Broken Democracy, Nationalist Populism, and Predatory State: Hungary before the Elections

Wednesday, 26 March 2014, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, IWM library
In 2010, a new government, led by Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, was elected in Hungary. Since coming to power, it has significantly altered the country’s legal, social, and political infrastructure. Due to certain features of the Hungarian electoral system, the 53% Fidesz achieved at the ballot boxes translated into a two-thirds majority in parliament. The governing party was therefore able to push through a new constitution on its own, which substantially weakened the balance of power. Orbán’s government has also tightened its grip on public and commercial media, and has restricted popular initiatives, the freedom of the press, social rights, civil liberties, and cut social benefits. It has done away with the principle of power-sharing. Power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister, who is single-mindedly working to centralize power and personalize politics, to create a new clientele dependent on the state, and to marginalize the democratic opposition. The democratic state was taken over by a small, coherent group of political entrepreneurs who use the state partly for their own advantage. They offer neoliberal economic policies to the upper classes and a nationalist discourse to the poor. An unorthodox variant of clientelistic crony-capitalism has developed in the European semi-periphery, and Hungary is now often labelled a “mafia state”. Such an autocratic turn is unprecedented in the history of the European Union.

The presentation will discuss the reasons of this takeover, the major features of the regime, as well as political tendencies before the next elections due to take place in April 2014.

András Bozóki is Professor of Political Science at the Central European University, Budapest. His research interests include forms of political change, comparative democratization,the  history of anarchism, and the role of intellectuals. He has taught in the United States at Columbia University, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College; in the UK at Nottingham University. He was a Visiting Fellow at the IWM (1990-91), the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (1993-94), the Sussex European Institute in Brighton (1997-98), the NIAS (1998), the EUI in Florence (2000-01 and 2012), and the Södertörns Högskola in Stockholm (2008). Currently he is a faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at CEU. His recent publications include Playing It Again in Postcommunism: The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Viktor Orbán in Hungary (co-authored with Anna Szilágyi) in Cezar Ornatowski & Noemi Marin eds. Rhetorics of ‘1989’: Rhetorical Archaeologies of Political Transition (in press); Virtuális köztársaság (Virtual Republic) (Budapest: Gondolat, 2012); Occupy the State: The Orbán Regime in Hungary in Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 19(3) (December 2011), 649-663; The Transition from Liberal Democracy: The Political Crisis in Hungary in Mediations, Nos. 26, Vol. 1-2 (2011).

In cooperation with the Department of Political Science, University of Vienna