Hungarian counties may be given centuries-old archaic names, and government commissioners will be named after officials representing Hungarian kings of the past

June 22. 2022. – 11:53 AM


Hungarian counties may be given centuries-old archaic names, and government commissioners will be named after officials representing Hungarian kings of the past
Viktor Orbán and the future chief 'ispáns' following their appointment as government commissioners. Photo: Fischer Zoltán / MTI


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Máté Kocsis, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, would rename counties to bear their old archaic names (‘vármegye’ instead of ‘megye’ – literally: ‘castle districts’) „in view of historical traditions and the achievements of our historical constitution”. He submitted his proposal for the amendment of the Fundamental Law on Tuesday evening, which includes this change.

In the explanatory memorandum, Kocsis writes that the basic territorial units of Hungarian public administration bore this name from the foundation of the state until 1949.

Still against the Communist regime

„The use of the word 'vármegye' was abolished by the dictatorial Communist regime, which wanted to break away completely from the previous Hungarian constitutional and state administration system. Restoring the use of the word vármegye to today's Hungarian legal system ensures that the constitutional traditions of the thousand-year-old Hungarian state will continue to live on in this form.”

The use of the term „vármegye / castle district”, in his view, better emphasises that the central idea behind the Hungarian state organisation and state structure is „defending national sovereignty and, through it, the cornerstones of the European civilisation”.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Mihály Varga also submitted a bill, which, among other things, would rename government commissioners to bear an archaic name (‘ispán’, a Medieval title, the Hungarian equivalent of the Latin ‘comes’), again in the spirit of respecting and reviving historical traditions, according to the explanatory memorandum.

This is also interesting because in 2011 János Lázár, a Fidesz leader himself, said of the plan of reintroducing the term ‘vármegye’ to name the counties, which was already being considered at the time, that „I hope that common sense will override emotion”.

Lázár, the current government's Minister of Construction and Investment said at the time that „ doesn't have good historical aspects (...) I think it is more like what a voter in Hódmezővásárhely told me, that for someone whose grandfather or great-grandfather was a servant or day labourer, the word ‘vármegye’ means something different than for someone who looks at the world from the 12th district of Budapest.”

Now the plan was poorly received by the opposition, „Back to the Middle Ages! Hungary has ‘ispáns’, and we’ll need to use gold coins again because Forint rates are so bad.” – this is the reaction of DK, one of the opposition parties, according to the party's social media page.

Who were the ‘ispáns’?

In Hungarian history, an ‘ispán’ was the first official of a county (or castle district), representing the king in his person. His role and importance varied a lot. In addition to the county chief ‘ispáns’, a law of 1870 and then a law of 1886 also appointed chief ‘ispáns’ to lead certain towns. They were called the chief ‘ispáns’ of the royal free cities. Until 1950, the counties were headed by an ‘ispán’ appointed by the central government.

Who are the government commissioners?

The government commissioner is the local representative of the government in Hungary; the capital and county government offices (formerly the administrative offices overseeing the legality of local government), which have been operational since 1 January 2011, are headed by government commissioners appointed by the Prime Minister.

The Hungarian Fundamental Law is supposed to be solid, but it is being amended to extremes

On 18 April 2011, Parliament adopted the new Fundamental Law, which entered into force on 1 January the following year. The committee that drafted the text of the Fundamental Law was chaired by József Szájer, but Gergely Gulyás and László Salacz, Fidesz MPs, were also members.

At the time, Viktor Orbán said that the Fundamental Law was rock solid, but this would now be the eleventh amendment. Just a few weeks ago, Parliament approved the latest amendment to extend the government's powers to declare a state of emergency, not only in the event of an epidemic but also in the event of war in a neighbouring country.

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The translation of this article was made possible by our cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.