Laszlo Solyom, a authorized scholar who helped information Hungary in its transition to a free-market democracy after the autumn of Communism in 1989, presiding over his nation’s Constitutional Courtroom after which serving as its president from 2005 to 2010, died on Oct. 8 in Budapest. He was 81.
Marton Hovanyi, a senior lecturer at Eotvos Lorand College, the place Mr. Solyom as soon as taught legislation, confirmed the loss of life however didn’t specify the trigger, saying solely that it got here after a protracted sickness.
Mr. Solyom, a legislation professor in Budapest, was a part of a technology of Central European intellectuals who, starting within the Eighties, laid the groundwork for the transition away from Communism via the formation of nongovernmental organizations that expanded the scope of civic society.
He was a number one determine within the Danube Circle, an environmental coalition that opposed dams and different tasks alongside his nation’s fundamental waterway — a type of protest masked as ecological activism.
He was a founding member of the Hungarian Democratic Discussion board, which emerged after 1989 because the nation’s fundamental center-right social gathering. And he took half within the Opposition Spherical Desk Talks, a collection of conferences to plan the political and authorized frameworks for post-Communist Hungary.
By then he had developed a repute for his astute scholarship on privateness rights, data that made him an apparent option to be one of many founding justices on Hungary’s Constitutional Courtroom, the equal of the U.S. Supreme Courtroom. He joined it in 1989 and a yr later grew to become chief justice.
In that function he helped information Hungary towards the rule of legislation and particular person rights. The courtroom struck down capital punishment, supported private privateness protections and defended free speech.
A scholarly, reserved determine who as soon as informed an interviewer, “I don’t make pals simply,” Mr. Solyom left the courtroom in 1998, wanting to return to his tutorial work.
However seven years later, he was referred to as again to public life by the Hungarian Parliament, which elected him the nation’s president.
Although the presidency is, on paper, largely ceremonial, and whereas Mr. Solyom promised that he can be “restrained” in workplace, he quickly asserted himself because the nation’s political consciousness, demonstrating and reinforcing the norms and mores that he mentioned had been obligatory in a wholesome democratic society.
His time period coincided with a tumultuous time for the nation. Its financial system was rising steadily, and in 2004 Hungary joined the European Union. President George W. Bush, keen to search out European allies, hailed Hungary as a shining instance of a “New Europe,” in distinction to international locations like Germany and France, whose leaders had rankled Mr. Bush for criticizing the invasion of Iraq.
However Mr. Solyom saved Washington at a measured distance. When Mr. Bush traveled to Budapest in 2006 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution — an rebellion in opposition to the nation’s Communist leaders that was brutally suppressed by the Soviet Military — Mr. Solyom endorsed a combat in opposition to terror that was “according to worldwide legislation and to honor worldwide human rights,” a remark that many within the information media took as an unsubtle dig at his visitor.
That very same yr Hungary confronted a interval of political unrest, together with rioting within the streets, after Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted that he had lied about financial forecasts to enhance the possibilities of his social gathering, the Socialists, in nationwide elections.
After days of demonstrations, Mr. Solyom referred to as for Mr. Gyurcsany to resign. He refused, and even survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Mr. Gyurcsany remained in workplace three extra years.
The episode turned many Hungarians in opposition to the political institution; in a nationwide ballot in 2006, Mr. Solyom was ranked because the nation’s most trusted politician, although he earned simply 23 p.c approval.
Shut behind him, at 19 p.c, was Viktor Orban, a former prime minister whose social gathering, Fidesz, had supported Mr. Solyom’s candidacy for president in 2005. However when it got here time for re-election, in 2010, Mr. Orban threw his decisive assist to a different candidate, Pal Schmitt.
Mr. Orban and Fidesz, with their populist, anti-establishment message, dominated the elections that yr. Mr. Orban returned as prime minister, a place he nonetheless holds. In 2011 he led the passage of a brand new Structure that Mr. Solyom mentioned eroded lots of the safeguards he had spent a long time constructing.
“The drafting course of had misplaced its dignity by descending to the extent of widespread parliamentary wrangling,” he wrote in Heti Valasz, a weekly newspaper. However, he added, “Hungary will keep among the many European democracies even below the brand new Structure.”
Laszlo Solyom was born on Jan. 3, 1942, in Pecs, a metropolis in southern Hungary, a son of Ferenc Solyom, a lawyer, and Aranka Lelkes.
As a highschool pupil he took half in road protests throughout the Hungarian Revolution, although he escaped the political reprisals that adopted. Later, as president, he refused to present a state award to Gyula Horn, a former prime minister who, as a younger man, had supported the Soviet invasion in 1956.
Mr. Solyom acquired a legislation diploma in 1965 from the College of Pecs and a doctorate in legislation in 1969 from Friedrich Schiller College in Jena, East Germany. He returned to work as a researcher on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
He later taught legislation at Eotvos Lorand College and Peter Pazmany Catholic College, each in Budapest.
He married Erzsebet Nagy in 1966. She died in 2015. He’s survived by his daughter, Beata Solyom; his son, Benedek Solyom; 11 grandchildren; and 4 great-grandchildren.
After leaving workplace, Mr. Solyom created a scholarship for younger Hungarian researchers to review abroad. He additionally grew to become a dependable critic of the Orban authorities however steadily withdrew from public life, particularly after the loss of life of his spouse. A quietly non secular man, he spent his final years translating works coping with Roman Catholic canon legislation.