Underground streams—survival of today’s Hungarian conservatism and right-wing radicalism through the period of the Soviet-type system

Research Project of the 1956 Institute (Budapest) for 2012-2014

One of the strongest features of the first 20 years of Hungarian democracy was a rapid revival of Hungarian right-wing tradition. All the right-wing strands of modern Hungarian political thinking appeared, from conservatism to extreme-right radicalism, based on their traditions. Far less able to strike root were the various strands of modern Western conservatism, behind which there were no significant traditions in Hungary.
    Hungarian right-wing political thinking was banned from official discourse over the period of the Soviet-type system. This began in the transition period of 1945–7. In the mid-1980s, Miklós Szabó opined that “reactionary Hungary” had been incapable of reinterpreting its position in 1945: “The old Hungary prized history apart with such force,” he wrote, “that it became risible, a comedy at the moment of its collapse.”1 He considered more less as dead “the old Hungary” and “Hungarian reactionaries”, with whom he largely associated, incidentally, the so-called Christian middle class.
    After the change of system in 1989 there came a succession of gestures, references, and political and historical constructions that established contact between part of the new Hungarian middle class that was forming at the turn of the millennium and the intellectual heritage of the earlier, historical middle class. But the contact, the accepted continuity, was only sociological in part, and far more one of ideology and mentality. By the 2000s, János Kis was arguing that “the new Hungarian right wing derives itself from the former middle class, from what was known as the Christian middle class between the wars. This middle class was psychologically—and initially in terms of livelihood as well—oppressed by communist state power.... So in 1989, the future Hungarian right wing emerged from communism without having carried out any open self-examination and replete with emotion, anger, and undigested ill-humor.”2
    Miklós Szabó’s hypothesis was not vindicated. The self-examination referred to by János Kis failed to occur or has only just begun. The sub-programme will examine the following questions:
* What happened to representatives of right-wing political thinking under the Soviet-type system?
* What kind of tacit or concealed discourses provided continuity for the various types of right-wing political thinking?
* Were there or could there have been attempts to modernize and renovate traditional Hungarian political thinking and values?
* How was the phenomenon of the Hungarian right-wing tradition handled by the Stalinist and post-Stalinist elite and its specialist institutions (ideological inspectors, political police, etc.)?
* How did the democratic dissidents and opposition relate to this in the 1980s?
* What part did traditional Hungarian right-wing political thinking play in the process of the political change of system?
* How did the traditional Hungarian right-wing political thinking reemerge and embed in the new Hungarian party structure after 1989?
* Attempts to modernize traditional Hungarian right-wing political thinking and ideology
* What were those traditional Hungarian right-wing and/or radical right elements of political vocabulary and rhetorics which revived in the political dicourses after the transition?
* Institutional and ideological history of the Hungarian radical right 1990-2010
    Study of the problem calls for basic research. Above all the framework of concepts and interpretation needs defining precisely. The traditional archive documentation may come from files in the ideological sections of the state party and from the state security organization. It will also be necessary to analyze the content of parts of the press. Important results may also come from analyzing relevant interview texts in the Oral History Archive. There may be a need for further interviews directed at this field. Finally, it is essential to collate these with similar historical phenomena by surveying international historiography. The most feasible first step would be to prepare micro-historical case studies aimed as closely as possible. As for the sources to research topics on post-transitional period we would like to exploit the printed and electronic press, media, documents available in the internet as well as blogs, portals and other forums. We can also use the huge literature provided by political scientists, analysts and reports of international organizations on Hungary etc.
    Sub-programme consists of partly traditional historical research (for the 1945-90 period), partly political science methods (for the 1990-2010 period) over a research phase of about a year and a half, followed by presentation of the findings in workshop, conference, and study volume forms.

1    Szabó, Miklós: Politikai kultúra Magyarországon 1896–1986. Válogatott tanulmányok (Political culture in Hungary 1896–1986) Budapest: Atlantisz Program, 1989, 230.
2    Kis, János: „Az erkölcsi ítéletalkotás része a politikának”. Kis Jánossal Révész Sándorés Mink András beszélgetett (“Formulating moral judgement is part of politics.” Sándor Révész and András Mink talk to János Kis). Beszélő 2004:6, 10.