Elemér Hankiss

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8 July 2008

Doom and gloom

“What would happen if Hungary were to slip off the face of the earth?” According to a recent survey, a tenth of respondents said it would go unnoticed and a fifth said nobody would care. Asked how they saw their country ten years from now, nearly half said that it would be backward and impoverished and only a third that it would become a successful European country. “Hungary’s political elite, its intellectuals and its media bear enormous responsibility for this negativity,” writes Elemér Hankiss.

“Incomplete regime change”, “interrupted revolution”, “geo-political paradigm shift”… Accounts of the transition in eastern central Europe have tended to be fragmentary, with particular features emphasised to the exclusion of others. In the first section of this encyclopaedic essay, Hungarian political scientist Elemér Hankiss pieces together a mosaic of interpretations of transition. Going further, Hankiss checks contemporary Hungarian society against Victor Turner’s description of the “liminal society” – one caught between states of “normality”. While there is much in Hungary today that supports the “liminality” theory – the predominance of tricksters, the calls for restoration of order – there is also much that departs from Turner’s eulogy of change. Indeed, a “great regression” is taking place in the minds of members of transition societies, argues Hankiss, one that will take more than grand economic programmes to reverse.