We received the following letter from the State Secretary for Government Communication, Dr. Zoltán Kovács, on February 10, responding to Francis Fukuyama’s February 6 post, “What’s Wrong with Hungary?“The text of the letter follows:
Budapest, 10 February, 2012
Dear Professor Fukuyama,
Thank you for your response; your admission of the factual mistakes in your original post are appreciated. Last time I felt compelled to react to your essay not simply because of the gravity of its central thesis—that “something has gone badly off track” in Hungary—but because I and the Government hold you and your opinions in high esteem.
You refer in your second piece to “heated reaction”, the “vehemence of the response” and the “extremely uncivil comments” that your post generated, advancing these as supporting evidence for weakened democracy. I am sure you are aware that this debate is no different in essence or style from many “heated” debates in the United States and elsewhere. As you have made completely clear, “reservations” concerning Hungarian democracy are matters of taste—they are not facts.
The new Hungarian Constitution (the Fundamental Law and its accompanying cardinal Acts) came into effect on 1st January 2012. Though the Fundamental Law is available in English, German and French, only some of the cardinal Acts have been translated into English. It is unfortunate that much (if not most) foreign comment is based either on highly prejudiced accounts from Hungary’s political opposition, or on mere hearsay. We therefore kindly ask those evaluating Hungarian “Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law”, to take full account of the new constitutional, institutional and political context. Any comparison with the previous institutional framework is a fundamental misreading of the situation. One such mistake is to condemn the Hungarian government for using—or even having—a two-thirds majority in parliament, when that majority is itself the result of free and fair elections within an internationally recognised and widely trusted electoral system.
Before FIDESZ took office (May-June 2010), Hungarian democracy—and even the rule of law—had experienced a series of body blows. The political system had neither provided safeguards against the growth of government debt, nor adequately protected its people against their own government. In eight years, national debt had risen from 52 per cent to over 83 per cent. In 2006, following prime minister Gyurcsany’s infamous ‘lies to the powerless’ speech, peaceful opposition supporters were targeted and brutally beaten en masse by police riot divisions whose members lacked any of the legally-required indentifying marks on their uniforms. One opposition MP was beaten to the ground and others were maimed for life. That there were no deaths was more a matter of luck than judgement. During the same period, paramilitary organizations were allowed to start flexing their muscles. By 2008 the country was on the brink of complete fiscal, institutional and moral breakdown—that period was the one which really saw democracy threatened. We therefore could not agree with you more in your conclusion that institutions do matter. It is precisely for this reason that FIDESZ has used the opportunity, given to it by the electorate, to launch the comprehensive structural and institutional reform of Hungary that has been badly needed over the past twenty-three years. What is interpreted by some as “centralization” is nothing but a major programme of structural reform seeking to strengthen and stabilize our democratic institutions. (You argue that the European Union—which you consider a guardian of democracy—seems to “centralize” also.) Many others, however, have been trying to paint a somewhat different picture much of which has a strong whiff of politics. Since FIDESZ entered office, anti-democratic forces have largely been absent from the streets and extremist far-right groups have had their wings clipped. Under the current government the oudget deficit fell below 3 per cent for the first time since the country’s EU accession in 2004. In general our political system is finally starting to resemble that of a fully-fledged western democracy: the political left and right (liberals and conservatives) have an equal right to exist, institutional imbalances are being resolved, and democratic aspirations addressed. The system has become increasingly credible and efficient. Our institutions have finally become not less independent, out less weak.
Allow me one final remark regarding your comments on the “democratic culture” of Hungarians. You suggest that the nature of institutions and constitutions does not really matter, but that instead what really matters is the re-emergence of an “old political culture”. My sincere question is this: which old political culture are you really referring to? The one developed during the long history of Hungarian freedom, from the Golden Bull (“Hungary’s Magna Carta” of 1222), through the 1848-49 Revolution to the 1956 Uprising? Or are you referring to the re-emergence of Janos Kadar’s brand of “socialism”? The latter would be a true offence to all Hungarian democrats. The Hungarian people have always been freedom-loving, as they still are. Periods of tyranny have always been the result of foreign subjugation (ideological and/or military), the twentieth-century versions of which started with Bela Kun’s Hungarian Soviet Republic, re-emerging with German Nazism and eventually Russian/Soviet Communism.
I am sure you are not trying to question the present centre-right government’s devotion to democratic principles. Democracy is now strongly protected in Hungary—both institutionally and culturally—and we can assure you it will remain that way.
Prejudicial selection of information and biased sources surely result in a debate of dogmas. In its denial of context, such an approach leads—to appropriate a phrase you once so memorably popularised towards an “end of history” (though perhaps not the end). I am certain that none of us are now interested in that.
P.S: Another factual inaccuracy relates to the investigation of former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany: the ongoing legal proceedings are in no way part of a political campaign, “general” or otherwise. The process was initiated by a liberal-green opposition MP, Andras Schiffer (LMP), and there is but one concrete reason for it: suspected criminal involvement in a massive case of real estate fraud.
Zoltan Kovacs, Ph.D.
State Secretary for Government Communication