The strong state and embedded dissonance: History education and populist politics in Hungary
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The hopefulness that accompanied the establishment of the Republic of Hungary in 1989 was soon tempered by divided politics that seemed unable to address systemic economic woes facing the nation. Though the 1956 Revolution remains foundational, parts of the polity remain uneasy with the concept of the liberal state and instead hearken back to the Christian National politics of the interwar years to legitimize a vision of the Hungarian nation not dependent on institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), let alone the European Union (EU) which Hungary joined in 2004. The promise of economic prosperity found in EU member states such as Austria remains elusive and many Hungarians yearn for the social security system of the 1970’s communist era while at the same time subscribing to a resurrection of the strong state. The populist rhetoric of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán draws sharp contrast between the EU’s dream of a Europe without Borders and the localized/nativist vision of Hungarian national identity that resonates with a large part of the polity that provided his FIDESZ (Young Democrats)/KDNP (Christian Democrats) coalition with parliamentary majorities in 2010 and 2014. Further to the right, Jobbik (the better ones) excoriates both gypsies and Jews for undermining the state. The current refugee crisis has been cast by Orbán as an Islamic tide that will reconfigure Europe into bloodless and docile societies. Orbán’s decision to build a fence in summer 2015 to keep out refugees seems prescient to those subscribing to these nativist beliefs. The State forwards a public presentation of history that absolves the interwar regime of the Lord Protector Miklós Horthy, 1920-1944 of alliance with the Axis and genocide. Though there remains substantial opposition to current nationalist sentiment, the prospects for the survival of liberalism seem bleak without a unified opposition. Interestingly, there remains an embedded dissonance in History curriculum and texts that challenges the State’s interpretation of History. This article studies the state’s public presentation of history in contrast to that found in curriculum and textbooks to understand the contrast between Orbán’s stated aim to create an illiberal state and stories found in texts that undergird the dream of a liberal republic found in the failed revolutions of 1848 and 1956. Disturbingly, previous regimes that extoled the strong state have imaginatively rearranged history so that the two strains of political desire antithetical to each other are reconciled. How does the Hungarian case help us better understand the resurrection of strong state politics that seem to have infiltrated the global stage?