The Orbán regime’s search for historical antecedents

During the weekends I usually find time to read articles and books that have nothing to do with the present political situation in Hungary. But somehow it always turns out that even a book review about  the Rákosi period can have relevance to what’s going on today. The book in question is György Gyarmati’s Rákosi-korszak: Rendszerváltó fordulatok évtizede Magyarországon (The Rákosi period: A decade of regime changes in Hungary).

Gyarmati’s thesis is that the Rákosi regime failed not because of the natural aversion of society and its passive resistance against totalitarianism but because “those who were in charge of the regime couldn’t make the regime work.”  Changes were introduced at a rapid pace to which neither society nor the economy could adjust. Rákosi believed that the Moscow inspired changes couldn’t be accompanied by similarly rapid changes in the economic and social sphere. It was the regime’s “voluntarism that destined Rákosi to fail twice.” First in 1952-53 when he was forced to relinquish some of his posts and a new “gentler” transformation of society and the economy was introduced and then in 1956 when a full-fledged revolution broke out against his rule.

What made the Soviet imposed changes especially difficult in Hungary–and even more so in Czechoslovakia and East Germany–was that in comparison to Soviet Russia these countries had already experienced a capitalist development before and had a more sizable middle class than Russia had in 1917 or even later. Thus, more developed societies were forced to adapt to a regime originally introduced in a less developed state.

So, one could ask, what is it here that reminded me of the present situation? First, the rapid and unpredictable changes introduced by Mátyás Rákosi’s regime. Somewhat similarly to the Muscovites of 1946-48 Orbán and his enablers have been waiting for a long time to put their ideas into practice and therefore they feel that everything must change as soon as possible. Their revolutionary zeal is akin to that of the Hungarian communists who returned home from Moscow or who joined the illegal communist party during the interwar years. It is clear from the practices of the Orbán government in the last three years that the time between 2002 and 2010 was spent drawing a road map of action to introduce a “revolutionary change.” Admittedly, not all the details were worked out ahead of time, but the final goal was certainly outlined.

We often speak of Viktor Orbán’s “voluntarism,” which is a doctrine that views the will as the driving force of both the individual and the universe. Indeed, Orbán operates on this principle: he has a goal and to reach it is merely a question of will regardless of any outside forces.

But, as the Rákosi regime’s fate illustrates, society and its accompanying economy are simply not flexible enough to be bent by Viktor Orbán’s will. Moreover, the regime Viktor Orbán wants to introduce would be a step backward for a society that bears no resemblance to the one to which Orbán and his fellow politicians want to return: the Horthy regime. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, Orbán’s goal is to develop a political system in Hungary that greatly resembles the pseudo-democracy of  that era. And this would be a step backward just like the Soviet-imposed dictatorship on countries that were more developed than Russia was at the time of the Bolshevik takeover.

Recently I also read a number of articles on Kunó Klebelsberg, minister of education in the 1920s and the idol of the Orbán regime. Klebelsberg is pictured as the founder of progressive education who symbolized the best of Hungarian conservatism. Klebelsberg certainly was right that after the lost war Hungary’s route to success was not through military might but through educational attainment. And since in the 1920s Hungary was forbidden to maintain a large army, Klebelsberg’s ministry received a sizable portion of the budget.

Looking back, but not moving forward

Looking back, but not moving forward

Klebelsberg’s ideas are, however, no longer applicable in today’s world. Klebelsberg was an elitist whose aim was to offer educational opportunities to the Christian middle classes. The emphasis was on “Christian,” and by “middle class” he more or less understood the sons of civil servants. He was a nationalist who at one point even entertained moving Hungarian speaking citizens to dilute the large pockets of Slovaks, Romanians, and Serbs. Klebelsberg also shared the antisemitism of his contemporaries and, although he knew that the numerus clausus that restricted university enrollment of Jewish students was unconstitutional and unfair, he defended it by claiming that the law was “misunderstood” by foreigners. Sounds familiar,  doesn’t it? How often we hear nowadays that this or that law is misunderstood, wrongly translated, purposely misinterpreted by the outside world. How often the government spokesmen blame the liberals for anti-patriotic acts. Oh, yes, the liberals! Klebelsberg hated the liberals. He was certain liberalism opened the door to left-wing radicalism and from there the revolution was only a few steps away.

So, turning to Klebelsberg for inspiration on designing public education in the 21st century seems not only a retrograde step but completely inappropriate to the needs of a modern society. The kind of elitist educational philosophy Klebelsberg adhered to is no longer applicable today. Yet, an incredible number of Hungarian educators would like to return to an elitist higher educational system when a very small percentage of the adult population entered college or university. Certainly, there is a need for reform of education in Hungary, but naming that “reform'”after a man who formulated his educational ideas around the turn of the twentieth century is not exactly forward looking.

But I think there is a silver lining in Fidesz’s mad search for right-wing antecedents. It will most likely fail for the same reason that Mátyás Rákosi failed in the 1950s. What Orbán is building is a retrograde system foisted on a modern society. Such a regime cannot be maintained for long.

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Kormos
Guest

I am not proud of my ignorance, but I just recently heard that based on Czechoslovak/Soviet demands Rakosi gave about ten North/West Hungarian villages to Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII above the Trianon agreement. Could you /would you explain why this land transfer happened?

Paul
Guest

“Changes were introduced at a rapid pace to which neither society nor the economy could adjust.” Let’s hope Orbán finds he’s made the same mistake.

Interesting article, Éva, thanks. Unfortunately, Gyarmati’s book doesn’t seem to be available in English.

Paul
Guest

Kormos :
I am not proud of my ignorance, but I just recently heard that based on Czechoslovak/Soviet demands Rakosi gave about ten North/West Hungarian villages to Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII above the Trianon agreement. Could you /would you explain why this land transfer happened?

I would guess something along the lines of ‘he didn’t have much choice’…

Member

@kormos

1. It was not Rakosi, but the 1947 Paris peace treaty that forced Hungary to hand over villages to Czechoslovakia.

2. It was not 10 but 3 villages.(Dunacsún= Čunovo, Horvátjárfalu= Jarovce, Oroszvár= Rusovce)

LwiiH
Guest

Very interesting comparison. Eva, this is one post that really needs to be re-pub’ed in Hungarian.

My solution to this is; we about to jettison the Hungarian school system. Unfortunately this is not a widely available option. Real choice would create an interesting pressure on this antiquated system.

Member

Is Orban trying to resurrect the Horthy era, or the Kadar era? It seems to me that he is reinstating Kadarite policies — state control over the means of production, state diktats in education and culture, weak checks on executive power, strong cult of personality, restrictions on free speech, corruption — but using Horthyite symbols to explain them to the public, i.e. Klebelsberg.

In essence, Orban wants to replace the concept of “vanguard party” — his model — with concept of “nemzet.” The symbolism is Horthyite nationalism, but the content is Kadarite.

Anyone care to discuss?

Kormos
Guest

Thank you Tappanch

Heimi
Guest
We will see a nice marxist idea put to the test at the next elections. What happened in the last almost three years, and also before that but it was not public (i.e. Fidesz had continuous ‘consultations’ with big foreign investors from a position of power and with the signals that in government Fidesz was going to cause damage if such investors did not comply with Fidesz’s ‘requirements’, that is when Fidesz was still in opposition) was that Fidesz fundamentally questioned acquired property rights. This disrespect for property rights took various form, some legal in nature (retroactive and conficatory taxes, regulations of business to the point of making the particular business impossible, forced, uncompensated nationalisations, relativisation of property rights in the new constitution, making it much easier to exericise eminent domain and the list goes on and on) some not (going to investors and effectively forcing them to sell their property, yes, mafia style, or suffer the consequences, e.g. a nice prosecution/court procedure). But it had the result that money flew out of Hungary, and not only foreign investors, but Hungarian enterpreneurs took money out of Hungary and simply do not invest here. They are, in my view rightly, afraid… Read more »
Member

Report from the courtroom

Re: Klubradio vs Media Authority

Decision: delayed, to be promulgated on March 5

Court:
A young judge had been assigned the case.
To my surprise, he was flanked by two old judges.
As the lawyer to Klubradio put it:
they must have established a council.

Room: small & packed. 30 seats and 25 people standing.

Summary of the background:
Media Authority declared a tender for the Budapest frequency of Klubradio.
More than a year ago, it declared another bidder the winner of the frequency, Klubradio
coming in second.

Klubradio sued. Court ruled that the winner of the tender did not sign numbered
pages of the tender, therefore it could not have been declared the winner.
Media Authority should declare the winner minus the disqualified bidder.

Media Authority declared that the its decision in 2011 declaring the tender valid is
invalid, because Klubradio did not sign the EMPTY, unnumbered pages of its tender.

The Fidesz Parliament in the meantime changed their own Media Control Law, channeling the case to a new type of court and making it possible for Media Authority to discontinue giving Klubradio 2-month extensions to broadcast.

Member

Arguments in court:

Klubradio: The case is simple. [If the tender was valid, Klubradio is the winner by the ruling of the other court]. In order for an Authority to change its decision from valid to invalid, it should fulfill 5 criteria according to the law. Media Authority fulfilled 1 criterion only, therefore it did not have the right to declare the frequency tender invalid after a year and two “valid” declarations.

Media Authority: The other court established that only bids with signed pages are valid.
Neither Klubradio nor any other bidder signed the empty verso pages, therefore the tender is invalid.

Court: [young judge whispering with the other two judges] judgement is delayed until March 5.

Member

Ipsos poll, early February 2013

Democratic opposition 19%
Fidesz 18%
Jobbik 8%

Do not care/do not dare to say: 55%

Member

Re: Klubradio vs Media Authority

For more detailed background info, see
http://www.nepszava.hu/articles/article.php?id=623105

Member

Debt of the Hungarian government on Dec 31, 2012

According to the government (AKK): 20,720 billion HUF

http://www.akk.hu/object.c693e119-153c-49bc-bc3d-71f805d83db1.ivy

According to the Hungarian National Bank (MNB): 22,373 billion HUF

http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statisztikai_idosorok/mnbhu_hazt5/ahtadatok2_hu.xls

tappanch
Guest

Austerity for common folks. largesse for political appointees?

Excessive bonuses for 2012 at state-owned companies.

Hungarian Post Office: 150 officials, 0.54 billion HUF,

State Railways : 209 officials, 0.45 billion HUF,

State Lottery: 63 officials, 0.42 billion HUF

Other state-owned companies: 0.8 billion HUF

http://atlatszo.blog.hu/2013/02/18/milliardok_az_allami_vallalatok_vezetoi

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Those with professed nostalgia for the Kadar regime need to recall the three hundred executions/murders of those Hungarians, that also included Hungarian Jews, who wanted to free their country from foreign occupation and the stalinist style of governing so well described by Anne Applebaum in her new book Iron Curtain, the Crushing of Eastern Europe. Doubleday, 2012.

Member

The National Investigative Bureau (Nemzeti Nyomozóiroda) tries to intimidate the students who plan a protest march against the Orban government tonight.

http://www.facebook.com/hallgatoi.halozat/posts/594461777234251

Member

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Those with professed nostalgia for the Kadar regime

Who would that be on this blog??

By the way there are masses of your countrymen in Hungary who are cold and hungry and without job for a long time. Their life got even worse during the Orban government. Can you blame them for being nostalgic for the Kadar era’s lukewarm stability?

It’s very cute how the right is trying to explain that social sensitivity (that is being ‘leftist’) automatically means disrespecting the victims of the communist terror.

Member

tappanch :
The National Investigative Bureau (Nemzeti Nyomozóiroda) tries to intimidate the students who plan a protest march against the Orban government tonight.
http://www.facebook.com/hallgatoi.halozat/posts/594461777234251

Dafuq?

They are checking their ids because allegedly they are PLANNING to occupy a bridge. This is clearly the Kadar regime’s police. We don’t need to be nostalgic.

Go and defend the bridge! That is your job!

If somebody is bringing back the Kadar regime it is Orban.

Eggda
Guest
Who is this guy, Csaba. K. Zoltani? I love his Fidesznik style. He states nonchalantly something that is patently not true (there are noboby at this blog with nostalgia for Kádár) as the very basis for his argument, which has nothing to do with the post. He just uses this blog to promote his Fidesznik messages. It is a bit like the practice that Fidesz publishes a press release and as there are no editors anywhere in Hungary, these press releases get published right away even on Népszabadság, Origo, Index etc. stating something that is not true, but which looks as though there was a genuine controvery which makes supposedly relevant such press release. Something like “Fidesz will resist calls from B. to decrease pensions”. Nobody asked for a decrease of pensions (especially not the named opposition politician), but this is just a beautiful message to publish on a sleepy Wednesday. It is an attack in the guise of a defense. Tappanch: Fidesz will use any and all means necessary to tame HaHa. (HÖK, the rival, co-opted organisation, comprehensively embedded within the official university structure, is already under their firm control of Fidesz, so HaHa is under threat on two… Read more »
Maria
Guest
Kadarism versus Orbanism: About a year ago, Agnes Heller stated in an Interview in the Zeit (http://www.zeit.de/2012/03/Ungarn-Heller/seite-1, German quote below), responding to the question whether she regretted returning to Hungary, that the present government was lacking two crucial ingredients for a fully fledged dictatorship: death penalty and closed borders. Its good to remember these facts every once in a while, when the bad news seem to be getting too much. On the other hand I had an interesting conversation on the denunciatory climate under Kadar / Orban the other day. In response to me saying that denunciation and fear of denunciation must have gotten about as bad as under Kadar by now, a Hungarian (old enough to know first-hand) responded: “No, denunciation is actually much worse now. Firstly, under Kadar you always knew who was the denunciator, and secondly you couldn’t get unemployed. They always had to give you a job.” I am not in a position to judge Kadar times myself (especially not with regards to “knowing who was the denunciator”), but the economic threat, combined with social darwinism as state ideology, does lend some Kadar-like elements of the current regime a new edge. Back to Agnes Heller –… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
Eva: “So, instead of talking about these issues he comes up with some irrelevant talk about the Kádár regime and our alleged admiration for its charms.” And in particular, as he is doing at least in part what Pibroch wrote: he is applying Kadar period approaches, and mixes this with Horthy period symbols and propaganda. It even appears that Kadar “charms” are more visible again in the I believe that you are right in that the Hungarian society is too modern for Viktor Orban to achieve any kind of increasing living standards with his methods. But unfortunately the society is not “modern” enough to share broadly or among a critical mass those convictions that are necessary for a modern political society. One of the most obstructive ideas is that by adopting ideas from abroad, the essence of the nation is endangered, or in other incarnations that nothing should ever threaten the “megmaradni” with its many interpretations from mere survival to survival with all mythical national attributes. And this mix of present-day and 19th century ideas gives OV the possibility to execute his programme. For the fourth republic to become reality, it will be needed that not only economic relations are… Read more »
Paul
Guest

tappanch :
Ipsos poll, early February 2013
Democratic opposition 19%
Fidesz 18%
Jobbik 8%
Do not care/do not dare to say: 55%

55% don’t know/won’t say – is this some sort of record for a (supposedly) free, democratic state?

tappanch – thanks for your Klubrádió court reports, very interesting. But is the judge ‘council’ a good or bad thing?

Kirsten
Guest

To complete the sentence: “It even appears that Kadar “charms” are more visible again in the streets and in the general atmosphere of the cities.”

Paul
Guest

OT (as is my wont…) – my wife reported yet another triumph for Orbán today, as the UK is considering a ‘fizzy drink’ tax as part of its ‘fight’ against obesity (a ‘fight’ that couldn’t currently break out of a wet paper bag). “You see!”, said she, “Orbán leads, and other follow!”

I’m thinking of building a brick wall next to the computer – so I can bang my head on it without having to get up.

She also posted TWO bloody pictures of Orbán (“see how good he looks?”) on FB, and, as she is my ‘friend’, these then appear on MY wall!

Both photos with women:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=10151486322221093&set=a.311926051092.193946.298090296092&type=1&theater

http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=10151488222051093&set=a.10151488220936093.540123.298090296092&type=1&theater

and both liked and shared by a depressingly large number of people…

(Incidentally, I assume the above links take you to the specific pictures my wife ‘liked’ – if they don’t, you’ll just have to enjoy yourself wading through OV’s photos, trying to imagine which ones they were…)

Paul
Guest

“I would also venture that the power of Fidesz is really a manifestation of a revenge of the country-side originated, uneducated classes, as Orbán, Simicska etc. are first generation educated, and mostly ‘cseléd’-class people, vis-a-vis Budapest-based, Westernised power structures. They felt that they were opressed, looked down on and left out of real power and now are having their revenge, though of course they needed to make some political bargains with other constitutencies.”

This struck me as quite an astute analysis – if correct. Does anyone know if it’s right? (i.e. that “the power of Fidesz is really a manifestation of a revenge of the country-side originated, uneducated classes, as Orbán, Simicska etc. are first generation educated, and mostly ‘cseléd’-class people”)

An
Guest

@Paul: Don’t know what kind of authority you expect on this one, but yes, I as an urban Hungarian, was often struck by how much Fidesz represents the backward Hungarian countryside, its boorishness, narrow-mindedness, and its inferiority complex..

Kirsten
Guest

Paul, I cannot say whether this is correct or not. I find it doubtful. This “cseled” word for me reveals some haughtiness that is just another manifestation of the inequality thinking that dominates much of how Hungarians think about society. It is of no help if the “Budapest elite” will now try to denigrate those who have formal power over them by suggesting that in actual fact it is them who are the “elite” (aka the most irresistible Hungarian nobility), while they are just being ill-treated for being so noble. Should democracy be an option for Hungarians, it must be possible to arrive at some common understanding of the word “equality”, and to learn to cooperate instead of degrading people with other opinions and interests as (whatever fits: servants, Roma, you name it).

An
Guest

@Kirsteb: I don’t think people in Budapest are more noble or that everyone in the countryside is backward. But there is a type of boorishness and narrow-mindedness that is characteristic of some parts of the country (and of some people in Budapest) that seem to have become the norm in Fidesz circles. I don’t think that this is a “cseled” mentality, either; actually, I have no low opinion about the “cseled” (servants). It has nothing to do with one’s job or his/her ancestors’ job.. it’s a way of thinking.

Member

Paul :
the power of Fidesz is really a manifestation of a revenge of the country-side originated, uneducated classes, as Orbán, Simicska etc. are first generation educated, and mostly ‘cseléd’-class people

Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with “country-side originated” (people outside of BP want this regime gone as much as in BP) but definitely the revenge of the uneducated. People who read all Albert Wass books (3 times) became more educated then you, and list of the examples is endless.

On the other hand the remark may give a little insight into Orban’s mind. Smart redneck kid went up to big city – paddled through college – got a diploma, now he is the king. Who knows.

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