Tamás Gaudi-Nagy

The opening session of the new Hungarian parliament

Today was the opening session of the new parliament. Before the session began the new MPs were treated in the “Red Room” to music by the so-called folk musician András Jánosi and his orchestra. Actually, András Jánosi’s genre is what used to be called Gypsy music; it seems to be experiencing a revival with the assistance of the Orbán government. In fact, Magyar Rádió established a separate channel devoted to Gypsy music and songs created in the manner of folk music (műdalok). The channel is named after a famous Gypsy band leader, Pista Dankó (1858-1903).

But why Gypsy music at the opening session of Parliament? According to Népszabadság, “they revived the tradition that the Gypsy band of János Bihari (1764-1827) played music for the arriving members of the Diet.” It’s too bad that historians are such sticklers for the truth, but this so-called tradition couldn’t have been exactly long-lived. Between 1811 and 1825 no Diet was convened at all; the “reform era” spanned the period between 1825 and 1848. Bihari, to repeat, died in 1827. So much for a great Hungarian tradition.

Outside the parliament building Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Jobbik member of the European parliament, organized a demonstration protesting the new law concerning agricultural lands. When a guest to the opening of parliament, István Pásztor, a Hungarian politician from the Voivodina, appeared, a scuffle ensued. The police stood by passively. Demonstrators, mostly women, surrounded Pásztor, calling him a traitor and a Bolshevik. Several women spat in his face. Why did Gaudi-Nagy’s group decide to attack Pásztor? According to ATV’s website, last year Gaudi-Nagy tried to “defend” the Hungarians in Serbia in the European Council, which Pásztor deemed “harmful” to the Hungarian minority. Whatever the reason, Jobbik distanced itself from Gaudi-Nagy, emphasizing that he is not a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus. Gaudi-Nagy, you may recall, is the man who a few months ago threw the flag of the European Union out of one of the bathroom windows of the parliament building.

Of course, there were also the usual opening speeches. Especially interesting was the speech of President János Áder, who drew on the writings and speeches of Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), known as the wise man of the nation because he was the architect of the Compromise of 1867. As is often the case, Áder used Deák as a springboard to make a political point. He quoted Deák saying that “we should not cast our glances at the past, but instead we must look forward to the future.” I don’t think one needs much imagination to grasp Áder’s intent. In my opinion, at least, he is telling all those people who are upset over the alleged falsification of history to leave the past alone and stop being pests.

Áder also invoked Ferenc Deák’s words about the necessity of differences of opinion in politics. “The truth gets extracted from differences of opinion,” Deák said. “I don’t mind, in fact I desire differences of opinion even in very important matters. I love all those citizens who oppose us. Let God grant us opponents and not enemies.” To hear these lofty words coming from the mouth of  János Áder was jarring. His party and the government he supports never listen to their political opponents, whom they treat as enemies.

Otherwise, according to Áder, no one can question the results of the election and the legitimacy of the electoral system. As for the new constitution, the election results also legitimized its legality.  Moreover, the results of the April 6 election in Áder’s view mean that “the Hungarian nation considers the long process of regime change final.” That is, the second Orbán government has brought to fruition what began in 1989-1990. Hungary has arrived at the pinnacle of democracy thanks to Viktor Orbán.

It seems, however, that some MPs openly and loudly disagreed with János Áder. When it came to the swearing-in ceremony, when the new members have to swear to the new constitution, the four Demokratikus Koalíció MPs, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, Lajos Oláh, and Ágnes Vadai, added the following two sentences: “I solemnly swear that I will do everything in my power for the reestablishment of the republic. I will try with all my strength to achieve the adoption of a new constitution confirmed by popular referendum.” Otherwise, Heti Válasz noted with some satisfaction that whoever was responsible for the parliamentary seating arrangement put the independent members of DK and Együtt2014-PM right behind the rather large Jobbik delegation.

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció add their pledge to the official text of the swearing-in From left to right, Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció at the swearing-in ceremony
Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

It was at this point that the new members had to vote for the deputies to the president of the House. The only interesting vote was for former skinhead Tamás Sneider (Jobbik). He received 150 yeas and 35 nays, while 5 MPs abstained. They were members of the LMP delegation. Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik have altogether 156 members, and therefore a number of MPs did not vote at all. Among them were Zoltán Balog, Zoltán Kovács, János Lázár, and Tibor Navracsics. On the other hand, Viktor Orbán voted for Sneider. As for the nays, they must have come from the democratic opposition parties: MSZP, DK, Együtt2014-PM, and the sole liberal member, Gábor Fodor. Péter Kiss (MSZP) and Ferenc Gyurcsány did not vote on Sneider.

In the secret ballot vote for president of the House, László Kövér received 171 yeas and 19 nays, with 3 abstentions. This is a first. In the past, votes for the president of the House were always unanimous. Fidesz and KDNP together have 133 members, and therefore 38 yea votes had to come from somewhere else. DK announced ahead of time that they, all four of them, will say no to Kövér’s nomination. If I calculate correctly, six people simply refrained from voting. Népszabadság announced the 19 nays as “Nineteen people dared to say no!”  Unfortunately it does seem to take a certain amount of courage to vote against Kövér and even greater courage to announce it publicly. He’s not the kind of guy who understands fair play and the democratic rules of politics.

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The newest judge of the Hungarian constitutional court: A man jointly supported by Fidesz and Jobbik

You may recall that Viktor Orbán “packed” the Constitutional Court in July 2011. He nominated and parliament approved four new judges, increasing the size of the court from eleven to fifteen. Since then there was another Fidesz-KDNP appointee, László Salamon, who replaced Mihály Bihari who had to retire because he reached the age of seventy. László Salamon prior to his appointment was a KDNP member of parliament. So much for even the semblance of impartiality and independence. Another sitting judge, András Holló, will turn seventy in April, which provided an opportunity to further tip the Constitutional Court in Orbán’s favor.

The earlier Orbán appointments were criticized because the appointees didn’t have the necessary qualifications. Moreover, it was clear that these people were fully committed to the current government. Indeed, for the most part these four new judges have voted as a bloc in favor of the government’s position.

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

The new appointment, announced on March 19 and voted on the next day, is perhaps the most unacceptable of all. It looks as if Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik struck a deal to appoint Imre Juhász, who is considered to be close to Jobbik. Here are some headlines that tell a lot about the general perception: “The right hand of Krisztina Morvai will be the new judge of the Constitutional Court,” “Fidesz and Jobbik made a deal,” “Imre Juhász is only a gesture to Jobbik.”

So, who is this Imre Juhász? Yes, he has a law degree. Shortly after graduation in 1986 he started teaching civil procedure at his alma mater, ELTE’s law school. First as a T.A. and from 1992 on as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor. Eventually he received a doctorate in law.

He became well known not because of his teaching activities but because he was one of the founding members of the Civic Legal Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság). The committee’s shining light was Krisztina Morvai, who later became a prominent member of Jobbik and today serves as one of the party’s members of the European Parliament. I might add that the second star of this committee was Zoltán Balog, currently minister in charge of education, health, culture, sports and everything else under the sun. This unofficial far-right “committee” was set up to investigate the events of the September-October 2006 riots, especially the activities of the police. There was also an official investigating committee comprised of former police chiefs, sociologists, lawyers, and historians under the leadership of Katalin Gönczöl (Gönczöl Bizottság) that arrived at a critical but balanced assessment of the events.

Not so Morvai’s committee, whose seemingly sole purpose was to assist Viktor Orbán in discrediting Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government. I must say that they were very successful. They managed by repeated and noisy accusations to falsify the history of those days. Moreover, by now most people, including liberals and socialists who ought to know better, swear that there was a concerted police attack on innocent bystanders.

Balog already received his much deserved reward for services rendered. He is one of the most powerful ministers in Orbán’s government and perhaps the closest to the prime minister. Since Krisztina Morvai joined Jobbik, she cannot be openly supported by the present government, but surely Viktor Orbán must be grateful to her for the terrific job she did. The book the committee published was translated into English, and I understand that it was one of the two books Gergely Gulyás handed to Senator Ben Cardin at the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing the other day. And now Imre Juhász receives a top job from the grateful Viktor Orbán.

MSZP, DK, and PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) boycotted the parliamentary committee that considered Juhász’s nomination. Only Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik MPs were present, and they enthusiastically endorsed Juhász. Tamás Gaudi-Nagy (Jobbik) explained that his party didn’t have an official candidate, but they can heartily endorse Juhász. Indeed, it would have been strange if they didn’t.

From what Juhász said in his hearing before the committee, we can have no doubt that he will be an obliging appointee. He doesn’t have any problems with the new restrictions on the constitutional court. If earlier decisions cannot be used, no problem. One must follow the new constitution without considering any legal renderings of the past. He also seems to be enamored with the “historical constitution,” which should receive much greater emphasis than it does currently. As far as the limits of the constitutional court are concerned, Juhász endorses the absolute supremacy of parliament. As we know from Kim Scheppele’s argument, this means the elimination of checks and balances and can lead to tyranny. He talked about his plans to defend the rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries, something that I find difficult to comprehend. He as a member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court has no jurisdiction across borders. If Juhász actually means what he said to the committee, we may well be faced with a lot of unpleasantness between the Hungarian government and its neighbors.

Another hobbyhorse of Juhász is the repeal of the so-called Beneš doctrine. In his curriculum vitae Juhász called attention to his efforts when he referred to the two petitions he delivered to the European Parliament. The first in 2007 and the second in 2012. He handed in the more recent one jointly with Alida Hahn-Seidl, the representative of the Hunnia Baráti Kör (Hunnia Fraternity).

Gergely Bárándy, MSZP’s legal expert, called the nomination a hoax (kutyakomédia) in which his party will not participate. Gergely Karácsony announced that PM members will not pick up their ballots. DK announced the boycott even earlier. So, when it came to the final tally there were only 298 members present, of whom 286 members voted for Juhász and 12 voted against him. As far as I know, LMP remained in the chamber. And, by the way, over the weekend LMP decided that they will not negotiate with Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 14 or any other opposition party.