16 jul 2012

Focus on Hungary

Dossier by the Heinrich Böll Foundation

The Heinrich Böll Foundation has compiled a dossier containing articles and interviews on the situation in Hungary since the right-wing government came to power in April 2010. Their intention is to raise awareness about the changes in the domain of public life in Hungary at “half-time” – two years before the next parliamentary elections.

Readers will find that the arguments and opinions presented in the dossier provide an acute, sometimes trenchant critique of the current government and its policies. The Heinrich Böll sees its role in supporting the democratic voices in Hungary and raising public attention in Europe with regard to critical developments in our common political space. Therefore, it wanted to provide a platform for oppositional analysts and civil-society actors (who largely lack access to mainstream media channels in Hungary today). The intention is not to engage in fruitless polemics, but rather to foster dialogue on the future course of Hungary and the broader topic of sustaining democracy during a period of crisis.

The dossier’s articles have been grouped into four sections: The first, entitled “Current Developments” will contain texts commenting on current events in Hungary. The second section, “Background Analysis”, comprises a number of articles written over the course of the last two years on important events and salient topics. Readers who wish to obtain insight into socio-political trends are therefore recommended to read the analyses presented here. It is at this point that we would like to thank the editors of the journal Osteuropa for making available to us a few articles written for the special issue “Quo vadis, Hungaria?”. The texts are interesting from a different perspective as well: They provide insights into the moods and perspectives of oppositional analysts and public actors, and into how these have evolved over the last two years. Readers will find that the voices presented here do not form a harmonious ensemble; while they all criticise the current government, they are in considerable disagreement on how to relate to those in power and how to respond to the authoritarian turn in governance.

This latter question is taken up and addressed in more detail in the third section, “Democratic Renewal”, where the authors (some of whom are active in burgeoning civil-society initiatives) scrutinise the conditions necessary for renewing Hungarian democracy. In order to present some of the women and men driving these citizens’ initiatives, the dossier also contains video interviews with “agents of change”, many of whom are largely unknown outside Hungary. The dossier’s final section, “Implications for Europe”, will comprise texts looking at events and processes in Hungary from a broader perspective: the implications of these events and processes for the fate of democracy in other corners of the continent and on the level of the European Union.

The Böll Foundation hopes that this dossier will help to get a better grasp of the controversies surrounding the political changes in Hungary, and thereby involve members of the European public in the crucial debate on democracy in a changing Europe. This debate is not limited to current developments in Hungary. Democracy is a never-finished task. There is no guarantee against retrogression, and it’s always up to citizens to reinforce democratic structures and procedures through their engagement in the public sphere.

Link to the dossier