Conservative Ray of Hope

Sólyom33The conservative former President of the Republic László Sólyom voiced explicit criticism of the Orbán government’s recent agreement with the state of Russia to build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power while speaking at a conference at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest on February 18. Sólyom, a legal scholar who served as president of the republic from 2005 until three months after the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance came to power in 2010 and as president of the Constitutional Court from 1990 until 1998, said:

It is a fact that the signing of this extremely important agreement surprised not only the Hungarian people, but the Hungarian energy industry and even the government itself. It is also a fact that not only did preparations for the agreement took place in secret, but that all the data necessary in order to conduct an informed appraisal of the agreement has been classified as secret for a period of ten years. We encounter shoddy and contradictory arguments in [relevant] political communication. As president of the republic I publicly criticized the 2009 National Assembly resolution regarding preparation for the expansion of Paks [the Paks Nuclear Power Plant]. I emphasized that broad social debate based on comprehensive information must precede the decision. I continue to say that it is misleading to narrow the issue to the confines of a simple power-plant investment. The  horizon extends beyond next month’s electricity bill—people have the right to become familiar with the complexities and consequences of the decision. We must see, honored conference guests, that this is a decision of exceptional importance that will affect three or four generations. . . . This commitment will obviously have an impact on our foreign policy, our national strategy, on the assessment of us in the world and the European Union. When did the National Assembly debate this? . . . The secret preparations [for the agreement] within the Prime Ministry, the decision thrust upon the National Assembly without sufficient information, the so-called debate conducted in the presence of just a few representatives and the classification as confidential of the pertinent data for a period of ten years have produced nothing other than a crisis in the exercise of political power (source in Hungarian). 

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This is not the first time that Sólyom, a founding member of the national-conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum in 1987, has strongly criticized the Orbán-government. Sólyom described the Fidesz-KDNP-adopted Fundamental Law that replaced the 1949 Constitution on January 1, 2012, as follows: 

This constitution is like the National Theater building, which has nothing to do with modern theater design, is eclectic, bombastic and was pushed through by force in spite of unanimous protest from the architectural community. However, good performances can still be staged in the building if there are good actors, a good play and a good director (source in Hungarian). 

Sólyom voiced much harsher criticism of the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law, which among other stipulations placed Temporary Provisions that the Constitutional Court had previously declared unconstitutional back into the law, declaring before President János Áder signed the amendment “That which is taking place is, in fact, not amendment of the constitution, but the stealthy introduction of a new constitution of another character” (source in Hungarian). 

Sólyom said later with regard to the Fundamental Law adopted shortly before Easter 2011 and the five amendments enacted over the first fifteen months after it came into effect: 

The name Easter [Constitution], the picture-book decorative edition and the table of the constitution (1) were unable to evoke the purifying experience of starting anew and immediately sank into obscurity. At the same time, it immediately became constitutional practice to make extensive amendments to the Fundamental Law based on daily expediency, which contradicted the officially encouraged notions of permanence, long-lasting foundations and authority (source in Hungarian). 

Former president Pál Schmitt.

Former president Pál Schmitt.

Sólyom, though quite close to the opposition green party Politics Can Be Different, has always been primarily conservative in his political outlook. He narrowly defeated the Hungarian Socialist Party candidate for president with the support of Fidesz in 2005. However, Prime Minister Orbán withdrew his previous support for Sólyom in 2010 after the president sent two Fidesz-KDNP-adopted laws back to the National Assembly for consideration in June of that year and another to the Constitutional Court for review in July.

Fidesz National Assembly representatives subsequently elected staunch Orbán loyalist Pál Schmitt to replace Sólyom as president of the republic when his term expired in August 2010. “I would not be an impediment to the government’s legislative momentum, but in fact would serve as a motor for it,” Schmitt said after his nomination (source in Hungarian). And indeed, over the 20 months Schmitt served as president until being forced to resign after the emergence of proof that he had plagiarized his Ph.D. dissertation, he signed every single law that came across his desk.

Former president Sólyom represents the small number of independent-minded Hungarian conservatives who do not uncritically support Prime Minister Orbán and Fidesz. Former president Schmitt represents the large number of Hungarian conservatives who never question the prime minister and his party. Pro-democracy, pro-European Union political forces will return to power in Hungary only when more of the country’s conservative voters begin to ask themselves if Prime Minister Orbán’s authoritarianism and turn toward the East really correspond to their traditional political values.

(1) Table placed at local-government offices in Hungary where citizens can apply for a free copy of the Fundamental Law. 

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