Elemér Hankiss, 2. 7. 1987, Budapest, Hungary

Questions to the narrator


Location Budapest, Hungary
Date 2. 7. 1987
Length 19:25

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Jacques Rupnik: You have conducted a long survey of values in Hungarian society, what are the main results, the main findings of your survey? How much has the Communist ethos permeated the Hungarian society since 1945?

Elemér Hankiss: Well the impact has been ambivalent I would say. There have been some important changes in people's value beliefs, for the last 30 or 40 years, but at the same time there are many continuities which one wouldn't expect. The changes, which are important, on the one hand positive and on the, and on the other hand negative. The positive ones, that people began to believe that they have the right to live as free citizens in this country, which was not really the rule before the war. So people have been accustomed to know that they have their own rights to a decent life.

They discovered that…

Sure. Yes, that's interesting cause because in the 40’s at least, early 50's, in spite of the Stalinist regime the, the, the revolutionary ideology that you are, you a free man, you are citizens, you have to, the right to live as free citizens. This ideology was had its own impact, and it did socialize people in this new ethos I would say, in spite of the fact that in reality people did not get freedom and didn't get equality and didn't get really a kind of social security, but these values have, have been imbued in people's minds in spite of their absence in practical life. It's an important change I think, I think, in society. On the other hand, there have been many, many negative impacts, negative effects of the new system and the new ideology, in the main most important one is what you call here the total atomization of society. Society has been disintegrated. On the one hand, voluntarily, systematically by the new leaders, by the new system, on the other hand they, they have got atomized by the new reality, by the new economic political and social institutions. So nowadays Hungary is I think in the world one of the most atomized disintegrated society, society of, of harsh individualists who don't care about anything else than their own life and the family lives.

Now you've made a comparison in your study with Western countries, what singles out Hungary, what is the main contrast between a socialist country and the West European countries?

Oh there are, there are many differences but one of the main one is what I have just mentioned. We had a comparative survey comparing Hungary with the United States of America which is a kind, not sense to compare a small country to a big one, but we had to do this and there our main finding was that Hungary, Hungarians are more individualistic and more egoistic than the United States. It is a nonsense, but it is true, in a special sense this is true. We call this negative individuation, a kind of individualism without values, without a world view, it’s kind of, kind of instinctive, acquisitive, materialistic individualism, which is really, I think, the main feature of Hungarian people nowadays. Later on we took part in an international project, which is called the European value systems study, organized, it was organized in Great Britain, and about 15 European countries took part in this, in this international project. Hungary included, and all the socialist country. And here again we had the same, the same results, Hungary as the most individualistic country in Europe on the one hand. On the other hand, it is not very favorable for, for us, but Hungarians are pretty conservative as far as for instance moral values are concerned. They are as conservative as the Irish or the Italians in some important moral aspects.

You're talking about an atomized society, but you've also coined the phrase the ‘second’ society. Where does the ‘second’ society come from, what are how can you define this concept?

I see, in the 50's I think we, living here in Eastern Europe, in Hungary and other countries, we had the impression, the false impression that we lived in a country where, which can be described as one actor game, that there is only the party who is acting, which is acting, and people are only obeying. But in the 60's we get an impression more and more that there is a false impression, that, that this country is, and the life in these countries cannot be described by this one actor model. But it could be much better described by a multi actor model. Then we tried to see who these several actors could be, and what kind of interactions are going on in these countries which are formerly one party systems, how can and where can we discover the kind of latent pluralism or latent pluralistic interactions in the field of culture, social life, political life, and so forth. So we were looking for an alternative society, beneath the surface of the official first society. And then hypothetically we called this ‘second’ or typical society, the ‘second’…

... mainly connected with the ‘second’ economy?

It, no, technically ‘second’ economy is only, could be only a part of this ‘second’ society, we tried to first to define the first of the official society by the help of a set of criteria and we were asking if perhaps there is another field or sphere of social existence where different criteria, different organizational principles are at work. And so we tried to distinguish between the first official society and an alternative ‘second’ society, working according to different rules of the game. That was that was…

To live a sort of schizophrenic existence, that part of that existence they have to conform to the party norms in other spheres of their existence they have autonomy and they obey two different values?

I would, yes the, we had this, this impression at that time. I have to admit that later on in the 70's and early 80's we had to develop this, these hypothesis, because it was not really born out by facts, and then we found that there are not only two let's say societies or social dimensions. But there is a whole range of different, what we call organizational principles, which are organizing the economical social and political life in these countries. And so we found a whole plurality of incompatible diverse organizing principles. For instance, in Hungarian economy, there are at least three sets of rules of the game, which, which are interacting, interfering with one another. We have the, the system of a planned economy, we have also rules of the market economy, and we have also very important mechanisms which we call the administrative market, administrative market, which is a completely different set of, of rules of the game, operating at the same time and interfering with the other, two others. And the same we have found in political life, that beside the rules of the game of the one party system we have also the state is bureaucratic game, rules of the game, then again we have oligarchic organizing principles, we have clientalistic rules and mechanisms, we have the mechanisms of a kind of enlightened paternalistic absolutism. And also we have a slowly emerging set of democratic principles, and now these various rules or sets of rules are again interacting and making havoc of the country, chaos, maybe a fertile or unfertile chaos in this country.

And how strong is this democratic principle that you mentioned, that there are several operating principles, but how strong is this emerging democratic principle?

Yes it, it, well relatively, if you look at these things from Eastern Europe, then they become stronger and stronger, if you look at us from, from the west, they might seem insignificant. And I would say that, when we speak about democratic principles, then I use the word in a very, in a very wide sense, I include for instance corporatist mechanisms in, in this concept, and if, if I include this then I would say in Hungary important New York operatist...

So, I use this word democratic mechanisms in a wide sense, I would say I include a wide range of various kinds of interest mediation and interest articulation. I also interest articulation by, by institutions and by social movements which are not as much staticised as, as they were in the 50’s or 60's, they have gathered some kind of, of autonomy, and their struggle for various kinds of interests becomes more and more important and gives a kind of, of autonomy. And their struggle for various kinds of interests becomes more and more important and gives kind of a quasi-pluralistic character to Hungarian politics I would say. But this mixture of, or this confusion of various organizational principles, this is really a heavy burden for, for people living in this country, to give you an example, if a normal Hungarian gets up in the morning and goes to the factory, that in the factory he works according to the rules of the game of the bureaucratic technocratic principle of organization. In the afternoon when he works on his own private plot in in his own ‘second’ economy, then the works according to the rules of the market mechanisms. If he goes to the town hall for, for a permit, then there he is the of bureaucracy and he has to behave like, like, in a subservient way of the bureaucracy. If he wants to put his son in a good university, then he has to find a patron somewhere, and then he has to conform to the rules of the clientalistic networks in this country. Or he has to enter the oligarchic network, trying to find a patron.  So he has to switch discourse, style of speech, modes of behavior, several times a day, which is not an easy way to live. I would say. But in spite of the fact, this this kind of quasi-plurality, this is much better than what we had in the 50's and we had a, a homogenous monolithic monopolistic, almost totalitarian system.

There is a lot of talk in Hungary today about the necessity...

There's a great deal of talk about the necessity of combining economic and political reform, in Poland the pressure for reform came from the society, in Hungary it seems to come from the economy. What are the pressures for political reform and what kind of political reform is feasible, according to you in the system?

I limit the view that in Poland the pressure came mainly from the, from the masses, and the pre-Dures were mainly political, at least in the, in the early 80's, while Hungary, while Hungary, this whole slow process of liberalization throughout the 60's and 70's and, and early 80’s these came, these were mainly strivings for, for economic reforms. But I wouldn't say that these pressures came only from above in Hungary, I think that there were important pressures also   from below here, not on the scale of mass movements. But many, many micro-pressures which aggregated to, ID very important forces, and in a way pushed the government or pushed the party and forced the party to implement reforms change the course of this country several times. So I think these, that these micro-reforms, micro-pressures were very important, or had very important throughout this period also in Hungary. As far as political reforms are concerned yes, everyone knows in Hungary and everybody has been knowing for 20 years, that economic reforms cannot succeed without, without deep-going political reforms. I would say that there are, this is a sense in this country, everyone knows it, that there's an evidence, and the main question nowadays, I think in these weeks around the whole country boils with reform programs and plans and ideas for, for social reforms. And for political reforms is the question, how is it possible that everybody has been for reforms for 20 years, and very, very little happened, why? Where is this, a ghost may be haunting this country, I would see a wicked invisible hand which just breaks down reform movements, and we are looking for where is this, this ghost, this evil, which obstructs this reform wishes or reform pressures or which in programs, coming from all sides in the country.

Where do you think it is?

Oh there are several, they already, in the 40's there are at least several evils or wicked persons. Now also in Hungary we have, we have found at least seven, I can give you four five six or seven or as many, there are many ones. Those who point to one group or to another group saying they are the wicked ones, are mistaken, I don't believe that managers in the big enterprises are the only wicked people, or people on the political echelon they are the only wicked people, or anybody else. I think that there a very complex situation, the whole system is disfunctioning. Some, some evils for instance there are people who say that the main problem in Hungary is that every, everybody has very decent and honest wishes and programs and interests, but the institutions which we have are unable to coordinate these, these various interests and various wishes and various strivings, so, so the bad institutional system would be the culprit would be the, these ghosts obstructing reforms. According to the, to other people…

But the party is after all the core of these institutions.

Yes, that would be my fifth factor in this picture if I – but may go on with the party, yes there are people in Hungary and outside Hungary who say that in these East-European countries the ruling elite is not really dealing elite which would be able to implement these reforms. Which would be able to launch a dynamic economic and political reform because in this countries these ruling elite is in transformation and those people who are at present ruling the country are not the real people who should rule the country. For instance, an English expert has… he is called Parkin, has a theory that the bureaucracy is not really the appropriate elite in these countries, but it would be the intelligentsia. Because in, in this highly complex societies, bureaucrats are unable to govern the country but intellectuals would be, that this is the idea. And also … (interruption) would agree, did agree with this ten years ago they wouldn't exactly any more with this. However, that is. And according to that, and another theory elites all over the world have a very difficult problem to solve, they have to combine or coordinate or harmonize two contradictory goals. On the other hand, every elite has the justified wish to keep power, to remain in power, to conservative political status quo. On the other hand, they have to integrate society, they have to involve people and so they have to in a way sec… study economic growth. And these two goals are become frequently incompatible. And according to these hypotheses, the Hungarian elite is unable to handle these, these sort of contradiction. In one year they understand that they have to implement reforms, the next year they are scared from the results, they are getting back everything or almost everything to preserve their power. Then again the economy goes down, again they implement reforms, again they have to draw back the whole process. So this is oscillation between two goals, this may be one of the sources of the present stalemate and the present critical situation in this country.

One of the features of Eastern...

One of the features of east Central European societies, ever since the 19th century, was that they adopted a western model, they were looking towards the west for inspiration in terms of their social economic or political development, but never quite fulfilled that promise or that hope and that brings with it a certain number of frustrations. So what is today the image of the west or is there a western model still? And what is the state of these frustrations, what are the neuroses that it produces in society?

Sure we, we still live in these neuroses of backwardness and these neuroses that we have to catch up with, with the west. And this is a heavy burden, this is a heavy heritage I would say in this country. On the one hand this drawing the country on its road of development, but at the same time it, it causes great difficulties in that. For instance, aspiration, have exploded after the Second World War because the model of the western way of life was so strong. And then of course people were frustrated. And they are still frustrated. But I think in Hungary there is a kind of change of the framework, of the frame of reference in people's minds. The last five or ten years, people have turned more and more towards eastern Europe. And this is a much more positive reference frame for our egos or for our self-esteem because then we feel, can feel, that we have nevertheless achieved something if we compare ourselves to our East, East European neighbors. So we need, now we have a double reference frame, with ambivalent and ambiguous impacts on our… well I would say, emotional state, I would say.

Elemér Hankiss (1928–2015)

Elemér Hankiss

Elemér Hankiss was born May 4, 1928 in Debrecen. His father, János Hankiss was a literary historian and professor at the University of Debrecen.

He graduated from Eötvös Loránd University as an Eötvös College student in 1950, he majored in English and French and later received his Ph.D. there as well. Because of his role during the Hungarian revolution in 1956, he spent seven months in custody being finally released due to lack of evidence.

From 1963 to 1965 he was the editor-in-chief of the English section at the Európa Kiadó; later he worked at the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. From 1975 he had been the head of the Research Department for Methodology at the Institute for Sociology for almost twenty years and later on he served as the director of the Institute between 1996 and 1998. He taught at ELTE, at József Attila University of Szeged and at the Central European University, while also serving as a visiting professor at several foreign universities.

His main field of study in the sixties was primarily literary theory, in the 1970s sociology, focusing especially on values. Later on, in the 1980s his interests turned to political sociology.

His writings opened up new paths in several branches of science. In his books, Érték és társadalom (‘Value and Society’, 1977), Társadalmi csapdák (‘Social Traps’, 1979), Diagnózisok (‘Diagnoses’, 1982 and 1986) and Kelet-európai alternatívák (‘East-European Alternatives’, 1989 he was mainly concerned with the status and the future of Hungarian society. In his essay book Új diagnózisok (‘New Diagnoses’) he was examining the consequences of the regime change. His book A Nincsből a Vanfelé (‘From Nothing to Something’) published in 2012 was dealing with fundamental questions of human existence.

He was one of the initiators and spiritual fathers of the Találjuk ki Magyarországot (‘Let’s figure Out Hungary’) and the Találjuk ki Közép-Európát (‘Let’s Figure Out Central Europe’) projects, and one of the founding members of the Szeretem Magyarországot Klub (‘I Love Hungary Club’). Between 1990 and 1993, as president of the Hungarian Television, Elemér Hankiss actively formed the Hungarian public life, later he was relieved from his position for political reasons.

His work has been acknowledged several times. In 1981 he received the Alföld Award, and in 1994 together with Csaba Gombár, the former president of the Hungarian Radio received the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary as a recognition for their pursuit towards providing information objectively. In 2006 he became an Honorary Citizen of Budapest and received the Széchenyi Award. In 2007 he won the Prima Primissima Award, in 2008 he received Hazám Award (‘My Country’) and in 2012 the Bibó Award.

Following his death, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Kőszeg founded the Hankiss Center with the aim of nurturing the intellectual heritage of the scientist.