Update on Hungary’s Constitutional Coup: “The Unconstitutional Constitution”

We wrote about the situation in Hungary here; they’ve basically been taken over by a radical gang that has changed the laws — and the Constitution — using legal means, to be sure, to that the gang in power will never lose power or be challenged by any other part of the government.

Via Paul Krugman, we get this update from Kim Lane Scheppele, who provided the original report.

This matters — this is what a “constitutional coup” looks like. (Michigan, Ohio, take note; my emphasis below.)

On New Year’s Day, the new Hungarian constitution became law. The Hungarian parliament has been preparing for this event by passing a blizzard of “cardinal” – or super-majority – laws, changing the shape of virtually every political institution in Hungary and making the guarantee of constitutional rights less secure. In the last two weeks alone, the parliament has enacted so many new laws that it has been almost impossible to keep up. And to top it off, there was also a huge new omnibus constitutional amendment – an amendment to the new constitution even before it went into effect. By one commentator’s count, the Fidesz government has enacted 359 new laws since it came to power 18 months ago.

All of the laws connected to the new constitutional structure kicked into action yesterday if they hadn’t already taken effect. As a result, with the new year, Hungarians began living in a new constitutional order. In this new order, all of the escape hatches that would permit reentry into a constitutional democracy have been bolted shut. If constitutions are supposed to guarantee checks on political power and ensure the rights of citizens, this is an unconstitutional constitution.

I’ve already explained in an earlier post the major features of the new constitutional order. In this post, I’ll catch you up on the new laws passed in the last two weeks that crucially affect how the new constitutional order works.

The report makes fascinating reading. Scheppele starts with changes to the banking laws which guarantee control of the central bank by the political process.

There are also changes to the tax structure, in particular, the institution of a flat tax. As the author notes: “Prime Minister Orbán has been very dependent on a group of wealthy Hungarians to support his media operations and his political party” and this will guarantee them freedom from progressive taxation.

(Side note: It really helps to have something like a pocket-Murdock operation, a well-funded propaganda service disguised as “media.” Berlusconi benefited hugely from self-owned media.)

“All of the escape hatches have been bolted shut.” It’s fascinating to see what that involves.

By the way, guess what happens when constitutional means of democratic redress are removed? Stalinism — a smothered state in which everyone hunkers down and watches his/her back; chaotic rebellion — where angry people play with the tumbrels a while; or that fun Brown Shirts era in Germany. (The article suggest that latter choice may be on hand.)

Hungary is becoming a viper and a powder keg (both) in the heart of Europe. This isn’t getting less “interesting” — in that horrible Chinese way.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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