Plenarveranstaltung V / Plenary session V: Populist persuasions

"Populist Persuasions and Illiberalism in Hungary"

Sprecher / Speaker:

Chris Hann (MPI Halle/Saale)

The talk has three components. The first will emphasize political economy. East-Central Europe was historically underdeveloped in comparison with Western Europe. Following the Second World War,  dramatic  changes  occurred  under  socialist  rule.  Perceptions  of  backwardness  persisted, however. Poor economic performance was arguably a crucial factor in the demise of socialism. In 1989-90, expectations of economic prosperity under capitalism were high. Instead, the region experienced massive dislocation. Access to the EU in 2004 has not done much to promote economic convergence. The prominence of foreign capital (especially the German motor industry) symbolizes the continuing peripheral status of the Visegrád states. In “market socialist” Hungary, the last decades of socialism had brought considerable prosperity, especially to the countryside. As a result, the impact of postsocialist dislocation was comparatively greater here, and the soil for populism especially fertile.
The second component is that of national and civilizational identity. In the case of Hungary, this requires consideration of Magyar imperialism under the Dual Monarchy and flourishing populist (népi) cultural movements in the inter-war decades. After 1956, conciliatory socialist governments celebrated  these  literary  accomplishments  (and  supported  ethnographic  research  for similar reasons). After leading his new party to the right in the 1990s, Viktor Orbán has astutely appropriated these populist traditions. While socialist politicians were compromised by corruption and complicity in neoliberal austerity measures, Orbán positioned his party as the authentic voice of the people. The current system is illiberal (a word Orbán has embraced, albeit ambiguously) but it cannot be labelled undemocratic. Alongside a complex national identity that includes eastern, pagan elements, there is a civilizational vision that stresses the Judeo-Christian character of the European continent.In concluding, I shall raise some questions that dog my ongoing work among Orbán voters in the Hungarian provinces. Is anthropology a populist (anti-)discipline? How does  one continue a commitment to respecting the beliefs and values of the mass of the people when populism becomes repugnant? But are the present forms of populism in Hungary in fact as  repugnant as they are painted in the German mass media?

Datum: Mittwoch, 02. Oktober 2019