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I. i6 Maffia II 00 book.indb 1 2016.12.07. 15:47 i6 Maffia II 00 book.indb 2 2016.12.07. 15:47 Balázs Trencsényi What Should I Call You? The Crisis of Hungarian Democracy in a Regional Interpretative Framework Like so many times in recent years, as a participant at a Princeton University conference in April 2014 on Eastern European transitions, I had to face the fact that the pessimistic tone of the lectures and comments emphasizing the fragility of liberal democracies in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria stood in sharp contrast to the optimistic analyses regarding Poland, Slovakia, or the Baltic states. However, following the triumph of PiS at the Polish elections in October 2015 this counter-position became untenable. Ironically, while after 2010 Poland has habitually been viewed as preeminent and Hungary as an atypical case having moved in an antidemocratic direction (to such an extent that certain analysts have attempted to simply exclude the Hungarian situation from their generalizations on the region as an anomaly), just a few years ago the symbolic hierarchy of Central and Eastern Europe was constructed completely differently. For example, one of the Hungarian participants at the above-mentioned conference recalled that they had had the same debates in Princeton in 2005, except that the roles had been reversed: Hungarians, proud of their democratic potential, patted the backs of the psychologically ravaged Polish participants, who were experiencing the rule of the Kaczyński brothers as a collapse of the values of the 1989 regime change, and in this spirit attempted to describe the Polish events with a fateful “theory of deviation .” Needless to say, all of this increasingly calls into question the sustainability of the model of democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe, which was dominant in the thinking of political theorists both locally and globally after 1989. i6 Maffia II 00 book.indb 3 2016.12.07. 15:47 4 TWENTY-FIVE SIDES OF A POST-COMMUNIST MAFIA STATE That the prevailing political situation causes such strong fluctuations in a country’s political and sociohistorical self-image is partially due to the fact that the analytical categories which are invoked are superficial, and the often extremely formalized scientific apparatus sometimes only serves as a retroactive justification of existing value judgments. In this study, I will attempt to peel away into their basic elements interpretations that seek to describe the paths of Eastern European countries veered from their democratic transitions toward a nondemocratic direction. On the one hand, I point out certain presumptions that have made it difficult to interpret processes of “backsliding,” such as those that have occurred in Hungary since 2010, on the other hand, I offer considerations for developing a regional interpretative framework that is sensitive to similarities and differences alike. From its very beginning, European political thinking has been concerned with the issue of how different forms of government transition into one another. One of the fundamental elements of Plato’s theories of state formation, linked to the Socratic tradition’s critical attitude toward democracy , is that tyranny does not evolve from the monarchy, but rather it is democracy and the rule of the masses that turns into despotism. Although all of this appeared quite unfamiliar to the political culture of the Middle Ages and early modern age, as there were hardly any structures that could be called democratic apart from certain city-states, it again became relevant to nineteenth-century political thinkers. Some theorists attempted to interpret the dynamic of the French political system from this perspective , both from the “Great Revolution” to the events leading up to the Jacobin terror and Napoleon’s autocracy, as well as the 1848 radical democratic revolutionary movement culminating in the rise of Napoleon III. This problematic became all the more actual between the two world wars and appeared in totalitarianism theories after 1945 to great acclaim, obviously closely related to the historical experience of the collapse of the Weimar Republic. It is no coincidence that the central concept of the transitology theories developed in the 1970s was precisely authoritarianism: the dynamic relationship between dictatorial and democratic structures was examined primarily in the context of Spain, Greece, and South America. Interestingly, transitology literature was thus originally rooted at least as much in interpreting the collapse of democratic regimes as it was in research on the transition from authoritarian systems to democracy. Thus, for example, leading books by Juan José Linz examined movement in both directions through the...


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