Memory, History, and Extremism (event archive)

November 29, 2012 by  

What are the differences between patriotism, nationalism, and extremism? What is the proper place of historical remembrance and respect for national heritage in a post-Communist era? CSS President Marion Smith hosted a distinguished panel of Iván Zoltán Dénes (István Bibó Center), Ferenc Laczó (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Germany) and Miklós Zeidler (ELTE University, Budapest)  for a lively discussion of Hungarian history and Hungarian national identity in the 21st century. Scroll down to read a summary of the event.
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 Below are summary arguments of the featured panelists:

Iván Zoltán Dénes, of the István Bibó Center, highlighted the absence of a vibrant political community and civic dialogue in Hungary. Hungary remains a country struggling with unprocessed traumas, which hang over the national consciousness like a cloud. Dénes believes there is a need for more frequent, respectful debate and a widespread renewal of healthy self-confidence. While shunning a sense of national superiority, Hungarians (and their leaders in government) should take up a calm and confident self-understanding, which includes resolving memories of the past. Nationalist extremism is a reaction to Hungary’s perceived compromising to the European model and erosions of national sovereignty. The best thing Hungarians could do to address the problem of extremism, Dénes suggested, is to forsake the national habit of self-victimization and deal with the real problems facing the country today.

Miklós Zeidler, of Hungary’s ELTE University, explained how extremism is a kind of political communication used by certain political groups. It uses the threat of force and the practice of discrimination while also creating new political identities among its followers. During times of crisis, extremist elements grow stronger. They are typically anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, and anti-capitalistic. Zeidler differentiated between a patriot, defined as someone loyal to their country and, therefore, who seeks greater inclusion and defense, and a nationalist, defined as someone loyal to a nation, which is more exclusive and aggressive.

Ferenc Laczó, of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Germany, argued that there has been no political consensus related to historical discourse in Hungary. He is optimistic, however, because now with outrageous historical interpretations and xenophobic statements gaining media attention, we can see some consensus emerging among the main political parties against extremists. As the current Fidesz-KDNP government is trying to shape Hungarian national memory—as past governments have also done—historical episodes and national holidays are overly politicized. Laczó argued that historical materials should instead focus on individual acts of heroism and tales of bravery, rather than merely the history of the state as such.


Zoltán Kész is the Pannonius Fellow for Common Sense Budapest. 

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