The Politics of Memory and the ‘Putinisation’ of Hungary
The removal of the Imre Nagy bridge sculpture, a stone’s throw from the Hungarian Parliament building, has again sparked furore in a country once considered the ‘star pupil’ of post-Soviet democracies. Imre Nagy, the nationally revered leader who stood defiant against Moscow’s communist hardliners in the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, during which Budapest fell to a four-day siege at the hands of Soviet forces, was ultimately hung for his pro-reform, communist ideology. One cannot say that Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, however, shares any of those defining qualities of Mr. Nagy. Contemporary Hungary finds itself, in many respects, even closer to the tide of Russia’s autocratic tendencies against which Nagy attempted to stem and for which he ultimately sacrificed his life.
Prime Minister Orbán is indeed no communist; so much so that formerly liberal Orbán is known to have held a speech in 1989 very much in favour of Hungarian independence from the Soviet Union. But as PM he has since proclaimed during a speech in Romania in July 2014 that the ‘new state that we are constructing in Hungary is no liberal, but an illiberal state’. This reconfiguration of the Hungarian political system into his self-coined ‘illiberal democracy’ has been dubbed the ‘Putinisation’ of Hungary by opposition parties and Western media, Professor Ellen Bos of Andrássy University in Budapest once explained to me at Leipzig University during a lecture.