Constitutional Set-Back?

The current Fundamental Law of of Hungary was adopted over a year ago, in April 2011. Due to this anniversary the recent research of Republikon Institution has looked how the so called ’National Avowal ’preamble fits the constitution’s introductions of  Central and Eastern European and wider European countries.

Preambles in general

picture: Roller Coaster Philosophy

Preambles are usually can be found in the beginning of the text of laws. They could function as a foreword: the legislators mainly mark their goals out, or they might sum up the legislative process. A constitution (or a fundamental law – as it is called from now on in Hungary) can also have a preamble but it is not necessary. Out of the EU27 only 25 countries have a written constitution and more than one-third of it doesn’t have a preamble (16 countries have it).

In Central and Eastern Europe the picture is brighter and more solid: only Romania and Latvia don’t have a preamble out of the 12 countries that joined to the EU since 2004. In this region creating a preamble has an emblematic meaning. The process stands for not only the regained freedom but secures it as well. Adopting a fundamental law after more decades of dictatorship was part of a remarkable socio-political process; in most of the countries it was strengthened with a referendum as well[1].

Formal aspects

The very first aspect how the preambles can be told apart is the appellation itself: as part of the public discourse only three Western European countries[2] use this specific notion. In other countries – such as in the Eastern European region – the introduction opens up the Constitution without a title.

The Hungarian preamble the so called ’National Avowal’ is not only a novelty in the CEE region, but also in European comparison – we were not able to find a country which would give such a name to its constitution’s introduction.

By its length the Hungarian preamble is a European recorder as well. Our foreword is twice as long as the – so far the most – redundant Polish introduction, in European average comparison – excluding the two one-line long preambles – it’s more than three times longer. The text itself deputizes a dimension, where Hungary both in terms of the region and the European field differs from the common practice.


The preamble’s self-concept

Regarding to the self-determination firstly we examined which topic appears overemphasized in the whole preamble (history-centeredness, self-definition or future orientation).

We have found out that historical references are usually part of most of the preambles, but only one country’s introduction can be described with no doubt as history-centered: Hungary’s.

Historical self-concept

In our research we have examined preambles usually have a future-orientated concept of history. That is to say: mentioning historical events are the implements of mentioning the goals a country wishes to reach. Contrary to the other introductions the Hungarian preamble is past-orientated and inward-looking. It is fairly unique that our traditions of republicanism are not mentioned at all. Moreover, according to one sentence of the National Avowal[3] the Second Republic (existed between 1946-1949) is not certified, the First Republic is not mentioned at all.

Thus it is a regrettable Hungarian distinctiveness: civic and republican traditions are practically don’t come up in the redundant historical part.

Self-concept in terms of fundamental rights and values

The third pillar of self-definition is visualizing fundamental rights and values. Referring to the sentence that mentions the individual freedom[4] we have to emphasize: the Hungarian preamble is only willing to accept the individual freedom only if cooperating with others, and in terms of freedom – unlike to other European countries -, not national and individual level are the basic categories of cohabitation, but the nation and the family.

The Hungarian Fundamental Law clearly carries a weight by the important features of constitutional values preferred by constitutional actors against the rights.

Ideas and aims

References to God and the Christianity

This point caused the most heated debates. According to our comparison, we suggest, that this two elements occur quiet scarcely in the examined preambles. But this is not to say, there are no precedents in this field. {The preambles of Poland (whose society is by far more religious than Hungary’s), but also that of Ireland and Germany contain references to God, furthermore, the first line[5] of the Greek constitution serves for the same purpose.}

Owing to these results, we can say, that only deeply religious countries’ fundamental laws are committed to God, but Hungary is not that kind of land.

Protecting the mother tongue

This issue is one of the most important focal concerns. However, in Hungary there are no considerable foreign speaking minorities, thus the primacy of the country’s mother tongue is not threatened.

Green values and Europe – consciousness

In contrast with numerous other countries, Hungarian ’National Avowal’ pays attention to the sustainable development and the future generations. Excluding the Czech Republic environmental values are not peculiar content of the European preambles.

Minorities inboard and beyong the borders

There are only several preambles, which stress this issue: the French and the Polish refers to the first and the Slovakian to the second group. The Spanish and the Hungarian text give heed to both types of minorities. But it is important to note, that Hungary is one of the three lands, whose declaration is the most laconically: „We consider the nationalities and ethnic groups living in Hungary to be constituent parts of the Hungarian nation.”

Future aims

Despite the extraordinary length of the Hungarian text, one can detect only a few analyzable aims: there are only two sentences, which immediately respect to the future. It is fairly conspicuous, that in contrast with the routine of Middle and Eastern Europe the idea of ’rule of law’ and the claim to build a more democratic polity are completely lacking. At last, republican and civic traditions were not in the focus neither in the description of the past, nor in the portrayal of the future.


Owing to the results of our comparison of Hungary’s National Avowal with the preambles of other European Union member states we can make the following statements:

  • There is no other preamble so long and redundant.
  • The ’National Avowal’ is highly history-centered: its history-concept is fairly reminiscent and nostalgic, furthermore, the references to the republican traditions are fully lacking.
  • In the Hungarian preamble the values preferred by the constitutional actors have an overwhelming majority – but on the expense of the rights.   It is important to note, that in other European documents these two elements play equally important roles.
  • The text contains unduly numerous ideologically important values. The most expressive examples are the reference to God (which is only typical of deeply religious countries) and the protection of mother tongue. This second point is extraordinary, because it is not mentioned in even those countries’ preambles, in which there are a number of foreign speaking minorities inboard.
  • The most conspicuous result is, that the document does not mention the idea of ’rule of law’ and the claim to build a more democratic polity as an important aim to the future.

[1]Estonians have fixed this fact in the preamble itself.

[2] France, Germany and Portugal.

[3]We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected body of popular representation was formed.” p.2..

[4]We hold that individual freedom can only be complete in cooperation with others.” p.1..

[5] „In the name of the Holy, Homousion and Indivisible Trinity God.”

Republikon Institute