Turbulent Times in European Politics – The Populist/Illiberal Factor

2017. március. 18., szombat | Hegedűs István

Welcome speech at the workshop „Reforming the EU - Central European Perspectives” organised by the Hungarian Europe Society on 18 March 2017 at the Central European University, Budapest

It is an understatement to claim that we live in turbulent times. This is a decisive, historic period for the future of Europe and the globe. At the moment, 2017 seems to be the year when the negative political tendencies expressed in Brexit and Trump’s victory in 2016 can be finally stopped and, probably, reversed. We had good news from the Netherlands on 15 March and we have realistic hopes for the French presidential elections and the German parliamentary elections: radical right wing populist parties might be blocked in gaining more influence and power at national and at European levels. Interestingly enough, there is no common formula how to defeat them: in Holland, at least the winning party’s leader, Mark Rutte moved to the right during the campaign in order to bring back voters from Gert Wilders, in France, a new centrist political leader, Emmanuel Macron has grasped the imagination of citizens with pro-European messages, whilst in Germany a relative newcomer in domestic politics, Martin Schulz introduced a more left-wing rhetoric to mobilise traditional social-democrats. The feeling of an unavoidable arrival of a new populist zeitgeist that followed the unprecedented turmoil at the ballots can even evaporate in a big part of Europe, at least. Moreover, the re-consolidation and the renewal of the joint European project can be once again seen as a realistic scenario. 

Dear Guests, dear Friends, you are warmly welcome at the workshop of the Hungarian Europe Society at the Central European University in Budapest. In this country, Hungarians do not simply face the potential risks of a populist take-over, but have experienced the practical consequences of the adventurism of a hard populist political regime. As a non-governmental organisation, we belong to the circle of like-minded civil groups which have received support from “abroad” in order to maintain their activities or have successfully applied for a grant to implement projects. This time it is the German Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit that has sponsored this workshop. Thank you for their support. The university, which kindly hosts our event, stands under increasing attacks by the government and its loyal media empire especially because of its founder, the American-Hungarian George Soros. He became the number one personalised enemy of the regime, who, according to the official propaganda, works in a business alliance with the bureaucrats in Brussels, the left and liberal Western elites, who prophesise political correctness, the bankers, and the smugglers who transport the migrants to the old continent and to the soil of an ethnically homogenous Hungarian nation. 

Viktor Orbán follows and re-invents an actually old-fashioned methodology. Today, illiberal/popular parties always declare that they are the only representatives of the so-called real, ordinary and decent people. They offer a political package, which often resonates with the political fears and social anxieties in a significant part of the electorate. In fact, populists do not listen and act following the political and economic priorities of their voters at all. They seduce people through politicizing and polarising identity issues, meanwhile they attempt to delegitimize their democratic and liberal political opponents developing conspiracy theories about them. Based on a majoritarian perception of democracy, populists permanently need to find new “enemies of the nation” in order to stigmatise them and to keep the level of continuous political tension at a high degree.

In the last couple of years, Orbánism has spread over in the Central European region. Together with his friend, the Polish nationalist leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Viktor Orbán declared a cultural counter-revolution inside the European Union last year. The countries of the Visegrad Four seemed to create a close alliance based on their regional identity and national sovereignties expressed in a strong resistance to Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. But the Visegrad Group has not proved to be a united front or the avant-garde of a new movement just as Orbán prophesised that 2017 would become the “Year of the riot” in Europe. And just a week ago, his political interests, personal strategic calculations and own moral flexibility, as well as the pressure from the European People’s Party made the Hungarian Prime Minister suddenly a Realpolitiker: he supported the re-election of Donald Tusk as President of the European Council in spite of the fact that Tusk was Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s arch rival in Poland. The creation of a Populist International had to be postponed. 

The challengers of the liberal democratic order have a much stronger voice everywhere in Europe than ever before. In Hungary and in its neighbourhood illiberal and populist political declarations dominate the public spheres. We need to demonstrate that there are fascinating alternative political, constitutional and economic ideas emerging inside the Central European region. Such concepts can seriously contribute to the new broader debate on the future of Europe as it is urged in the recent White Paper elaborated by the European Commission. We will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017. This workshop is a great opportunity to renew our way of thinking about important aspects of the European political and economic integration. I wish ourselves a fruitful discussion. 

Hungary Facing Trump

2016. november. 27., vasárnap | Hegedűs István

A cikk német változata megjelent a Welt Trends című folyóirat 2017 januári számában


Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister welcomed the victory of Donald Trump to become the 45th president of the United States with joy and enthusiasm. „What a great news”, he, or his man (or woman) wrote on Facebook with poor English immediately after the election game was over. The surprising success of the Republican candidate strengthened Orbán’s belief that like-minded politicians would break-through all over the world closing the era of “liberal non-democracy”. This is a new formula for Orbán’s previous “illiberal democracy” phrase: this time his critical tone sounds even harder against the status quo and the political order maintained by traditional democratic political elites. 


Orbán is self-confident that the forthcoming Trump era will open a wide window of opportunity to leave behind his relative international isolation. The two politicians talked on the phone two weeks after the US presidential elections. “I told him that I have not been there [in Washington] for a long time as I was regarded as a ‘black sheep’,” Orbán said according to a pro-governmental Hungarian newspaper, Világgazdaság, and quoted by the British Independent. His government never had problems with the United States, Orbán argued; conflicts emerged only with the ruling Democratic Party. Since the new president has no ideological constraints and admires Hungary, the political change is good for us, he added.

Távlatos politizálás a félelem politikája helyett

2016. szeptember. 07., szerda | Hegedűs István

2016. szeptember 7-én megjelent Hegedűs István válasza Judy Dempsey kérdésére „Can the EU Survive Without the EU?” a Carnegie Europe blogján.


Yes, the EU can survive without Britain.

I disagree with arguments that it will be easier to reform the EU without the awkward Brits. Symbolically, the historic European project has suffered an unprecedented blow from the British vote to leave the union. Now, it will be much more difficult to energize the European elites to push the reset button for deeper political integration and a more supranational decisionmaking setup. Still, as a surprising number of demonstrations have shown in the UK since the shocking result of the June 23 referendum, pro-EU parties and politicians are not so lonely in their often uncertain efforts to keep the European construction working.

The multiple challenges facing the EU have strengthened populist forces all over the continent; many present not a cure but a clear danger to the European liberal democratic order. Some future political scenarios at the European and national levels may look shocking. Still, if democrats are able to change the general framing of public discourse from the politics of fear to the politics of vision, including a new narrative of a reinvented Europe, they might win in the long run. They have to find an emotional tone to supplement the rational arguments in favor of the EU cause.

Yet, politics is not just about smart communication techniques and a renewed language. The EU also needs self-confident democratic politicians in each member state.

A szürke zónában

2016. július. 05., kedd | Hegedűs István

Megjelent a WeltTrends című folyóirat 2016. júliusi számában Hegedűs István esszéje "Ungarn zwischen Demokratie und Diktatur" címmel.

Auf sicherem Kurs steuert Viktor Orbán Ungarn in die Autokratie. Dabei bedient sich der ungarische Ministerpräsident simpler ideologischer und populistischer Kniffe, die bei seiner Wählerschaft auf fruchtbaren Boden fallen. Die EU ist mit der Geschwindigkeit von Orbáns Reformen überfordert und agiert äußerst zögerlich. Erneut offenbaren sich dabei grundlegende Schwächen des europäischen Staatensystems.

Anlässlich des Gedenkmarsches für die Opfer der Anschläge auf die Redaktion von „Charlie Hebdo“ im Januar 2015 warnte Viktor Orbán vor „Wirtschaftsmigranten”, die Europas Sicherheit und sozialen Zusammenhalt gefährden. Ein Jahr später, ist der Satz: „Schaut her, wir haben es euch gesagt!” zum festen Bestandteil der ungarischen Regierungspropaganda geworden. In den regierungsnahen Medien Ungarns wird Orbán seit seiner Wiederwahl 2014 als der neue starke Mann Europas stilisiert. Dies wird im übrigen Europa nicht geteilt. Frans Timmermanns, Vizepräsident der Europäischen Kommission, erklärte im November 2015, „dass diejenigen, die glauben, dass sie Probleme mit dem Bau von Grenzzäunen lösen können, dieses nur tun können, weil andere gewillt sind, die Probleme zu lösen“.1 Das ungarische Parlament hingegen kritisiert Brüssel für seine Flüchtlingspolitik und wählt dabei eine stark antieuropäische Rhetorik: „Wie viele Tote brauchen wir, um Juncker zum Aufgeben zu bewegen?“, fragte etwa der Fraktionsvorsitzende von Fidesz Lajos Kósa. Eine Parlamentsresolution setzte erneut Migration mit Terrorismus in Verbindung. Während in den traditionellen westlichen Demokratien (bis auf Ausnahmen am rechten Rand) Terrorismus als der Konflikt zwischen Freiheit und fanatischem Fundamentalismus angesehen wird, sieht Orbán einen Kampf der (religiösen) Kulturen aufziehen.

Responses of the Visegrad 4 Countries to the Current European Migrant Crisis

2016. máj.. 30., hétfő | Kocsis Györgyi

First lessons of an expert survey

Györgyi Kocsis – Kata Nagy


Budapest, 30 May 2016, Workshop
Organised by the Hungarian Europe Society and supported by the CEU Center for European Neighborhood Studies and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit 


To supplement the thematic analytical work of our current research project the expert group of the HES in consultation with our partners compiled a comprehensive basic questionnaire in order to map out and indentify basic similarities and differences among Visegrad 4 countries in terms of their responses given to the current European migration crisis. The main fields we intended to cover included among others the decisive aspects of the relevant domestic political landscapes and the related historical background, the Visegrad Cooperation, the emerging civic engagement and of course the basic characteristics of the migrants arriving and passing through the V4 countries. 

As to the resources of the sought information, our main idea was to invite experts familiar with the issue suggested by our partners from the V4 countries to reply our questionnaire. Besides professionals of academic circles we wanted to rely also on the opinion of the well informed practitioners dealing with this issue from the administration, the media, civil society, etc. For this reason our questionnaire consists of two parts, the first part with general questions on the current political context framing the migration issue while the second part covers the more technical, legal and historical aspects. We have invited some 200 selected people to fill out our questionnaire, of whom 72 complied with 41 % of them completing both parts of the questionnaire. The composition of the respondents’ nationality looks quite balanced; 29 % of them being Polish, also 29 % Hungarian, 25 % Czech while 16 % of the respondents were Slovaks. Despite of the relatively high proportion of the answers we naturally do not consider our findings representative in any of the possible aspects due to the qualitative nature of our approach. At the same time however we are convinced that our method can provide a useful orientation point for the further elaboration of our common research project.

Continue Reading

Kicsit optimistábban

2016. máj.. 11., szerda | Hegedűs István

Hozzászólás Bajomi-Lázár Péter: „Semlegesség és elkötelezettség között: politikai újságírás Magyarországon” című tanulmányához


Hogyan viselkednek az újságírók egy félig autoriter rendszerben? Behódolnak, ellenállnak, kibekkelnek? Persze nincs olyan, hogy az újságírók (nincs olyan, hogy a média): vannak kormánypártiak, ellenzékiek, függetlenek – a kötödés mértéke pedig különböző, akárcsak az, hogy mire hajlandóak (és pontosan hol, illetve kinek dolgoznak); szóval gátlástalan karrieristák vagy tudatos öncenzúrázók - miközben vannak, akiknek politikai nézetrendszeréből nem következik egyetlen politikai erővel való teljes azonosulás (valamely párt, politikus szolgálata). Az általános polarizáció (és számos médiaháború) persze nem kedvezett Magyarországon az újságírói autonómiának – amikor harc van, nehéz kívülállónak maradni. A politikai párhuzamosság dominanciája a közéletben ráadásul - éles helyzetekben - még a távolságtartó megfigyelő elegáns viselkedésének erkölcsi megalapozottságát is kérdésessé teheti.

Nem kötelező a függetlenség (semlegesség) a szakmában. Ady Endre (az irodalmár értelmiségi) sem úgy írt (publicisztikát), hogy „meghallgatta mindkét felet”, hanem leírta a saját véleményét. A pártos sajtómunkások azonban manapság megint agitátorok és propagandisták lettek: Bayer Zsolt egyik interjújából kiderül, az adott médiastruktúrán belül teljesíti a penzumot, keresi kenyerét és sejteti, írhatna másképp és más véleményt - másfajta körülmények között. A szellemi áramlatok küzdelme izgalmas is lehetne (ez itt és most nem az, bár kiváló cikkek azért születnek), amennyiben erősek lennének világnézetileg a talapzatok, amelyeken az egyes irányzatok képviselői állnak. Míg a legjobb német lapokban az újságírói nyelvezet finomsága és az érvrendszer logikája magával ragadó, a magyar kormánypárti sajtó harcias retorikája egyszerre kelt félelmet és sugároz intellektuális unalmat.