces. The awards and damages in the European court will be in astronomical values.

  23. Let me quote the great Geza Hofi:
    “Magyarországon az egy főre eső bunkó két fő.”
    Something like: In Hungary the per capita “bunkos” is two.

  24. Today in the news: The pricetag on this “National consultation” joke is 700 million HUF.

  25. Mutt, It is cheaper than I thought. THere are almost 8,000,000 people with voting rights. Let say 100 FT/printing + 50 FT/paper, envelope+ 100 FT/mailing + 100 FT / return mailing. So, if 8,000,000 would return the answers it would cost 350×8,000,000 = With only 1,000 returns it is 8,000,000×250 + 1,000,000×100.
    Either way it is more than nine zeros.

  26. Well, here is the index.hu article
    According the to the goverment agency that distributed the forms, “the especially well coordinated work” resulted in such a low price tag. Well done! 🙂

  27. Mutt Damon: I totally believe your quote, I am just questioning the numbers. According to those figures each mailed survey cost 87.50 Ft, that is like 0.32 Euros for labour, stock, printing, mailing, processing. Maybe Hungary should get into the direct marketing business as they could make lots of money if they can keep this prices.
    It does not matter that the companies owned by the Government, people needs to get paid to design, print, deliver. Paper stock needs to be used and such, and that still comes out of the pocket of the taxpayers, for what exactly? How will this survey will deter anything that the Fidesz already cooked up?

  28. @An “This was not the point of the discussion.”
    Oh, yes. The education in Hungary. My bad … 😎

  29. @Johnny “She will never be able to handle the situation. She just lacks the guts to admit anything.”
    I think you are wrong. You hate Prof. Balogh for what she does on this blog and you just make up shit against her.

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