This is the title of an article by Mária Vásárhelyi, a sociologist, in Élet és Irodalom, a prestigious liberal weekly. After the landslide victory of Fidesz in April, Hungarian intellectuals interested in politics were seeking answers: how could it be possible that Hungarians turned away not just from the socialist-liberal coalition that had been in power for eight years but against the regime change of 1989-1990 as well.
Rudolf Ungváry started the debate with a couple of articles in Népszabadság and HVG. He found the answer in the inherently conservative nature of Hungarian society. That theory attracted a fairly lengthy debate that can be followed in galamus.hu. There the debate centered around the Horthy regime and whether or not its aura and its set of values have survived forty years of communist dictatorship.
Mária Vásárhelyi looks elsewhere for the origins of Viktor Orbán's success at the polls, namely in the Kádár regime. According to her, Orbán discovered that in today's Hungary the key to political success is an appeal to the Kádár regime's benefits, some of which were real while others by now are merely imagined.
People today in their forties and fifties are those lucky ones who became adults in the late 70s and 80s when the average citizen didn't feel the force of the dictatorship and when there was total job security as well as new opportunities to succeed economically. These opportunities were modest, but the bon mot of the Kádár regime that "those who work will prosper" was true. The statistics support this contention. Unemployment was unknown, the GDP kept pace with western European standards, and until the mid-80s inflation was lower than in Italy, France, or England. In Hungary more apartments were built than in Austria or Belgium and there were more doctors per capita than in Austria, Norway, Finland, or the Netherlands.
The population's self-respect was at an all time high. People looked at the other socialist countries and they could be more than satisfied with their lot. In the 1980s the Hungarians led the socialist bloc when it came to TV sets, cars, even the number of telephones. Admittedly, East Germans and the Czechoslovaks were better endowed with consumer goods, but there the regimes were oppressive as opposed to the Hungarian situation. Hungarians were happy to give up some consumer goods in exchange for relative freedom and lack of harrassment.
Then came 1989-1990. Hungarian society didn't have to make any sacrifices for democracy. In fact, no one asked them whether they really wanted it or not. In Hungary there was neither a bloody nor a velvet revolution. In Hungary "the change of regime just happened."
What the change of regime took away from Hungarians were "the two most important bases of the Kádár regime's legitimacy: security and existential perspectives." In their place it offered freedom, democracy, and competition. For most people this was no real compensation. To this day the majority of Hungarians (60%) think that they are the victims of the regime change. And not just victims as individuals but victims as citizens of a country. While in the Kádár regime they could be proud of Hungary's position within the Soviet bloc, they ended up as poor relatives. "The self-respect of the nation suddenly was in crisis."
It was from this set of circumstances Viktor Orbán discovered what the nation really wants. His populist slogans included promises that couldn't be fulfilled: full employment, renationalization, political retribution, and redressing of historical grievances. At the same time, especially in the last few years, Orbán has been denying the very fact that there was real regime change twenty years ago and by that denial he has managed to attract to his cause "the people of János Kádár." According to Vásárhelyi, the leaders of Fidesz discovered already in 2002, after the lost elections, that "for political success one has to conduct politics not against the people of Kádár but for them." (That may explain the failure of Ferenc Gyurcsány who tried to teach "Kádár's people" that in this new world the old Kádárist attitudes could no longer be maintained.)
Here Vásárhelyi rightly points out "the cognitive chaos" that exists in Hungarian heads since "for a long time by now the insatiable nostalgia for the Kádár regime has happily coexisted with the demand for retribution against the political leaders of the same regime." According to these people anyone who had anything to do with the maintenance of that regime should not only be banished from politics but should be dragged to court and possibly put in jail.
Lately we've heard quite a bit from Viktor Orbán about "the self-determination of Hungarians" and Hungary's "economic freedom." Again here Orbán is simply keeping his finger on the nation's pulse. It's hard to imagine but two-thirds of Hungarians still think that "the country is serving the interests of foreign powers."
Vásárhelyi is also trying to find an answer to Orbán's frequent references to "revolution." She thinks that Orbán is reacting here to the shrinking self-esteem of Hungarians. Orbán is reminding them that after all they created a revolution in the voting booth. They were instrumental in a revolutionary change of which they ought to be proud. He has been talking about revolution at least since 2006. Not just any old revolution but "a permanent revolution." But he also often mentions agrarian revolution, tax revolution, and cultural revolution. But eventually these too frequent references to a nonexistent "revolution" will become meaningless.
What Orbán is doing is not revolution but "counterrevolution pure and simple." He really wants to turn the clock back. Vásárhelyi warns that it is not as easy nowadays as Orbán thinks. Because Hungary is now a member of the European Union whose foundation is "freedom and democracy." The community that made Hungary the "happiest barracks" no longer exists. She adds that the Soviet empire was a real oddity where "the inhabitants of the colonized countries lived better than the people of the colonizers." Hungary's relative well being was ensured by the Soviet Union whose interests required the maintenance of stable satellite states. Thus, the much hated Soviet Union provided that relatively high standard of living that is the source of the nostalgia for the Kádár regime.
There is no more Soviet Union, there is no Soviet empire that could prop up Hungary. Borrowing recklessly is no longer an option. Hungarians simply have to stand on their own two feet. "In order for the inhabitants of Hungary to live better in the long run, they have to rely on their own resources." A political strategy that "is based on the fanning of dissatisfaction with the change of regime and on the promise of the reconstruction of the circumstances of the Kádár regime can be successful in the short term but its failure in the long run is certain. Perhaps that inevitable failure will lead to the realization on the part of Hungarians that the only chance of increasing their economic well being is their own accomplishments."