“He Would Have Already Sent Me To My Mother”

11Nov09

At my university we have a group of students in social sciences who are organizing panel discussions on the Hungarian transition in 1989 every Tuesday till December 8. I’ve been attending the events from the beginning and I have to admit that the one of today was the best so far. We had political researcher, political philosopher, constitutional law expert and historian among the panelists, and also a journalist as moderator.

After the discussion the audience (university students) could ask their questions, and a boy raised the issue of what would they say if our PM, Gordon Bajnai asked them what to do for the society to increase trust towards government and help poor people, for example. First, the panelists denied answering by saying if a PM asks something like that, then he should leave his post fast because a PM must have a conception on what to do. Finally László Lengyel, associate professor and political researcher, stated that actually Bajnai really had asked him a question like this a few weeks ago, and it’s sort of okay, since Bajnai is PM only for one year, for a temporary government. Lengyel declared it would be better to raise the question of what should we (university students) do. “If we were in 1989, Viktor Orbán would have already sent me to my mother in the fifth minute of the discussion.” he said.

By his words the Civil Society Forum came to my mind. There I attended a session with Jiři Pehe and Martin Bútora, both had been advisors to Václav Havel, and much to my astonishment Martin Bútora raised the same question when they were talking about the transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. He turned to the table where some of us from the younger generation were sitting and said: “Your parents did 1989, now it’s the time for you to do something.”

So, now it was the second time I heard from senior experts in politics that they are expecting “something” from the generation born around the transition. But what? In Hungary, for example, young people are not that concerned about politics, indeed they can’t be because they can’t even understand it. After high school, we’re starting the university without arriving to the transition in our History studies. Better teachers try to talk about it but it’s a sensitive topic, and so influenced by actual politics that if one doesn’t want confrontation with parents or other colleagues, then he just leaves this out from the syllabus. And if a pupil wants to know more, he has to learn it by himself, or at private classes, or at extra classes in the afternoon, so from somewhere else, but not from school. The latest historical event, where everyone is about to finish their Hungarian History studies is the Revolution of 1956. (Not that easy field either!)

I can’t imagine what are these people expecting from a generation which was not informed about what happened during the transition, and whose first thing to remember when it comes to politics is related to DuckTales. I also remember (I was 6 years old then) the day when the public TV interrupted its Disney show at 17:20, December 12 in 1993. The announcement of the death of József Antall, the first democratically-elected PM of Hungary, interrupted an episode of DuckTales. According to the oral history of our generation these had been the last broadcasted moments of the cartoon. (Be careful, it’s in Hungarian.)

The Facebook group “Akik nézték a vasárnapi Disney-t, amikor meghalt Antall József!” (“Those who had been watching the Sunday Disney when József Antall died!”) now has 10697 members, so these are who had been in the age of watching cartoons on TV and are registered on FB. Some 11 thousands seem to be a high amount in politics. If I was trying to start up something, I would use them. These are young electors without any remembrance of the USSR, grown up by watching commercial TVs and surfing on the worldwide web. They (we) are thinking totally different than those who lived their lives during the communism.

Of course the declarations I quoted were not addressed to this after-transition generation generally, but to those who feel themselves at least a bit concerned. And it’s very hard to attract the attention of everybody who had been watching TV December 12 in 1993. If I was told to do something, I would set up an NGO. An organization promoting democracy to young Hungarian people: what’s that, how to elect, how to govern, what is the so-called politics for etc. And I would found an NGO for collecting and representing under-30 generations interests, but never a political party. Never.

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2 Responses to ““He Would Have Already Sent Me To My Mother””

  1. 1 lemarietta

    We are far back behind Germany or Austria in every sense. But I think there is hope that this will change in the next 10 years.
    (P.s.: I had a Fix My Street badge here, probably I should put it back ;))

    Btw, just came to my mind that the statement of Lengyel is the same as the denial of answering, sort of saying: “See, Orbán’s competency could be seen on him when he had been a university student. He wouldn’t have asked like you, but would have sent me to my mother.”

  2. I must say I am a bit shocked about the statement by those “experts” that a PM should know himself what to do; that the question “what should I do” should be forbidden for a political leader.
    Hungary is not an “auto”cracy, in which indeed the tyrant must know for himself what to do. But it is a democracy, where politicians are representatives of the people. How are they to represent a people that they are not to ask for its needs and wishes?
    I think it is exactly this authoritarian approach to democracy that has made many young people tired of politics. But only of those party politics that are far to obviously controlled by deadlocked dogmas.
    The success of eParticipation platforms such as They Work For You or Fix My Street, where people get the feeling of being heard, of being able to interact with politicians shows that there is an urgent need of the people to communicate with the authorities. These sites are the most extreme opposition to those “experts'” claims.
    Still in fact I have thought of our generation as unpolitical myself for a long time. But then I could witness the development of Germany’s anti-surveillance movement, a movement that is formed of those who are tired of dogmatic ideologies, of interchangeable parties and disloyal politicians.
    One sentence has become a motto of this movement: “You’re going to wish we were unpolitical!” It is the principle of a generation that does not feel represented by traditional politics.
    At the moment, Austrian students (and now their German peers as well) are protesting the neoliberal reforms of the Bologna process. Their generation has been dubbed “cheerless careerists”, but now they are urging “rich parents for everybody!” – and again chanting “You’re going to wish we were unpolitical!”
    This makes me hopeful for the future. Today, “universities are burning” – “unibrennt” in German is the students’ Twitter hash tag. Maybe tomorrow Europe’s youth will stand up to claim its part in politics, to push back the neoliberal agenda, to reform society for the common good.


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