World café

Comments from a dining table


I am not a historian, simply a person who thinks. I was asked to share my thoughts on the rising of nationalism and racism in Hungary which I did with the same pleasure I usually do next to a dining table in my friends’ house. 

Since the victory of FIDESZ in 2010 Hungary has gone a long way and, to be honest, that way was not directed towards the strengthening of fundamental democratic and human rights but the opposite.

Among the many reasons of the surprising speed at which Hungary’s governing party could erode Hungarian democracy there are historical, political, economic and psychological. Needless to say all is well explained and understood by expert historians, political scientists, economists and even psychologists, but unfortunately enough, a lot less by the average Hungarian citizen.

Most people, if not in the open, not publicly but somehow agree that things are going the wrong direction. Economy, contrary to the slogans that national television channels and radio stations, ruled by the National Media Agency, try to broadcast, does not seem to flourish. People do not live better, a lot of people cannot find a job they are looking for or qualified to do. If the official numbers do not show a high unemployment rate, it might be partly because young people looking for better employment opportunities (and sometimes not only for that but for more freedom) leave the country by the hundreds. In the last fourteen years about half a million Hungarians left the country.

The least we can say economy-wise is that the majority Hungarians seem to be more dissatisfied than not with the economic performance of their country. And to make things a little even worse corruption is not an unknown phenomenon in our country.

There are several reasons for these poor results. In Hungary, state institutions responsible for supervising the power exercised by the government are headed by government loyalist. The almost complete elimination of checks and balances poses a serious risk of corruption in itself.” See further details on the website of Transparency International Hungary.

As for political measures taken by FIDESZ against classically defined democratic governmental procedures many examples can be found writes Benjamin Abtan, for example, “the Constitutional Court is no longer allowed to give its opinion about the content of laws and to refer to its own case-law – which results in the loss of almost all monitoring power on the legislature and the executive. (…) crippling restriction of the freedom of the press, political direction of the Central Bank, inclusion in the Constitution of Christian religious references and of the “social utility” of individuals as a necessary condition for the enforcement of social rights, deletion of the word “Republic” in the same Constitution to define the country’s political system, condemnation of homosexuality, criminalization of the homeless, attacks against women’s rights, impunity afforded to perpetrators of racist murders, the strengthening of a virulent anti-Semitism . . . “ (Cited from an article about the erosion of democracy in Hungary)

The legal changes over the past three years were fundamental and made Hungarian people uneasy. Everyday life may not have changed for the man in the street but the legal safety of a democratic country is long gone.

My foreign friends often ask me the question that makes me quite sad and also desperate: why did you let this happen to your country? Why don’t you do something? How can you accept this situation? And believe or not these are exactly those questions we ask each other with my friends next to a dining table. What could be done? How could we make Hungary a democratic country again? Whose responsibility is this situation?

Too often we can come up with no answer. Or answers we are dissatisfied with. I am convinced that there are a lot of great people living in Hungary who want to do their best for their country. They see things, they understand things, they are well-read, well-educated, they are experts in their fields and still … we are heading towards a highly-centralized political system with less and less rights given to the citizens.

I will be honest, we have nobody to blame but ourselves and I will explain.

To start with the explanation, let us talk a little bit about the psychology of victims. Being a victim in any situation is, obviously, a difficult position but if we take into consideration the psychology of victimhood and all the aspects of it, the picture is even darker. During their long and hardship-loaded history Hungarian people have learnt how to live as victims and they have learnt it well. (See Hungarian history for being a small country between Eastern-Europe and the West in the Middle-Ages, losing two World Wars, playing best-friends with the Nazi ideology of eliminating Jewish people and shortly after that welcoming the Soviets into the country for good. Hungarian history is not exactly a history of independence and glorious victories.) As it often happens in an aggressor-victim situation victims either get blamed from the outside for being victimized and so they feel ashamed of their weakness of any kind or they try to live with the situation, find something in common with the aggressor and feel ashamed inside because of that, or sometimes victims, unable to cope with the whole idea of falling, rationalize the situation and are too late to realize what is happening to them – they are simply unable to imagine that aggressors do not have the same moral or do not keep the laws, or that they simply change the laws according to their goals. And when they realize what is going on, it is most often too late and then they feel ashamed … a vicious circle.

This is of course a simplified explanation of the psychological notions of victimhood but probably sheds some light on why a lot of Hungarian people feel unable to stand up for their rights at the moment.

I am not saying that feeling to be a victim does destine you to a passive role and is necessarily a downward spiral but it definitely is a very difficult position.

Sadly enough the counterpoint of this prevailing shame in Hungarian politics became the ideology of nationalism, and the far right-wing political party: the Jobbik. A lot of Hungarian people, who has become dissatisfied with falling as a victim to a centralized government and political system, seem to find ideological backing in Jobbik: to be proud again. The catch is that now the victim turns into an aggressor and victimize others: homeless people, Jews or Romanis.

Is there a better solution than this? There must be. Is Hungary going to get back on the road to democracy? I wonder. Hungarian people, or at least quite a lot of them, are at a loss now. Only those, who think, can distinguish between right and wrong, – said Hannah Arendt and I agree with her. I think, every Hungarian is responsible for what is going on in our country at the moment and everyone has to do their best to keep democracy alive. The responsibility of teachers is that they have to show students that thinking is important, to give themselves as examples for them; this way giving them an important tool: morality with the help of which they will be able to make responsible decisions in the future and not to become simple consumers of ready-made ideologies that have so far led to the darkest pitches of human history. But as we all know and experience now: “It is, in fact, far easier to act under conditions of tyranny than it is to think.” Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition (1958)

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Ingrid Alexovics
Magistrirala je engleski jezik koji predaje posljednje 22 godine u srednjoj ekonomskoj školi. Zainteresirana je za teme tolerancije, ljudskih prava, demokracije i Holokausta. Živi i radi u Pečuhu.