Fidesz’s success and the public’s ignorance of democratic principles

I guess the real test of a good opinion piece is whether the reader finds it thought provoking. Whether while reading the piece dozens of  examples, questions, and ideas come to mind. I must say that I don’t have this experience very often, but this morning I did thanks to an article by Árpád W. Tóta entitled “A fideszes áfium ellen való orvosság.” My mind immediately started racing (some might say wandering), but as it turned out I wasn’t too far from the main thrust of Tóta’s argument.

First I stopped at the word “áfium” in the title.  My high school years came back to me. All those who finished Hungarian high school learned something about Miklós Zrinyi (1620-1664), ban (governor) of Croatia, general, poet, politician, writer of political treatises. He wrote a political pamphlet entitled “A török áfium ellen való orvosság” and, although I don’t remember ever reading a single line from this work in school, we did learn the pamphlet’s title. But there was one rather serious problem. We had no idea what the word “áfium,” an archaic word, meant and our Hungarian teacher never bothered to enlighten us. It was only years later that I found out that “áfium” meant “opium” and that the title actually meant “Medicine against the Turkish opium.”

From “áfium” I made a mental leap to the deficiencies of Hungarian education and found myself on the same wave length as Tóta, who complained in the body of his article about the ignorance that allows a million and half Hungarians to be unquestioning followers of a false messiah. Tóta believes that “the medicine against the Fidesz opium” lies in enlightenment, in education, in learning about democracy, learning about the world.

Tóta is right when he claims that those who find Fidesz’s message and practices repugnant often think that Viktor Orbán’s slavish followers are simply stupid. No, he says, they are just ignorant–and they lack intellectual curiosity. I would change the order of deficiencies here. Without intellectual curiosity a person will never acquire the information necessary to make intelligent choices. And intellectual curiosity is in short supply in Hungary. For instance, the number of Hungarian adults taking continuing education courses is the lowest in all of Europe.

Source: 02varvara.wordpress

Source: 02varvara.wordpress

Tóta blames the eight years of socialist-liberal governance for allowing a generation to grow up without ever acquiring the rudiments of democratic thinking. As a result 17% of Hungarian college students believe the drivel of Jobbik. Tóta suggests that once Fidesz is gone it will be time to transform the newly adopted compulsory hour of morality and religion to “civics.” As he jokingly says, “the framework is given; one just has to change the textbooks.”

Once I got this far I recalled Ferenc Krémer’s latest article on Galamus about “Teaching democracy, the German example.” Krémer naturally mentioned the German children’s show which teaches the pillars of democracy, like an independent judiciary, freedom of the media, and freedom of assembly. It was on this show that German children learned about all those undemocratic practices the Orbán government introduced. Naturally Orbán was outraged and called the show “brainwashing,” something he would never allow to appear on Hungarian public television.

My guess is that a lot of liberal and socialist opponents of the Orbán government would agree with Tóta and Krémer that democratic thinking must be taught, preferably at a young age. But many of the same people find the European Union’s efforts at curbing smoking unacceptable. It is brainwashing, they say.

So, let’s see what brainwashing means. It has two meanings: (1) intensive, forcible indoctrination, usually political or religious, aimed at destroying a person’s basic convictions and attitudes and replacing them with an alternative set of fixed beliefs, and (2) the application of a concentrated means of persuasion, such as an advertising campaign or repeated suggestion, in order to develop a specific belief or motivation.

Surely, neither the German children’s show teaching young kids about democratic thinking nor the campaign against smoking would fall into the first category. There is no question of forcible indoctrination here. Instead, both use persuasion in order to develop a specific belief or motivation. In the first instance to develop a belief in democracy and in the second to reinforce one’s motivation to quit smoking. Both are for the common good, I think. Yet a lot of confusion as well as genuinely conflicting opinions surround the question of influencing public opinion. The Nazis in Germany didn’t have to force people to follow the Führer. A concentrated means of persuasion was enough. Or we condemn the tobacco companies’ advertising practices that encouraged smoking but laud the efforts of governments to curb smoking, although both fall into the category of persuasion by social means.

The subject of brainwashing and persuasion has a large literature, but I like one simple description of brainwashing: “someone else is thinking for you.” This is unfortunately very much the case with nonthinking Fidesz followers. Whatever future Hungarian governments do to ensure a better educated public, they must put the emphasis on independent thinking and a broader knowledge of the world. It also might not be a bad idea to teach children the meaning of “áfium” and, while they are at it, tell them what Zrínyi’s work is all about.

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Member

“Tóta is right when he claims that those who find Fidesz’s message and practices repugnant often think that Viktor Orbán’s slavish followers are simply stupid. No, he says, they are just ignorant–and they lack intellectual curiosity.”

What’s the difference?

Member

Seal Driver :
“Tóta is right when he claims that those who find Fidesz’s message and practices repugnant often think that Viktor Orbán’s slavish followers are simply stupid. No, he says, they are just ignorant–and they lack intellectual curiosity.”
What’s the difference?

I have an 83 year old friend. She’s been a math teacher for more than 50 years. Never MSZP member. Intelligent … and a staunch peace marcher. Dang.

Member

I would expand a little on “intellectual curiosity”. It’s not only the desire to acquire knowledge to make intelligent choices. It is also the doubt. Feeling the need to verify the “truth” you were fed. This borderlines with laziness if you don’t want to know more. The lack of intellectual curiosity is being satisfied with the ideological fast-food from the menu, or not only that, not questioning the “truth” that maybe something that aligns with your life experiences. Like the myth of the evil socialists, 22 years after 1990. Where is this coming from? The fear of being wrong? Pride?

Member

I got bored this afternoon so I keep posting nonsense … Ok. This is the last. I promise. I propose a game. Let’s profile the Fidesz believers if you have some among your friends.

Think of someone you know. Give the age, gender and describe their life, focusing on things that by your opinion were determining factors for the world view of this person (education, family background, religion, work, etc). Now try to explain why is this person a Fidesz supporter today.

I’m not looking for numbers. I’m looking for patterns in way of thinking (or lack of thinking).

Ok, I fade away for the day.

Kirsten
Guest
Mutt: “I’m not looking for numbers. I’m looking for patterns in way of thinking (or lack of thinking).” I would be also interested in what other readers think about it. I personally doubt that you can identify such patterns. I think people will support OV (and “not think” in our understanding) out of very different motives. And they might even believe that they do think – for instance because given the Hungarian “historical experience”, they might have come to the conclusion that the best Hungarians can do is to try to be as self-sufficient as possible and to trust own strenghts. Given the brilliant results of Matolcsy’s unorthodox policies, that appears strange but it need not mean that people do not think. They have not been offered a better explanation of why “democracy” in Hungary between 1989 and 2010 has not improved their lives significantly, and why with all the democracy that should mean that all is fine the society became increasingly more aggresive and divisive. I have heard from people with a PhD that in this region of Europe, authoritarian regimes fit best. And these people do have an education and have read a lot. They just happen not… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

“Naturally Orbán was outraged and called the show “brainwashing,” something he would never allow to appear on Hungarian public television.”

This just says everything that needs to be said about Fidesz ideas about democracy.

Ivan
Guest

In my experience it’s all about ‘normalis’ and a genuine dislike of difference (and even exuberance). ‘Normal’ is something of a personal insult in most countries. The strange thing is, though, that was has accrued around the label in Hungary recently is often actually anything but normal.

VasSpecialist
Guest

fából vaskarika…..
It is degrading to speak to stupid people. The numbers of stupid Hungarians is scary.
We need the Tóta, Gáti, Balogh essays to effect their minds.
These works have to seek the truth, and present it without fear.
Opposing the truth, you can watch the twisted preachings of the religious Hungarians of all faiths. Hear their “….fából vaskarika…..” molded with turuls, too.
To escape the 1000 years “fából vaskarika…..”, the Communist reformers, like Imre Nagy were almost the saviors of the nation but a stubborn core rejected them, to keep the old “fából vaskarika…..” alive.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

I do not think the current rise of populist and xenophobic political parties is related to flaws in education, to a lack of exposure to “the rudiments of democratic thinking” at school.

I doubt that a significant gap in education level exists between Fidesz voters and center and left-wing opposition voters. And Jobbik voters, particularly the younger ones, are actually more educated than the rest of voters – meaning that it is doubtful they have not been exposed enough to “democracy and the world” at school.

At the age of the Internet, there are so many point of views available that “the rudiments of democratic thinking” cannot be… words only. Only actual practice, not lessons in a classroom, can root these values in one’s ways of thinking.

Civil society, volunteering, and particularly individual funding and volunteering on social issues, is notoriously weak in Hungary (also in Romania and Bulgaria, btw). It is a sad communist legacy. Surely, post-1990 governments have done very little to address this, and the current Fidesz/Jobbik rhetorics about every NGO they don’t like being “Foreign agents” is only making things worse.

tappanch
Guest

Statistical difference in the IQ’s of various countries could be measured, but the result will depend on the tests applied.

Lack of firm data makes me postulate that each country, even each person has both bad and good inclination inside.

Orban brings out the worst from the Hungarian psyche, that is the problem.

tappanch
Guest

Poll by Ipsos, distributed by MTI.

sample size= 1500, taken between July 6 and 13.

Fidesz 25%
Jobbik 7%
Democratic opposition 22%

That leaves 46% undecided.

http://index.hu/belfold/2013/07/16/ipsos_fidesz_25_mszp_15/

tappanch
Guest

Grade the Orban government, [failure=F, excellent= A]

F & D 55%
C 31%
A & B 14%

Do you want a change of government in 2014?

Yes 52%
No 28%

Are you satisfied with the opposition?

No 62%

Is Hungary heading in the right direction?

Yes: 24%
No: 65%

JonB
Guest

My argument for a long time has been that the education system here in Hungary does not encourage independent thinking or the concept of challenging what is put in front of you. It seems that History and Literature for example are not analysed from a number of view points. Until people feel confident to question see things from different perspectives then politicians and leaders can get away with what they want.

In the last few years only Magyar Balint has attempted and failed, due to institutional pressure, to make radical change.

Discussion between students in classrooms seems to be a rarity, each child is an island rather than part of an interactive group.

It is not that the people are stupid but far too many cannot see that there are many possible outcomes. For instance in the last election it was those who did not vote that gave the super majority – a lot were against Orban but felt it not worth voting as their party had no hope – unaware that the non vote was in effect a Fidesz vote.

tappanch
Guest

This is good. A non-Fidesznik winner of a tobacco-selling license explains:

“We were surprised that we won.[…] It is possible that they mixed up our name, Breuer with Breier, who is a manager of [the Fidesz supporting] CBA chain.”

http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20130716_Lehet_hogy_osszekevertek_a_nevet_az_egyi

Member

I think that there is a huge difference. Stupid means a low IQ. Ignorance is simply lack of knowledge.
On reflection I’m sorry that Tóta didn’t talk about intelligence and thus I also neglected it. But it actually maybe more important than IQ or sheer knowledge. According to the dictionary intelligence is “the faculty of thought and reason.”

British journalist Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” If we use this definition, I guess Hungary’s problem is a lack of wisdom.

Member

tappanch :
Poll by Ipsos, distributed by MTI.
sample size= 1500, taken between July 6 and 13.
Fidesz 25%
Jobbik 7%
Democratic opposition 22%
That leaves 46% undecided.
http://index.hu/belfold/2013/07/16/ipsos_fidesz_25_mszp_15/

Your calculation of 22% for the Democratic Opposition assumes that all the people in the MSZP would be willing to vote for a list headed by Bajnai and that all the people in E14, PM and DK would be willing to vote for a Mesterhazy-led list. Unfortunately, that’s not a safe assumption to make.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Seal Driver :
British journalist Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” If we use this definition, I guess Hungary’s problem is a lack of wisdom.

Actually tomatoes get along fine with other fruit, especially berries. Grand desserts by Pierre Hermé, such as his ‘Intuition’ pie (lemon / raspberries / tomatoes) are proof enough of that.

I’d be tempted to make a petty joke about the journalist being British, but since there are now very good chefs North of the Channel I’d rather say that his second example is also knowledge. And that wisdom could be this : knowing that tomatoes do not *usually* belong to a fruit salad, yet thinking it might be interesting to follow one’s senses and try anyway.

Member

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

Seal Driver :
British journalist Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” If we use this definition, I guess Hungary’s problem is a lack of wisdom.

Actually tomatoes get along fine with other fruit, especially berries. Grand desserts by Pierre Hermé, such as his ‘Intuition’ pie (lemon / raspberries / tomatoes) are proof enough of that.

Unorthodox fruitcake? Like Orban?

cheshire cat
Guest

….

Louis Kovach
Guest

The illustration by itself speaks volumes on the knowledge and physical comprehension of the blogger.

Member

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

And that wisdom could be this : knowing that tomatoes do not *usually* belong to a fruit salad, yet thinking it might be interesting to follow one’s senses and try anyway.

Indeed. Hungarian fruit salad has not been so interesting since Dozsa Gyorgy got roasted and served to his own men.

Guest

Louis, please give us more of your pearls of wisdom!

We were just trying to watch the news on North Korean State TV (aka M2) – but when Gabrielle S …appeared, my wife cried out: No, mo, ven curva … – and switched to another channel …

Guest

I disagree with the commonly held opinion that the plain Hungarians can be blamed for the evolving political disaster in Hungary.

The average Hungarian is not more stupid, ignorant, indolent, uneducated and politically naive than the average people in a stable democratic country such as India.

The average Hungarian politician, on the other hand, is vastly inferior to his peers in democratic countries, not in intelligence, rethoric and ambition but in democratic schooling and conviction.

It is futile to talk about improving the public’s understanding of democratic principles in a country where such understanding does not exist among the politicians.

The core of the problem is that democratic conviction does not come into being by spontaneous generation in the minds of young would-be politicians. In countries with democratic traditions the political apprentices learn democracy from their masters and mentors. That is not possible in Hungary which has no democratic tradition. Maybe Hungarian politicians should reconsider their rejection of democratic tuition from the EU.

Kirsten
Guest

Jean P, politicians in a democracy are recruited from the public.

Member

Kirsten :
Jean P, politicians in a democracy are recruited from the public.

And by the public.

Member

Louis Kovach :
The illustration by itself speaks volumes on the knowledge and physical comprehension of the blogger.

What is wrong with this picture?