The Case for PopulismRoundup
Maria Schmidt is an author and historian whose research focuses on 20th-century dictatorships in Europe. A former adviser to the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, she is the director general of the House of Terror museum in Budapest.
We Hungarians have rarely had easy lives. As was the case with other nations that came under the direct domination of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, we had to struggle to retain our national culture and way of life. Yet our trials have prepared us well for the challenges of the 21st century.
After World War II, the Soviet Union foisted a social experiment on Hungary, forcing us to live in a Communist society for almost half a century. In 1956 we rebelled against the Soviet-backed regime in an effort to regain our national independence. Our revolution failed, however, and we paid a heavy price. Liberation would come decades later, after the collapse of the Soviet empire.
In the totalitarian regime imposed on Hungary by Communist Moscow, politics was practiced in impenetrable, smoke-filled back rooms. There was a total absence of information on the streets, so the public relied on gossip to find out what was happening.
At the same time, people couldn’t care less about who had and who hadn’t fallen out of grace with the Communist leadership. Society was split between Them (party members and careerists within the ramparts of power) and Us (those whose principal aim was to lead independent lives on the periphery).
Under Communism, it would have been unimaginable for me to go out with a party official or share a friendly word with an army or police officer. Such people existed in a different world than the rest of us. Anyone valued or decorated by officialdom was a nonperson in our eyes. We had our own heroes to look up to. We had the freedom fighters from ’56. We had our poets, like Gyorgy Petri; our writers, like Imre Kertesz; our painters, like Gabor Karatson (one of the most important forerunners of the Hungarian Green movement); we had our singers and historians.
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