Fourth Republic in Hungary?

For those readers who are not familiar with how the attempts to establish a "republic" in Hungary are numbered, the period after the regime change in 1989 is called the Third Republic. The first republic was the short-lived democratic revolution of Mihály Károlyi in 1918 and the second, the years between 1946 and 1949 that ended with the communist takeover.

Zoltán Ripp wrote about a fourth republic that will follow the demise of the Orbán regime and will be "a modernized and expanded form of the 1989 democratic transformation." A few days later, Ferenc Krémer wrote an article entitled "The Fourth Republic. Considerations for an Unavoidable Debate. Part I. Preliminary Observations." In it the author applauds Ripp's attempt to outline the steps to be taken, without which the democratic opposition to the current regime doesn't have the slightest chance of succeeding in unseating the current autocratic and undemocratic regime that has been in the making ever since last May.

However, says Krémer, tinkering with the structure and some of the details of the regime as it came into being in 1989 is simply not enough, although it seems that the people who engaged in the extensive debate on the subject take it for granted that the "new regime" will not be radically different from the pre-Orbán Third Republic. But thinking in these terms is "a serious mistake" because it stops any further reflection on the subject and doesn't allow the participants to question the basic tenets of the regime change. Problems would remain hidden and the solution will be superficial. Krémer doesn't believe that those Hungarians who are thinking about such matters should be satisfied with a somewhat modified version of the 1989 efforts toward establishing democracy in Hungary.

Krémer proceeds to explain why he thinks that following the ideas of the majority of political commentators and thinkers is a "serious mistake." The reasons are both substantive and tactical. Tactical because in his opinion the electorate will not support a simple return to 1989 even if it is a slightly modified version of the regime that came into being more than twenty years go. Most people have a rather negative opinion of the politics of the Third Republic. It will be very difficult to convince the voters that "this regime can solve anything." The other reason that it would be a mistake to simply return to 1989 is "because we must clearly see that Orbánism is the product of that regime." Naturally, it was not an inevitable result but "a possibility." Yet "there was a more or less straight line from democrats infatuated with the Crown to the rule of dilettantes and the rebirth of Nazism." Here Krémer alludes to the MDF-Christian Democrats-Smallholders majority that in 1990 pushed through the use of the crown in the official coat of arms instead of the Kossuth coat of arms preferred by the liberals and the socialists. I may add that the same majority opted for August 20, St. Stephen's Day, a religious holiday, to be the paramount national holiday instead of March 15, which is the symbol of Hungary's entrance onto the democratic stage, leaving absolutism behind.

According to Krémer one must find the answer to a very difficult question: "what made dictators accepted and successful in the past two decades…. Without a critique of the regime of 1989 Hungarians will not be able to work out a credible program for the establishment of the Fourth Republic." This new regime must be built on such solid democratic foundations that "self-appointed messiahs wouldn't be able to lay waste to it as they did with the Third Republic." The Third Republic failed and as time went by it drifted farther and farther away from being a modern democracy.

This is pretty radical stuff and I am looking forward to the second and third installments. But in the meantime here is something that might explain, at least in part, the failure of the Third Republic.

György Bolgár wrote his weekly column in Népszava on the very harsh sentences meted out after the London riots to people who committed crimes. Even stealing a relatively small item was considered to be a serious enough offfense to merit a jail sentence of a year and a half. He compared that to the very few and very light sentences handed down to those hooligans who injured over a hundred policemen, set cars on fire, and caused considerable damage to the headquarters of the Hungarian Public Television building.

Gyula Hegyi, a former socialist MP and member of the European Parliament, in yesterday's Népszava continued the theme with a comparison between the Anglo-Saxon and Continental way at looking at individual freedom and punishment. In countries with a tradition of English jurisprudence society allows greater freedom to individuals than is the practice on the Continent, but at the same time the guilty are much more severely punished. Hegyi considers this phenomenon to be the "essence of Anglo-Saxon democracy." The individual can act freely, but he is fully responsible for his deeds. On the Continent punishment is far more lenient, but there the state is much more active in shielding its citizens. In Europe the individual's freedom is often restricted in the interest of the community's cohesion.

In Hungary after 1989–mostly at the insistence of the liberals–Anglo-Saxon freedom of the individual was coupled with the Continent's more lenient sentencing practices. As a result it was almost impossible to take steps against people who terrorized their communities, against ruffians who smashed everything in sight at soccer games, against petty thieves who stole their neighbors' crop or usurers who threatened the lives of poor people. 

Hegyi has been somewhat baffled that Hungarian liberals who admired the American system of extensive individual freedom acted as if they had never heard of the very harsh punishment meted out to those who break the rules.

The result was chaos, and people gained the impression that order had completely broken down in the country. "This is a country without consequences," went the saying. People wanted to have order. Orbán promised order. But, of course, the order he is introducing has nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon practice of far-reaching individual freedom combined with harsh punishment for those who misuse it. Rather, he is restricting individual freedom, and punishment seems to be very selective and unfair.

Perhaps in that Fourth Republic legal experts should reconsider the lawlessness that can be produced by a lopsided application of crime and punishment. I think Hungarian voters would applaud such a move.

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Kirsten
Guest

But is 1848 really seen as a revolution that aimed primarily at “freedom” and liberties? I learned here on the blog that Viktor Orban was called the “new Kossuth”. Then it is difficult to link 1848 to other aspects of the revolution than “liberation” of the Hungarian nation (defined language-wise or descent-wise). When I read here about the Kossuth-Orban relation, I put a question mark to whether the other aspects of 1848 are really considered very important. The Crown then appears the more honest choice. But a fourth republic should still try to find another common basis than the Crown, which simply is no symbol of a democratic order.

Kirsten
Guest

… and neither of a “republic”.

Paul
Guest

What about a fiddle?
As in fiddling while Rome burned.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Paul:
I completely agree. This is all very nice but we have “tizenot” say points that are a bit more urgent:
-revoke flat tax immediately
-hads off from labour rights
-reinstitute the freedom of the press
etc.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Krzysztof
Guest

There has already been a country in the region that wanted to introduce the Fourth Republic:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Polish_Republic
It did not last long…

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Krysztof: “There has already been a country in the region that wanted to introduce the Fourth Republic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Polish_Republic It did not last long…”
Thank God! The first time I read about the “Fourth Republic” was last year when József Debreczeni described the coming of a new type of “pseudo-democracy” of Viktor Orbán. So, there is quite a bit of confusion over the subject.

Member

IMO the main difference between “Anglo-Saxon” liberties and Continental liberties is that the Contintental way of thinking is to start with an abstract set of theoretical ideas about how society can be perfected and try to apply them. The inevitable failure tends to lead to great disappointment and either complete cynicism about any positive change or great enthusiasm about the next theory that comes along.
The Anglo-Saxon version tends to look at liberties as practical rather than theoretical concepts and is not overly worried about theoretical inconsistencies. It has a greater tendency to think of the world as flawed, solutions as partial and change as incremental, not radical.
The differences IMO are due to a divergence of philosophical trends in the 18th and 19th century (empiricism in the English speaking world vs idealism on the Continent) and they tend to make the continent easier prey for political fanaticism.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Building a republic with Gyula Hegyi and mates?
When are you finally going to realize that if there’s anyone to build a new republic, your ‘liberal’ friends are after the last one on the list?

Paul
Guest

Interesting post, David. It is an original analysis of your own or are there supporting sources you can point me to?

Member

Paul, unfortunately I cannot claim originality for the points I am making, but in my opinoon originality is highly overrated anyway.
The basic point about the difference between “Anglo-Saxon” liberties and Continental ones has been made by many people, and goes right back to Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. This is why I put “Anglo-Saxon” in quotes as Burke was, of course, an Irishman and therefore neither an Angle nor a Saxon.
The divergence of philosophy is also hardly an original observation. Philosophical trends are ever changing and my own ongoing accumulation of knowledge of the subject came to an end when I finished my undergraduate education in 1995, so I cannot claim knowledge of the latest ideas. As a basic starting point on this issue, however, I would suggest the Wikipedia articles on “Analytical philosophy” (the English speaking world’s fashion) and “Continental Philosophy” (no prizes for guessing where that is popular).

Paul
Guest

Cheers David, this is all new to me but I’ll check out the Wikipedia articles.
I’ve often wondered why we seemed to be ‘immune’ to the revolutionary fervour that grips the Continent from time to time, but I had assumed it was down to something more ‘concrete’ like Capitalism, the Empire, relative wealth, the class system, etc. It never occurred to me that it might be down to differing philosophies!
PS – original thought is much underrated! One of the criticisms I’ve got against our university system is that original thinking is so discouraged.

Member

Postscript. I suppose the idea that continental philosophy makes one easy prey for fanaticism is probably my own, but I’m sure others have said the same thing. I vaguely recollect reading that Heidigger was a good Nazi.

Kirsten
Guest

About your debate whether there is a difference in the English and the Contintental approach, in German classes of political sciences I have heard something like that the English thinkers such as Locke were “shallow” (i.e. pragmatic, oriented at practical issues), while the Germans such as Hegel or Kant “thought deeply and profoundly” to get to the “root of the matter”. I think it is a similar statement to that of David, without making any of the two German philosophers responsible for the fanatism that followed.

Jano
Guest

“In Hungary after 1989–mostly at the insistence of the liberals–Anglo-Saxon freedom of the individual was coupled with the Continent’s more lenient sentencing practices. As a result it was almost impossible to take steps against people who terrorized their communities, against ruffians who smashed everything in sight at soccer games, against petty thieves who stole their neighbors’ crop or usurers who threatened the lives of poor people. ”
Very insightful remark, and JB even you should agree with this. I wasn’t exactly expecting this coming from Hegyi, but this is a perfect example that good things can come from everywhere.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

@Jano: “Very insightful remark, and JB even you should agree with this. I wasn’t exactly expecting this coming from Hegyi, but this is a perfect example that good things can come from everywhere.”
Same here. I was pleasantly surprised. Often I skip his articles because of his insistence on MSZP to move further to the left. Without explaining what this “left” is. I think Gyurcsány is right when he described this kind of leftist politics as “let’s give more aid” and thus increase the debt.