regime change

Young Hungarians are disillusioned and feel helpless

A new study appeared a couple of days ago about the attitude of Hungarian youth between the ages of 15 and 29. Keep in mind that the people who filled out these questionnaires prepared by Kutatópont (Research Point) were born after 1984; that is, even the oldest ones were only six years old at the time of the regime change. The study is available free on the Internet. Naturally, it is impossible to cover every aspect of an in-depth study that is 350 pages long. (And, by way of confession, there was no way I could I read the whole thing in a couple of hours.) But here are its conclusions as summarized by MTI and Origo.

These young people are described as members of “the quiet generation” who don’t rebel against the value systems of their parents. They are inward looking and passive, in addition to being disillusioned. By and large they are at a loss as far as their goals in life are concerned. According to the authors, this generation most resembles the young people of the 1920s and 1930s who accepted the world as is and who believed in traditional values. If the authors are correct in their assessment, these people will soon feel very much at home thanks to Viktor Orbán’s efforts to turn the clock back and rehabilitate the Horthy regime.

Not surprisingly the least rebellious types live in villages where 52% of them agree with the worldview of their parents. In Budapest only 29% are so quiescent. Across the board when it comes to politics, they are simply not interested. Very few people even bothered to answer questions about their political opinions, most likely because they know next to nothing about the issues at hand. Two-thirds of them did not reveal their intentions about which parties they prefer and only 19% of them will most likely vote at the next elections. Naturally, they have a very low opinion of politicians in general, but I’m sure that in this respect this is not a unique group. When I once mentioned that if the change of regime had come a few decades earlier I wouldn’t have minded entering politics, my relatives were horrified at the very thought.

Apparently the quiet generation of the 1920s-1930s had great trust in the government and public institutions. In this respect this group is different. They don’t believe in anything: government, parliament, banks, the president, or the constitutional court. One ought to mention that not trusting the president and the court is a new phenomenon because in the last twenty years these two institutions received high grades from the population. So perhaps this generation is not as ignorant as we assume; perhaps it became evident to them that both the presidency and the constitutional court lost their independence. Or perhaps they just tar everybody with the same brush.

They have so little trust in the system that only 40% of them consider democracy the best possible political system and, although they never experienced it, most of them think of the Kádár regime with nostalgia. Naturally, this is what they hear at home, especially since 71% of them still live with their parents. Only 10% of them are married and only 15% of them have children.  In this age group the unemployment rate is high, 25%. All in all, young Hungarians don’t see any hope and that’s one reason that so many young people have already left the country or plan to do so. But some of them are trapped; they can’t even leave to try their luck abroad because they don’t have enough money to survive the few months while they look for a job.

ApathyOrigo‘s article inspired almost 300 comments and most of them are educational. One can read such sentences as: “In Hungary there are free elections but there is no alternative. I can’t even travel abroad because I don’t make enough money to save. They even took the money I put away in my pension plan.” Or here is another one commenting on this generation’s passivity and their lack of rebelliousness:  “But didn’t they actually want us to be like that? They wanted us to be zombies so the powers that be can lead us in the direction they want.” Or, “in my opinion all generations are responsible for the present one.” Or, “I could have written that study sitting at home…. There are no jobs, there is no social net. This government and to be honest all politicians just create one stupid law after the other. … For example, here is this national tobacco shop affair. Black market, smuggling. I am serious, idiots are sitting up there.”

The accusing fingers point overwhelmingly to the present government. For example, “not everybody can have a job with Közgép, not everybody can have a government subsidy for a horse farm. The great majority of my generation washes dishes in England and elsewhere. This is the situation.” The sentence about the horse farm is a reference to the family of Ráhel Orbán’s husband. Another loudly complains that in Orbán’s NER (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere) decisions are made from above and the people have no input. “If you don’t like it you can engage in an endless fight that you will lose, will drive you crazy, or they will do you in.” These comments support the conclusions of the study.

Zsófia Mihancsik of Galamus also wrote about the study, and she began her article with a number of pictures of crowds who gather at political demonstrations. The one taken at the Demokratikus Koalíció’s latest demonstration was ridiculed in the German-language blog, Hungarian Voice. The demonstrators’ average age seems like 65. The title: “Foto des Tages: Gyurcsány verammelt die DK-Parteijugend” followed by a one-liner: “No further comment…”  But, says Mihancsik, all political meetings are attended mostly by older people, including the pro-government demonstrators. The simple reason for that phenomenon is that younger people are not interested in politics.

I’m not even sure whether this particular generation is less interested in politics than any other of the same age bracket. Yes, there are some who plan a career in politics very early in life. For example, Bill Clinton. Or I had a student who as a junior (age 19-20) told me that after graduation he will enter local politics. He will try to become the mayor of his hometown. And you know what, he became mayor shortly after he left Yale and today he is an important member of the U.S. Senate. There are people like that but not too many. Most of them care not a whit about politics. What is different about this group becomes clear from the comments. As a result of the last five years or so, these people have lost all hope and are disgusted with the country Viktor Orbán created.

Metamorphosis of Viktor Orbán?

A few months ago I had a debate about Viktor Orbán’s metamorphosis from liberal to right-wing populist with someone who has known Viktor Orbán ever since the beginning of the democratic opposition’s struggle for regime change. I insisted that no one can change that much and that fundamentally, and therefore, I submitted, Orbán was never a democrat. My friend, a well-known member of SZDSZ, insisted that yes, Viktor was a true liberal but power had a terrible effect on his psyche. I wasn’t convinced.

Lately I have been noticing a change of heart among those who worked closely with Orbán or who as members of the media have been following those Hungarian political events in which he played a prominent role.

Just today Endre Aczél, a seasoned journalist with vast experience with MTI in the 1970s and MTV in the late 1980s, wrote one of his short but sharp-eyed opinion pieces in Galamus. In it he expressed his “suspicion” that it was at least fifteen years ago that Orbán abandoned the idea of the “rule of law.” He recalls a speech by the freshly elected young prime minister that was delivered before the yearly meeting of the country’s ambassadors. Orbán suggested to Hungary’s representatives abroad not to emphasize the “rule of law” but to stress the “law and order” that his government wants to re-establish.

The orange is rotting. That's all / faszkivar.blog.hu

The orange is rotting. That’s all. / faszkivan.blog.hu

Tamás Bauer, an economist, former SZDSZ politician, and today deputy chairman of DK, also remembers the day when he knew that Viktor Orbán was not a democrat. It was also in 1998, on July 6, when during the debate on the government program in parliament Orbán said: “I ask everybody who wants to re-establish order and security; everybody who wants a child be important not only to the family but also to the state; everybody who wants to belong to the Hungarian nation; everybody who wants to make Hungary a country that cooperates with other European nations to vote for the program of the government.” It was at this point that Bauer truly understood, although he had had an inkling before, how Orbán imagined the exercise of power. Because Orbán made it clear that he envisaged himself as the man who alone represents the nation and who considered the opposition a group of people who don’t belong to the nation. After all, in normal parliamentary democracies, the opposition doesn’t vote for the government program.

Therefore Bauer knew way before 2010 what kind of rule Orbán was going to introduce, especially once he achieved the much coveted two-thirds majority. Although according to some interpreters the original Orbán constitution of 2011 was still a democratic document, Bauer disagrees. A constitutional committee was set up, but the majority of the members came from the two government parties. Thus the new constitution reflected the will of the government and the party, Fidesz-KDNP. There was no use participating in this farce. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first called for a boycott and his call was followed by MSZP and later by LMP. That constitution was about as legitimate as the 1949 communist constitution. After all, the 1949 constitution reflected only the will of the Hungarian communist party, and the 2011 document was similarly created by and for Fidesz-KDNP.

Yes, both commentators claim, Viktor Orbán hasn’t been a democrat for a very long time. Perhaps he never was, I might add.

In the last few days there is a video that has been making the rounds on the Internet. It originally appeared on the website of Népszabadság. The video was taken at the demonstration organized to urge János Áder not to sign the amendments to the constitution. The speaker is Péter Molnár. Perhaps not too many people remember him, although he was one of the founders of Fidesz and the group at István Bibó College where Fidesz was born. He even spent four years in the Hungarian parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus. And then he left the party and politics. On the video one can hear him telling Áder: “That is not what we dreamed of, Jánó!” A few days ago I quoted Tamás Deutsch’s tweet claiming that this is exactly what they were dreaming of back in the late 1980s. Surely, this was an answer to Molnár.

I first encountered Molnár’s name in György Petőcz’s book Csak a narancs volt (It was only the orange / Élet és Irodalom, 2001). He was one of the contributors to the volume. He and the four other contributors left Fidesz completely disillusioned in 1993-1994.

What are Molnár’s recollections of the early days of Fidesz and Bibó College? According to him, László Kövér managed to create a lot of tension even in those days. At every meeting he insisted that all members of the college–there were around 80 students–must be politically active. Kövér and Orbán worked together and wanted to rule the community according to their own ideas. Molnár recalls that in the college there was a feeling of unity and solidarity but “Viktor’s political management destroyed it just as he destroyed [the original] Fidesz.” A good example of how this “solidarity” worked in Fidesz land. Once a member of the college group said that “Viktor can be certain that he can rely on his old friends in Bibó College.” Two years later the old buddy of Viktor lost his high position in the party and the government because he dared to disagree with him. “Solidarity existed only as long as the person followed the ‘correct’ policy. It didn’t matter whether he belonged to the inner circle or not, if he disagreed with Laci Kövér and Viktor, he was finished.” Does a democrat behave this way?

Let’s return for a moment to Endre Aczél’s opinion piece that appeared today. Its title is “Order? My own!” No,  Orbán hasn’t changed his stripes.