2000

Hungary

Following the political logic of pop-cultural palaeontology, Hungary’s resurgent far-Right excavates archaic cultural identities for the youth of today, writes Zsófia Bán. Mythical symbols of national strength fill the historical void felt by post-’89 generations, whom even the cathartic moment of regime change fails to unite.

The term “reform” has re-entered the political lexicon of numerous post-Socialist states. For the Hungarian government since 2006, it has meant raising taxes and “slimming down” the State; for the opposition, “reform” means “the restoration of moral order” or “lustration”. The inflation of use – and misuse – of the term calls for an enquiry into its origins, as well as those of “revolution”, reform’s next-of-kin. In the first instalment of this two-part essay, Csaba Gombár explains that for an eastern European studying at Berkeley in the late 1960s, the countercultural “revolution” was hard to take seriously. This was because an equally strong sense of “revolution” was emergent at the time: the technological revolution and attendant consumerism. While consumption remains a dominant indicator in measuring the relative “progress” of eastern and western European nations, technological development is no longer seen as “progress” as in the Enlightenment understanding of the term.

The term “reform” has re-entered the political lexicon of numerous post-Socialist states. For the Hungarian government since 2006, it has meant raising taxes and “slimming down” the State; for the opposition, “reform” means “the restoration of moral order” or “lustration”. The inflation of use – and misuse – of the term calls for an enquiry into its origins, as well as those of “revolution”, reform’s next-of-kin. In the second instalment of this two-part essay, Csaba Gombár notes that the term “revolution” nowadays repels more than it attracts, in part due to the faltering belief in progress, in part due to wariness brought by experience. In liberal circles in Kádár-era Hungary, “reform” was used as a cover for democratic change; now democracy is often seen as a revolutionary anachronism by younger generations of post-socialist states. Be that as it may, concludes Gombár, no political reformer today can bypass the “State”: reform is integral to state formation.

“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.