Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 08:50:09 AM EST
Hungary's new constitution is a grim development in a Europe where democracy has already been suspended in Greece and Italy.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from an article by Carl Rowlands, published at New Left Project. I co-edit that site, and hence have permission to repost - the full article can be read there.
Since New Year's Day, Hungary is no longer officially a republic. Signs on the border crossings and all official documentation have been changed accordingly. The new constitution, with its talk of historical destiny and stated desire for continuity with Horthy-era Hungary, has been enacted in its entirety. This new `Fundamental Law' stands as the basis for a wholesale revision of the judiciary, media regulation, employment law, education and electoral system. It's a constitution which is notable for grand, immodest proclamations, with the drafters `being aware of our responsibility before Man and God.' It repeatedly refers to Christianity, the need for national and spiritual values, the predominant role of Hungary in the Carpathian Basin.
However, perhaps most importantly, it is open-ended, with countless references to future `cardinal acts.' So, not only is the constitution protected by a two-thirds majority - all of the associated law is similarly entrenched. In practice, this means the existing, regressive, tax system and inbuilt majorities of placemen in the governing councils of the state and judiciary are sheltered by a vague, overreaching fundamental law. As we now know, the new Hungarian state will be centralized, acquiring most, if not all, property currently held by municipalities. Any changes will require a two-thirds majority from an electoral system designed to perpetuate the governing Fidesz party. So far, so grim. However, the question might arise: why? Why would a government with an already strong majority attempt to lock the country into such a long-term, and potentially deadly, embrace?
Firstly, I suggest trying to follow the money trail for an answer. Since the mid-2000s, Orban's Fidesz have been the recipients of money from the `new' domestic capitalist class in Hungary, those who established enterprises during the transition to capitalism and the period following its arrival. In the confused and unaccountable period during the early 1990s, networks of new and well-connected businessmen emerged. Bankers inherited monopoly positions based purely on habit and tradition, which helped to funnel capital to the powerful construction magnates who had quickly established companies to benefit from money from the European Union's investment in infrastructure. Another key resource bloc for Fidesz are rentiers, those who accumulated property in the last twenty years. The result is that there are two coalitions of major moneyed interests battling for territory within the ruling Fidesz party, in addition to various local business interests. Fidesz politicians are under consistent pressure to provide for their `national capitalist' sponsors. The main prize is the allocation of government contracts, positions of influence in economic development roles and the opportunity to dispense EU funding to favoured clients and allies. The centralisation, social stratification and lack of oversight engendered by the new constitution and, most importantly, its associated cardinal acts, are designed to work well for those in positions of national economic pre-eminence.
Given the importance of money to the functioning of the new Hungarian state, the authoritarian nature of the regime at least partially exists to ensure a guaranteed flow of resources. The constitutionally-engineered imposition of a flat tax rate - absent from most editions of Mein Kampf - would appear to confirm that there is no classically fascist blueprint behind the regime being established in Hungary. However, aspects of the laws as applied may well contain elements of a generic totalitarian approach. The labour laws, for instance, aim to consolidate neo-feudalism, perpetuated by a set of educational reforms which will reestablish selection at the age of 10, and consign almost half of children to a limited, `vocational' education where unpaid labour in local small businesses is to be prioritised above learning anything about the outside world.
It's notable that, until recently, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, was pretty quiet on the subject of the highly undemocratic reforms being pushed through Parliament by the Fidesz majority. What made Brussels wake up, with a jump, was the proposed reform to the way that the Supervisory Council of the Hungarian National Bank is appointed. On the surface, this may appear less obviously totalitarian than other new laws. Yet the implications are enormous.