A series of opinion pieces analysing Hungary’s political situation by understanding historical factors (part 1), the unsuccessful debut of democracy (part 2) and future prospects (part 3). All this, through the eyes and ears of an internationally raised Hungarian young-adult, E&M author Dominik Barabási.
A woman I admire once walked in the streets of Budapest with her daughter, who was around fourteen years old back then. The young girl’s attention was suddenly taken by a group of young people walking on the street, all of them throwing wide hand gestures and staring up at the sky. The mother explained to her that the people they saw were tourists, that’s why they walked with such confidence, unlike most Hungarians, who usually walk while looking down at the floor in front of them. “It’s because Hungarians are born with tons of problems on their shoulders”- the daughter replied.
In fact, she wasn’t wrong – Hungary is a conspicuously frustrated nation. But why did a country with such fertility, location and cultural past end up like this? Why did a nation that experienced subordination for decades chose to become controlled once again, this time, by its own government? What are the historical factors that contributed to today’s political situation in Hungary? Most of my fellow Hungarians simply explain this inferiority complex by the country’s historical bad luck. However, the main reason is hiding deeper than that: it is the successful heritability of Hungary’s toxic national mentality that led to this common frustration.
The collective memory of Hungarian society
Time has an influence on memory and how we look back at things that happened to us. Especially when that memory becomes part of a nation’s common value, the influence gets multiplied.
It is undeniable that Hungary’s history has experienced a repeated domination of external forces. From the oppression by the Ottoman empire, a series of deterioration has affected the country: the long financial and cultural dependence caused by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the state-level power down-grading of Trianon and, last but not least, the individual-level control of the socialist dictatorship. However, like Hungary, most other European countries have also experienced such dramatic moments in their historical past. So why is it that others do not show evidence of the same level of societal frustration? The intensity of the national victimization is in fact related to the fluctuation of the power intensity. To make this clear: it is not necessarily the amount of devastating historical events that influences us emotionally, but the fluctuation of the overall power status. The western powers knew a constant flow of minor changes between them, likewise in most eastern countries which didn’t experience any extremities in the change of their power status. On the other hand, Hungary went from a Medieval strategic power to being dominated by the Sublime Ottoman State, from Austro-Hungarian Empire to tattered lack – all thanks to Trianon and a final stab from forty years of communist dictatorship. The repetitive demolition of hope got immersed in the collective memory of Hungarian society and manifests itself on an individual level: pessimism, negative thinking, lack of trust, strong feelings of guilt. Surprisingly, there are many similarities between the felt behaviour tendencies of the Hungarian population stated above and people struggling with Victim Syndrome. But how is it possible to maintain this behavioural tendency for decades on an individual basis? Here the importance of social cohesion comes to mind and the role of family and state within that.
Social cohesion as a tool to reduce conflicts, get through critical periods and create the appearance of security: highly influenced by historical events and wealth.
In fact, one of the main things that keeps us Hungarians together is the prolongation of grievance as a gift to our beloved nation and the hope of becoming the stupendous power that we used to be. The sinuous historical past and the way people perceive it has created a very strong common value system in Hungary, which resulted in a powerful social cohesion: This is both the most important strength, but also a weakness of the nation.
It is a strength, because Hungary has developed a highly convergent and therefore flexible community. In my opinion, this is mainly due to the intensity of the feelings created by all the past historical stimuli. From what I have experienced, Hungarians tend to be extremely emotionally expressive. We eat with passion, we think with our heart and we love like there’s no tomorrow. It is no wonder why the whole world listens to sonnets from Franz Liszt, reads the words of Imre Kertész or watches the scenes of The Deer Hunter from director Vilmos Zsigmond. The intensity of emotions can also be experienced in family structures. Unlike in other countries, the grandparents still make an important contribution to the growing of the children. This means that they are provided the values of very different generations. That passing on of common values and the surprisingly long presence of parenting in Hungary are both related to the fact that social cohesion is also the most important weakness of the nation: it helps the successful heritability of Hungary’s toxic mentality.
The role of families in Hungary
Primary socialization is the learning phase when a child adopts values and attitudes from the parents that represent the given cultural environment. The stronger the cohesion, the longer the parenting and the deeper the conveyed value system.
Families play a central role in strengthening social cohesion and therefore passing on the mentality that reflects national victimization in Hungary. Already at a very young age I have noticed the importance of Trianon (Hungary’s disintegration) for my closest relatives. The feeling of anger towards the responsible countries and the feeling of shame for our plucked, mutilated nation. It doesn’t only represent a topic to talk about, but also creates a common emotional space that is buried in upbringing. Present in literature, on Sunday family dinners, inside the long stories of our grandparents and even in tales. It is part of our upbringing. We become one with history, against our will: we desire our country’s past successes, we dream of the Huns’ strength, we crave the long lost sea that we used to own. We become nationalists. Yes, because being a nationalist in Hungary today involves regret and melancholia for the past. But what could possibly bring us salvation? What could possibly satisfy the ultimate intention of our nationalism? Well, to find the saviour who brings our pride back: Orbán Viktor. And no, we don’t talk about LGBTQ pride, but in fact the opposite. The role of the state is to try and satisfy as many citizens as possible. This satisfaction can have financial and ideological roots. In that case, the actions of a democratic state should be the perfect representation of the population’s expectations. Then, the questioning of today’s Hungarian political regime is irrelevant. The ruling party “Fidesz” fulfils what Hungarians expected of it eleven years ago: it proposes a cure for everything and satiates us financially and ideologically. But does it really?
This is what we are going to decipher in the next part.