The future of Hungarian democracy

By now my readers know only too well that József Debreczeni is the foremost proponent of the theory that an overwhelming victory by Fidesz at the next elections will lead to the death of Hungarian democracy. He bases this conclusion on the utterances of Viktor Orbán in the last eight years. He believes it is Orbán's personal traits that destine him to lead the country toward an authoritarian form of government, a kind of pseudo-democracy, something which, if the country is lucky enough, would resemble Miklós Horthy's Hungary. However, there were certain writings of Debreczeni in which he compared Orbán to Gyula Gömbös and Béla Imrédy, two Hungarian prime ministers of the Horthy era who were decidedly to the right of Horthy. Gömbös had the good fortune of dying in 1936, but Imrédy was executed for war crimes in 1946. Debreczeni supports his thesis by extensive quotations from Orbán's writings and speeches.

However, there might be a different take on this whole question. According to this opinion Orbán has already inflicted terrible damage on the country or, more precisely, on the country's democratic institutions over the course of the last eight years. This view is promulgated by József Bayer, a political philosopher and corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In 2002 when Orbán unexpectedly lost the elections he launched an all-out war against the victorious parties and against those who voted for them. He questioned the results of the elections and hinted at electoral fraud. Subsequently, he not only criticized the government's decisions but worked furiously on its "de-legitimization." The result was the ruin not only of MSZP and SZDSZ but of practically all the democratic institutions. The Hungarian public lost faith not only in MSZP and SZDSZ politicians but in all politicians. When the president of the country is the most popular politician with 47%, followed by Viktor Orbán with 45%, then it is clear that Orbán managed to shake people's faith in democratic politics in general. And in a country where democratic impulses are still very weak, this is playing with fire. As Bayer says, "if one doesn't accept the results of an election [that is the foundation of democratic regimes] then democracy itself can be overthrown."

Orbán surely thinks that with an impressive win the trust in politicians and in democratic institutions will return. Bayer doubts that. Because Fidesz politicians are promising all sorts of things that they will not be able to deliver, disappointment will follow. Hungarians will be even more convinced that all politicians are liars and that democracy is for the birds because it doesn't really matter which party is in power, their lives are not getting any better. And there will be Jobbik ready to attack the politicians of the past, including Viktor Orbán, and its politicians will offer themselves as the saviors of the country. And then what will Orbán do?

The other problem is the weakness of the democratic institutions, starting with the Constitutional Court. Here one can also mention the prosecutors as well as judges of lower and higher courts. But one can even cite political influence when it comes to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where a former Fidesz member of parliament was democratically elected to head the institution. Surely, political gain was uppermost in the minds of the Hungarian academicians. Then there's a mayor who with the help of a slim Fidesz majority forbids the opposition members of the city government to speak at council meetings between now and the elections. No discussion, no counter-arguments because the mayor considers their voices campaign propaganda against his run for parliament. It turns out that the judicial system is so cumbersome and so slow that most likely nothing can be done to remedy such situations. The result is that people find democracy's answers inadequate. What one fears is that because of the weakness of the democratic institutions the only "satisfactory" answer will be, quite independently from Orbán's personal traits, an authoritarian system that will strengthen those institutions, but not exactly in the way democratically inclined people would like to see.

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John T
While I agree that Orban’s behaviour has often been ridiculous at times, it is the failure of the whole political “elite” that has caused the current malaise. But rather than the development of a pragmatic, sensible alternative, the only alternative at the moment is Jobbik. And Jobbik and it’s programme are a reflection of the worst elements of the Hungarian physche, which I would summarise as follows (in no particular order):- A victims mentality. Unable to take responsibility or be accountable for their own actions – someone else is always to blame. Always seeing things always as black and white, not considering there is often lots of grey. An inflated opinion of their actual abilities. An insular view. Personal opinion will often trump or brazenly disregard actual facts (Orban is really good at this actually – look at his recent slurs against the IMF when discussing the deficit). Immaturity. Massive sulks. I’m not suggesting for a moment that everyone in Hungary is lumbered with all of these traits. But in so many everyday life situations, especially in the political arena, you will see many of these traits exhibited at the same time and to me, it is a poisonous combination.… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh

John T: “Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I wanted to get the point across.”
I think that this is a pretty good summary. Unfortunately.

Odin's lost eye
John T – I whole heartedly agree with your 8 points, but if I may I will add two more. These are: – Firstly there is the problem of language. The average Hungarian does not understand that the Hungarian language is one which can not be learned adequately unless it is spoken as a child. (There is one language which can never be learned unless you speak it as a child it is Navaho India). This has at least two side effects. Firstly they regard non-Hungarian speakers as imbeciles –after all their children speak it. Secondly the average Hungarian tends to disregard anything which is beyond their experience. I am trying to build a mechanical Tide prediction clock. They are afraid to ask what a Tide is. As a result Hungarians have damaged/picked up, moved and lost several major components of it. I think this fear of ‘looking ignorant’ to a foreigner is the cause of your point of “An inflated opinion of their actual abilities” to which I am afraid I will have to ‘and their knowledge’. Hungarians who have ‘been foreign’ even for a few weeks and have been fully exposed to a foreign culture improve magnificently. This… Read more »
John T

Odin’s lost eye – I think the point you make about language is important. I never really had the chance to learn Hungarian as a kid – I would pick up plenty of words while on holiday from listening to my family and when out and about. But I couldn’t really have a decent conversation. So I paid to go on two summer schools and improve my understanding, mainly because I was desperate to talk to my aunts, uncles and cousins. So now I can have a reasonable conversation, though my written Hungarian is still limited. I also applied for Hungarian citizenship, so have dual nationality. But despite having a Hungarian surname, a passport and a better grasp of the language, I’m still introduced to visitors as being English by some members of my family.


John T wrote: “But rather than the development of a pragmatic, sensible alternative, the only alternative at the moment is Jobbik.”
And Canada is getting ready for this eventuality by requiring Hungarians to obtain visas if they want to come to Canada.