Divergence in Convergence: The East Central European Transformation since the 1980s in Historical Perspective
The revolutions of 1989-91 and the post-revolutionary transformation are going down in history and therefore become an issue of historiography. The article deals with one of the major results of this transformation: the intra-national divergence between rich and poor regions in East Central Europe. The major reason for the rising social and spatial gap was the global hegemony of neoliberalism that came into existence in the 1980s, and its specific adoption in post-communist countries. Reform policies neglected the rural regions, while the capital cities and other areas of strong growth profited from foreign direct investments. As a result, a decade after 1989, the poor regions of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary earned only a fifth of the per capita GDP of the respective capital cities. However, since the enlargement of the EU, this divergence has been disappearing, or has even been slightly reversed. The divergence was accompanied by transnational convergence between the capital cities. Warsaw, Prague and Budapest have caught up with western capital cities, the former two have even surpassed Berlin for a number of years. But there is also a convergence of poor areas, such as that larger region which stretches from south-eastern Poland to northeastern Hungary. The inhabitants of this region have reacted by various strategies of “selftransformation”, among them long-distance labor migration. The article finally poses the questions: how this divergence has influenced everyday life in poor regions, and why it did not provoke more protests or counter-action.
Authentic Community and Autonomous Individual: A Pre-History to 1989
The paper examines the idea of authentic community, one of the important cultural themes and social practices of the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that the use of the concept provided an important context for coming to terms with the legacy of Marxism and was also instrumental in interpreting what socialism and capitalism or the East and the West meant. The notion of authentic community was used to formulate powerful criticism of alienation and the consumer society, which connected the concerns of the socialist elite, the intellectuals, secular and religious critical thinkers and activists together. However, for revisionist Marxism, the idea of authentic communities was crucial for considering the role and responsibility of the individual and, hence, was instrumental in developing a new critical language based upon the morality of autonomous individuals. Focusing on the individual, in turn, gradually helped such intellectuals and activists to move away from Marxism and develop a political thought and practice in pragmatic terms that preferred debates about appropriate institutions instead of ideologies. In this respect, the ideas of the 1960s and 1970s still continue to shape the culture of post-socialism. On the one hand, concerns about the morals of the individual are a continuation of similar considerations from the past. On the other hand, the concept of authentic communities is still used as a powerful critique of contemporary consumer societies.
The Concept of “National Reconciliation” and the Hungarian Transition
A flood of political transitions marked the turn of the twenty-first century, and this wave has not abated ever since. Political systems throughout the world are being transformed, shaking off the shackles of colonialism, communism, military dictatorship, racism, or some combination of these, and marching toward democratic liberalism. The new regimes are faced with the problem of how to overcome the errors and the sins of the old system. The transitions taking place in different countries have nothing in common, save one thing: the nascent government in many of these countries is touting reconciliation as a panacea for the unique ills. In Central-Eastern Europe, the fall of communism brought the idea of reconciliation to the surface. There are several dimensions of the post-communist transformation in Hungary, which, despite their importance, are under-researched. These include the concepts of national reconciliation and national consensus in the context of social, economic and political changes. One of the most critical questions of reconciliation is dealing with the past. The paper seeks to define the role of the national reconciliation concept of a democratic transition and how it started dealing with the past, the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, and especially with the revolution of 1956.
Constitution-making and State Security: Attempts at Adhering to the Constitution in the State Security Reform Concepts of 1989–1990
The reform of the political system in the second half of the 1980s apparently also affected the state security service. One of the most important questions of power was how to determine the new structure and tasks of political police in the period of the transition and later. Several different concepts were developed by the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, the opposition and the state security service itself for the restructuring of political police. As part of the change, the position, role and future tasks of the security services had to be defined. Previously, the so-called state security tasks in Hungary were carried out on the basis of low-level secret regulations, which severely limited basic human rights laid down in the Constitution. During the year, the State Security Services came up with several proposals to solve the problems of constitutional transformation. However, these – feasible or unfit – propositions were disregarded by the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, the government and the legislature. Despite the relatively successful implementation of a democratic system in 1989, the transformation of the intelligence agencies remained incomplete. Intelligence organizations held fast to the old concept of an oversized, hyper-bureaucratic intelligence system. The system itself was changing but not at the expected pace and, to some extent, it kept carrying the baggage of its past. Nevertheless, the services kept referring to legality and constitutionalism day by day.
Some Peculiarities of the Social Structure in Hungary after the Democratic Transition
Hungarian society underwent significant changes in the 20th century, especially in the second half of the century. After the regime change in 1989–90, the 1990s largely witnessed the return of bourgeois social conditions. The paper discusses how the social stratification and the social structure of Hungarian society changed in the nineties and later, and tries to grasp the main elements of this transformation. A social organization based on law, freedom, democracy and autonomy replaced the centralized, authoritarian order. Hungarian economy was radically transformed from a planned economy with quasi-market elements to a market economy. But which were the specific factors that influenced or determined the social position of individuals? In the decade following 1989, under market conditions, educational background, specialized training and applied knowledge, that is, any convertible knowledge, became more valuable. Symbolic capital, such as network, creativity, the spirit of enterprise and the ability to adjust, also took on a new significance. The amount of previously accumulated capital, or the lack of it, notably influenced the position of individuals or groups; property became a determining factor once again. Income and wealth inequalities were gradually increasing. Positions obtained in the formal and informal economies often merged, either because the former ceased to exist altogether or because the informal activity was transformed into an individual or joint enterprise. This led to the emergence of a stratum of entrepreneurs. By the midnineties, the number of individual or joint entrepreneurs exceeded one million, a third of whom were involved in a dysfunctional enterprise. Many of those who had been forced into private enterprises got there as a result of widely tolerated tax evasion On the one hand, it seems that the social transformation leading to marketization and the emergence of the private sector, which had started even before the democratic transition, continued even in the 1990s. On the other hand, the social positions in Hungarian society were rearranged. The decrease in the number and ratio of wage-earners also proved to be a lasting trend. The elite was growing, its composition became more heterogeneous while its power was limited by legal and political constraints. The stratum of those who can be described as the “big bourgeoisie”, including the economic elite, expanded considerably. The middle classes became narrower and more segmented. The groups we can call petty bourgeois also multiplied significantly. The individual village farmer assumed greater importance. The city and village proletariat still remained a large segment of Hungarian society. Hidden unemployment became open and massive. Generally speaking, social mobility had clearly decreased by the end of the twentieth century.