”We Stand in Historical Legal Grounds”. A Case Study in Political Discourse Studies about the Role of Act I of 1946 in the Debate of Re-establishing the Institution of the President of the Republic in 1989–90
The paper focuses on the role of the historical arguments in the presidency debate in 1989–90. This debate was one of the most important episodes of democratic transition in Hungary, and notably it contributed to the reinstallation of political pluralism as well, for the controversies over the forms and rules of the presidential system put an end to the temporary tactical unity of the opposition groups sitting together at the Opposition Roundtable. The differences had been crystallized around two topics: the mode of election (by the people vs. by the legislature) and the importance within the political system (semi-presidential vs. parliamentary system). The historical arguments brought forward by the late prime minister, József Antall proposed a compromise between the state-party’s views (semi-presidential system and direct election) and the most determined parts of the Opposition Roundtable (Free Democrats and Young Democrats) establishing a general principle grounded on arguments of a historical public-legal continuity for parliamentary system and a possibility of exception appealing to the exceptionality of the situation. While this proposal was never accepted by all sides of the Roundtable talks, at the same time, due to their liberal and democratic content, the historical arguments made it possible to make partial compromises between the state-partyand the moderate groups (Forum of Hungarian Democrats) of the opposition, later between the
newly elected parliamentary majority (Forum) and opposition (Free Democrats) and this way it helped to make the process of democratic transition easier. Ironically, these historical arguments for a liberal democratic political model later effected heated debates between the new right and left parliamentary parties after 1990 as well, for the conception of historical continuity underwent a change of reference and became identified with the anti-democratic, anti-liberal and merely anachronistic political traditions of the Hungarian political culture.