European Union leaders from the western part of the bloc have been fortunate enough to be able to speak about the importance of freedom and democracy in democratic countries their whole lives, Gergely Gulyas said at an international conference marking the 10th anniversary of Hungary’s constitution. Hungary’s leaders, on the other hand — including the prime minister, the president and the speaker of parliament — all emphasised the importance of the rule of law while living under a dictatorship, he added.

In the 1980s, Hungary’s current leaders stood up for freedom and democracy while facing physical oppression and risking personal existential ruin, Gulyas said.

“This is an obvious difference in the commitment to democracy between western and central Europe,” he said. “Our commitment to the rule of law is not an empty platitude … but is based on true conviction.”

Gulyas said he was proud of the fundamental law, which responded to “social questions of the modern age”. Hungary was the last country in the region to adopt a post-communist constitution, but the delay also offered an opportunity to “reflect on the legal developments, as well as the social and political changes of the two decades that had passed,” he said. Hungary’s constitution, he added, followed the example of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the two documents bore much resemblance.

Concerning the political situation in Hungary, Gulyas said the government’s opponents had “extremely weak democratic convictions and no democratic traditions at all”. Stipulations in the constitution preventing an excessive public debt “in themselves are a reason for them not to like the government … the public debt having dramatically increased under their rule,” he added.

The opposition now includes officials that “used to trample on the right to assembly, and apply physical violence against those expressing disagreement within legal bounds”, Gulyas said.

The constitution also stipulates that Hungary has the right to self-determination with regard to its citizens. “Since the opposition is for migration, that constitutes a barrier to their endeavours,” Gulyas said.

The minister said that the government also had a conflict with the European Union: “according to the Hungarian constitution, a father is a man and a mother woman, while the European Parliament has passed a decision under which men could give birth.”