Some things matter.
Starting on Thursday, September 1, 2011, every municipal council in Hungary must set up a table to display the country’s newly enacted constitution.
The table must be covered by glass, and the constitution on the table must be opened on page 28 (though citizens may browse the document freely, turning it to any one of its pages). Next to the table, a chair must be set. The table must have its own room. The room must be guarded by an employee who is employed exclusively for tending the table.
Decoration (here there is rule for creativity) and a ribbon in the Hungarian national colors also must be placed in the room. Above the document itself, a sign must be fixed on the wall with the words “AZ ALAPTÖRVÉNY ASZTALA” – “THE CONSTITUTION’S TABLE.” The sign, hopefully more carefully guarded than a different document ordered to be kept on display in government offices and municipalities last year, which ended up being smeared with a deviled egg in one citizen’s effort to protest, must be IN BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS.
The above legal mandates are set by a governmental statute issued so soon before going into effect that some of the municipalities hardly had time to find a table. Apparently, constitutions are much easier to obtain. The statute also states that Hungarian citizens may now own their own personal copy of the country’s constitution solely for the price of asking. Should anyone avail himself or herself to the opportunity of requesting one – and plenty of the request forms are available in every room holding a Constitution’s Table – László Kövér, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament will personally attach his signature to the copy of the document before it is placed in the mail.
The Hungarian government budgeted 50 million Hungarian forints (the equivalent of 183,600 euros, or 261,700 USD) for the costs associated with supplying the Hungarian populace with hard copies of the country’s constitution. This sum does not include the additional full-time employee that each and every municipalities is now to employ for guarding the Constitution’s Table.
This is not a Monty Python sketch (though yes, it does sound like one). I took these pictures from yesterday’s media products:
Alternatively, if this is not from a Monty Python sketch, you might want to say that it is from a country with a one-party system. And there, you would be exactly right! At least as far as the intentions of the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán is concerned.
WikiLeaks now published over a thousand of cables originating or referencing Hungary. One of the most widely discussed among them can be found here. Dated on June 16, 2009, just after the European Parliamentary elections, then opposition-party but now-PM Viktor Orbán is described as making the following assertions to the US embassy in Budapest:
¶4. (SBU) Looking ahead to general elections next year (or earlier, if FIDESZ has its way), "a simple majority in Parliament is all FIDESZ needs," Orban announced. Recalling his time as Prime Minister from 19998-2002, Orban pointed out that a coalition of three parties was "difficult" to manage - "never again." In the upcoming elections FIDESZ will secure a comfortable majority, and will cooperate with neither the "far right nor with the far left", according to Orban. The 56 percent of the votes obtained last week is enough proof, Orban added, that FIDESZ will not need to cooperate with anyone. (Comment. Interestingly, Orban was the only party leader during post-election broadcasts who did not comment on the extreme-right Jobbik party's strong showing in the EP elections, perhaps reflecting his effort to marginalize them prior to the upcoming national elections. End comment.) ¶5. (SBU) The party chairman elaborated on what he referred to as his "political creed": his most important values are family, church, and the nation. In domestic politics, Orban said he has spent the last fifteen years working to create a center-right party, with the goal of obtaining "at least 50 percent of the seats in Parliament." Today, however, a two-thirds majority is within closer reach than it was just two weeks ago. Continuing, Orban said that ultimately, Hungary appears to be moving toward a "one-party" system, and that one party will be FIDESZ, facing no real competition from smaller political entities.
The constitution, of course, is not only the product of this two-third majority, nor only the symbol for the change into a one-party system. Hungary’s constitution has now been officially buried. As of September 2, 2011, its primary purpose is to be on display in the thousands of mausoleums erected for it by the edicts of the new regime.
If you would like to read more about Hungary’s new constitution, I would recommend this (English-language) piece from Der Spiegel, summarizing reactions from the international press upon its passage into law: