Liberal intellectuals and exploring possibilities after Orbán

In the last month or so several thought provoking articles appeared in Hungary, not about the analysis of the present political situation but about "life after Viktor Orbán." Some people would say that the appearance of such articles is premature. After all, Fidesz still has a sizeable following and unless the apathetic one-third of the population wakes up before 2014 another Fidesz victory is a very real possibility.

However, I would argue that it is not too early to think in terms of a Hungary after the "counterrevolution." A bit of an explanation is due here. Some people might ask what kind of a counterrevolution we are talking about. Mária Ludassy, professor of philosophy and a student of the French enlightenment, wrote a short essay about revolution and counterrevolution on the occasion of the 222th anniversary of the French Revolution. The article in the strict sense of the word concentrates on the French revolution and some of the ideas of eighteenth-century philosophers, but if we dig a little deeper it is clear that Ludassy wants to call our attention to the meaning of the word "revolution."

As historian Zoltán Ripp points out in an article that appeared in Mozgó Világ (August 2011), the word "revolution" resonates well in Hungary. In my opinion, this positive association with revolutions is due to a misunderstanding of Hungarian history. Because the 1848 "revolution" wasn't what we think of when we talk about the French Revolution. It was simply a peaceful and lawful change of regime. It is another matter that eventually because of differences of opinion about the real meaning of these changes between the Hungarian government and the king a war of independence followed. Even 1956 wasn't really a revolution, although we ourselves always referred to it that way. Rather it was an uprising, mostly in Budapest, with relatively few active participants although with large mass support.

If "revolution" sounds good to Hungarian ears, "counterrevolution" has a very bad billing. The last group of people who proudly declared their movement a "counterrevolution" was the bunch of counterrevolutionaries who in Vienna and Szeged tried to gain support from the Great Powers not just to quell the Bolshevik coup d'état of the Hungarian communists but also to prevent the reestablishment of the liberal democratic regime of Mihály Károlyi. 

Ludassy quotes Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) who defined revolution as "an event whose goal is the increase of freedom." In this sense it can be agreed that Viktor Orbán's revolution in the voting booths was anything but a revolutionary development. On the contrary, more and more people by now call it a "counterrevolution."

But how can that "counterrevolution" be ended once Viktor Orbán is no longer the prime minister of Hungary? What kind of legitimate and constitutional instruments will a possible opposition have at its disposal? This is a real dilemma which many legal and political experts are pondering over lately. Most of the participants in the discussion about the future wrote articles on the subject in such publications as Magyar Narancs, ÉS, and Galamus.

One could ask whether these early discussions are futile. I think not because it takes time for theory to have a chance of being transformed into successful practice. In these writings we find innumerable solutions, from the simple answer of "let's achieve a two-thirds majority" to initiating a referendum which may not be legal but could make the new constitution null and void. However, says Ripp, one doesn't have to complicate the situation by getting lost in legal details. If we declare the new Orbán regime counterrevolutionary and the government's many unconstitutional acts illegal, then the new constitution that is supposed to fix the accomplishments of this counterrevolution is also illegitimate. Especially since this constitution was approved only by the parliamentary delegation of the governing party. That's why, says Ripp, it was so important that the two democratic parties didn't participate in its composition and its passage. (I may add here that it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first declared that taking part in the subcommittee's work on the constitution would be a terrible mistake.)

Zoltán Ripp makes a contribution to the growing literature on the subject of "what there will be after Orbán" by outlining a scenario for the re-democratization process. (1) Cooperation and collaboration of all democratic forces is a must. (2) All democratic forces must take part in this work–not just parties but also trade union leaders and civic associations who create a "common forum." (3) And I think that this is perhaps the most important point Ripp makes, all these groups should define themselves not just as an opposition to a party (Fidesz) but as an opposition that totally rejects the Fidesz-created regime. They all must look upon the new constitution and the cardinal laws as illegitimate, serving despotism. Because the right of resistance against despotism supersedes the recognition of legislation that disregards the constitution. (4) At the very beginning the different groups must agree on the theoretical foundations of their cooperation. (5) One cannot simply wipe the slate clean and return to the preFidesz conditions. The goal is the preparation of the legitimate creation of the Fourth Republic which will be a modernized and expanded form of the 1989 democratic transformation. (6) The opposition forces must get rid of the "Fidesz shadow state" (árnyékállam) and restore the de facto impartiality and autonomy of independent institutions. The participants must agree about the techniques and details of this operation. (7) The most sensitive question is the fate of Fidesz after the hoped-for fall of the Orbán regime. According to Ripp a democratic center-right's participation in this process is of paramount importance. Without a moderate right one cannot create a consensual and legitimate new constitutional order.

All this is intriguing. Especially the question of the Fourth Republic, about which one hears more and more. Tomorrow I will continue with a couple of more interesting thoughts on the subject.

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Paul
Guest

All good stuff.
But first we have to get rid of Orbán.
Any of these great writers and thinkers have any great thoughts about that tricky little detail?

Kirsten
Guest

Paul, I think that it makes sense to think about the “alternative” today. Many people who have voted for Fidesz are now “undecided” (if not convinced that politics is simply a dirty business, and only this). And these people need to be motivated not to stay passive, which in turn needs some alternative programme. Zoltan Ripp’s list is a very good summary, perhaps “theoretical foundations of their cooperation” is a bit complicated statement for “find a shared definition of the ‘democracy’ to be reinstalled” but this is exactly what is necessary: if you do not want Fidesz and its system, than what instead? And these basic principles should be shared by as many people as possible. Only then it makes sense to replace OV and Fidesz, currently (without a shared programme or shared ideas) chaos could be the most likely outcome. And this also because it would be desirable to have some “civilised” retreat of Fidesz not people seeking revenge single-handedly.

Member

This sounds a lot like a policy of treating Orban’s government the way that Orban treated Gyurcsany. I am not convinced of the wisdom of this course of action, as it seems to undermine the idea of the rule of law even further than has happened so far.

late night
Guest

One should notice, that the legislation of FIDESZ “One people, one Leader” legislation looses it’s legitimity as soon FIDESZ looses the 2/3 majority. Politically an eventual strong emigration wave strips FIDESZ it’s legitimity by itself.

Paul
Guest

Orbán isn’t going to allow himself to be replaced, certainly not democratically, why isn’t this clear to everyone by now? How much more evidence do you need?
We have a phrase in the UK (forgive my crudity) – “pissing into the wind”. And there’s a lot of that going on in Budapesti intellectual circles right now.
Orbán loves it, it gives him all the time he needs to cement his dictatorship firmly in place.

kormos
Guest

@Paul:
“But first we have to get rid of Orbán.”
“Orbán isn’t going to allow himself to be replaced, certainly not democratically, why isn’t this clear to everyone by now? How much more evidence do you need?”
Well…well…well Paul. Could you tell the name of a politician who is willingly asking the opposing political forces to replace him/her?
Mr. Orban may chose not to serve as a prime minister for the full term. According to this blog he is so involved, he makes all decisions etc. Should that be true, it is very unhealthy.So, many things could happen till 2014.
What I do not understand here,how come that a British Subject is critiquing the Hungarian Prime Minister day after day, instead of MSZP-SZDSZ cronies. We do not know who is hiding behind the selected “names”, but I did not detect any from the official opposition of Hungary.
Cui podest Paul?

peter litvanyi
Guest
Dear Eva; Re:”One could ask whether these early discussions are futile. I think not because it takes time for theory to have a chance of being transformed into successful practice.” Some of you may wonder why I included certain parts and pieces in my postings here. Besides losing my mind /of course/ Eva’s point is the reason. Please read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine /The Rise of Disaster Capitalism/. It’s readily available. It does not have a chapter dedicated to Hungary per se. Yet read carefully the chapters about Poland and Russia. Hungary was shattered by something more powerful and pervasive than she ever imagined possible. A country poisoned by previous hatred and the lack of democratic traditions: now we have an issue at hand. The force I am talking about has little to do with us the proud inhabitants of the USA. If anything we are fellow victims. The previous governments almost did Hungary in but not quite. Mr. Orban is really just the last link in a chain. Complete suppression of labor and civil rights/ entitlements, backroom deals with multinational entities and “transfer of wealth” /not my words for that action/ on an unprecedented scale; he would /and… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

David: “Orban treated Gyurcsany”
Well how did Orbán treat Gyurcsány? Besides having beaten the post-communists at the elections, I can’t recall any other ‘treatment’ from Orbán.
Please elaborate!

Johnny Boy
Guest

Well, there will surely be a world after Orbán in Hungary, but why do you, a small extreme ‘liberal’ (lol) minority, that it will be yours?
Probably social-democrats or, rather, conservative politicians will emerge, but liberals? They are done for decades, and rightfully so.

pro-liberal
Guest

I prefer the emergence of a liberal revolutionary enlightened right, without association to the Catholic social conservatism.
Deak type of liberalism, with a strong belief in law and legal fairness should be the slogan of the new liberals, a forum for cooperation of liberal right and left without the genocidal extremists of the fidesz/jobbik mob.

Jano
Guest

Ludassy quotes Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) who defined revolution as “an event whose goal is the increase of freedom.”
According to which 1848 and 1956 was clearly a revolution.

Jim
Guest

“Extreme liberal”?
Liberalism is the opposite of all forms of extremism.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “According to which 1848 and 1956 was clearly a revolution.”
I didn’t talk about this aspect. But 1848 was not a revolution of the streets. The change took place in the Diet.
As for 1956 I would rather call it an uprising because of the small numbers involved and because it was pretty well restricted to Budapest.

K-a-t
Guest

If according to a recent study of the German (SPD’s) Friedrich Ebert think thank, about a 56,6% of Hungarians think “what the country needs most is a strong leader who does not bother about parliament or elections”…who will led Hungary to that post-Orban scenario?
Obviously, it’s good having a good plan and programme, but the graveyards are full with revolutionaries and politicians who had excelent programmes and wonderful constitution drafts, but who had no idea how apply it.

Pete H.
Guest

Sorry this is off subject, but I feel the blog “The Contrarian Hungarian” deserves a wider readership. It’s hard to find English langauge sources about Hungarian politics. He/She has posted another entry, this one on the mandatory-public-work-projects.
http://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/mandatory-public-work-projects-in-hungary/#comment-108
Eva would you consider adding a link to this blog?
I’d hate to see that blog disappear due to lack of readership.

Jano
Guest

Eva: I just wanted to point out that de Condorcet’s definition is rather naive one, but still it captures something.
I don’t really think that words matter that much. However, if we take the “face meaning” of the word revolution, you could define it as an event whose goal is to “turn things around”, i.e. to fundamentally change the way a country/society works. In this sense, I think it’s too restrictive to only call a series of violent events involving huge masses of people a revolution. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to call 48, 56 revolutions just as much as to talk about sexual revolution, informational revolution, etc.
In the restricted meaning, for just one example, Lenin’s red October couldn’t be called a revolution either due to the relatively small amount of participants (even though the Communist propaganda always pictured it as a mass event).

peter litvanyi
Guest
Semantics: Dear “Jim”: “Liberalism is the opposite of all forms of extremism”- well, 100% agreed. For those who don’t exactly know what a “liberal” is /social democrats ARE by def. liberals, by the way/: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism Dear “Jano”: yeah, “revolution” and “counterrevolution” are really wrong words /for a scientist/. It’s in the eye of the posterity. I wouldn’t be per se offended if a neo-Nazi called Hitler’s takeover a “revolution”. Neither would I befriend such a person after this statement. However re: ” In the restricted meaning, for just one example, Lenin’s red October couldn’t be called a revolution either due to the relatively small amount of participants (even though the Communist propaganda always pictured it as a mass event).” Yes and no. Was it Little Red Hood Lenin /and his five fellow thugs with one big six shot pistol/ who singlehandedly forced millions of Russians to fight the rest of the world including many of their brothers? Of course not, it was a mass movement. Yeah, Joe commissioned some nice paintings about Leningrad and that balcony. I have no idea how many were present. John Reed might know it but he is no longer among us. Obviously ENOUGH people came.… Read more »
Jano
Guest

Dear Peter:
Not just paintings, movies, theater plays in which thousands of people (what thousands, millions) were fighting against the evil provisional government which is just khm… not true:) Actually communist propaganda could be very entertaining had it not been covering up so many awfulness.

GW
Guest
To add to Peter’s post, there has been a liberal democratic and social-market economic consensus throughout Western Europe since the end of World War II. Individual political parties including Christian Democrats/Conservatives, Right and Left Liberals, Social Democrats/European Socialists and Greens concur, offering variations in the degree, not in kind. (Similarly, the two large parties in the US represent different flavors of the same liberal consensus.) From the viewpoint of any reasonable observer, it has been the Socialists and Liberals in Hungary — whatever their faults as particular party manifestations or as managers while in office — who have made the most strides _in platform and in policy_ towards embracing this European consensus, while Fidesz has steadily moved away from this in the direction of greater government authority and more control over the market. While I would personally like to see a Hungary comfortably within Western Europe with a full array of political parties (and, AFAIC, these need not have any continuity with any historical parties; I won’t morn for any party or politician in Hungary but rather wish for Hungarians to have more and better choices) embracing different flavors of this consensus, it does seem that Hungary is moving in… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

“Liberalism is the opposite of all forms of extremism.”
I disagree. There is extremism in liberalism too. Liberalism is not about anti-extremism, it is about demolishing law and order. And if these should be demolished to more than a certain extent, a liberal can easily be extremist too.
Those who try to ‘argue’ that liberals cannot be extremists are only using the word ‘extremist’ as a label to discredit other political opinions without trying to win over them fair and square. (Which, as liberals very well know, they cannot accomplish.)

GW
Guest

Johnny Boy, you are completely confusing liberalism with anarchism, and in doing so, making precisely the same error that fascists and communists made in the last century. While liberalism does indeed seek a state that is minimized to ensure the maximum of individual liberty, it does recognize the role of the state in preserving and protecting that liberty. It is not about destroying law and order but about creating a consensual and sustainable law and order in balance and complementing individual liberty.

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