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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48 comments

  1. 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?

  2. “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.

  3. 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’…

  4. @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)

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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 that their investments (bank accounts etc.) may be taken away via a half page long governmental decree or an overnight enacted constitutional amendment. Or some local strongmen wants their business.

    These people with property, together called bourgeoisie, will want to do something to protect their rights. They can do that by sending their money to Switzerland or Germany and/or can support parties which will respect their rights. Unfortuntely, this class is actullly very small, as most people in Hungary have zero savings. But they may or may not be influential. Just a note.

    [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.]

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Ipsos poll, early February 2013

    Democratic opposition 19%
    Fidesz 18%
    Jobbik 8%

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

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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 fronts). Some kids will be threatened by firing from university, some with endless court procedures, pre-trial detentions, some kids will be asked to snitch on their friends (and they will do so), all their computers and mobiles are anyway under constant surveillance. With the advance of technology all you have to do is to ask one guy to let a nice program onto his Iphone so that they (Fidesz lead police) could control his communication – if it turns out that he/she works for the police (or some other state adminsitrative body) he/she will proffer innocent contamination by a computer virus. Whatever works. These guys at Fidesz know very well how to break 20 year old hipster kids, and break they do. These kids, Fidesz knows very well, are bougeois urban kids, otherwise known as consumers with IPhones, they are weak, they are not revolutionaries. They are looked down on by Fidesz, whose leaders came literally with nothing from the countryside eating smelly home made sausage weeks on end. This is exactly why Fidesz wanted to take control of the prosecution and the know-how and network of the secret services.

  16. Eggda: “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.”

    He is a true believer who simply can’t quite comprehend that all those things that happen in Hungary are for real. 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. Nonsense, but he can’t do anything else unless he is ready to give his admiration of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

  17. 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 – unfortunately my English is not good enough to give you the lovely layed-back tone of the whole thing:

    “Ob sie es denn bereue, nach Ungarn zurückgekehrt zu sein? Nein. Man solle jetzt auch nicht übertreiben. Es fehlten der jetzigen Regierung schließlich zwei entscheidende Möglichkeiten, um so richtig radikal die Gesellschaft zu revolutionieren: Sie verfüge weder über die Todesstrafe noch über abgeschottete Grenzen. Beides brauche man zur Vollendung einer Diktatur.
    Da kenne sie sich aus.”

  18. 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 modern but also the political ideas.

  19. 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?

  20. 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.”

  21. 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…)

  22. “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”)

  23. @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..

  24. 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).

  25. @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.

  26. 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.

  27. London Calling!

    Paul (Bollocks we are (following Orban!)) As most food is zero-rated in England – then we have had the ‘fat tax’ on crisps and fizzy pop for some time.

    (btw – I think the tax is on Hungarian butter which might explain why it’s so expensive – not clever at all.)

    It’s just that the English Chancellor is considering increasing the fat tax!

    In England over 60% of adults are overweight – and over 30% of children are overweight (at 2009 stats) so we need to stop the rot.

    (Except pious me! – I have just lost 16.5kilos and 22cms from my waistline. – I decided to take the bull by the horns and come within my BMI index.

    Someone on here asked me how I did it – sorry can’t remember who – but I used the ‘J.E.L.’ formula (© CharlieH!) – which is so so simple to follow! No calorie counting or special food. And it’s for life! And it’s guaranteed to work – or your money back.)

    Answer after the valediction!

    (Sorry Paul bold-lite today.)

    Regards

    Charlie

    (J.E.L. – (© CharlieH!) Just Eat Less)

  28. I guess ‘cseléd’ was not meant from a haughty position, but exactly to reflect their opressed status.

    That said, these people were uneducated (unfortunately) and deeply envious of urban, middle-class and rich people, circles into whom they were not invited and were looked down on. Which of course bred resentment.

    Even when they were liberals back in the early 90s, they could not fit into the urban, undergroundish, liberal milieu (which was not necessary their fault).

    But they realised that the urban liberals were weak, because deep down they were lazy, coffe-house intellectuals, ineffective people, who relied on their existing connections and status into which they were born.

    Orbán and his base also realised that the MSZP’s old guard were too old and naive, and the liberals were simply too weak, – for whatever reason – they simply were not ready to do things necessary to keep or obtain power. For Orbán only respects the willingness to go for and wield power. L

    iberals simply wanted a ‘light’ (as in Unbearable lightness of being) European, civilsed (i.e. bourgeois) life. Orbán and co. were ready to use any means necessary to obtain power.

    And they also realised that once people think you could be powerful, you are already powerful, meaning people have to confirm to you because you may have the potential in the future to be actually powerful and take revenge (which they always do). And conversly, if people think you are not powerful, too friendly, people will disrespect you. The only way Orbán, Simicska, Kövér, Rogán, Lázár, Kósa (they are from different generations, but still) could get respect was through power. There was no other way for them.

  29. @Mutt, uneducated is a good word, I think… maybe the countryside comes to mind because people tend to be less educated there. But I’d also add the word “feudal”. A lot of Fidesz thinking goes back to some remnant feudal attitudes, also more prevalent in the countryside.

  30. An, my problem with this is the following. The explanation for why Fidesz could take over the country with their revolution is using an idea of the society that is not even socialist (I have not yet heard that there were still servants during Communism) but which goes back to the Horthy period. It stresses the division of the country along modernist – traditionalists, cities – country, cosmopolitans – nationalists lines, and fully accepts this as applicable for today. There is no role for the 80 years between 1945 and now, and also why this problem of the servants’ descendants has emerged 20 years after 1989. It also puts the “blame” only on these people and their revenge. The cities, and mainly Budapest, are Westernized and so they cannot have done anything wrong (I am exaggerating to make the point), which is why now – facing the boors – the people from the cities cannot do anything to change this. Accepting that this is a correct description of reality would imply for me that the prospects for democracy in Hungary are bad indeed, because there is no basis for cooperation in a level playing field for these two groups.

  31. @Kirsten: I think it is only you who is assigning blame here… (though I don’t know the original poster’s intentions) .. Just because observing something does not help to resolve the situation, it doesn’t make the observation invalid. Should the opposition base its thinking and actions on degrading the boors as the sole reason for the current state of affairs? Absolutely not.
    Personally, I think “boorishness” took over because it could. Why it could? That’s the million dollar question.

  32. An, what I am trying to suggest is that they could take over also because it has not yet been possible to make the concept of equality widely shared – in practice. It has not existed in Communist “vaguard” thinking as in servants – nobility relations, or still others. I was actually surprised that the more distant past was considered more important, but possibly cseled does not sound similarly to Hungarians as you have all protested. Still, you related it to feudalism, and then it is about nobility and inequality in society, and the revolution in the voting booths becomes something of a peasant rebellion. Which it was not, it was orderly, through wide support, including in the cities. Revenge may be one component of why Fidesz has done what it has done but for a peasants’ rebellion there were too many educated people, including people with “noble” names, who either had or who still support them.

  33. @Kirsten: “An, what I am trying to suggest is that they could take over also because it has not yet been possible to make the concept of equality widely shared ”

    It’s difficult to spread the concept of equality among people who still preserve feudal ways of thinking… this seems to be a chicken and egg problem.

    “Revenge may be one component of why Fidesz has done what it has done but for a peasants’ rebellion there were too many educated people, including people with “noble” names, who either had or who still support them”

    Exactly, that’s why I think this goes beyond the issue of being uneducated and that’s why I suggested to add the term “feudal”. Not only the servants were part of a feudal system, but the educated nobles too. So many of Fidesz ‘s ways resemble feudal times: the attitude of entitlement of those in power, the use of sheer power (without any consultation of affected parties), the contempt for the poor and the working class, etc.

  34. There are so many interesting comments here but it would take me a very long time to comment on them all in depth.

    However, someone who has relatives in a provincial town (Pécs) I can assure you that there is a huge difference between Budapest and even large cities like Szeged, Debrecen, or Pécs. And all these three are university towns. Yet, there is a world of difference between people’s attitudes–even if they have the same educational attainment and they share the same profession–between people in the capital and the rest of the country. It is a real shame but this is how it is

    Sure, there is a very thin top layer of intellectual elite in all these cities but nothing compared to the bustling intellectual life of the capital. I think that this Budapest-centric situation should be remedied but no government seems to promote changes in this direction. Here is one example. The Antall government decided that the Constitutional Court should be in Esztergom. Sure, the Court refused to move from Budapest and the government didn’t move a finger to force them to leave the capital.

    I have a good friend in the United States who spent her formative years in Budapest. She keeps telling me that her mother went to have an operation in such and such Budapest hospital. Everything was just great and at the same time she hardly believes the horror stories I hear from my relatives in the hospitals in Pécs. Some people (not all) in Budapest haven’t got the faintest ideas what’s going on in the country. And I’m not talking about villages.

  35. Eva S. Balogh :
    There are so many interesting comments here but it would take me a very long time to comment on them all in depth.
    However, someone who has relatives in a provincial town (Pécs) I can assure you that there is a huge difference between Budapest and even large cities like Szeged, Debrecen, or Pécs. And all these three are university towns. Yet, there is a world of difference between people’s attitudes–even if they have the same educational attainment and they share the same profession–between people in the capital and the rest of the country. It is a real shame but this is how it is
    Sure, there is a very thin top layer of intellectual elite in all these cities but nothing compared to the bustling intellectual life of the capital. I think that this Budapest-centric situation should be remedied but no government seems to promote changes in this direction. Here is one example. The Antall government decided that the Constitutional Court should be in Esztergom. Sure, the Court refused to move from Budapest and the government didn’t move a finger to force them to leave the capital.
    I have a good friend in the United States who spent her formative years in Budapest. She keeps telling me that her mother went to have an operation in such and such Budapest hospital. Everything was just great and at the same time she hardly believes the horror stories I hear from my relatives in the hospitals in Pécs. Some people (not all) in Budapest haven’t got the faintest ideas what’s going on in the country. And I’m not talking about villages.

    Budapest is very much a different country. I know this is common with capital cities (I am a Londoner, after all) but I have noticed this far more in Hungary than in western European countries.

    I think this is due to Hungary being a largely agricultural country, and, outside Bp, relatively lightly populated (few secondary cities, and even those are only small). To a large extent, Bp kept up with the ‘west’ in terms of modernisation, industrialisation, fashion, politics, etc, but the rest of the country stayed, more or less, in the middle-ages.

    Mind you, the real picture is far from this simple, as a large proportion of Budapesti are only first or second generation ‘immigrants’ from the country. A visit to one of the outer suburbs of Bp can be quite an eye-opener. Away from the tram/Hév routes, the place doesn’t look that much different to the suburb/village that my in-laws live in (a lot more houses, and none of the odd smallholdings you still find in suburban villages elsewhere – and no pigs! – but pretty much the same). In fact, where we live in suburban Debrecen it is far more urban than where my wife’s best friend lives in outer Bp.

  36. nomo’s analysis is very good – a lot I agreed with, and some things I hadn’t considered before (in fact exactly what you want from a post!)

    But the one thing nono doesn’t highlight is the anti-intellectual undercurrent that goes through all this. Hungary is certainly not unique in this – in the UK we currently have a government almost entirely educated in the top ‘public’ (i.e. private!) schools and universities, and yet Cameron can still use ‘intellectual’ as a derisive term when attacking the opposition.

    But Orbán, with his educational and economic policies in particular, is strongly anti-intellectual. Even his ‘battle to the death’ with Gyurcsany is very much local boy done good Vs the evil overeducated intellectual.

    And, of course, in Hungary in particular, it doesn’t take people long to make the ‘intellectual=liberal=Jewish’ connection…

  37. Paul, but this comment about revenge by people who are uneducated or servants’ descendants was apparently made by someone from Budapest. That is what I was commenting about. Your last remark, about the connection between intellectual = Jewish has to be taken into account as well. There is – from both sides – very little interest to come together. The differences between these two worlds can be large, but this they can be also in other countries between the capital city and the countryside, in Hungary they are apparently making even communication complicated. If Budapest is so intellectual and Westernized but shows neglect for what is being thought and done in the coutryside and apparently has not done much to change it throughout the years that it could have, the rebellion of the “oppressed” is something that I would consider quite natural, as they also have rights. That is why, to approach the problem using these categories means just perpetuating it.

  38. The difference between Budapest and the rest fof the country is one of the fundamental social problems of Hungary. The country-side should be developed, educated, changed and the people from the country should get more respect.

  39. London Calling!

    I’m surprised about the Urbanites versus the ‘Ruralites’ debate.

    ‘Twas ever thus!

    I had a residence in Somerset – very rural England – and the difference in ‘street wisdom’ and attitudes between the capital were quite stark. And very conservative in the country too.

    One of the saddest ramifications of this is that a neighbour’s son committed suicide because, being gay, he was unable to ‘come out’ in the village and the pressures on him were too great.
    Many gay people flock to London – and large cities – because of the difference in attitude to their lifestyle – and the guarantee of anonymity and privacy.

    Many people see the grass as greener in the cities – and it’s obvious that the large cities attract the most intelligent and motivated people.

    However us ‘urbanites’ appreciate the ‘country lore’ that ruralites have – and how they eke out a living. And their country ‘skills’; which are considered of lessor worth than those needed for urban living.

    Many urbanites have discovered the well-kept secret of real country living – the beauty of the stars; wildlife and the countryside – a different perspective on life. A recent survey found that 45% of city dwellers considered life in the country as ‘boring’. So the type of living and attitudes polarises the population.

    ‘Feudal’ attitudes pertain in isolated country locations – still – and it’s surprising that in England, the internet has not dispelled this more. But maybe more understandable because residents have to be more protective of their privacy!

    This is true too of the village in which I have a residence in Hungary.

    It is inevitable that country folk will be more isolated; less sophisticated; and ‘beleaguered’ – it’s part of their survival after all.

    That this is reflected in political and social attitudes – and language – is no surprise – it just takes longer for simple villagers to catch up – which of course by then the cities have moved on.

    And in a Roman Catholic country it takes even longer.

    Regards

    Charlie

  40. Charlie,

    it’s the same in Germany …

    50 years ago when I was a student, many young Schwabs went to West Berlin, because there was more freedom there, some even founded the (in)famous “Commune 1”.

    PS:
    Of course, another reason was: Berliners did not have to do their service in the Armed Forces …

    Actually the difference in attitudes (religion, sexual freedom including female emancipation, gays …) was very similar to what you see in Hungary today – our young ones couldn’t imagine living in the country instead of Budapest.

    Of course it’s even worse in Hungary because there is only one big city, while in Germany we also have Munich,Hamburg etc …

  41. To interpret what’s going in Hungary as a revenge or rebellion of the “oppressed” of the poor/peasantry/servants of the countryside (as some posters do), is a mistake I think. It is more of a revenge of the ruling elite of the countryside over the ruling elite of Budapest, not the revenge of the the “oppressed” masses. The countryside has always been dominated by local overlords, it was so under communism (party secretaries, “tanacselnok”, “tsz-elnok”), and after the regime change, under all governments.

    Local politics has always seem a lot more cronyism, corruption and kept the local population in more of feudal bind than the national government operating in the capital. Social relations in the countryside hasn’t changed or modernized as much as in the city… those people who were unhappy with how the local society worked, simply left for Budapest. Also, the local ruling elite has always felt inferior to Budapest, as being “lesser” or not as important in national politics. Some of those, who left the country to fulfill their ambitions in the big city, as Orban, may carry this inferiority complex with them (remember, Orban’s father was a local party secretary… in those time, this counted as part of the local ruling elite).

    So Oban’s own personalty traits and his possible resentments toward the city elite carried from his family background may explain his own strong anti-intellectualism (as intellectualism is associated with the city elite). But the Fidesz system would not work if it did not have a strong “hinterland”, a strong support from the current “overlords” of the countryside, those second-tire politicians who saw the Fidesz’s rise as the perfect opportunity to increase their prominence.

    Paradoxically, what also may have helped the “country” to win over the “city”, is not as much as the poverty or the economic distress of the countryside, but just the opposite, the ray of hope for development that arrives in the form of EU money. Whatever support is going to the countryside, it first reaches the local elite, not the poor farmers, as the local leaders are usually in charge of obtaining and distributing such support. It’s a huge boon for corruption and for getting rich schemes. So, inadvertently, I think, efforts made at developing the countryside economically actually strengthen these overlords (first), not the average Joe (Jozsi) working on a farm (though there may be some trickle down effect).

  42. Charlie – sure, it was/is ‘ever thus’, but it’s far more extreme in Hungary. Perhaps not where you live (to us ‘Easterners’, your bit of Hungary feels like Austria!), but take a trip to the east, especially the north-east, and sample village life there (and town life, for that matter). It is from another world and another time.

    Budapest is fantastically inwards and western facing. Some may have been to Debrecen for the university, or even the Virágkarnevál, a few may have taken a trip to Lillafured or Tokai, or had a few days at Hajdúszoboszló, or visited Eger, or maybe watched the trained horses on the puszta, but most won’t otherwise have gone any further than Szolnok or Kecskemét (if that). Ask around when you’re next in Hungary – see if you can find anyone, who doesn’t have relatives there, who’s been to Miskolc or Nyíregháza – let alone places like Nyírbátor or Mátészalka.

    But even those places are relatively prosperous. If you ever drive to Ukraine, pull off the 4 before you get to Záhony and drive around the countryside for an hour or two. No one who’s ever dreamed of going back in time to when life was ‘simple’ would ever do so again after visiting some of the villages around there.

    Also, getting back to the UK, you should bear in mind that most of the revolutionary political changes in our country originated, not in the capital, but in the industrial towns of the north and midlands, or in the newly mechanised countryside, or from Scotland, Wales or Ireland. Manchester and Birmingham were great centres of science and industrialisation – and of radical thought. And the great university and cathedral cities played their part in the intellectual development of British life.

    But Hungary does not have a Manchester or a Birmingham, or great cathedral or university cities, or any particular history of industrialisation or development of radical thought outside of Budapest (with the sole exception of the Reform movement in the East). It’s easy to compare Budapest to other capitals on the basis of population, relative wealth, etc, but in many ways Budapest is not like those other capitals, it is far more separated, and separate, from the country it is supposed to be capital of.

  43. 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?

    Three vilages with mixed Croatian, German, Hungarian and Slovak population nearby the Slovak capital were attached to Czechoslovakia after the WWII. It was in a way a “compensation” for lost eastern territories (they were annexed by Soviet Union to Ukraine) and “reward” to Hungary for occupation of large parts of Slovakia during the WWII.

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