Professor Charles Gati of the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University has just returned from a lecture tour in Central Europe and Italy. After Bologna, Prague, and Berlin he visited Budapest where Gábor Horváth, foreign policy editor of Népszabadság, interviewed him.
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Gábor Horváth: There is quite a lot of chaos all over the world, but can one discover some system in it?
Charles Gati: For the time being there isn’t. A new order is in the making and it is not yet clear where all this will lead. One thing is sure: the United States will remain the dominant world power but with less influence than it had during the cold war. Europe as a unified political player has been considerably weakened. Russia can exert influence on the territories of the former Soviet Union but elsewhere less so, and China is incapable of coping with the problem of combining capitalism with an autocratic political system.
GH: During your Central European and Italian lecture tour you talked about international problems, from the barbarism of the Islamic State to the inertness of the United States and posed the question: what do they have in common? What is your conclusion?
CG: What they have in common is that, in comparison to earlier decades, the United States of President Obama has assumed less and less of its earlier role in world affairs. The United States has become weary of the role it played during the last six or seven decades, especially because at the beginning of the twenty-first century it made a lot of mistakes, even committed crimes. The other common feature is the rise of nationalism everywhere in the world against integrating developments. After 1945, especially in Europe, encouraging revolutionary changes occurred as a result of integration, but now because of its deficiencies a counterrevolutionary, nationalist, demagogic surge is taking place.
GH: Can one make a conjecture about the new world in the making?
CG: The most important characteristic of this new world, especially in Europe and America, is that the political, business, and educational elites slowly but surely have lost their earlier influence. The free-wheeling freedom of the internet is playing an enormous role in that development. Today, throughout the world the view prevails that everybody’s opinion is just as important as everybody else’s. That is, the value of knowledge, experience, and expertise has decreased. A further problem is that the discussions have moved beyond civilized boundaries. Certain anonymously published arguments–not to mention crude invectives—would have been unimaginable twenty years ago or would have appeared only rarely.
GH: Do those who criticize “political correctness” appeal to this phenomenon?
CG: Partly, and they use the conceit of the ignorant who think that freedom can be invoked for everything. Naturally, I am not an opponent of freedom, but I regret that on the side of knowledge, experience, and civilized behavior there is no normal way of combating demagoguery and malicious opinions. I also regret that the Lenin’s infamous saying, “Those who are not with us are against us,” is becoming more accepted. Anyone who is critical becomes an enemy.
GH: It is impressive that at the age of 80, while gradually retiring from teaching, you decided to enroll in a two-year course as a student of psychoanalysis. Does it help to understand the behavior of people and societies?
CG: That is a complicated topic but I would mention just one example. I find Sigmund Freud’s short masterpiece, Civilization and Its Discontents, very timely. In this book Freud discusses the necessity of defending civilization from the violent instincts that induce mankind to commit murder. My studies have given me an opportunity to get to know various clinical symptoms, which also emerge in politics. But analyses of individuals can be done only by those with a greater knowledge of the subject, and even they can do it only in private. Although several people have asked me to analyze the psyche of Vladimir Putin or Viktor Orbán from afar, I have declined.
GH: I will not ask you to do that. What can Hungary do to lessen the risk of this transitional period?
CG: We mustn’t forget the significant achievements of earlier decades. The present excessive criticisms of the European Union ignore the fact that after 1945 for seventy years—first in the western part of the continent—there was peace and prosperity. That was the result of integration, which is more important than the fact that the bureaucracy in Brussels makes occasional mistakes or acts beyond its power. We shouldn’t judge the European Union’s achievements by the stupid regulations concerning the size of a banana. The overestimation of the role of the nation states strikes me as historical amnesia. After all, we know from the history of Europe what kinds of catastrophic wars swept across the continent prior to the modern integrative efforts.
GH: You left for the United States sixty years ago, and looking back on your career you have succeeded. Today the Hungarian government, and with it many people, fear mass immigration. What explains this panic and what should the task of the government be?
CG: After 1956, 50,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in America. The reception was friendly and people were ready to help. I have only good memories. Others might remember differently; after all, the far-right press often talked about possible Hungarian or Soviet spies among the refugees. But there had been anti-Irish and, later, anti-Italian sentiment. And at the beginning of the twentieth century there was antagonism against the Jewish immigrants, who were accused of being influenced by communist ideology. A minority of people have always been afraid of “otherness.” So, I understand that when so many unfortunate refugees come from the Near East who are not white, not Christians or Jewish, it is easy to say that they don’t belong to Europe or America. There is some truth in that, but at the same time the teachings of Christianity and Judaism and the moral dictates of the irreligious oblige us to aid those in need. That’s why I was impressed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gesture, who went to the airport to welcome the Syrian refugees.
GH: The Hungarian government, together with the Russian, Iranian and Zimbabwean, hopes for Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Not the best company. Was it a wise move to commit ourselves?
CG: In the United States only a couple of officials in the State Department or perhaps a few sharp-eyed journalists have noticed that Viktor Orbán has lined up behind Trump. The real problem is the general state of the relationship and not whether the Hungarian prime minister prefers the Republicans. I find this approach incomprehensible. You may recall that Orbán also supported the candidacy of John McCain, who subsequently called him a neo-fascist dictator. It would be better not to get involved in American domestic politics because the Hungarian leadership, as well as the right-wing press, is super sensitive to any criticism coming from the European Union or America.
GH: According to some, the deterioration of U.S-Hungarian relations outright endangers the security of the country. Is there any chance that relations between the two countries would move away from the current low point?
CG: It is a great pity that not even such a talented diplomat as Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi, who received her degree from my university, can overcome the hurdles in the way of better relations. Not even the best businessman can successfully sell junk. We are talking about the quality of the goods, that is, the ever-weakening state of Hungarian democracy and the ever-expanding system of Russian-Hungarian relations. As long as there is no change in these two areas, I don’t see a chance for improved relations. As long as this is the case, it matters not who the ambassador is because the problem is basically a structural one.