Parallel System Narratives – Polish and Hungarian regime formations compared / Part III of III

Like in the 1980s when the Polish activists of the Solidarity movement cooperated with the opposition in Hungary, we have now re-established contacts with our Hungarian friends. They have supported the Committee for the Defence of Democracy since its very beginning. During the demonstration in January 2016 in Warsaw, Balázs Gulyás warned us against the Hungarian scenario of Viktor Orbán, while Betram Marek, a student of political sciences, created a Facebook group called Dwa Bratanki, a name which alludes to a well-known proverb about Polish-Hungarian friendship “Pole and Hungarian brothers be, good for fight and good for party”. In March 2016, KOD and Gazeta Wyborcza daily organized a panel discussion with the former and present Hungarian opposition, entitled „Budapest in Warsaw, or Warsaw in Budapest”. One of the panellists was Róza Hodosán, a sociologist, who in the 1980s wrote and disseminated samizdat texts and publications and several times visited Warsaw trying to learn from the example of the Solidarity radio, which she wanted to organize in Hungary. Bertram Marek and Balázs Nemes spoke about the contemporary, young activists who are now in opposition to the Orbán government.

Last year, a few hundred Hungarian people expressed their solidarity with the Poles and support to the KOD activity, organizing demonstrations in front of the Polish embassy in Budapest.

To offer our readers a more analytical approach to the issue, we are pleased to be able to publish on our website a comparative study written by Bálint Magyar and Miklós Mitkovits. We wish to thank the Authors for this in-depth analysis of the Polish and Hungarian history, which may be very helpful in the context of the present political and economic situation in both countries. The study draws a parallel between the Polish and Hungarian history, showing similarities and pointing out significant differences, which may lead to interesting conclusions.
Since the text covers a wide spectrum of historical events, we will be publishing it parts. We welcome your comments and ideas. It is the authors’ intention to start a discussion about the activities which could be undertaken together to prevent Poland from the Hungarian scenario coming true.

If you wish to contact the authors personally, please write to us:

Part I     Part II     Part III


Various attempts to dispense with liberal democracy: attempted Polish conservative autocracy vs. established Hungarian mafia state

  • Kaczyński’s politics is motivated by power and ideology: the concentration of power goes hand in hand with the goal of achieving a hegemony of the “Christian-nationalist” value system, which is not to be confused with the value system of Christian democracy.
  • The regime is more driven by ideology, and its “inconsistencies” do not mean a multitude of 180 degree turns, as in the case of Hungary. As conceived by Jarosław Kaczyński, the state and the Catholic Church operate closely entwined (“the Church is an organic component of being Polish”). It follows from this that the liberal value system built on the autonomy of the individual is viewed as an enemy, since the nation considers the interests of the Polish collective as higher than the interests of the individual. At the same time, this essentially opposes an acceptance of free market competition and respect for the freedom of enterprise, because it considers the collectivist economy a “communist invention” that destroyed Poland. It should be noted here that a majority of Polish society also rejects collectivism.
  • They wish to break with the values of liberal democracy, but at the same time they take the break with the communist legacy seriously.
  • Orbán’s politics is motivated by power and wealth: the concentration of power and the accumulation of wealth in the political family.
  • The system is not ideologically driven, but utilizes ideology. Its ideological “coherence” is not achieved by the representation of a definite value system. Its ideological “consistency” is ensured through its use of ideological frames that fit with the patterns of enacted power tied to the patriarchal head of the family. It follows naturally that it deals with the liberal value system built on the autonomy of the individual as an enemy. But it only picks and chooses from the leftwing-collectivist values with caution. When necessary, it relies on the frames of social populism. It pragmatically uses those conservative-collectivist values (“God, fatherland, family”), which can be attached to a centralized chain of command built on a patron-client network of vassalage. (For example, respect for the sanctity of private property—which could be considered conservative—is alien to it.)
  • Under the guise of breaking with the communist legacy they actually want to do away with the values of liberal democracy.

The divergent approaches of the two autocratic tendencies to ideology (ideology driven vs. ideology utilizing) do not in the meantime exclude the possibility of the common ideological frames they use being closely related:

  • they define their governance not as changes of government, but as changes of regime;
  • accordingly, they distance themselves from the regime change of a quarter century ago, and interpret the history of the peaceful, negotiated change of regimes as the deal between elites concluded over the heads of society; and they attempt to use this to legitimize the necessity for the actual regime change they represent;
  • the new constitutive legislation serves to distance their new autocratic regimes on a symbolic level as well, from the repudiated legacy of the regime change, and this is true of Poland even if they had formally ratified a new constitution in 1997;
  • under nation they mean a community of people committed to an ideology, rather than autonomous citizens, by which means they seek to create a basis of legitimacy and an argument for excluding citizens critical of their regime from the nation, and paint them as representatives of alien interests;
  • they share a particular form of Euro-skepticism, and continue a “national freedom struggle against the Brussels dictatorship” on the basis of a historicized grievance politics, while continuing to expect the EU resources; this behavior is no less than the realization of a rent-seeking policy on international scale, without moral qualms.
  • fear and suspicion of refugees, migrants and aliens is exceptionally high in both countries, which populist politics easily transforms into active xenophobia.

The similarities between these ideological frames only demonstrate that they are equally adaptable to the needs of two autocratic regimes of different types.

  • The actual decision-making remains centered within the framework of formal institutions in Poland. Kaczyński occupies the peak of the power pyramid as the president of the PiS. The prime minister, and the ministers of defense, and the secret services are the vice-presidents of the party. The leaders of the Sejm and the Senate, as well as other ministers are members of the presidency of the party. The PiS is a centralized party serving as a center of power. Anyone with real power must primarily be found an appropriate position in the party hierarchy, and fill a function in public office through this position. This form of organization is focused on the concentration of power with the application of the classical instruments of autocratic systems. A twenty-four-member government operates in this system with ministers that have real competencies, unlike in the Hungarian case of concentration of governance into a few top ministries.
  • Relationships in the power structure—unlike in the clan-like mafia state, with its ruling structure stretched beyond the formal offices of public authority—are not consecrated as “family” or “blood” ties. Party political nepotism means the distribution of state-political, and state-commercial, media positions and sinecures among the party’s own cadres. In order to make this easier, they have lowered the professional requirements to fill certain positions. Meanwhile, there are no oligarchs/stooges, advisors around Kaczyński, who have significant influence upon the decisions of the party president. Even demands coming from the Church (e.g. the complete ban on abortions) do not necessarily become unconditionally a part of issues PiS supports.
  • State dirigist control is being established: a sweeping away of the Civic Platform is underway, meaning the purge-like replacement of those appointed by the previous government to positions in the administration, public services and the state corporate sector. However, the regime is not able to spread beyond the spheres of state administration, state institutions, and state corporations. There are areas of social autonomy that it cannot reach for the moment.
  • Kaczyński’s anti-corruption stance is not motivated by the intent to centrally expropriate corruption. The war on corruption lies behind the party name, Law and Justice as well. Lech Kaczyński, the brother of the current party president—who died in 2010—had been minister of justice in the Buzek government when he was confronted with the extent of corruption and vast role of the old (Soviet) secret services. This was what gave the twins the impetus to form the PiS after the fall of that government.
  • With its first campaign (2005–2007) the PiS established the pillars for elimination of corruption, including the lustration Act of 2006, the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, and the disbanding of the Military Intelligence Agency. At the time, these acts were also supported by the Civil Platform, and with the exception of the lustration Act they are still effective today. Kaczyński even used the Anti-Corruption Bureau against his own coalition partners, exposing his coalition ally (Andrzej Leppert). Paradoxically his own government also fell as a result.
  • To date there is no evidence that the PiS would seek to replace the economic elite, to expropriate, redistribute, and channel private property into its own fields of interest. Yet the unification of the posts of minister of justice and chief prosecutor is not an encouraging sign, since the prosecution will by these means be more easy subject to political orders. Yet there is no sign in Poland that the law enforcement authorities may act as protectors of economic interests close to the regime.
  • PiS is preparing to withdraw the public education reform that was introduced at the end of the nineties (the shift, in particular, from an 8+4-year educational system to a 6+3+3-year system that has resulted in Central Europe’s only lasting educational success by means of extending the period in which basic competencies are taught), with the goal, it would seem, of bringing the Church colleges into a better position as opposed to the secularized schools of public education.
  • Loyal members of the power pyramid are rewarded with office and not wealth. Kaczyński lives alone in a rented apartment in Warsaw in extremely austere conditions. His wealth declaration shows that he had to borrow from a friend in order to ensure hospital conditions in his home for his ailing mother, and then to create a little memorial to her after her death. Since its formation, the PiS campaigned under the slogan of “the inexpensive state”, and to date, no costly prestige investments can be tied to it. The president of the party is in any case weary of public appearance and and rarely appears in the media.
  • Real political-economic decision-making is removed from the world of legally defined, formalized organizations and social control. Important decisions are not made within the formalized, legitimate framework of parties, government, parliament, or fora of mutual consultation. These institutions are merely the transmission belts of decisions brought outside them, transmitting them into the sphere of legality. The transformation of Fidesz as a party went through the following shifts: alternative movement, West oriented party, centralized party (the exclusion of representatives of rival trajectories within the party), vassal party (the party president has the legally arraigned prerogative to appoint candidates for membership of parliament and mayoral seats), transmission belt party (the filling up of the leading bodies with insignificant “stooges”, and their ceasing to be actual decision-making fora).
  • The decision-making “organ” of the informally exercised power is the adopted political family, or rather its topmost reaches composed of a score of members. This cannot be compared either to the former soviet nomenclature, the “politburo”, or the formalized, transparent, accountable institutional system of modern democracies. The members of the “polip buro” are the ministers attached to the pater familias/prime minister (Antal Rogán, János Lázár), the minister of the interior, the oligarchs/stooges, advisors. This narrow center of power broadens in concentric circles, with the inclusion of formal public offices of authority, positions in the private sector of the economy, and individuals whose position is difficult to ascertain.
  • With the eradication of individual and institutional autonomies based on equality before the law, a system of patron-client relations is built: shaping civilians into clients dependent on individual political decisions. This is not accomplished with the homogeneously repressive instruments of classical dictatorship, but a wealth of forms suitable to the requirements of “democratic legitimation”.
  • The Orbán-regime does not fight corruption, but monopolizes it through centralization. In its case, we are not speaking about state capture, but the capture of the oligarchs. Corruption does not work against the state, but the state itself works as a criminal organization. The mafia state is simply the privatized form of the parasite state.
  • Politically selective law enforcement as practiced in the mafia state ensures loyalty to the adopted political family. The Governmental Control Office, the State Audit Office, the tax authorities and the Prosecutor’s Office are not the neutral, impartial institutions taking measures against infractions against the law, but actors integrated into the criminal organization in government; they operate not under the law, but under the political and economic interests of Viktor Orbán: when required they are part of the Fidesz campaign machine, or the protectors of economic crime committed by central command.
  • The regime occupies not only the positions of public authority, and manipulates the sphere of politics, but acquires family wealth through the replacement of the leading economic elite and its methodical stripping of properties. The essence of the mafia state is that the adopted political family accumulates wealth through the bloodless instruments of state coercion. This centrally directed activity as a criminal organization involves the concerted operation of Parliament, government, the tax authorities, the Governmental Control Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the police. Traditional corruption is suppressed: it is not state officials who are offered bribes, but the state criminal organization that takes protection money. The fortunes of the political family are piled up by the stooges, the oligarchs belonging to the internal circle, laundering it through means supported by the state, and the introduction of offshore companies.
  • The new elite splashes its riches intemperately. The god father/prime minister builds a football stadium in the neighborhood of his country house, tapping billions into his football foundation, while his family piles up land and fortunes through stooges, buying palaces and country mansions. he moves into the royal castle in Buda. The visible wealth of the stooges and oligarchs who can be tied to him is in excess of 110 billion forints (350 million euro). The amounts channeled off to members of the political family are on the scale of millions–billions, and the public revelation of such acts counts as an everyday occurrence.

International preferences in the two autocratic schemes

  • Kaczyński’s relationship with Germany is ambivalent. During the PiS’s first term in government, he fostered good relations with Angela Merkel. The good Polish-German relations developed further during the governance of the Civil Platform. Angela Merkel’s support was likely necessary for Donald Tusk to become the President of the European Council. On the other hand, many historical grievances are deeply engrained in Kaczyński (his father fought in the Warsaw uprising, and he was born in 1949, in a city leveled to the ground by the Germans). In his opinion German capital should play a larger role in the revival of Poland. Once in a while the politicians of the PiS bring up these historical debts the Germans owe.
  • Kaczyński is unflinching in his commitment to the Atlantic Alliance. He considers the USA and NATO the chief guarantors of Polish independence and sovereignty. In the person of the foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, we have an American university educated individual who has worked in Geneva and at the Brussels office of the NATO in a high position. It is one of the main aims of the PiS to make the NATO establish permanent bases in Poland, achieved partially at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw. In addition, he continues to work on Poland being added to the NATO Nuclear Sharing program, thereby increasing the security of the country.
  • One of the cornerstones of Polish foreign policy—irrespective of the government—is that Russia is a threat to Poland at all times. The Polish people believe that dependence on Russian energy has a political cost, and so every effort must be made to avoid it. Poland carries on expansive commercial activities with the countries of the Far East, but business does not signify political legitimacy for any anti-democratic regime. The current PiS government takes up the cause of the independence of any country or people fighting against Russia (Ukraine, Chechnya, Georgia), and supports the maintenance of the sovereignty of the Baltic states by every means it has at its disposal, as well as Ukraine’s intent to distance itself from Russia. Accordingly, Warsaw usually criticizes the West for not fully backing these causes.
  • Kaczyński’s position opposite to Brussels is motivated by a repositioning of Poland’s status within the EU. But this does not mean Warsaw has any intent to leave the EU, but quite the opposite: Poland would like to have more of a say in matters, it wishes to be in the mainstream of the EU. Naturally it needs allies to achieve this. Warsaw also recognized that the Visegrád Four (V4) are not strong enough for it to achieve its aims, which is why it has readdressed the concept of the Intermarium introduced between the two World Wars, which would have joined the countries of the region, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic and the Black Sea. This alliance was not needed by Kaczyński to win protection and support when Brussels claims there is a democratic deficit, but rather to have the status of a regional middle power within the EU recognized. It was no coincidence that Poland took a middling, wavering position on the compulsory quota system for the placement of asylum seekers, since it did not want to antagonize Brussels and Berlin in this matter.
  • Different organizations within the EU reacted strongly to those political changes orchestrated by Kaczyński, which were aimed at a concentration of power and violated the constitution, and this surprised the government. The amplification of the nationalist ideological strain is not part of a larger strategy, but a spontaneous reaction to the criticism aimed at his government.
  • Orbán is not fighting Germany, he is fighting Merkel, and he looks for allies in this struggle even among members of her party. The slogan “Give Hungarians respect”, used in a major billboards campaign expresses how offended he was at his person not being shown the respect he would have expected in the western world. His critique is based on an ideology, it is merely revenge for the respect not demonstrated towards the godfather, so by this means he positions himself, rather than the country. He acknowledges meanwhile that Germany is Hungary’s economic partner no. 1, with which it cannot engage in an economic battle.
  • Orbán has ejected all politicians and diplomats committed to the Atlantic Alliance from his foreign affairs team. There is no Atlantic commitment, only bargains with the USA and the NATO: of the obligations to NATO only as much is absolved as required to forestall the USA activating itself even more against the autocratic regime in Hungary. This of course does not stop government propaganda from rolling out all sorts of conspiracy theories against the Hungarians, among them about secret societies controlling the world, international banking offensives, sabotage by George Soros—adding to all of this a splash of anti-Semitism, for measure.
  • The program of Eastern Opening in Hungarian foreign policy aims to secure socially unchecked, freely expendable resources for the adopted political family through its connections to Putin and other autocrats. This is not classical commerce it must be added, for the chief merchandise is Hungary’s disloyalty to the EU, for which the adopted political family gains financial favors. The Russian gas-diplomacy, the renovation of Paks Nuclear Power Plant, and other similar deals put Hungary in an obliged, dependent position in exchange for private benefit. It is not the countries and nations but the autocrats between whom the Eastern Opening serves to create an intimate, family atmosphere. Though within the EU, by opening towards the East, Fidesz tries to stylize its actions as a role of the bridge, in fact it aims more for “I do business with the East—and blackmail the west” position.
  • To strengthen its position against Brussels, Orbán seeks allies in the framework of the Visegrád 4. With a collective stance opposed to the strategy Brussels found for dealing with the refugee crisis in the form of compulsory relocation quotas he also tries at the same time to form a stronger community out of it, with a stronger bargaining position. A group that offers protection and support to the other participants, in cases where citing a democracy deficit, Brussels would want to take measures against attempts at establishing autocracies within the EU. In the case of the V4 Orbán insists on a role as leader: if not for Hungary, then for himself. His personal ambition reaches beyond the intent to bring about this regional community of shared interests: he wants to be the provider of a model and a program opposed to the community of values that compose the EU. At the same time Hungarian foreign policy is wholly “deaf” to the Polish initiatives, mainly because it also has an anti-Russian sting; otherwise it simply uses from it whatever is required for its propaganda activities.
  • Orbán’s “Europe of Nations” program is simply a demand for a new relationship with the EU: to maintain the obligation for the transfer of resources for convergence, while ensuring the autonomy for the establishment of peculiar national democracies, namely, autocracies.

Chances of a restoration of liberal democracy: party structure

  • Polish party structure has been in constant motion, constant change since the change of regimes: parties disappeared, parties formed. The party PiS that won the 2015 elections had only formed in 2001. This does not however mean that too large a number of new faces had made it into the political mainstream. Jarosław Kaczyński is one of the longest present politicians, who was already actively involved in the opposition movement in the seventies. Typically, while given parties may have failed, been discredited, this was less true of their politicians. Only the leftist successor party seems to be disappearing from the political stage, both in organizational and personal terms. But clearly, new arrivals are taking their place.
  • In spite of the constant change, Polish political life can basically be dividend into two sides: the Christian-nationalist and the liberal-conservative sides. In the last 15 years this meant a PiS and PO division. The former usually call the latter leftists, or “communists”—without foundation. The third side could be the disappearing old, and the new left now in formation. Characteristically, however, neither the PiS, nor the PO occupies a “central field” in spite of the fact that for a long while it seemed like the PO would be suitable to do so. The PiS—though it in terms of ideology holds itself the only legitimate representative of the nation—is not heading center field, but to the extreme right. Even organizationally it integrates the extreme right-radical formations, individuals, voters.
  • The PiS does not dominate the political field on the right-wing, since the Civil Platform is still a major party of the liberal-conservative right. Moreover, not only did Nowoczesna, new liberal party make it into parliament in 2015, but its support has grown a great deal since. So the forces of the civil middle-ground have a serious, institutionalized power and bass in Poland. A stable presence besides them is meant by the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which is the party of the rural clerk social strata.
  • The electoral list system does not exclude the possibility of defeating PiS even without a united opposition. Since the PiS is considered unsuitable for coalition by most of the political parties, if it is unable to secure more than half of the mandate alone, it will foreseeably lose the chance to form government.
  • In Poland, the governing party cannot bring the opposition parties into a position where they depend on the governing party, and openly or latently become its vassals. If a political party is discredited, immediately another is formed in its place.
  • After the electoral victory of Fidesz in the 2010 elections, the party structure that had been stable since regime change—even rigid, in a certain sense—collapsed. The two large parties of the regime change, the national conservative MDF and liberal SZDSZ disintegrated. The socialist party split into two, the legal successor MSZP, which is an eclectic party with their politics grounded in inherited relationships rather than common principles, and the social-liberal Democratic Coalition (DK) led by the former prime minister. However, both parties held on to the discredited personal makeup of the party’s figureheads. As a new left-wing green party the LMP was elected to parliament, but also split in two later, producing PM (Dialogue for Hungary). They now compete along with another minor party formed after 2010, Együtt, for the votes of the left wing electorate who won’t vote for MSZP or DK.
  • A three-party system replaces the two party system that preceded 2010. Fidesz has filled the political position of “central field of power”, which is not indicative of its position in the political spectrum. Jobbik, an ideology-driven, extreme-right radical party is positioned to its right, while the divided left-wing parties are to its left. This party alignment quite resembles the situation under the Horthy regime, where the government party in the center also constantly saturated elements of the extreme-right ideology in order to hold the right-wing camp together. While Fidesz largely absorbs the ideological frames and language of the radical right in order to keep its support base, it does not integrate the voters of the extreme right.
  • Since 2010 there has been neither a moderate center right party, nor a liberal party that could be taken seriously in Hungary. Therefore, voters disillusioned by Fidesz, which commands most of the right, do not have a natural party environment, where they could find representation on the right of the political field without the mafia-state elements. Therefore, their break with Fidesz would also have to mean a break with their right-wing values. This, however, is not a viable option for them, since it would mean much more than simply changing party preferences.
  • The one-round, disproportional election system would only allow for the replacement of Fidesz by elections if the multitude of opposition parties—which justly see each other as unsuitable, and exclude one-another based on values and voter bass—would form an electoral alliance. This is what ensures Fidesz the conditions of stability in power even though its popularity rises and falls.
  • In the mafia state, politicians are stigmatized and criminalized, while opposition parties are marginalized or domesticated.

The municipal hinterland for the protection of liberal democracy

  • In Poland, since 2015, not only the capital and the main cities, but even the majority of rural municipalities are under the leadership of opposition forces. So it is impossible to administratively limit the influence of the parties, or to take away the financial independence of its followers, there are significant obstacles to forcing them into positions dependent on the government.
  • Due to Poland’s size and heterogeneity, there is an extraordinary strong regional consciousness, which manifests itself in political choices as well. In the northern, western, and Silesian metropolises of the country, a majority of the electorate supports the liberal-conservative camp, and the plebeian-populist PiS finds it very hard to address them. The clerks of the rural towns in the east also prefer to vote for the People’s Party. Moreover, the next municipal elections will only be in 2018, which means the PiS is forced to govern against the rather strong tide of municipal governments.
  • In contrast to Fidesz’s 1998–2002 term in government, by 2010 practically the whole of the municipal sector had come under the influence of Fidesz. This made it impossible for the municipalities to form a sort of hinterland, or base for the followers of the parties of the democratic opposition. Furthermore, Fidesz openly socializes the electorate to except that if they do not elect a leadership loyal to the government, they will be divesting themselves of all central and EU development resources, and moreover municipalities also depend on the central budget for a decisive majority of their current revenue. The vassal status of mayors dependent on Orbán has meanwhile made it possible for the municipalities to be stripped of their institutions for education and healthcare without opposition, even as their free handling of their budgets has been curtailed. The municipalities have as a result become essentially custodians, extensions of the power of government. Political and cultural life is heavily Budapest centered in Hungary, and the few cities numbering between one to two hundred thousand have never played an independent role of political consequence for the whole country.

The chances of an independent media

  • The PiS had made efforts to bring public media under party control as early as the end of 2005. With minor amendments, the same law was in effect while the Civil Platform was in government. Thus the public media, if not a government mouthpiece, nevertheless, broadcast according to the values of the PO.
  • In line with the Hungarian model, the PiS set its sights on the creation of a one-party media authority, so it is to be expected that they will try to redistribute the concessions of the radio frequencies as well.
  • According to the government program of the PiS, the next step will be to establish a centralized organ from the former National Radio and Television Committee, the Office of Electronic Communications, and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection.
  • The two largest Polish commercial TV broadcasters (TVN, Polsat) are in the hands of committed liberal democrats. The TVN Agency belongs to the international TVN Group, which is the largest advertising company in Poland at the moment. Until now there has been no attempt to force them out of the market.
  • With the media Act passed in 2010, the media, which had been under multi-party control till then, was placed under one party, meaning that public radio, television, and the central news agency became socially unchecked propaganda tools of Fidesz.
  • In redistributing frequencies, the one-party media authority serves frequency owners loyal to the government, and throws the owners of frequencies who are not committed to the government out of the media market.
  • With the establishment of the National Office of Communications it centralized the communications tasks of the public sector and the public procurement of state advertisement, with which it is able to fundamentally limit the freedom of the media market.
  • Fidesz has made attempts to gather two major commercial television channels (RTL Klub, TV2) into its own circle of clients using the tools of state coercion. Efforts were successful in the case of TV2: the acquisition by one of Orbán’s stooges was made possible by state loan, and the repayment of the loan is assisted by provision of state advertisements.

Civil resistance and the political parties

  • Civil movements stepping up against the anti-democracy actions of the PiS-led government manifest themselves constantly in demonstrations bringing tens of thousands, at times, over a hundred thousand protesters out on the streets. Their moves to protect liberal democracy and the constitution are fundamentally of a political and system-critical nature, since they are usually organized by people from the urban middle class and intellectuals. Actions to protect interests and human rights usually belong in the sphere of labor unions in Poland. But since the union with the largest membership and a reach across sectors, Solidarity, is bound closely to the PiS both politically and ideologically, it is not likely to be able to continue the hard line it took in the protection of rights under the earlier governments. It is true though that thanks to the good economic results of the earlier years the government may turn to the politics of distribution.
  • Over the reviving waves of demonstration, the KOD (Committee for the Defense of Democracy) was formed, alluding to the traditions of the organization formed by dissident intellectuals in the mid-seventies, the KOR (Workers’ Defense Committee). On the part of the current opposition movements this signifies an open commitment to the regime-changing traditions of the past, and the placing of the actions against the government in this positive historical tradition. The announcer and organizer of the latest mass demonstrations was KOD, which tries to function not only as an umbrella organization, but itself builds an extensive, largely rural network.
  • The huge demonstration by democratic forces in June were already supported by three former presidents of the republic (Lech Wałęsa, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Bronisław Komorowski). Komorowski also established his own institute after he left office, with its chief aim being the preservation and support of the achievements fought for and won after regime change.
  • At the same time KOD invited the Polish opposition parties to become allies and cooperate to protect democracy. Opposition parties largely joined this call, though the PO has taken up a stance of wait and see. KOD was also enabled in calling for this alliance of the opposition by the fact that though among the two decisive parties of the Polish opposition the right-of-center PO lost the elections, it was not discredited, while the Nowoczesna is a new liberal party formation with growing popularity.
  • The institutionalization of the civil movement and its promising cooperation with the political parties of the opposition is extending the circle of resistance and the institutional base countering the PiS with a dynamism that shows no sign of slowing.
  • Most of the civil demonstrations called against the measures taken by the Fidesz government were of a human rights and government critical nature, and rarely formulated a general critique of the system. Largely the protests concerned harm to one or another material interest: the withdrawal of early retirement pensions, the nationalization of private pension funds, the situation of people with foreign currency loans, the nationalization of tobacco shops, the redistribution of state land leases, or the losses caused by the broker scandals. A partial exception to this rule were the mass actions in response to the elimination of autonomy in public and higher education. But these movements also remained within the paradigm of government criticism. There were two important measures taken by the government that also had an impact on middle-class life-style and consumer habits (the planned introduction of the internet tax and the ban on shops keeping open on Sundays), which it withdrew from after massive popular protests.

It was a common characteristic of the flash-mob demonstrations bringing some tens of thousands of people onto the streets, that they were not brought into existence by old civil organizations or political parties, and the spontaneous mobilizations were not able to institutionalize or produce leading opposition figures.

  • A majority of the demonstrations attacked the whole period passed since the change of regimes, and did not reach back to the regime-changing traditions of the anti-communist dissident movement. In paradoxical unison with the government ideology, they considered the regime change itself a deal concluded by the elites above society at large. This may of course be the consequence of the fact that the Hungarian anti-communist dissident movement—unlike in the Polish regime change—carried on in the liberal party (SZDSZ) both in terms of the persons involved and in institutionalized form, and so with its loss of credibility, and disappearance it virtually blocked any route by which to return to the traditions of democratic opposition.
  • László Sólyom, Fidesz-supported president of the republic between 2005 and 2010, and one of the leading legislators of the constitutive establishment of the change of regimes, practically kept aloof from the movements critical of the government, except for a few small gestures.
  • The fact that the left-wing parties of the democratic opposition still standing up to the government had been discredited, and its new, green parties were insignificant created a trap for the new civil movements. Cooperation with the parties would place them into a quarantine with no perspective, while a refusal to cooperate isolates them from the base of not too numerous active, system-critical voters. At the same time the civil resistance mobilized from time to time is also unable to constitute a new party, because their aims are always focused on solving a particular problem, and not directed against the system.
  • The wavering, self-extinguishing futurelessness of the movements after 2010 did not result either in the institutionalization and stabilization of civil movements as political forces of consequence, nor the renewal of the parties in democratic opposition.

In summary

  • chances of the Polish conservative attempt at building an autocracy being defeated are strong even under the current democratic institutional framework. This is ensured by the proportional electoral system— constitutionally preventing excessive power concentration—the social traditions of resistance to authority, the civil movement building on these traditions, the existence of moderate right and liberal parties giving the main body of the opposition forces, PiS being forced onto the extreme right of the political spectrum, the political diversity offered by the municipal governments, and the firm media-platforms for the freedom of expression. At the same time, the possibility of a Hungarian scenario unfolding in Poland is also prevented by the very character of the PiS, its personal composition, principles, and program, as well as the tradition and present of the Polish right. In its current form the PiS is not capable of following the Hungarian model, that is, many circumstances and components are missing for it to do so.
  • chances of surmounting the Hungarian mafia state within the framework of the given institutional system are far more limited. It is prevented by the disproportional and manipulative electoral system that makes election fraud a real possibility, a lack of social traditions of resistance to authority, the historical culture of individual detached bargaining with the regimes in power, the lack of a moderate right-wing, or liberal party for any voters decamping from Fidesz, the central position of Fidesz in the three-partite political field, the uniformity of the political institutional map on account of the municipalities having integrated into the ruling system, as well as the elimination or ghettoization of spaces for freedom of expression. All this may result in a continued decline in the chances of a change of government through free elections and the reestablishment of liberal democracy in Hungary. Hungary is on a calamitous track towards the course of development former soviet republics underwent after the change of regimes, where only the vibrant revolutions following rigged elections made it possible for the reigning regimes to fall.

Part I     Part II     Part III

Bálint Magyar (b. 1952) is a sociologist and a liberal politician. He graduated from Eötvös Loránd University, where he obtained a degree in sociology and history, and then a doctorate in political economy with the dissertation about the post-war history of Polish agriculture. His first job was as a scientific researcher at the Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, specializing in East Europe. From 1979 he became a human right activist within the developing “democratic opposition” and was involved in the production of the “Beszélő” samizdat periodical. In 1981 he was expelled from Poland because of his contacts with the activists of Solidarność. In 1988 was among the founding members of one of the major oppositional political parties in Hungary, the SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats), consequently took part in the architecture of the new democracy and negotiating with the Communist Party the peaceful transition at the “National Roundtable” discussions. He served as an MP of SZDSZ from 1990 until 2010, and was part of the party’s leadership (president between 1998–2000). From 1996 until 1998 and from 2002 until 2006 he held the position of Minister of Education.

Miklós Mitrovits (b. 1978) historian, Polonist. He graduated from the History Studies of Eötvös University in Budapest and parallel with his M.A. studies he completed specialization courses in Historical Russicistics and Modern Sovietology. In 2009 he was granted his PhD in the 19th and 20th Century Eastern European History Doctoral School. Between 2004 and 2008 he was studying at the Polish Studies and Central European Studies of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. Since 2014 he has worked as a research fellow at the Department for Contemporary History of the Institute of History at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
His main research field is the contemporary history of Eastern Europe after WWII, principally the history of Poland, the Polish-Hungarian relationships and the characteristics of the political, economic and cultural development of the East-Central European countries. The comparative research of the countries of this region, mainly the entanglement history of these countries after WWII: relationships, interactions and attempts for integrations between Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. He has several publications concerning the foreign policy of the Kádár era in Hungary, particularly the Hungarian-Polish and Hungarian-Czechoslovakian relationships. He has edited numerous collections of studies and documents. His main books: A remény hónapjai… A lengyel Szolidaritás és a szovjet politika 1980–1981 [Months of hope. The polish Solidarity movement and the soviet politics between 1980 and 1981], and Lengyel–magyar “két jó barát”. A magyar–lengyel kapcsolatok dokumentumai, 1957–1987. [Pole and Hungarian, “two good friends”. Documents on the Hungarian–Polish relationship, 1957–1987.]. In 2014 he received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

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