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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 11:161–172.


State, Politics, Society


Historically developed conditions, culture and political system of a society, shaped during a long period of time, would not completely disappear even after the most revolutionary changes, but would definitely continue to influence the life of a given society. Such a binding force of the more distant and recent historical past cannot be neutralised even by radical changes of a ‘revolutionary’ nature. The former institutions, forms, and processes, etc., which may have existed for centuries, exercise a particularly specific influence on the new in the area of politics.


I. Changes of the political system

Before World War II Hungary had reached a level of development which demanded fundamental economic-structural and political changes. The way, however, was opened for changes only by the lost war (an unfavorable condition by itself). In addition, the emergent historical and political situation (Soviet occupation) drove political and social developments into a direction, which, after a couple of years, allowed for the distortion of the historically mature changes. In other words, change was directed to a path by the politics of the occupation authority, which was far from the demands and opportunities of Hungarian history. These distortions were clearly indicated by the revolution of 1956, even if neither the time, nor an opportunity were accorded to the elaboration of social, economic and political solutions, let alone their implementation. Yet, after some years of reprisals, politics had to take to a road leading toward a new development under pressures appearing in the complex components of society and the economy.

Compared to other ‘socialist’ countries, Hungarian society reached systemic change, (the building of a new political structure) better prepared. This process led to economic transformations linked, to changes in ownership (which had begun earlier), and to the elaboration and realisation of the new economic, domestic and foreign political direction of the country. In keeping with the latter, Hungarian politics (at least with partial success so far) has been continuously striving to adjust the country to the European political, economic and military systems, and to achieve membership status in the European Union.

The transformation of the country has been influenced by favourable as well as adverse conditions. In the following I would primarily mention the adverse phenomena, as it is those which require possible intervention.


The current situation of the political system

Democratic transformation in countries which had lived under autocratic rule, or under the absolutist political rule of one party, was generally characterised by the appearance of a multitude of political parties and by their struggles. The emergence of the Hungarian democratic political system was accompanied by such phenomena already after World War II, and even more so when the current political system was unfolding. Therefore the introduction of the so-called 5 per cent threshold at the assessment of parliamentary elections was highly justified. The governance of the country would have been far more difficult without it. Thus the reduction of the number of actually functioning political parties was due primarily to an administrative measure. (The parliamentary elections of the year 1998 already clearly indicated the declining number of those parties, which could reach the 5 per cent threshold.)

The elections in the democratic states of the world are generally and practically based on political parties. Consequently the participation of citizens is an indirect one, which means that the elections in most cases are formal ones, and may reach the real decision-making processes only to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, elements have already appeared which, in the matter of political decisions, (though in some forms only and mostly in principle for the time being) begin to dissolve the existing system of representation. This ‘dissolution’, has led to a conspicuous phenomenon in the elections after the systemic change in Hungary, though it will be seen, how far it can be regarded as the beginning of a real process of transformation. In fact political groups, not belonging to political parties, and representing a different spirit, interest relations, or even historical traditions, have been successful at local and regional elections. These successes, which mostly have been linked to the so-called ‘civil organisations’, were also associated with another phenomenon. That is the growing role of the so-called corporations in politics, the organisation of professional and economic interest groups into a political force. In other words, these interest groups strive to participate in politics directly, at least during the time of elections.

The recognition of the newly emerging significance of civil organisations is also indicated by efforts of political parties trying to involve the civil organisations (more exactly their leaders) in the ‘parties’, primarily at the local, and to some extent at the regional elections. A goal of this effort is to help trade union leaders get into parliament in the colors of a party (or at least with party support). Thus ‘offering a hand’ by the political organisations (there may be a parliamentary mandate in that outstretched hand) is just as much a gesture in quest of support, as the efforts of civil organisations are to get close to parliament. But it may easily happen that this is such a political phenomenon that can further modify the usual role of parliaments.

In current Hungarian political life there are parties which have acceded to power by the elections. They have tried, and what is more important, continue trying to set up certain limitations to ‘unlimited’ democracy. An attempt to restrict the formalised competence of the local authorities can be sensed. The measures aiming at restricting the finances available to local governments, show a partly hidden, but partly a perfectly clear tendency. This may be even more significant. (See for instance the drastic cut of the share of local governments in the personal income tax.) Obviously, if a sizeable reduction of the share of local governments in the personal income tax (which already represents only a modest sum) could be achieved, and counter-balanced by government allocation from the central budget, then a pattern, already ‘successfully’ tested in Hungarian history, could hardly be avoided. According to that ‘pattern’ towns and villages under a leadership belonging to the governing party could obtain by far larger resources than those formed by the opposition.




Based on Majority

Based on Consensus


Unwritten constitution, parliamentary sovereignty

Written constitution,
minority veto

Executive authority

Unitarian (single-party majority government)

Divided (grand coalition)




Structure of legislation

Single chamber
(or asymmetric two-chamber)

Two-chamber (and minority representation)

Structure of the state

Unitarian, or centralised

Federal, or decentralised

Nature of representation

Exclusively representative

Elements of direct

System of elections



Party system

Two-party system

Multiparty system

Political culture

One dimensional


Source: Parlamenti választások 1998. (Parliamentary Elections 1998.) Budapest 2000, Institute of Political Sciences, HAS, 367.


I only mention two means for the strengthening of the democratisation process and also protection against manipulation (which would, at the same time, enhance the modernity and effectiveness of the state organisation). The population of the country strongly, and the experts of constitutional law almost unanimously support two significant amendments of the Constitution. One would be the introduction of a two-chamber parliament, and the other to directly elect the president of the republic by the population. If the Hungarian state does not wish to progress toward a narrow (and increasingly narrower) state organisation, gradually breaking away from the citizens, these changes would be indispensable.





In between






Executive, government




Legislation, implementation




Structure of legislation




Structure of the state




Direct democracy




System of elections




Party system




Political culture




Note: The + signs show where the institutional elements of the Hungarian political system are located in the model.

Source: Parlamenti választások 1998. (Parliamentary Elections 1998.) Budapest 2000, Institute of Political Sciences, HAS, 370.


Changes in the relationship between economy and politics

In economic life the role of the Hungarian state should be separated from any aspect of public law, as it is essentially only the obligation to pay taxes which establishes such a contact. (Naturally nowadays this pure model operates only with certain restrictions, as it is the case all over the world.)

One of the politically most sensitive issues of the researches done (though not the only one) is the changes in the party preferences of the economic elite. Researches have come to three fundamental conclusions as follows:

a) As a consequence of privatisation the economic elite has become more independent of the political elite;

b) The organisation of the economic elite into a class has begun though unevenly;

c) There are two alternatives for the economic elite taking up political roles. During the course of its organisation into a class the economic elite is becoming increasingly independent of the political elite. As it was apparent at the 1998 elections (and particularly at the elections of local governments) it is attempting to obtain political authority or, it strives to influence political authority with optimal success.

The consequences of these phenomena are complex. At present, the political divisions of economic authority are still of particular importance. Such a division was primarily to the benefit of the MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and of the SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats) in 1990, while in 1997 almost half of those questioned were uncertain. Such a support of MSZP, SZDSZ and of FIDESZ (Alliance of Young Democrats), with a slight margin for the MSZP, has become balanced. Differences within numerical balance were, however, caused by specificities of age and the type of the enterprise (for instance, the socialists were supported by middle-aged managers, and heads of state and local government-owned companies), and by education (to the benefit of FIDESZ and to those of a conservative outlook in a more general sense).

Further studies have revealed significant differences in preferences for parties and between the various political parties in the tendencies appearing in the local and regional political space and nationally. The proportion of village, town and county representatives, elected as non-party members, has grown in comparison to the local or county representatives who belonged to a party. The effect of the differences, that almost ‘inevitably’ develop between the declared electoral aims and the activities in practice, would not only have a negative influence on the next parliamentary elections, but would strengthen the special nature of local elections, becoming increasingly independent of parties. The blurring of the boundaries between economy and politics can be observed in general, together with the inflow of formerly exclusively economic actors into politics, though in some places it is more vigorous, than elsewhere. There is little probability of the phenomenon characterising only the Hungarian systemic change, it is much more of a global phenomenon, manifesting itself in some form. The question is to what extent and in what form does economic authority integrate itself into politics. At present it cannot be identified with certainty.

So far only the most conspicuous traits of the ‘Europeanisation’ of regional and country developments in Hungary could be identified, but significant statements can still be made.

The most important finding can be summarised: the network of the participants of Hungarian regional and country development fundamentally differs from the network of the EU member-countries.

The basic problems of the Hungarian system are the following:

a) The aims of country development and the strategy of their accomplishment are not clarified (on the level of political decision making),

b) country development is subordinated to the system of regional development,

c) the network of the ‘actors’ of the system of regional and country development.

Researches systematically studying the relationships between economy and politics have led to the inference that the national economic elite could acquire partial control over political decision-making as early as 1989. This phenomenon appeared at first in local politics. One may infer from new researches to the process of the economic elite becoming members of the upper middle class. Recent researches suggest that local big capital has begun the creation of a special kind of autonomy in the political as well as cultural sphere through exercising control over local political decision-making, and by developing and cultivating a special, regional and local sense of identity.


Phenomena of local and regional politics

Researches were focused on the exploration of the activities of the central and local governments, and also of the local and regional institutions. The following can be stated on the basis of research experience:

– The system of local governments has adjusted to public administration quite well and relatively smoothly, the replacement of the system of councils was clearly a positive one.

– Towns and villages experienced the possibility of forming local governments as if they regained their autonomy and the opportunity to organise it. (For instance, since the passing of the Act on Local Governments there has been no case of combining villages. Only separation of formerly united jurisdictions occurred.)

– The modifications of the law have refined many of the stipulations of the original Act LXV of 1990. For instance, a more exact delineation of the various levels of local government was quite significant, and granting the opportunity for setting up minority self-governments can be regarded as an important achievement. It has offered a significant opportunity for development of the national minorities, even if with spasms and problems. The researches have also justified the good operation of the organisation of local elections in one round.

Local society had experienced the changes as a gain and, as a result, its local identity has been strengthened during the past ten years.

Beside the positive results there are also negative factors, which endanger the operation of the institutions of local governments.

First of all it is highly significant that the government (and it holds true for all three governmental cycles) attempts to extend its influence and the weight of its authority with increasing strength over the local governments. It argues that there are too many local governments, their operation is not rational, they do not know how to deal with economic issues and they fragment the resources for development, etc.

Parallel to the growing governmental ‘guidance’ influencing local governments, party politics has also become stronger. It is mostly expressed by the unequal and unfair distribution of developmental resources (which can be traced back to party politics).

Local governments are often threatened by the danger of getting into a financially and hence organisationally impossible situation, because they often do not receive state support necessary for the performance of their multiplying tasks. (This danger can be particularly well identified in the area of health care and education.)

Based on ten years of operation, the problems cannot be clearly seen in a number of areas of the activities of local governments nor can functional disorders be precisely discovered. Therefore further research is needed in the following areas:

1. The development of the institutions of the intermediate level(s) between the central government and the local governments continue to be in a fluid state. The present and future of counties and regions are uncertain; the authorities of the day are trying to rearrange the structure of regional administration in keeping with their own ideas, mostly at random. In addition to falling efficiency, this enhances general uncertainty.

2. The governmental assessment of the spontaneous, often ‘small area’ unions and co-operations of local governments is uncertain, particularly if they do not meet the ideas of the government.

3. The development of EU and domestic regions is often full of contradictions. They appear in such issues as the inclusion of certain counties in certain regions. But thinking in terms of regions does not go beyond this issue.

4. The economic opportunities and chances of local governments should be reconsidered and the current practice of state redistribution should also be settled.

The further reform of the electoral process for local governments is particularly significant. For instance: the issue of national minorities is not solved in this context. In the case of minority self-governments the range of eligible voters should be more precisely defined, and the issue of the separation of parliamentary and local government elections by a larger period of time should be reconsidered. In this context the rules pertaining to the competency and other issues of minority self-governments should be further refined, including their conditions of operation, their functions and roles, etc.


II. Expected Phenomena of the Hungarian Political System

The researches study the changes and operational consequences of two fundamental components of the political system. Attempts were primarily made to identify ‘regularities’ and their consequences in the subsequent parliamentary elections, and to summarise certain characteristics of the functioning of the currently existing governmental organisations.



As a result of the analysis of the elections there is, for instance, the finding, that there is a basic consensus in respect to the position of parties in political life, and of the main alternatives facing the electorate in Hungary. Though there is a difference of opinion in some basic issues between the citizens and the groups of the political elite (such as, for instance, in the assessment of privatisation, or the role of foreign capital), the different electoral groups have been able to find the parties standing at the same side in respect of the main conflicts, even if they do not exactly have the same way of thinking. During the course of the elections, the voters saw actually precisely the basic difference between the two main groups of parties, that is between FIDESZ and FKGP (Independent Smallholders’ Party) on the one hand, and MSZP and SZDSZ on the other, despite the variations and often spectacular debates. To some extent, the interdependence of the two parties in each group has become doubtful.


Functioning of governmental organisations

The changes of the volume and function of governance can be identified on the basis of the analysis of the extent of the linkage between global and domestic trends in government and possible alternatives. The question is how the traditions of governance effect this process, and how far traditions are forced to change, whether the appearance of new elements can be observed and what is their influence on the governmental system.

The continuity of traditions depends on the worldview of the competing interest groups, on their value orientations, experience in government; on the historical opportunities of their ‘capital of connections,’ and on the recognition of opportunities. A specific ‘style’ unfolds in governmental action. The assessment of the situation, economic and political goals are hidden in that style. In Hungary, for instance, as contrasted to the technocratic and pragmatic orientation of the socialist government of the years between 1995 and 1998, the present government is characterised by a demand for order, and by efforts towards strong governance. However, what is most characteristic and important is that the amendment of the Constitution, implemented at the beginning of József Antall’s period in office, initiated the creation of a chancellor’s government in the interest of enhancing the weight of the government. However, no time was left to Antall to fully unfold the system, and it was not followed up by the government of the Socialists and Free Democrats (just because of that duality).

A full-fledged chancellor’s government emerged and started to operate under the leadership of FIDESZ. However, attention should be paid to the danger, always present, that the chancery should not take over even part of the task of the various ministries, and that it should not acquire entitlement for organisational decision-making. In fact, the danger of ‘subverting’ the ministries by the chancery may even endanger the democratic political system itself. The chancellor’s governance may be particularly dangerous in the case of the exclusive and less controllable political rule of a single party. This is why the reduction of the number of parliamentary sessions and hence the lack of meaningful discussions is dangerous.


Globalisation – European responses

The management of the economy based on an economic philosophy and policy, accepted during the recent period of more than a decade, namely globalisation, with production and the movement of capital becoming international, and with a continuously expanding world economy, is a process that cannot be halted. No single country can act independently in respect of this process, and not even the organised multitude of the nation-states can do so. Such action is only possible in the form of supra-national regional integration. (However, even such integration is unable to stop the process itself, only regulation of some sort may be achieved.)

So far only the vision of a social Europe has been imagined in the face of the monetary Europe. That vision, however, has been recently shaped, or may still be moulded, as economic policy in some countries. Actually it should not be forgotten that the neo-liberal economic foundations are also undergoing changes. Moreover, a European alternative is unfolding, and that, too at a time when the left has not yet found its stable answer. Such an answer could be opposed to the former, and may ultimately lead even to endangering European unity. Solidly elaborated and generally accepted European responses have not yet emerged.

It can hardly be doubted that globalisation has already developed in its essentials. The system of its economic context can hardly be changed, at least in the foreseeable future. All attempts to discover the possibility of acquiring economic and political ‘autonomy’ by ‘nation states’ (that have become recently independent but in fact, remain economically dependent), are doomed to failure right from the outset. Some theorists fancy to see the emergence of a new system of states based on idealised, but not practical ‘mutual economic advantages’ either in the historically older or the newly independent countries, though in most of the cases even their political independence is illusory. That model is historically outdated, hence grossly idealised. The economic ‘independence’ of individual states, which would be based on ‘free’ contracts, may be unrealistic.

It is not always easy to see when armed conflicts of such countries, ‘enjoying’ a rather (though formally not) limited variant of ‘independence’, can be regarded as ‘wars of mercenaries’, unleashed in the interest of bigger powers, or when they are rooted in ethnic, religious, or perhaps in ‘national’ and even economic confrontations. Nevertheless, it can be hardly disputed that these conflicts are present in our ‘globalising’ world, even though their components are difficult to discern.


III. Euro-Atlantic Integration

The Euro-Atlantic integration is a process that cannot be formally defined, as it is a concept that is geographically broader than the European Union. Organisationally NATO stands the nearest to it, but NATO does not comprise countries, potentially linked to one another due to their geographic location, economic contacts, historical past, and some interrelated interests, despite some religious and cultural differences.


The dilemmas of the expansion of the EU

It is a fact beyond dispute that no decision has been made in respect to the fundamental issue of the concept based on ‘organisational sovereignty’. It was presented to the EU member-states for the first time in 1996, after long debates and adjustments at forums below governmental level. In fact, the creation of a structure and possibilities of action, which would reduce the independence (or freedom of action?) of the member-countries has not been successful, whereas the further development of the European Union is hardly possible without it.

It depends on the decision of the EU and its member-countries (and states wishing to become members) whether this ‘formation’, shaped as a new unity (politically, economically, as well as organisationally) would develop into a new, qualitatively different direction. If so, then the face, perspectives of development, and even world political significance of Europe would change.

Naturally, changes of a different kind can be expected in case the member-countries of the EU would be unable to overcome the present limitations of the organisation. It would then mean the reduction of the political and economic, or so to say, ‘global’ significance of Europe. It cannot be excluded though, that a more solidly established military alliance of Europe (even under retrograde political conditions) by itself would be able to preserve the stability of the system. Particularly, if considering the political weight and military significance of the member-countries outside Europe, mostly the United States. Taken together, they undoubtedly strengthen the position of the EU, especially if the common military interests, currently appearing to be stronger, are also kept in mind. However, narrowing European integration only to the area of military interests would definitely mean a step back and the weakening of the Western world.

It remains doubtful whether the political and military organisations that have evolved in Europe represent the future direction of historical development, or, they are transitory consequences of the military and political situation following World War II.

Therefore, the conclusion of current research, according to which there is no unambiguous scenario of the possible direction of European integration, is correct. During the past one or two decades competition between major regions has become global and it has accelerated European integration. It happened at the time of the major historical change of the late 1980s and afterward. However, the changes related to them, have not yet been sufficient to force a corresponding change in outlook, approach and, finally, in organisation within the European Union. Probably the analysis of these and other phenomena of similar content justifies the statement that regionalism, for the time being, cannot be considered as one of the organisational principles of the EU. It would become a momentous principle within a foreseeable period of time. Consequently at present the policy of regions of the Union is more supplementary than a comprehensive element of decisive influence.

Hence a change of outlook is also needed in research. Obtaining information about the EU with the purpose of orientation and related researches should be replaced by operational research, by the study of phenomena of behaviour, procedures of regulation, groups of political norms, etc., related directly or indirectly to integration. Such a shift should be accompanied by a conscious and concentrated preparation of researchers, politicians and experts.

Preparations for accession also require the study of the most recent aspects of the process of integration. Studies of the topics related to the EU devoted a separate chapter to this area, which is indispensable, particularly if Europe ‘does not suffer the decline of the nation-states’, but actively faces the ‘challenges’ caused by change, and takes the political and organisational initiative.

In the case of joining a major political unit, particularly if that unit presumably moves towards growing integration, (despite the uncertainties mentioned above) it is worth studying factors which work against integration, and others which, being ‘realised’ in rather significant aspects, function in the interest of integration.

However, the existence of identical or similar arguments does not mean that the historical processes and phenomena behind them are really the same, thus the arguments and disputes, or political action may not be the same in each case.

The special situation of the countries in the East Central European region derives from the fact that they live in such an ‘intermediate region’. The social and political structure and relations differ from those of the countries that joined the Union. These differences make the situation of the countries of this region also specific during the course of their negotiations with the Union. But the member-countries of the Union became acquainted with these specificities only during the past ten years. The time that has passed since, has not proved sufficient to offer adequate knowledge as a solid base for decisions, hence the EU must possess much more knowledge and a thorough analysis of the process. In addition, the ‘self-image’ and ‘self-reflections’ of the countries of the region have so far scarcely promoted the understanding of their internal conditions. The West wishes to possess more of information of the definition of real national interests, without any distortion. In addition to economic and political conditions, the space of accession is also influenced by how far the countries of the region are able to follow the set of political values evolved in the European Union, the requirements of tolerance and consensus.

The author of this paper, produced during the course of researches, and indicating practical considerations on the basis of complex analysis, has drawn the final conclusion as follows: the changes of the global situation of the EU, the national interests of member-countries, and the formal and informal networks actually operating during the integration process should be simultaneously considered. This complex task, requiring a variety of approaches and multidisciplinary assessment, can only be understood and realised by a well conceived, expediently co-ordinated, organised policy, based on ‘the science of integration’.