Mária Vásárhelyi: The Renaissance of Homo Kádáricus

Today I will summarize an article by sociologist Mária Vásárhelyi that appeared a couple of days ago in Élet és Irodalom. The article is another attempt at defining the political order that has developed in Hungary in the last three and a half years.

There are at least three good reasons for making the gist of the article available on Hungarian Spectrum. First, because relatively few people can read it in the original. Second, because even those who can handle Hungarian might not be able to peruse it because ÉS is nowadays available only to subscribers. And third, because I hold Mária Vásárhelyi’s work in high regard. The media is the focus of her research, but in this article she talks about the pervasive influence of János Kádár’s regime. We must keep in mind that the Kádár era lasted more than a generation, to be precise 33 years.

She is the daughter of Miklós Vásárhelyi, a close associate of Imre Nagy who became the spokesman of the second Nagy government on November 1, 1956. When the Soviet troops began their offensive against the rebels on November 4, Vásárhelyi and his family, including his children, joined Imre Nagy and others in the Yugoslav Embassy and after November 23 in Romania. Eventually Vásárhelyi was sentenced to five years in jail.

So, Mária Vásárhelyi’s democratic credentials cannot be questioned. One can’t argue that she or her family was in any way associated with the Kádár regime and that thus she tries to minimize its responsibilities. I heard an interview with her some years back in which she described what it was like to be the daughter of “that Vásárhelyi.”

The article’s title is “The Renaissance of Homo Kadaricus.” It is thus clear from the beginning that Vásárhelyi seeks the roots of the present political system in the Kádár era. She begins on an optimistic note. She is sure that Orbán’s system will collapse because “it is not viable economically, in social terms it is terribly unjust and morally depraved.”

Many analysts have tried to describe and explain the phenomenon of Orbanism. How it was possible that within three short years Orbán and his minions managed to undo the democratic achievements of the regime change that occurred between 1989 and 2010. Explanations naturally vary: the lack of a democratic tradition, centuries of foreign domination, or the lack of a robust middle class. Others argue that in Hungary right-wing influences, especially strong during the Horthy regime, made such an impression on the Hungarian psyche that a large, if not predominant, portion of Hungarian society sympathizes with the authoritarian regime of Viktor Orbán.

Mária Vásárhelyi, without doubting that all of these influences are important, sees “the largest role in Orbán’s successes in the reminiscences of the Kádár era and the anomalies of the regime change.”

Those who have studied the Kádár regime or who experienced it first hand know that on the surface the period between 1963 and 1985 was considered by many to be the golden age of Hungary’s twentieth-century history. Most people were totally satisfied with their lot and expected that every year they and their families would live better. There was a kind of unspoken arrangement by which the people didn’t poke their noses into politics and, in exchange, the party and the government made sure that their material yearnings would be more or less satisfied. Most people had no idea about the serious economic problems that existed already in the 1980s and, even if they did know about them, they didn’t think it was their business to get involved in any way. János Kádár and the others would take care of everything.

The overwhelming concern of most people was material, to which all else was subordinated: morals, compassion, democracy, freedom, human intercourse. They had little sympathy for the practically starving Poles or the oppressed Hungarians in Ceaușescu’s Romania. If they heard about the democratic opposition’s activities, they condemned them because, in their opinion, “they endangered the peace and order of Hungary” or because “they served the interests of the Great Powers.” Today’s Hungarians are to a great extent the products of this age and outlook.

Kadar 1959

János Kádár among his own, 1959

Vásárhelyi thinks that the Orbán regime’s Horthy cult is only an “eyewash” to keep those right-wingers whose vote is necessary to remain in power. Vásárhelyi is convinced that for the great majority of Hungarians the Horthy era means nothing. Some of them can’t even place it in time. Orbán’s real popularity lies in his success at being able to speak the language of the Everyman of the Kádár regime and his appeal to the selfishness of the middle classes that dread their loss of standing. Even “the nationalist rhetoric is no more than the mortar that helps to activate and organize these attitudes into a whole.”

I find Mária Vásárhelyi’s argument compelling–another piece of the puzzle that is the Orbán government.

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Lumpy Lang
Guest

How long can Hungarian apologists for capitalism keep ascribing the failings of the new ruling class to the (numerous) shortcomings of the former workers state? When will the bourgeoisie finally be ready to start taking responsibility for the monstrosity they’ve created?

Guest

I’ve never been to Hungary before 1989 so I have only second hand impressions from friends who went on holiday to the Balaton (and a few Hungarians who had fled to Germany but didn’t talk much about their home country) so I don’t know about those “serious economic problems that existed already in the 1980s” in Hungary but I know that the GDR was in big trouble because of the inefficiency in their economic system.

Eva, do you have further info on the economic situation in Hungary in the 80s?

I’m interested in that because there is this book by Erich Hanke (a friend of Erich Honecker) in 1987 (!) where he claims that “real socialism” will arrive by the year 2015 in the Comecon and soon after real communism …

Scarcely a whimper
Guest
oneill
Guest

“Those who have studied the Kádár regime or who experienced it first hand know that on the surface the period between 1963 and 1985 was considered by many to be the golden age of Hungary’s twentieth-century history. ”

And that is the image which Orban and his regime are offering the proles.
Free lecci and gas, reduced BKV prices etc, etc.

The fascist era and its heroes are also promoted to keep indigenous Nazis quiet but The Dear Leader knows exactly what is needed to keep power and it ain’t ideological.

spectator
Guest
…She is sure that Orbán’s system will collapse because “it is not viable economically, in social terms it is terribly unjust and morally depraved.” – It most certainly will. But then again it will be the the fault of the usual suspects: the liberals, the jew, the gypsies, the foreign powers and so on, you know, the same old mantra. Something for sure, those who elected and kept in power the present thieves to rule the country, never for a single moment feel responsibility, let alone claim it. Otherwise I am not surprised that the majority longing for those “good ol’ times” under Kádár. After all, after a long time hardship and turmoil (war, Rákosi, ’56, etc.) the life of the common people started to get somehow easier, little more comfortable, little more worth to keep that way. Remember, harassment and persecution hardly ever reached the “average” citizen, only “those trouble-makers” had problems with the authorities normally. Count in the happy ignorance – information age yet to come – and you may get the picture. Orbán completely aware of all this and utilise it to the utmost with some additive camouflage, like “National- ……… “ (any word will do) and… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

I disagree with Ms Vasarhelyi.

The spirit of working for the common good is completely dead in Hungary.

Homines Kadarici and feminae Kadaricae are themselves either dead or very old.

The ascetic Kadar is replaced by hedonistic fideszniks.

We were emerging from a dictatorship 25 years ago – we are rapidly sinking into a different one now.

Kirsten
Guest

tappanch, I very much agree that historical background is not unimportant, so the Horthy and Kadar periods have to be considered when searching for the roots of today’s crisis, but I would very much suggest to look also in the “transition strategy and outcome”, so at the period 1988 and after. I just cannot understand that everything – mafia state, homo Kadaricus, Horthy legacies, eternal idiocy etc. – appears more convincing than the fact that the transition strategy of the “democrats” failed, not least because of a deep scepticism about the capabilities of the average voter on the part of many people in MSzP (but not only there) and an unwillingness to account for their own past during less “easy” Kadar years. Experiences of other nations are discarded as unimportant because “Hungary is so different”. So how in such circumstances should some “European democracy” come about if foreign experience is considered dispensable?

Paul
Guest

Interesting analysis – and it makes a lot of sense.

But what happens when the Orbán economic ‘miracle’ in turn needs rescuing? And how long before that happens? I can’t see it taking 25 years this time around.

And furthermore, does he know he is economically driving the country into the ground, or does he really believe he has the magic answer to 2ist century economics? If he does know what he’s doing, is he gambling on a rescue when it gets too bad, or is he planning to cut and run?

Paul
Guest

OT – I don’t know if anyone has already posted this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25450716

Mutt
Guest

Kirsten :
tappanch, I very much agree that historical background is not unimportant, so the Horthy and Kadar periods have to be considered when searching for the roots of today’s crisis, but I would very much suggest to look also in the “transition strategy and outcome”, so at the period 1988 and after.

The way the changes happened in the late 80s is the reflection of the soft dictatorship and can be explained with the Homo Kadaricus. This theory, that the Hungarians just got used to this lukewarm moral and economical wading pool, I think, explains partly the today’s Orban disaster. All fighting instincts got killed off by the perceived safety and stability. The Kadarian communists were not as cruel as Ceaușescu for instance and that helped them to smooth out the transition. Homo Kadaricus, like a domesticated pet, lacks most of the skills to survive. Doesn’t have to hunt for the food. Doesn’t need to take care of itself. I guess that’s what Vasarhelyi says. But for instance the Romanians who got royally screwed by the “Genious of The Charpatians” don’t really seem to have a better state of mind then we do.

andy 'babe'
Guest
Re the Kadar regime: Just yesterday, as a guest, I had a significant disagreement with an otherwise very active and I thought bright lady who is the buyer for a small size building engineering and construction planning firm (maybe 12+15 office and engineer type employees who contract out construction work to specialized contractor companies (masons, electricians, plumbers, etc).. so essentially my friend has some brains because she does the contracting work. Well I was astonished that she was adamantly pro-communist, longing for the old days and not willing to understand that the system collapsed on itself. She also turned totally anti-EU. Little by liitle I got her to realize that it was not the EU that let Hungary down but the Hungarian politicians and crooked business people who sold out the sugar cane farming or sugar factories to be annihilated and now sugar etc being imported from Austria or other Hungarians who ran factories into the ground and then bought them as scrap only to turn around and sell then at high prices to western corporations who would either salvage, rebuild or cut them down to enable their own products to dominate the Hungarian market. The latter all being legitimate… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Hungarians became domesticated not under Kadar but after the crushing of the Rakoczi uprising 300 years ago.

How many uprisings did we have since 1711?

1848 – great freedom fight against Austria and against the Hungarian feudal system. Do not forget that emperor Ferdinand was an imbecile and there were revolutions all over Europe.

1918 – the Dual Monarchy had collapsed after a long war

1956 – the Soviet leadership’s temporary split was projected onto Hungary

A population that dares to break out of the cage once every one hundred years is pretty domesticated to me.

An
Guest
I think there is a lot of truth in Vasarhelyi’s analysis. However, I do believe that although Orban can be successful because of the deep-seated acceptance of paternalism in Hungary, and the nostalgia for the worry-free Kadar years, in essence the two systems (Kadar and Orban) are very different. They are different in their ideology. The Orban system revived, promote and are built on the political legacy of the Horthy system and to some extent Fascism . It is nationalistic, right wing, revisionist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic. Now some of these (xenophobia, anti-foreign capital sentiments, foreign conspiracy theories against Hungarians) also align nicely with old Kadarian attitudes, though those sentiments in the Kadar era were coming from a very different ideology. They are different in their economic underpinnings. The Kadar system was anti-capitalist and only tolerated elements of capitalism toward its very end. The Orban regime is in essence capitalist, though not free-market friendly (hence the similarity between the Kadar system, as both regimes prefers state control). The Orban regime is not anti-capitalist, however (for example, new labor code ). It is an extremely protectionist capitalist system, protecting the “true” Hungarian capitalists against multinationals and favoring the politically reliable cronies. It… Read more »
An
Guest
continued.. Their social policy is different. The Orban regime resembles the Horthy regime in its elitism and its absolute social insensitivity toward the lowest segments of the society. Its favoring the rich and upper middle class (e.g. flat tax system), it exploits the poor and the workers (e.g. changes in labor law, public works instead of unemployment benefits). It practically dismantled the social safety net for those groups that do not represent strong voting power. Because it is a populist regime that needs the votes of the population, it is treading more carefully in case of groups with higher turnouts (pensioners) and intensifies the “social” rhetoric before election time (e.g. utility decrease). In essence, however, it is an elitist regime that has no problem leaving the most vulnerable behind (i.e. if you are poor, that’s because that’s what you deserve). There is no resemblance to the Kadar system whatsoever, when getting “too” rich was shunned upon and social equality was a desired goal. Yes, the party leadership has abused its position to obtain material goods and higher living standards; still, the riches , the inequalities, and the poverty at today’s levels were unacceptable in that regime. The Kadar regime’s legitimacy… Read more »
latefor
Guest

If anybody is interested in what it was really like living under the Kadar regime, please read my recently released book:

The Gresham Symphony (Part One) – available on Amazon.com/kindle.

The story gives an introduction to the “system” through the eyes of a 19 year old girl. Although the book is a fiction, some of these stories are largely based on my personal and my friends’ experiences.

Max
Guest

It was in 2006 when Orbán announced to his people that ‘I am not interested in intellectuals any more!’ (sic). Clearly, this lunatic new political course has been orchestrated by his strategic adviser, Árpád Habony who does not even have a secondary school degree. Since then Orbán and Co. have been out to protect the ordinary man (‘a Zemberek’).

Habony is exclusively concentrating on maximising the number of votes – whatever it takes! One can criticise it, but in a way this moron builds on a basic flaw of mass democray: a retarded person’s vote is as precious as that of a nuclear scientist.

Kádár at least was a fanatic chess player, whereas Orbán is a fan of an essentially proletar game: soccer. What a pity.

andy 'the blitz'
Guest
Seems to me self-evident that the the Orban System will go bankarotta – collapse from its over-zealousness – probably sonner than later, it has such an enormous appetite the ehnchmen will overgorge themseves very quickly. And the unfruling will happen quickly (though not soon enough) and will probably take the following sequence: – Over borrowing by the State to finance its erratic and wasteful spending., – inability to find buyers for Hungarian State Obligation Issues. – Incapacity to keep up obligated payments to elements or sectors of society or institutions or for repayment of State Obligations on dealines to foreign entities. – The natinal Bank will flounder as the speculation on the falling value of the Forint will become endemic. – International commerce will be substantially affected, price of imported prices will rise dramatically and suddelny inflation will soar affecting the price for energy, and other imported items that are fixed in foreign currency terms. – The EU will become very nervous but unlike in Greece, Orban will not go along with collaborating with the EU. – Mass planning for an exodus of foreign investment capital and infrastructure. – Orban will hang on for dear life by hook and crook.… Read more »
Guest

An has described the system perfectly imho – now I only hope that andy is wrong …

Have a Happy Xmas everybody, even or rather especially in these “interesting times”!

Georg
Guest

The bottom line is that people crave stability and reward politicians for it. And when stability is over, they want back the good ol’ times. Also, voters are surprisingly happy to give up freedoms for security (or the promise of security, or in response to fear mongering etc.).

TGM had a very nice insight, he said that this 1960-1970’s, early 80’s era was perhaps the longest, most important period of ‘polgárosodás’ (creation of a bourgeoisie, even if a petit bourgeoisie) in the history of Hungary. There is something to it. Why would not people want more of it, or something hopefully similar?

Kirsten
Guest
Mutt: “But for instance the Romanians who got royally screwed by the “Genious of The Charpatians” don’t really seem to have a better state of mind then we do.” Quite difficult to explain with “homo kadaricus” or a specifically Hungarian mafia state. For me this “mafia state”, “Horthyism”, “homo kadaricus” is expressed in too general terms. As I wrote, I do believe that the general state of political knowledge or of ideas about the public space on the part of the broad population has played a role. But, the 1970s and 1980s were relatively successful times for other countries in Europe also, so why should “Kadarism” be more important than “Helmut Kohlism” for Germans or Thatcherism for Brits. It is so attractive because what came afterwards appears to be (perceived as) failure. So why not looking at the role of those people active at that time (late 1980s onwards) and how they were able to devise policies suitable to modernise and democratise Hungary – given the complicated past and the fact that Hungarians were told during the Kadar years that they are already very advanced in political and economic terms (even if with support of Western loans, then creating the… Read more »
Joe Simon
Guest

You can see what Orban is up against: kind of thoughtless nostalgia for Kadar. Actually, people were apathetic under that regime: ez van, ezt kell szeretni. According to Kornai, under socialism “az ország felélte a jövőt”. Considering all this, Orban is not doing too badly.

Jano
Guest
Joe: Against??? Orbán and his neo-communist regime wouldn’t be anywhere without this nostalgia. An: I don’t think ideology matters that much here. Once my otherwise beloved but deeply orange infected grandmother complained to me extremely outraged that all the surrounding nations had nationalistic communist regimes, why was ours so internationalistic. It makes perfect sense now. What most people want is the rhetoric of the Horthy regime combined with the paternalistic umbrella of the Kádár era. I’m not a big fan of Vásárhelyi personally, but I think she is spot on with this analysis. After 6 years of devastating war, 3 years of post war chaos, 5-8 years of Stalinist terror, a failed revolution, 7 years of retribution, Kádár decided to cook the frog slowly. The deal was simple. Do not go anywhere near politics, don’t express your opinion, don’t question our authority and we will let you live a simple, but comparatively livable life. After that much suffering and all hopes crushed by the soviet intervention in 56, I don’t think I would have seen any other viable option than to take it either. Most Hungarians did, so did the churches and soon everybody was on board. Obviously, this was… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

I was in Hungary three times during the Kadar regime, two times as a child and one time as an adult. While economically the regime by the 1980s may have been economically unviable the standard of living was stunningly higher than Brasov (Brassó) in Romania where I also have family. We all knew that Hungary was being used as a consumer product distribution point for all of the nations in the soviet block.

Paternalism was not unique to the Kadar regime, it even existed in the Democratic Party machine rule in Chicago, where in the 1960s loyalty to the party equaled a patronage based job with the city or county government. In fact my impression of Kadar as a child was that he was the Boss just like we had back in Chicago with Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Will the Orban economic system collapse, very possibly along with the EU. The EU and for that matter the USA can’t economically compete with China with its vast population reserves, cheap wages, and limited social services that exist under a state capitalist system. The issue has become so significant that the US have started planning for war with China. On this issue see http://yalejournal.org/2013/06/12/who-authorized-preparations-for-war-with-china/

Member

Vasarhelyi is correct about Orban’s structure: A Kadarite house decorated by a Horthyite facade. However, Hungarians’ “domesticated pet” model (thanks Mutt!) go far beyond 1949. Up until the mid-20th century, the overwhelming majority of Hungarians belonged to the peasant class. Their lives depended on the proclivities of the landowners, who saw after the peasants’ needs (for better or for worse) in return for their toil. The Kadar regime was more or less a continuation of this paradigm, not a quantum shift.
A couple of years ago, one of my girlfriends actually compared Orban to a “good landowner” that looked after his people. Needless to say, she is now my ex-girlfriend.

Member
An : continued.. Their social policy is different. The Orban regime resembles the Horthy regime in its elitism and its absolute social insensitivity toward the lowest segments of the society. Its favoring the rich and upper middle class (e.g. flat tax system), it exploits the poor and the workers (e.g. changes in labor law, public works instead of unemployment benefits). It practically dismantled the social safety net for those groups that do not represent strong voting power. Because it is a populist regime that needs the votes of the population, it is treading more carefully in case of groups with higher turnouts (pensioners) and intensifies the “social” rhetoric before election time (e.g. utility decrease). In essence, however, it is an elitist regime that has no problem leaving the most vulnerable behind (i.e. if you are poor, that’s because that’s what you deserve). There is no resemblance to the Kadar system whatsoever, when getting “too” rich was shunned upon and social equality was a desired goal. Yes, the party leadership has abused its position to obtain material goods and higher living standards; still, the riches , the inequalities, and the poverty at today’s levels were unacceptable in that regime. The Kadar… Read more »
DACO ROMNANIAN
Guest

The following pictures are a
slide show of ethnic Romanians with eastern features from Wallachia and
Moldavia. During the history of Romania, many Turkic people (Kipchaks
Cumans and finally the Ottomans) controlled the territory of present-day
Romania, which has anthropological and genetic impact on ethnic
Romanian population.

Guest

This loonie “DACO ROMNANIAN” is posting the most unbelievable crap on pol.hu under the name Adam Ferency – please throw him out, Eva!

DACO ROMNANIAN
Guest

wolfi :
This loonie “DACO ROMNANIAN” is posting the most unbelievable crap on pol.hu under the name Adam Ferency – please throw him out, Eva!

Wolfi,
Unlike you, I always can support my theories by scientific researches and academic references. Please behave in a civilized manner!

Thank you!

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