This article deals with the constitutional developments and legal policy in Central Europe since 1989 and focuses on a temporal analysis of and the difference between the demos and ethnos concepts of the nation in the political and legal systems. Drawing on several social theories of time, identity and the codification of social traditions, the author claims that the difference between the civic and the ethnic concepts of the nation does not relate just to the conflict between the liberal-democratic aspirations and ethno-nationalistic myths of authoritarian politicians. The concepts rather represent two distinct traditions, manipulated by political officials and codified in the constitutional processes. The political manipulation of the past and the process of selecting from among different traditions are manifest at the level of constitutional symbolism and in the specific government programmes that have arisen in post-communist Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In the concluding part the author presents an analysis of the relationship between the abstract and symbolic language of constitutional documents and the concrete, ethnically determined legal policies in Central European countries.