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A Fate for a Nation Concepts of History and the Nation in Hungarian Politics, 1989–2010* GÁBOR EGRY The problem of reconstruction of national history and the re-emergence of nations (more precisely the sudden visibility of nationalism from without) in East Central Europe after the change of regime is far from being a novel topic of scholarship. Neither of these processes was unintelligible given that the previous regimes were founded on a special form of historical interpretation and their ideology emphasized its distinctiveness from the so-called bourgeois nationalism in the form of internationalism. It would be an exaggeration to claim that Hungary was (and is) a special case at least concerning the struggle over the content of these concepts.1 Nevertheless, the story of the more than two decades after 1989 in this country can be enlightening at least in two senses. Firstly, it shows how, in a certain context, differing and diverging concepts of history can be mingled with the opposing concepts of the nation and serve as constituent elements of the latter while the political forces struggle over the definition of the polity. Secondly, it can illustrate how history and nation, merged into the respective discourse, can be used as an ideological basis and guideline of policies far beyond the construction of memory.2 * I’m grateful for Michal Kopeček’s editorial remarks that helped me to clarify my argumentation . 1 From the recent literature James Mark’s book analyzes Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Romanian and Baltic cases, while the volume edited by Michal Kopeček gives a selection of case studies, see J. Mark, The Unfinished Revolution. Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2010) and M. Kope- ček, ed., Past in the Making: Historical Revisionism in Central Europe after 1989 (Budapest –New York: CEU Press, 2008). 2 There is an intriguing third aspect as well, the Hungarian case offers a wide range of examples how politics is transformed when its actors accept interpretations of the social sciences about their own activity and acts reflecting the presumed nature and outcome of their action. See the excellent example offered by liberal politician Iván Pető in the debate over a bill on the „Day of the Republic,” who denied the neccessity of commemorat- 506 Gábor Egry Hungary’s political scene was for many years dominated by references to the non-national (or even anti-national) nature of the political organizations positioned on the left of the spectrum, while politicians from these organizations frequently claimed that they were, in fact, building a new community of conscientious citizens, a true Republic. The “Nation” was viewed as the only possible political community of every Hungarian wherever he lived, bound together not only by certain cultural characteristics and affinities and/or linguistic commonalities, but by forces of natural law: Hungary was seen as the nation state of all Hungarians. This policy was framed by the idea of reparation of old evils, a restitution of lost natural rights of co-nationals to be citizens of their own ethnicity-defined nation state and politics was conceived as the means to realize it, to regenerate the nation and ensure its existence in the most authentic form. Meanwhile promoters of a Republic argued that the better future of Hungary would not be dependent on its relation to non-citizen Hungarians (even if the country did have some obligations in this regard), but on how its present citizens realized that only conscious civic action and political engagement based on rational decisions would lead to necessary institutional and social changes in order to realize prosperity and welfare. The present and its challenges should be faced and dealt with, together as citizens of a common republic, but based on responsibility and the rationally accepted duty of individuals. The impact of these opposing concepts was lasting enough to offer a basis for the movement’s successful organization of demonstrations in the name of the (lost) Republic against the rightist government of Viktor Orbán and the changes it implemented after 2010, under the label of the System of National Cooperation Nationalism has been a strong political and ideological current in Hungary since the nineteenth century, while republicanism has much weaker roots in the country. Still, after 1989 these two concepts became the focus of opposing concepts of the community for equally strong political movements, separating political forces with a deep dividing line. Even if they were applied...


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