Address on Illiberal Democracy
delivered 26 July 2014, Bálványos Free Summer University and Youth Camp, Băile Tușnad, Romania
Good day to you all! I greet you all with respect!
The last time we met here a year ago, I started by saying that we were at the last meeting in Tusnádfürdő before the elections in Hungary. Now I can say that we are at the first meeting in Tusnádfürdő after the elections in Hungary, and I can report the good news to all of you that we have won the election. In fact, we won it twice! After all, it was not only a parliamentary election, but also a European Parliament election. As those of you who are here may be fully aware, on 12 October there will be a third election this year; this will be the Hungarian local elections, which are of weight and importance for Hungarian state life.
Allow me to begin my remarks by recalling an aspect of the last parliamentary election that has received undue attention. As a result of this election, the governing civic, Christian and nationalist forces in Hungary, Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People's Party, won two thirds of the seats in parliament - just one seat. I remember years ago we were talking about how beautiful it would be, how noble a form of revenge, if the political forces that voted in December 2004 against the readmission of Hungarians living outside the borders of the present-day Hungarian state were to win the punishment they deserved by winning a majority or two-thirds of the votes in a parliamentary election with the votes of Hungarians living outside the borders. I report that there is a suspicion that there is a moral balance in politics after all. We often have doubts about this, with good reason, but sometimes we also receive confirmation. What happened now, for example, is that it took the votes of Hungarians living beyond the borders and the resulting mandate for the national forces to have a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament. We thank all those involved, Providence, the voters, the Hungarian legislators and, ultimately, we must also thank those who turned against us and gave us the opportunity for good to prevail, because if there is no evil, how can good prevail?
Ladies and Gentlemen!
But what I have to say today is not about the elections. Our President-in-Office [or Acting President] also introduced us as regime changers, and he did so by evoking regime change. This shows that, for our generation, regime change is the generational experience against which we measure everything and from which we interpret everything that is happening around us. It seems natural. But today it is more to our disadvantage than to our help. Of course, regime change is extremely valuable as an experience, because politics - contrary to what people sometimes think - is not a speculative art form, but must be built on empirical facts and experience. And the situation today is that, of course, this experience is valuable, but in the meantime a change is taking place in the world that is just as significant as the experience of regime change.
Therefore, the intellectual task that lies ahead of us is to use regime change as an experience, but no longer as a reference point, in the context of understanding the future and debating the way forward. Rather, let us take as our starting point the great financial, world economic, world trade, world power, world military power shifts that became evident in 2008. This is the task we should be doing. It helps that some people were born later than us. And for them, it has been difficult for many years to see the regime change as a reference point, because someone born in 1985, for example, who was just five years old in the year of the regime change in 1990, does not have the same experience as we do, and therefore often remains outside political discourse because he or she does not understand the references that are made by people older than him or her in interpreting the present and the future. I believe that it would be more useful if we now saw regime change as a closed historical process, as a repository of experience and not as a starting point for thinking about the future.
As a starting point for thinking about the future, because, as I understand it, our task every year is to try to understand together in some way what is happening around us, to grasp the essence of what is happening around us, and perhaps to see from that what will happen to us in the future. So, if that is our task, I suggest that we remind ourselves briefly that there were three great world orders in the 20th century. At the end of World War I, at the end of World War II and in 1990. What they had in common - and perhaps I have already had the opportunity to talk to you about this here - was that when these changes took place, almost overnight it was clear to everyone that we were going to live in a different world from the one we had lived in. Let's say, after Trianon, it was quite obvious here, but also in Budapest. But so was World War II. If you looked around and saw Soviet occupation troops everywhere, you knew that from here on in, a different world was about to begin. And in the 1990s, when we managed to break the communists and oust them, it was clear after the first parliamentary elections that we were going to live in a new world: the Berlin Wall had fallen, there were elections, it was a different future.
The starting point for my presentation today is that a change of similar value and magnitude is taking place in the world today. Its manifestation, and therefore its manifestation, can be identified as the global financial crisis of 2008, but rather as the Western financial crisis. And the significance of this change is not so obvious because it is perceived by people in a different way from the previous three. It was not clear at the time of the great Western financial collapse of 2008 that we would now be living in a different world. It is not as sharp a shift as the first three great world order changes, but somehow slowly unfolding in our imagination, and like the fog that settles over the landscape, the knowledge that if we look around us, if we analyze it carefully, we will slowly come to know, that this is a different world to the one we lived in six years ago, and projecting it into the future, which of course always has some risks, but is still fundamentally a legitimate intellectual exercise, we can see that the changes will be even more dramatic.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Just to illustrate the profundity of this change, I have collected, without any systematization, a few sentences and thoughts from the Western world - one or two from the East - that are astonishing. If you look at or listen to these sentences from a pre-2008 - let's leave it at that - liberal world view, you will be shocked. If, however, you do not look at it from that perspective, but read from the sentences how far we have come in six years in terms of public discourse, in terms of the issues, in terms of the wording, then these sentences that I am going to quote will help you to understand what a change is taking place in the world today. Briefly, in America, the US President repeatedly and repeatedly talks about the fact that America is steeped in cynicism and the challenge is for the whole of American society, led by the US Government, to fight against the cynicism that comes from the financial system.
Moreover, the specificities of the financial system would have made it particularly dangerous to say such sentences. In comparison, they appear regularly in the American press today. Or the US president saying that if a hard-working American has to regularly choose between family and career, America will be left behind in the world economy. Or the US president speaks openly about economic patriotism. He says sentences for which the provincial Hungarian public is still stumbling and stoning today. For example, he talks openly about making large corporations that employ foreigners pay their fair share of taxes. Or he openly talks about the need to subsidize companies that employ Americans in the first place. These are all voices, ideas and phrases that would have been unthinkable six or eight years ago.
Or, to go further, one highly respected analyst argues that the power of American soft power is in decline because liberal values today embody corruption, sex and violence, and thus discredit America and American modernization. And then the Open Society Foundation publishes a study - this was not so long ago - where it analyses Western Europe and describes a sentence that goes something like, 'Western Europe has been so busy dealing with the plight of immigrants that it has forgotten the white working class. Or the British Prime Minister says that changes in Europe have resulted in many people becoming freeloaders on the back of welfare systems. Or one of the richest Americans, who is one of the first investors in the Amazon company, saying that we are becoming less capitalist and more feudal and that if the world economic system does not change, the middle class will disappear and, as he says, the rich will be hit with pitchforks. So instead of a top-down economic model, we need a middle-up economic model.
I don't want to explain these ideas, I just want to bring out the novelty of ideas that were almost unthinkable a few years ago to even be openly discussed. Or similarly from America: the number of young unemployed has risen dramatically, and therefore, for careers that offer good financial prospects, the children of families with good financial prospects have an unassailable advantage. This is what they say in the land of mobilization. Or to put it another way, another highly respected analyst says that the Internet, which for many years has been perceived by the liberal world as a symbol of freedom, has been colonized by big business, and he says nothing less than that the biggest question at the moment is whether the forces of capitalism, that is to say, the big international companies, will succeed in neutralizing the Internet. I will go on: I will tell you about an unexpected development that is close to our hearts and dear to our hearts. The British Prime Minister, who embarrassingly avoids ever being described as a Christian democrat in his own political movement, comes out in public and says that Christianity is a prominent part of British values and, despite multiculturalism, Britain is at heart a Christian country and something to be proud of.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The question is whether the many changes that are happening all around us can be put together in a description for understanding, whether one, two, three essential moments of all that is happening around us can be captured. It can be captured, of course, and that is what a lot of people are thinking about today, and even more people are writing about. Many books have been published on this. I would now like to offer you one such world-situation-explanatory thought. I think that the most provocative and exciting issue that has emerged in Western social thinking in the last year can be summarised, necessarily simplified, as follows. The competition between nations in the world, the competition between power groups and alliances in the world, has a new element added to it.
Because everyone has been talking about world economic competition, globalization, the internationalization of the economy, has made it necessary to talk, write and analyze a lot about it, so we know almost every detail of world economic competition. We can roughly tell what makes a nation or a group of economic interests, even a multi-national community such as the European Union, competitive in the international economy or what makes it lose competitiveness. But many people - and I belong to this group - do not think that this is the main issue today. It remains an important issue. As long as one lives on money and economics, which will not change in the foreseeable future, it will always remain an important issue. But there is an even more important race. I would put it as a race to invent the state that is best able to make a nation successful.
Since the state is nothing more than a way of organizing a community, which in our case sometimes coincides with national borders, sometimes not - I will come back to this - perhaps the defining moment in the world today can be summed up as a race to find the way of organizing a community, the state that is best able to make a nation, a community, internationally competitive. This explains, Ladies and Gentlemen, why the hot topic in thinking today is to understand those systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies, and yet make nations successful.
Today the stars in international analysis are
Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey. And I think that our political
community years ago felt it well, felt it well, perhaps even intellectually
worked through this challenge, and if we look back at what we have done in the
last four years and what we will do in the next four years, it can actually be
understood from here. In other words, we are looking for and trying to find a
form of community organization, a new Hungarian state, which is capable of
making our community competitive in the great global race in the decades to
come, and which is independent of the dogmas and ideologies accepted in Western
In order to be able to do this, in 2010 and
especially recently, we have had to boldly utter a sentence which, like the
sentences just quoted, belonged to the category of sacrilege in the liberal
world order. We had to say that a democracy is not necessarily liberal. The fact
that something is not liberal can still be a democracy. Moreover, it had to be
said, it could be said, that societies based on the principle of the state
organization of liberal democracy are unlikely to be able to maintain their
world competitiveness in the coming decades, but rather to suffer a decline
unless they are able to change themselves significantly.
The thing is that if we look at what is happening
around us from this point of view, we tend to take as our starting point that we
have known three forms of state organization: the nation state, the liberal
state and then the welfare state. And the question is: what is next? The
Hungarian answer is that we are entering the era of a work-based state, and we
want to organize a work-based society which, as I said before, takes the risk of
saying that it is not liberal in character. What does this mean?
This means that we have to break with liberal principles and methods of social organization and the liberal understanding of society in general. I am going to touch on this in just two dimensions, I do not want to go into a long lecture, I just want to touch on it so that the weight of the matter is felt. The starting point of liberal social organization, in terms of the relationship between two people, is based on the idea that we are free to do anything that does not infringe the freedom of the other. The Hungarian world of twenty years before 2010 was built on this starting point of thought and ideas - adopting the principle that is common in Western Europe. However, it took twenty years for us in Hungary to formulate the problem that, although this is an intellectually very attractive idea, it is not clear who will say when something infringes my freedom.
And since it doesn't happen by itself, someone has to decide it, someone has to decide it. And since we have not appointed anybody to decide it, we have constantly, in everyday life, found that it is decided by the strongest. We constantly felt that whoever was weaker was being trampled on. Conflicts arising from the recognition of each other's mutual freedom are not decided according to some abstract principle of justice, but it happens that the stronger is always right. It is always the stronger neighbor who says where the driveway is, it is always the stronger neighbor, it is always the bank who says what the interest rate on a loan is, and if necessary it changes it on the fly, and I could go on and on with examples of what has been a constant experience of life for vulnerable, weak individuals and families with less economic protection than others over the last twenty years. This is what we are proposing, and we are trying to build Hungarian state life on the idea that this should not be the organizing principle, the organizing principle of society. This cannot be enshrined in law; we are talking here about intellectual starting points.
The organizing principle of Hungarian society should not be that everything should be free that does not infringe on the freedom of others, but that what you do not want done to you, you should not do to others. And we are trying, through our personal examples in Hungarian public thought, in the educational system, in our own behavior, to place the world we can call Hungarian society on this idealistic basis. If we look at the same idea in the relationship between the individual and the community - because I was talking about the relationship between the individual and the individual - we can see that in the last twenty years the Hungarian liberal democracy that has been built has been unable to implement a number of things. I have made a short list of what it has not been able to do.
Liberal democracy has not been able to openly declare and oblige - even by constitutional force - the governments of the day to work in the national interest. It has even challenged the idea of the existence of a national interest. He did not oblige the governments of the day to recognize the belonging of Hungarians living in the world to our nation, to the Hungarian nation, and to try to strengthen this belonging through their work. It did not defend liberal democracy, the liberal Hungarian state did not defend the common wealth.
Now we are hearing the opposite, as if in the case of certain purchases - and I will come back to this, because the Hungarian state recently bought a bank - the interpretations were to paint a picture of the Hungarian state increasingly attracting assets and classifying them as public property, which goes beyond the behavior accepted in Europe. However, if we look - the Financial Times recently published such a large list - at the proportion of public assets in which countries within the European Union, Hungary is at the very bottom end of the list. In all but perhaps two countries, the share of publicly owned assets is higher than in Hungary. So it is safe to say that liberal democracy has proved incapable of protecting the community wealth necessary for the nation's self-preservation, even compared to other European states. Then the liberal Hungarian state failed to protect the country from indebtedness. And finally, it has failed to protect families - the foreign currency loan system comes to mind here.
Nor did it protect families from debt slavery.
Consequently, the interpretation of the 2010 election - especially in the light
of the electoral success in 2014 - can be interpreted as meaning that in the
great global race to create the most competitive state, Hungarian citizens
expect Hungarian leaders to find, develop and forge a new Hungarian state
organization, which, after the era of the liberal state and liberal democracy -
while respecting the values of Christianity, freedom and human rights, of course
- will make the Hungarian community competitive again, and will carry out and
respect the unfinished work and the unfulfilled obligations that I have listed.
In other words, what is happening in Hungary today
can be interpreted as an attempt by the political leadership of the day to
ensure that people's personal work and interests, which must be recognized, are
closely linked to the life of the community, the life of the nation, and that
the link is maintained and strengthened. In other words, the Hungarian nation is
not a mere collection of individuals, but a community that must be organized,
strengthened and even built. In this sense, the new state we are building in
Hungary is an illiberal state, not a liberal state. It does not deny the
fundamental values of liberalism, such as freedom, and I could mention a few
others, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state
organization, but it contains a different, specific, national approach.
I then need to talk about the obstacles that need to be overcome to make this happen. It may be easy for what I say to seem obvious in this context, but when it comes to translating it into a political program and work, it is not at all. I am not going to list all the obstacles, I will just mention a few, or more precisely two of them, not necessarily the most important ones, but the most interesting ones. Professional politicians versus civilians. In other words, the state must obviously be organized and managed by someone, by leaders who are empowered and elected to do so. However, civil society organizations always appear on the margins of state life. Now the civil world in Hungary presents a very particular picture. For a civilian - unlike a professional politician - is a person or a community that is organized from below, that stands on its own financial feet and is, of course, voluntary.
Now, in comparison, if I look at the civil society in Hungary, the civil society that is regularly in the public eye - and the controversy over the Norwegian Fund has brought this to the surface - I see that we are dealing with paid political activists. And these paid political activists are political activists paid by foreigners. They are paid activists paid by identifiable foreign interests, and it is difficult to imagine that they see this as a social investment; it is much more reasonable to think that they want to use this system of instruments to exert influence on Hungarian state life at a given moment and on given issues. It is therefore very important that, if we want to reorganize our nation state instead of the liberal state, we must make it clear that we are not dealing with civilians here, that we are not dealing with civilians, but with paid political activists who are trying to assert foreign interests in Hungary. It is therefore very appropriate that a committee has been set up in the Hungarian Parliament to monitor, record and disclose the ongoing acquisition of foreign influence, so that all of you, including yourselves, can know exactly who the real characters are behind the masks.
I will give you another example of another obstacle to the reorganization of the state. When I mention the European Union, I do not do so because I think that an illiberal, nationally based new state cannot be built within the European Union. I think it is possible. Our membership of the European Union does not exclude that. It is true that there are a lot of questions, a lot of conflicts, which you have been able to follow in recent years, a lot of battles to be fought, but I am not thinking about that, but about another phenomenon that you are probably not yet familiar with in this form. When the treaty between the European Union and Hungary expired, which fixed the financial relationship between the European Union and Hungary for seven years, which expired this year, and the conclusion of a new treaty for the next seven years, which is currently being negotiated, a debate broke out. And then I had to pull some facts and figures in front of me to understand the nature of this debate. And what did I see? What I saw was that the people - we are talking about hundreds of people here - who are in charge of the economic development or social construction funds that Hungary receives from the European Union - not donated funds, but funds that we receive under a contract - receive their salaries directly from the European Union. In other words, a territorial entity has been created in Hungary.
Then the figures showed that, compared to the Hungarian government sector, these are four to five times, sometimes eight times, the benefits. In other words, for seven years Hungary has lived with the largest amount of resources available for the development of the economy and society being controlled or decided by people who were paid by others, and who received several times more than the Hungarian civil servants for this work. Similarly, thirty-five per cent of the 100 forints that went out of here into the Hungarian economy and society could be accounted for in soft costs. That is, what was not closely related to the target task, but was related to it: preparation, analysis, planning, all sorts of things, consultancy, and so on.
Now a dispute has arisen between the EU and Hungary because we have changed this system, and the government has decided that anyone who has control over EU funds must, in this new concept of the state, in the concept of the illiberal state, be employed by the Hungarian state, and for the work they do they cannot receive more than a person of the same rank in the Hungarian administration. And you can't spend thirty-five percent, thirty-five forints out of a hundred forints on soft costs, because it can't exceed fifteen forints in the next seven years. Not more than fifteen out of a hundred! These are all decisions which, of course, appear to be a political issue in themselves, but in fact what we are talking about here is not a political decision, but the fact that the Hungarian state is being reorganized, in contrast to the illiberal logic of the previous twenty years. There is a reorganization of the state based on national interests. The conflicts that we are facing are not random, they are not the result of stupidity - although they can sometimes be - but are fundamentally disputes that are inevitably part of the process of rebuilding and redefining a state.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Finally, I would like to say to you that if we are looking to the future, I have to say to you, and this may seem like a small thing for someone in high office, that the future is that anything can happen. And anything is hard to define. What could happen, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that a passenger aircraft is shot down in the airspace of a neighboring state of Hungary. It can happen that, for some incomprehensible reason, hundreds of people die, let's say, as a result of what is essentially an act of terrorism. It could happen, ladies and gentlemen, that in the United States - I saw the news yesterday - that the United States Senate, it could be that the Senate and the House of Representatives together have decided to sue the US President for a continuing abuse of power. And when I look behind them, it turns out that not only are they suing, but they have convicted the US President on several occasions for exceeding his powers... Imagine in Hungary, when the parliament sued the Hungarian Prime Minister for exceeding his powers, and then the court convicted him. How long could I stay in office, Ladies and Gentlemen? I bring these examples here only because we live in a world where anything can happen. It can even happen, for example, that if the court proceedings go through, Hungarians will get back hundreds of billions of forints worth of money from the banks that they could not have taken from them.
Even this can happen, Ladies and Gentlemen! I just wanted to point out that it is almost impossible to predict events accurately or approximately accurately. It could happen, to conclude with an equally refreshing example, that the Hungarian government that wins the elections announces in advance that the Hungarian financial system must be at least fifty per cent in Hungarian hands. Not in state hands, but in Hungarian hands. Three months after the elections, and it will be. Because that is what happened last time. Given that a bank that should never have been sold to foreigners in the first place is being bought back by the Hungarian state, and that the proportion of Hungarian national ownership in the banking system will exceed fifty per cent.
The question now, Ladies and Gentlemen, but the answer is not for me to answer, is whether we should be afraid of such a situation, where anything can happen, or whether we should be filled with optimism? Since the current world order is not exactly to our liking, I think we should rather think that the era of anything can happen that we are facing now, although many believe that it brings uncertainty and that it can be a bad thing, at least it also holds so much opportunity and chance for the Hungarian nation. So, instead of fear, cowering and retreating, I propose courage, forward thinking, rational but courageous action to the Hungarian community in the Carpathian Basin, and indeed to the entire Hungarian national community scattered around the world. It could easily be, after anything, that our time will come.
Thank you for your kind attention!
Jó napot kívánok mindenkinek! Tisztelettel
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