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.