The 2011 Hungarian Constitution: a Virtual Placebo against Historical Traumas?

The 2011 Hungarian Constitution: a Virtual Placebo against Historical Traumas?

The lack of coherence between minority-related instruments and domestic historical narratives provides for potential escalation of interethnic and interstate relations. The current minority-related framework in a wider Europe ensure possibilities for participation and representation of minorities in public life. However, its application in cross-border cooperation could provide for new ethnic-based segregation and polarization of different segments of the society. The scope of these risks and their driving forces are still incalculable. Our expert Dr. Kirył Kaścian discusses these issues focusing on the case of Hungary.


The adoption of the Hungarian Constitution in 2011 has produced extensive international criticisms, which addressed the country’s policies towards its co-ethnics in the neighboring states and raised the issues of territorial integrity, sovereignty and extra-territorial decision-making.[1] The Constitution acknowledges Hungary’s “responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living beyond its borders” (Article D).[2] These areas are defined in the Constitution through the reference to “all man-made and natural assets of the Carpathian Basin” which virtually reinstates the historical Hungary determined as the area where “one single Hungarian nation” lives.[3]

The EU: between formalism and delegation of powers

All the EU motions pertinent to the Hungarian Constitution were limited to domestic institutions’ design and implementation of specific aspects of human rights in Hungary. Neither of these activities directly dealt with the historical, ethnic and territorial aspects mentioned in the Constitution, although the European Parliament Resolution on the Revised Hungarian Constitution of 5 July 2011 insisted that the Hungarian officials should “respect the territorial integrity of other countries when seeking the support of ethnic Hungarians living abroad”.[4] The European Parliament’s message was linked with the similar concerns expressed by the Venice Commission and focused on the Council of Europe’s domain.

The Council of Europe: instruments limited in their effect

The specific historical, ethnic and geographical aspects of the Constitution’s text were addressed in “Opinion on the new Constitution of Hungary” delivered by the Venice Commission.[5] It stressed the significance to comply with the good neighborliness principle and refrain from provisions with potential extraterritorial effect. The extraterritorial aspect of the Avowal’s formulations was linked with with Article D with regard to the historical reference of the former pertinent to preservation of the Hungarian nation’s “intellectual and spiritual unity […] torn apart in the storms of the last century.”

Hence, the notion “responsibility” as Hungary’s commitment towards its ethnic kin abroad was viewed through the prism of a potential conflict of competences between Hungary and the home states of the Hungarian minorities with regard to the self-government of these communities. The Venice Commission stressed that the domain of minority protection is primary responsibility of their home states. It also underlined the importance of the balance between domestic and international law. Thus, the Venice Commission voiced its hope for an interpretation of the statement on Hungary’s responsibility to support of foreign Hungarians in terms of assisting them in preservation of their identity accomplished in cooperation with their home-states. The Hungarian authorities confirmed this approach to the Commission’s Rapporteurs.

In fact, the non-binding nature of the Venice Commission opinions provides governments with a space for maneuver to pursue own political agendas more effectively. In case of Hungary, it could be illustrated by the words of Viktor Orbán who claimed that “each state […] must be the final arbiter of the legitimacy of its actions.”[6] Moreover, all the concerns of the supranational bodies addressed the policies of Hungary towards its minorities in the adjacent countries, but fail to tackle the domestic origins of these policies.

Building a virtual Greater Hungary: margins and risks

The 2011 Hungarian Constitution formally complies with the country’s international commitments. Some commentators stress that the Hungarian authorities’ approach is an accumulation and “political expression of the deep historical frustrations of the Hungarian nation.”[7] In terms of ethnicity’s constitutionalization this assessment seems reasonable if connected with the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, as it “contributes to the collective victim role which proved to be the core organizing principle of the Hungarian national identity.”[8] It was Orbán who has for years been the main proponent of the model which uses the advantages of the EU membership in maintaining a unification of the extraterritorial Hungarian nation without alteration of the borders.[9] Taking into account that five of Hungary’s neighbors are also EU members, the intra-EU dimension of this approach covers more than 80 per cent of ethnic Hungarians from the adjacent countries.[10]

Hence, it is necessary to address Article D of the Constitution under different pretext. Hungary aims support ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s borders with “the establishment of their community self-governments, and their prosperity in their native lands.” Thus, Hungary is interested in encouraging its ethnic kin to organize its community life in their home countries. Interestingly, the Hungarian authorities consider the 2001 Law on Hungarians Living in Neighboring Countries as a positive arrangement for the integration of ethnic Hungarians to the societies of their home states and as a contribution to the fundamental European values and development of multiculturalism.[11] Moreover, Hungary assumes central role in promotion of cooperation with and among ethnic Hungarians abroad. Taking into account membership of Hungary and of its five neighbors in the EU, this can be seen a hybridization of Hungarian nationalism and the concept of “Europe of regions,” in which the latter component has a clear cross-border dimension.

However, this construction contains a number of visible risks. Firstly, it is linked with the 2010 amendments to the Law on Hungarian Citizenship which enabled approximately 550,000 ethnic Hungarians from the neighboring countries to obtain Hungarian citizenship before the 2014 Parliamentary Election.[12] This figure constituted only 6.7% of the total number of potential voters.[13] However, it proved to be sufficient to significantly influence the election results: 125,000 non-resident Hungarians (2.5% of all voters) gave 95.5% of their support to Fidesz-KDNP.[14] As some commentators admit, “the one seat that this amounts to is exactly the difference between a large majority of 132 seats (66%) and a constitutional majority of 133 seats (67%)”.[15] Hence, non-resident Hungarians have capacities to determine political configurations within Hungary. This could encourage Hungarian authorities to further play this card to gain additional public support.

Secondly, it is linked with the politics of memory and its manifestations in public space. The constitutionalization of extraterritorial reference to the Carpathian Basin as the Hungarian nation’s homeland institutionalizes the public debate on the fate of Hungary and ethnic Hungarians throughout the 20th century at the highest level. This debate involves representatives of different social spectrums, including right-wing politicians, performers or even football fans.[16] Although their role might seem marginal and sector-oriented, the general effect of their participation ensures public visibility and sustainability of this discourse. It could lead to the promotion of radical views, selective approaches and detachment from intellectual polemics, embodied in potential increase of public manifestations of historical revisionism, xenophobia and hate speech. Thus, the case of Hungary demonstrates that the European minority-related instruments have little impact on the producing, institutionalization and dissemination of domestic historical narratives.


[1] European Parliament, Resolution on the Revised Hungarian Constitution, P7_TA(2011)0315, 5 July 2011,; European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission). Opinion on the new Constitution of Hungary, Opinion No 621/2011, 20 June 2011,
[2] Hungarian Government, The Fundamental Law of Hungary, 25 April 2011,
[3] Z. Körtvélyesi. ‘From ‘We the People’ to ‘We the Nation’, in G.A. Tóth (ed.), Constitution for a Disunited Nation: On Hungary’s 2011 Fundamental Law, CEU University Press, Budapest, 2012, pp. 111-140.
[4] Resolution on the Revised Hungarian Constitution, op. cit., note 1.
[5] Opinion on the new Constitution of Hungary, op. cit., note 1.
[6] I. Pogány. ‘The Crisis of Democracy in East Central Europe: the ‘New Constitutionalism’ in Hungary’. European Public Law, 19 (2) (2013), pp. 341–368.
[7] L. Y. Tartakoff, ‘Religion, Nationalism, History, and Politics in Hungary’s New Constitution’, Society, vol. 49 (4) (2012), pp. 360-366.
[8] J. László. Historical Tales and National Identity: An Introduction to Narrative Social Psychology, Routledge, London and New York, 2013.
[9] E. Harris. ‘What is New about “Eastern Nationalism” and What are the Implications for Studies of Ethnicity Today?’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 18 (3) (2012), pp. 337-357.
[10] B. Kapitány. ‘Ethnic Hungarians in the Neighbouring Countries’, in J. Monostori, P. Őri, P. and Zs. Spéder (eds.), Demographic Portrait of Hungary 2015, HDRI, Budapest, 2015, pp. 225–239.
[11] Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fact Sheets on Hungary, 1 (2002),
[12] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Hungary Parliamentary Elections 6 April 2014: OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report, 11 June 2014,
[13] Ibid.
[14] C. Mudde. ‘The 2014 Hungarian parliamentary elections, or how to craft a constitutional majority’, The Washington Post, 14 April 2014,
[15] Ibid.
[16] B. Pytlas. Radical Right Parties in Central and Eastern Europe: Mainstream Party Competition and Electoral Fortune, Routledge. Abingdon and New York, 2016; Institute for intercultural dialogue. Monitoringová správa o prejavoch rasizmu a ďalších typoch intolerancie na futbalových štadiónoch v sezóne 2013/2014,á-správa-o-prejavoch-rasizmu-a-ďalších-typoch-intolerancie-na-futbalových-štadiónoch-2014_2015.pdf.

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