Let us suppose that there is a party in Papua New Guinea which believes that New Guinea should rightfully belong to the British. Another party holds that New Guinea can only be happy under Dutch supervision. At this point someone rises to speak and asks, ‘Should New Guinea not be ruled by the Papua, who live here anyway?’ László Németh (Balatonszárszó, 1943)
The indigenous—home-grown, endemic— political regime that began to furnish the ship of the Hungarian state in 2010 has from the start provoked wide-ranging and hostile commentary, at home and abroad. Its detractors ceaselessly articulate their critique in terms of the opposing poles of democracy and dictatorship, apparently incapable of interpreting the discourse on westernization and democracy in any framework of reference other than that of liberal democracy. They routinely source the criteria of this liberal democracy, enshrined once and for all, from the practices of Western countries which they regard as the unquestioned benchmark, and see any political move in a diverging direction as an act of distancing the aberrant country (particularly the one in which they happen to live) from the West politically, and in the geographical sense as well. This kind of discourse exhibits the unadulterated symptoms of the colonizer’s attitude of speech, in that it employs the dichotomy of the advanced centre versus the subordinated periphery. This is equally manifest in the moral, political, and economic senses, but what really matters in this juxtaposition is its cultural component. Hungary’s indigenous regime, now in its tenth year, operates on the principles of sovereignty, independence, and self-determination of the nation state.
Meanwhile, colonial oversight has seen its arsenal of specific tools of colonization dwindle, to the point that it now has nothing to rely on other than the cultural hegemony of its allies in the local comprador-intellectual camp. As I have written elsewhere, all national forces are anti-imperialist by nature. Furthermore, in the age of soft colonization and hybrid neo-colonialism, the war of independence must be fought in the cultural field in the first place.
Hungary’s indigenous regime, now in its tenth year, operates on the principles of sovereignty, independence, and self-determination of the nation state
Whether it appears in the guise of imperialistic internationalism or of cultural assimilation to the mother country, as the case may be. Thirty years after the fall of communism it seems safe to say that internationalism itself is alive and well, except that it has assumed different forms (globalization, the ‘open society’), and that the colonialist logic remains an integral part of its arsenal.4 If internationalism is indeed the ‘highest stage of capitalism’, as Lenin put it in 1917, then globalization must be seen as the ultimate consequence of liberalism. Carl Schmitt went a step further, asserting that ‘The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism’.
The forces of imperialism invariably represented empires when they served ostensibly universal ideas and values: the British Empire those of Anglo-Saxon civilization; the French those of enlightened Francophone culture; the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Belgians, and Germans the norms they considered their own.
The Angolan Mario de Andrade was right in concluding that ‘culturally speaking, colonization robs the natives of their distinct personality, since it amounts to nothing less than the denial of national identity’.2 This resonates with the Martiniquean Frantz Fanon’s observation that ‘The colonial situation calls a halt to national culture in almost every field. Within the framework of colonial domination there is not and there will never be such phenomena as new cultural departures or changes in the national culture’.3 Precisely for this reason, it does not matter whether it is one or another foreign power that is engaged in colonization, given that stripping the native population of its distinctive national characteristics is an inherent component of the logic of colonization, regardless of whether it appears in the guise of imperialistic internationalism or of cultural assimilation to the mother country, as the case may be. Thirty years after the fall of communism it seems safe to say that internationalism itself is alive and well, except that it has assumed different forms (globalization, the ‘open society’), and that the colonialist logic remains an integral part of its arsenal.4 If internationalism is indeed the ‘highest stage of capitalism’, as Lenin put it in 1917, then globalization must be seen as the ultimate consequence of liberalism. Carl Schmitt went a step further, asserting that ‘The concept ofhumanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism’.
From Napoleon’s attempt at European hegemony after the French Revolution (1799–1814) to the worldwide unipolar violence perpetrated in the name of Pax Americana (1991–2016), experiments in building empires invariably sought to establish a liberal status quo, preferably of global dimensions. Over the past two hundred years, these plans were implemented in three distinct phases, as described below.
1) Wherever Napoleon marched in with his Grande Armée, he brought the ideals of the revolution with him in their secular-legalist form, which we might call the rule of law today. As Marx wrote, ‘Napoleon … created inside France the only conditions under which free competition could be developed … and beyond the French borders it swept away feudal institutions everywhere, to provide, as far as necessary, bourgeois society in France with an appropriate up-to-date environment on the European continent.’7 When in 1806 Hegel had a glimpse of the French emperor marching into Jena, he saw in him the embodiment of the conquering power of modern statehood, which triggered positively reactionary, counter-revolutionary uprisings everywhere from the Kingdom of Spain through Tyrol to Prussia and Russia.
2) The failure of the Napoleonic attempt at continental hegemony gave way to a maritime hegemony that lasted for a century (1815–1917/22) under the global British Empire. Schmitt ascribed the inception of this new global empire to the British navy, nurtured by the power the crown wielded on the seas and through commerce. The Pax Britannica rested on multiple pillars, including the productivity of industrial capitalism, naval control of the oceans, relentless exploitation of the benefits of free trade, and the tailoring of the legal- political environment to conform to liberal British norms.
3) The American attempt at hegemony, which spanned nearly three decades following the end of the Cold War, aimed at establishing an empire, aerial in nature, which combined cultural conquest (the Californian ideology hallmarked by Silicon Valley, the fashion industry, Hollywood, CNN, MTV, McDonald’s) alternating with ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ceaseless air strikes in the name of the Global War on Terror (bombs, drone strikes, cyber warfare). Advocating human rights, the logic of markets, international free trade, and expanding liberal democracy, the American ideology actually served to lay the foundations of what George H. W. Bush in 1991 dubbed the New World Order.
In light of these attempts at hegemony, it is apparent that liberalism does not and cannot feel safe unless it continues to build global systems and spread its own model to all corners of the world (because ‘democracies do not make war on one another’). This condition suggests several conclusions: a) If an empire wishes to remain liberal, it must disseminate its model globally, even by means of war; b) no liberalism can survive outside an imperial framework, be it revolutionary like Napoleon’s, non-revolutionary like the British Empire, or post-revolutionary, as was the case with Pax Americana; c) an internally consistent, anti- liberal approach is at once and of necessity anti-imperialist, in that it opposes all forms of global power and universal political and economic solutions, while protecting national culture, national borders, and the democratic nation state, understood as the reciprocal conditions of national and popular sovereignty.
The present phase of liberal imperialism aims at creating an invisible global empire. What it envisions is not the world power of a single nation, or the colonial system of a single state, but the amalgamation of all nation states by erasing the borders between them. For this reason, as Yoram Hazony point out, ‘Imperialism and nationalism represent irreconcilable positions of thought. We can endorse the view that the entire earth should be subjected to a single regime whose authority will embrace all nations; or we can seek a world of independent national states as the best form of political order.’8 Liberal imperialism imagines a world in which a single universal law reigns supreme. By contrast, the anti-imperialist thought of the nationalist paradigm believes in the coexistence of independent and autonomous nation states.
The prevailing European discourse after 1989 spoke in two voices, extolling the virtues of broadening federal institutional integration and the attendant gains in depth attained by Europe on the one hand and, on the other hand, the spread of allegedly superior values through channels afforded by these structures. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 situated the European Union in the context of global neoliberal integration. For its part, the Union aggravated the diminishing economic autonomy of member states by abrogating some of their most important political powers in the name of the transfer of sovereignty, and envisioned the continental alliance as a ‘community of values’ which subjected member states east of the fallen Iron Curtain to the hegemony of postmodern Western liberalism. The waves of enlargement which began shortly after the democratic turn across the former Soviet satellites (2004, 2007, 2013) conceived of their admission to the ‘Club of Europe’ as being contingent on their voluntary adoption of values, state reform, and privatization—in short, at the cost of meshing their gears with a ready-made discourse on civilization. the sole possible path of modernization. This ‘normative imperialism’ (Frank Furedi) continues to be enforced by a variety of means today, including the terms of transatlantic financial integration, the decisions of federal courts of justice, sanctions imposed by the EU, and the pressure of the international media.
It is apparent that liberalism does not and cannot feel safe unless it continues to build global systems.
It would be difficult not to notice the degree to which the imperialist gaze of Western European powers in the nineteenth century resembles the transatlantic perspective in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, which has equally been characterized by demands for a unilateral espousal of its own norms, the exclusivity of trade privileges, and the comprehensive adoption of its own political system. The similarity between them is underscored by the fact that both look upon the East from a Western vantage point, invariably perceiving the former as chaotic, inefficient, and prone to tyranny, yet amenable to being reformed through adequate rationalization, regime change, and an imparting of the progressive thinking proper to the West. While the initial orientalism of the West was every now and then mingled with a measure of romantic paternalism, a hypocritical mercifulness toward the ‘savages’ and a questionable Christian responsibility derived from a sense of superiority, the version prevalent today is marked rather by overt disdain, a thirst for cheaply sold state property, and a frenzied looting of new markets. These traits are echoed by many phenomena of daily experience, such as the behaviour of Western party tourists on a trip to ‘Eastern Europe’ and its depictions in the media (cf. the French comedy Budapest, 2018), which convey the idea that when you are in the colonies, you can do things you would never dare to do at home.
Whether it was the endeavour to ‘civilize’ other parts of the world in the nineteenth century or recent efforts along much the same lines, the yardstick of change has always remained the West, with its own historical evolution, political institutions, values, and actual modes of operation. In this view, Western forms and norms are universal in nature, and Westernization is the sole possible path of modernization. This ‘normative imperialism’ (Frank Furedi) continues to be enforced by a variety of means today, including the terms of transatlantic financial integration, the decisions of federal courts of justice, sanctions imposed by the EU, and the pressure of the international media.
Indeed, the entire process and value categories of accession to the EU can easily be read as a discourse of colonization, particularly if one considers that the (fringe) conditions of the ‘Eastern enlargement’ were, without exception, dictated by the central powers of the West.9 Made to fit the prerequisites of munificent admission to ‘Europeanness’, integration within the Union can only be attained subject to permission, and according to the rules of the countries that had been the largest colonial powers until the middle third of the twentieth century. It is no coincidence that the inertia of history and the gravitational force of dominant culture are jointly responsible for the resurfacing, at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, of nineteenth-century social Darwinism in the form of neoliberal monetarism, of the civilizing attitude as human rights discourse, and of romanticizing orientalism as the lecturing of ‘East European countries’. What are actually the countries of Central and Eastern Europe continue to be taught lessons ten years after they ‘joined Europe,’ and by the same countries that once created colonial empires. The founders of the EU and the winners of the first rounds of enlargement (Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal) all had colonies and acted as empires, without exception. By 1913, these countries together had come to possess almost half of the inhabitable, continental parts of the planet. Their holdings outside the mother countries amounted to three fourths of the colonized lands of the world, including overseas protectorates and trade settlements. Over 80 per cent of these territories belonged to three superpowers. (These ratios did not change significantly after the First World War. All that happened was that the Western Entente redistributed the colonial territories of the losers. Then their holdings dwindled to 58 per cent during the Second World War, and to less than 1 per cent by 1975.
Today, a number of countries still command territories overseas, including Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Portugal.) Among the countries of Europe, only those in the West of the continent have ever had colonies. The Eastern and Central European countries were not (or, rather, have not been) part of the colonial discourse the reading of colonization in two senses: they have never enjoyed the benefits of colonies, because they have never had any, and they have never been colonized themselves, in the classical sense of the term. Nevertheless, the increasingly visible fault line between the West and the East within the EU in reality traces the borders that used to separate the imperialist countries from those without a colonial past. This same line of demarcation was re-enacted by the Iron Curtain, and has been enriched with new nuances since it fell.
Edward Said argues that in the nineteenth century the Western colonial powers created an interconnected culture of politics, public administration, science, arts, and literature— the culture he calls orientalism—which served to justify the proper economic- political practices of imperialism. Outright military conquest, economic exploitation, and administrative organization of the colonies were ensured and legitimized by a branching cultural hegemony composed of achievements in cartography, linguistics, ethnography, literature, and the arts, among other constituent elements. According to the reading of colonization Antonio Gramsci arrives at from his thesis on hegemony, the economic and military foundations of imperialism are superseded in importance by the ‘cultural superstructure’ which exercises hegemony over the entire system. He poses the rhetorical question of whether a financial-economic imperialism is possible without political-intellectual hegemony.11 In other words, ‘the colonial project was not reducible to a simple military−economic system, but was underpinned by a discursive infrastructure, a symbolic economy, a whole apparatus of knowledge’.12 In this reading, then, the hegemony of the colonists was truly deepened with the tools of culture and symbolic systems.13 If a colonizer succeeded, through long-term education, in having the natives contemplate themselves through his lens, then culture in the broad sense of the term enabled him to achieve a legitimacy far stronger than could have been secured by any other means.
The colonizers always strove to perpetuate the subjugation of local populations
After the Cold War, we became the new Orient of the West. Every theoretical and practical criterion of classical colonialism has manifested itself since the end of the 1980s in the way the West looks and acts upon our region. Since 1989–90, the former stereotypes about the inhabitants of colonies (despotism, backwardness, sensuality, lack of self-reliance) have been consistently reiterated, now aimed at Central and Eastern Europe. The difference is that, in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries, imperialistic theory has adopted other names, such as democracy deficit, community cohesion, transitology, or principles of the Union, and colonialist practices have assumed divergent forms, including financial sanctions (the withholding of funds), excess deficit procedure, legal harmonization, and privatization. Western dominance remains the name of the game, albeit in less tangible, more subtle ways. Yet the colonialist attitude underpinning the operation of the EU is getting stronger and more unmistakable, along with its characteristic stance towards institutions, administration, and culture. The imperialist agenda has grown more mellow, its implementation more refined, and overall culture is increasingly superseded by legal discourse as the medium of its legitimization.
The lords of expectations governing globalization, the neoliberal consensus, and liberal democracy—let us call them the ‘Davos Men’ (Samuel P. Huntington) or the ‘Atlantic Ruling Class’ (Kees van der Pijl)—are associated less and less with specific states and more and more with international (federal, global, non-governmental) fora. In the twenty- first century, the torch of imperialism is carried not by state actors but by entities best described as inter-state (EU, IMF, WTO), supra- state (Big Five, European Court of Human Rights, multinational corporations, global media conglomerates, World Bank), and sub- states (Open Society Foundations, NGOs). By contrast, the natives only have their own national parties to rely on to represent and advocate their interests—we ourselves, which is the Irish-language meaning of Sinn Féin, the driving force behind Ireland’s fight for independence.
The Hegemony of Comprador Intellectuals
The colonizers always strove to perpetuate the subjugation of local populations, not so much by main military force as by foisting their mentality upon the natives. They achieved this primarily by harping on backwardness, devising racist machinations, disparaging native culture, and aggrandizing their assumed superiority as conquerors.
The direct acquisition of colonies may have been accomplished by means of armed occupation and commercial exploitation, but they were secured for the long term through cultural subjection, persuasion and, first and foremost, through moral, philosophical, religious, and ideological reasoning which portrayed subjugation as necessary, even useful, colonization as well-deserved, and the colonizers as superior beings. The project of colonization was completed when this view had gained wide currency and acceptance.
Achille Mbembe points out that ‘the universalization of imperialism cannot be explained by the violence of coercion alone: it was a consequence too of the fact that many colonized people agreed, for more or less valid reasons, to become consciously complicit in a fable which they found attractive in a number of respects’.14 The most faithful ally of colonizers is the sense of inferiority and shame—if the native is convinced that his beliefs are irrational, his customs and habit backward, and his myths primitive, and that he must feel embarrassed about them. For this reason, decolonization will not truly begin while doing so, they must make sure that the centre of gravity commanding identification coincides with the very core of their own morality, finance, culture, and politics. The most cohesive force holding a colonial system together lies in the hearts and minds of people, rather than in commercial relations, routes of marine navigation, or the network of outposts. The structure of culture is power itself.
In any case, the work of broadening this cultural hegemony will be less effective if entrusted to officials and officers of colonial administration arriving from overseas than if it is left to natives who speak the local language and know the local customs, and will therefore present the codes of colonization as self-evident and valid. This group is that of the comprador intellectuals. Every age throughout colonial history had its own compradors, who often lent not only their talent but their hearts and convictions to the cause of advocating the superiority, inevitable necessity, and rationality of the political and social system of imperial centres. They were the ones whom a leader of the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya described as belonging to ‘a black European class’, eager to bolster and justify British colonial practices locally.
The interests of the colonizers are thus best represented by natives who have internalized the values of colonization. This is tantamount to the admission that the colonized do not exist as a political entity (Edward Said), to the degree that his overall identity depends solely on the colonizers, and his existence only makes sense in the context of colonization. As Fanon puts it, ‘the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness’.
This is the model emulated by the topographical mindset of the comprador intelligentsia today, which qualifies a state as Western if it seeks to institutionalize liberal democracy, regardless of its actual geographical and cultural traits and situation. In their role of mediators imparting meaning to the system, the compradors, like the original conquerors and the colonists of today, are ‘stationed temporarily’ in each location, which for them is just a settlement, but for the natives (that is, for us) is the homeland. This marks the fundamental anthropological difference between the ‘anywheres’ and the ‘somewheres’.17 One might add that this comprador sentiment has a habit of arming itself with supercilious, cosmopolitan cocksureness and blatant contempt for everything domestic.
The recognition of the ‘Washington consensus’ after 1989 not only brought the ‘American control of Europe’ (Béla Pokol) within reach, but at once established a cultural hegemony in which a unilateral naturalization of norms from the West served as a key condition for participating in global integration. (On his visit to his native Hungary, Tamás Molnár, who had been living in the United States for over thirty years, warned early on, in 1992, that ‘America can be in no sense a model for a small, Central European nation’.18) This colonial practice is followed to this day in the form of a peculiar soft imperialism. However, the attitude of dictating civilization today manifests itself in the hardline version of the one that characterized the age of colonial empires. Indeed, some people continue to spread the colonizers’ cultural code among the natives, adopting the conquerors’ manners of speech and preaching the superiority of their norms. In this respect, nothing has changed for eighty years. In his famous 1943 talk in Balatonszárszó, László Németh said that ‘we are being sent “saviours” appointed from the outside … these advisers, even the benevolent ones, understand precious little about the actual state of Hungarians, and the malevolent among them will, in their first rage, turn against that which has been built here for the protection of the natives and which can question their own jurisdiction and competence’.19
If we stay within the framework of colonial discourse, it will make sense why the heirs to the servants of Soviet colonists from 1945 to 1989 (the technocrats of the late Kádár era, the post-communist economic elite, and the socialist party MSZP) and the harbingers of the new colonialists (the ‘democratic opposition,’ liberal intellectuals, the SZDSZ party—Alliance of Free Democrats) joined forces against the shy and timid proponents of native interests. The political-economic-intellectual pact of post- communism ‘promoted the social development of the centre to the status of a universal model, and portrayed social formations deviating from that model … as being responsible for the country’s falling behind’.
The line of demarcation between colonialists (with their in situ acolytes) and the natives (with their own representatives) is far more decisive than the internal conflicts dividing the locals. To put it differently, two natives respectively on the left and the right who share a native awareness (i.e., the same national culture) have more affinity with each other than with any local or foreign representative with an imperialist/colonialist attitude who happens to stand on the same political side of the spectrum with them in the general sense. However, while the local, nationally-minded right can hardly be accused of imperial ambitions, the left, which has always been internationalist, tends to be willing to serve the prevailing, globalist version of internationalism. In short, the definitive deep current of the political and ideological conflict does not spring from an internal constellation but from the relationship to external forces. The choice of national or international equates to that between native resident or foreign colonialist.
Starting from the end of the 1980s, the new colonial expectations in Hungary were conveyed by an elite that had swiftly closed ranks following the democratic turn, and consisted, on the one hand, of former reform economists, technocratic party intellectuals, and pragmatic reform communists, and, on the other hand, of the dissident, critically minded intellectuals of the ‘democratic opposition’. To paraphrase the title of a book published in 1978 by György Konrád and István Szelényi, not only had the Road of Intellectuals to Class Power come to its end, but the class of what Gábor Fodor called ‘the reformist ideological continuum’ had become fully formed. This class served the post-communist era in simultaneous roles as its praetorian guard, moral gatekeeper, chief arbiter, and mastermind of its political and cultural programmes. The pillars supporting the consensus among this bipolar elite of compradors were provided by their shared desire to perpetuate the discourse of modernization, unconditional respect for ‘market mechanisms’, and calls to join the West economically, politically, and culturally. The medium transmitting this consensus was supplied by the public discourse of intellectuals, spoken in a dialect that was Westernized, liberal, and reformist in its inflections. The comprador elite did not have a single original idea that would have sprung from Hungarian soil; it was, to the core, the mouthpiece of an exported ideology. The paradigm of emulation lasted so long as there was something to imitate. Thereafter, all they were left with was intellectual vacancy and pining over illiberalism.
The Programme of the Regime Change, adopted by the liberal democratic intelligentsia in March 1989, contained every single element of the neoliberal ‘crisis management’ package submitted by the IMF two months before (deregulation, market liberalization, privatization), and added the doctrine on human rights, a programme of modernization, and the imperative of liberal culture. Appearing on two facing pages of the volume, the three most important principles of the Programme are articulated as follows: 1) ‘the MARKETPLACE is the field where human activities are assessed and measured against one another’; 2) [in a system built on an organization of society answering the needs of the marketplace] ‘the spheres of CULTURE and POLITICS cannot rely on any core value other than that of tolerance’; finally, 3) ‘EUROPE [here] in Central Europe, especially in its eastern half, has always been synonymous with Western Europe. Our region experienced the great moments of its history when the goal of catching up with Europe was elevated to the ranks of politics.’ We are thus not an independent entity, the Programme seems to say, but merely a function of the West, and the more we become like it, the better.
The famous ‘Blue Book’ of the SZDSZ can then be read as a political script of the neocolonial hegemony that prevailed in Hungary from 1990 to 2010. This becomes even more apparent in view of the cultural agenda intimately linked with it, the points of which (‘the state is a bad steward’, cosmopolitism, liberalization, self-reliance, Westernization) all aimed at preventing a national reversal or recovery after 1989, and not without success. To cut a long story short: the goal was simply to replace one brand of imperial internationalism with another. The process is illustrated well by what George Soros said to a reporter in his entourage in Temesvár (today Timișoara in Romania) in 1993: ‘Just write that the former Soviet Empire is now called the Soros Empire.’
When Hungary’s comprador elite held direct executive power (1994–1998, 2002–2010), it implemented an economic policy tailored to meet the expectations of the ‘Washington consensus’ (deregulation, debt management, austerity measures, bowing to multinational interests, privatization), thereby setting the country on a path of ‘maldevelopment’ that was eerily similar to postcolonial, or even neocolonial, economic models. Under the comprador administrations, Hungary was smoothly enmeshed within the post-Cold War neoliberal system of global structures (EU, IMF, World Bank, WTO). These cabinets, however, whenever they ruled during the post- communist era (1990–2010), were always able to indirectly put into action the Western-liberal values and the monetarist attitudes informing them, which imbued the increasingly impertinent inroads of transatlantic political and economic influence with the glossy colours of progress and belonging to the West. It is as if the lines written by Fanon about the comprador bourgeoisie after their countries clinched independence were really about us: this class ‘identifies itself with the Western bourgeoisie, from whom it has learnt its lessons’; at home ‘it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people’; it has ‘nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe’.
A decisive part of this programme consisted of popularizing the transformation of the political system, and of bolstering the authority of those who articulated expectations by which to measure the success of the transformation. The machinery of Western-liberal hegemony— with its essential cogwheels of the left-liberal daily press, the commercial television stations, a string of economists and philosophers arriving or returning from abroad, and the host of opinion formers associated with the ‘democratic opposition’—continues to preach the indiscriminate naturalization of Western standards as an indispensable condition of belonging to the centre, urging accelerated progress, the achievement of ‘best student’ status, and complete integration, even at the cost of negating native values and interests. This is none other than the age-old and well-known psyche driven by self-abnegation, self-colonization (Alexander Kiossev), identity swap, and neophytic zeal, with its inferiority complex and compulsion to meet expectations.
This programme of self-colonization certainly had its antecedents to draw on. For instance, István Bibó, who was long regarded as the unquestioned foremost authority on regime change, treated the narrative of falling behind (a narrative eminently suited for the purpose) in rather eloquent terms. Idealizing British dominion politics, Bibó went so far as to say that ‘In terms of social and political development, Hungary kept abreast of the West during the first five hundred years of our national history, but it got stuck in the early sixteenth century, and has been unable ever since, until quite recently, to hit upon its straight path to progress’.28 According to Bibó, then, Hungarian society has been continually and gradually falling behind the West for half a millennium, and this process has been linear, progressive, and teleological. In each of his grand historical tableaux, Bibó provides a relentless description of the ‘stalling of social development in Hungary’, the ‘cul-de-sac’ of the country’s evolution, the ‘distortions of its inherent make-up’, the ‘misery of a small state in Eastern Europe’, and its sheer inability to catch up with and master the incontrovertible historic achievements that have added up to Western progress as we know it. The Bibó Memorial Book, published in samizdat in 1980, foreshadowed the copycat of self-colonization as a future reference in the politics of history.
The fact that the validity of this extremely harmful ‘intellectual myth of salvation’ (András Lánczi) was called into question at a time when the liberal project was shaken to its foundations worldwide and the post-communist era edged close to its end, serves as yet another piece of evidence for the close correlation between these phenomena. The financial crisis of 2008, unleashed by speculative capital markets, more or less coincided with the twilight of the liberal intelligentsia and the loss of confidence of the post-communist economic-political elite between 2006 and 2010, holding out for us the promise of rescue—the opportunity to finally accomplish the decolonization of our minds. The two-thirds parliamentary mandate won at the general elections in 2010, 2014, and 2018 provided the government with a massive legitimacy with which it was easier to attain political results in the interest of the natives. Further help came with major world events such as the 2015 migration crisis, the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency in 2016, and the sovereigntist- populist wave sweeping across Europe.
the left, which has always been internationalist, tends to be willing to serve the prevailing, globalist version of internationalism
Simón Bolívar attributed the liberation of the peoples of Latin America not simply to the weakening of Spain as a colonialist power and the victorious armed combat of the natives, but also to the fact that ‘the tie that bound [America] to Spain has been severed. Only a concept maintained that tie and kept the parts of that immense monarchy together.’ As he wrote in the same letter in 1815, ‘We have been harassed by a conduct which has not only deprived us of our rights but has kept us in a sort of permanent infancy with regard to public affairs.’ The veil of colonization goes hand in hand with the voluntary acceptance of this infancy. We cannot grow up without tearing the former to shreds. However, although in Hungary the ‘party of natives’ clinched a constitution-changing majority three times in eight years, and the course of the world had taken another direction by the second half of the 2010s, all this has been in vain if the narrative of colonization is permitted to survive unscathed. Indeed, most institutions of the liberal cultural hegemony have remained untouched. What I mainly have in mind is not tangible culture as embodied by the media, for example, nor entrenched cultural positions, but a frozen network of connections, inherited narrative advantages, and an unbroken discursive power. To put it differently, one might say that between 2008 and 2016 the colonial lords themselves lost heart, and even witnessed malfunctions on their own turf (especially Trump’s public reneging on the ‘Washington consensus’ and Great Britain’s secession from the EU). Furthermore, the local comprador bourgeoisie lost its political-economic hegemony, although the cultural hegemony of the comprador intellectuals is still alive and well as we speak, if not altogether intact anymore.
This is why the comprador intelligentsia, which has been responsible for interiorizing the mindset of colonization, and the media amplifying its voice, along with its cohorts in non-governmental organizations and various other activists, remain free to spread the ‘colonial mentality’, the virtues of globalization, the attitude of ‘let’s dare to dream small’, and to advocate the mission of permanent emulation that can be traced from Bibó to Jászi. Since the mid-1990s, when concepts such as ‘rule of law’, ‘European values’, and ‘liberal democracy’ began to drift away from their original meaning, they have become mere parts of the arsenal employed in exerting political influence and perpetrating acts of collective psychological terror. They have become smart weapons, whose deliberately extended meaning also renders them eminently suitable for exercising cultural leverage. They serve to patch together the now fragmented discourse on falling behind, to cause pangs of political guilt, to undermine the desire for autonomy and independence, and to herd people back into the fold of the colonial mind. Yet, as Bolívar observed, ‘The veil has been torn asunder. We have already seen the light, and it is not our desire to be thrust back into darkness.’ Telling tales of history and assigning meaning to them is a mild but all the more efficacious means of maintaining the old rule. This kind of narrativizing is aptly characterized by the proverb that ‘until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’ (quoted by Chinua Achebe in an interview).
Colonizers always had their local profiteering helpers, whom we might call compradors, collaborators not unlike Muscovites, the most effective of whom distinguished themselves by endowing colonization with meaning and thus became instrumental in spreading the point of view of the conquerors among the natives. In fact, the role of the insider as intermediary between the occupying lords and their subjects proved almost more essential than that of external military force and commercial transmission. While the classical comprador-bourgeoisie is engaged in trade, selling resources and building infrastructure, and the armed staff of the garrisons are empowered to secure the background for these activities by means of an apparatus of disciplining detractors and offenders, it really depends on the mediators whether the colonizers ultimately succeed in ingraining their codes and delivering their message to their intended audience—in other words, whether they are able to have their own world view interiorized. This world view implies, among other things, the permanent designation of the centre and the periphery, along with a final and unappealable hierarchy of values assigned to them or, if you like, the definition of the political notions describing the colonial regime once and for all. Moreover, until the cultural hegemony of the colonizers has been shaken off. This may happen before the colonial system actually unravels, and may not take place even after the colonists have departed. This tallies with the view of Thomas Sankara, the first Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, who said that ‘[w]e have to work at decolonizing our mentality and … recondition our people to accept themselves as they are’.
The domestic adherents of (neo)liberal world hegemony like storytelling. In this connection, they have concocted a great number of interpretations in an attempt to explain what has been happening in Hungary since 2010, and why. Many a Kampfbegriff has been spoken, from ‘fascistoid mutation’ to ‘autocratic capitalism’ and ‘the mafia state’. The latter expression has been popularized by a trilogy entitled Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary (2013–2015), published in tens of thousands of copies, whose authors themselves happen to match to a tee the portrait gallery depicting the comprador intellectuals of the post-communist era. In fact, their pet phrase was adopted by George Soros when he spoke against Hungary in Davos in January 2017. However, this rather inane label has been augmented by seemingly more professional explanations with the aim of winning acceptance, adoption, and popularity (all of them belated, as is usually the case) for the academic consensus that has been trendy in the pivotal states of the Union.
Non-governmental organizations and various other activists, remain free to spread the ‘colonial mentality’, the virtues of globalization
The notions employed by this trend, which have a habit of advancing swiftly from the status of scholarly terminology to the ranks of political slogans, are sourced from the specialized discipline of so-called transitology, a school of political science devoted to scrutinizing the fulfilment in ‘new democracies’ of various criteria defining Western/transatlantic liberal democracy. Experts in the field study these processes in the historical context shaped by the fall of dictatorships in Southern Europe and Latin America in the mid-1970s, the transformation of postcolonial systems in Africa and Asia, and the regime changes in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989–90. Representing an inherently Western point of view, this theory contemplates ‘democracy’s third wave’ (Samuel P. Huntington) as a prelude to the ‘end of history’ (Francis Fukuyama), which is consummated in the marriage of love between global communism and liberal democracy.
Transitologists claim that the work of transition has ultimately failed or, rather, remains uncompleted. Therefore, the global discourse on falling behind must be upheld, calibrating the moral-political yardstick to Western liberal democracy. As early as 1997, Fareed Zakaria voiced concerns over the ‘rise of illiberal democracy’. At the turn of the century, this was followed by a magnum opus on ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ which, expanded into a book in 2010, offers an exhaustive, documentary description of ‘hybrid systems’ after the Cold War, subsuming them under the category of ‘competitive authoritarianism’. Soon thereafter, the bulletins of international capital and the global liberal elite (Financial Times, The Economist, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Time) provided a new home, on their cover no less, for the narrative that sets up parallels between Orbán, Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, Salvini, and Bolsonaro to suggest that ‘these’ are all leaders of one and the same dictatorial counter-revolution, which seeks to undo the achievements of the liberal revolution since 1989. (In reality, this only proves that global liberalism is in its death throes everywhere.)
If there is a discipline where it makes sense to pose Gramsci’s rhetorical question of whether science is not itself a ‘political activity’, then that field is certainly transitology. All things considered, transitology is but a typical imperial rationalization, a sort of science of hegemony, which teaches the ways in which the values of an expansionist empire can be mastered, its interests served to the full, and its logic of operation adopted with no strings attached. Transitology arrogates to itself the definition of democracy and monopolizes its meaning, excluding from it the ‘Hungarian model’, for example, which evolved with a view to national interests and domestic values, learned from Hungary’s unique history. Indeed, this is precisely why the current Hungarian political system is problematic in the eyes of the transitologist, the representative of a discipline that really serves no purpose other than those of territorial oversight, political classification, and cultural pigeonholing. In short, it is a universalist theory, matched by colonialist practice. autocracies. They would point out that these systems contained elements of both and, being in constant flux, tended to converge now toward the one, and then toward the other model. (There is a rigorous classification for you!)
By its very nature, the ‘hybrid regime’ has a layered typology, variously characterized as semi-democracy, ‘imperfect democracy’, ‘ailing democracy’, ‘illiberal democracy’, ‘electoral authoritarianism’, and ‘competitive autocratic regime’. Each of these labels refers to a model that is no longer an autocracy but not yet liberal democracy. The increments on the closed-system, one-dimensional, normative scale by which the implementation of liberal democracy is measured operates as a sort of checklist. Tellingly, each of these criteria gauges the vindication of liberal democracy against the yardstick of enabling the broadest possible freedom of powers not under democratic control (non-governmental organizations, checks and balances, federal courts, prosecutor’s offices)
More cracks appeared in the early twenty- first century, marring the integrity of transitology as a set of criteria measured by Freedom House country reports and rule of law indices, bolstered by mainstream political literature, and made compulsory by global political-economic centres. Something had to be done about a state of affairs in which not all ‘new democracies’ had attained liberal democracy, not to mention that certain attempts at doing so had backfired and begun to exhibit signs of what was described as authoritarian governance—in short, that liberal democracy had failed to become the universally accepted model. The solution consisted of coming up with the nebulous phrase of ‘hybrid regime’, used to denote systems regarded by the pundits as being neither open democracies nor closed and, conversely, of the strictest possible constraints placed upon public entities enjoying legitimation by the people (heads of state, heads of government, legislature, majority government). This methodology of assessment is closely linked to the greater scope of the discourse on rule of law, which expects a country to enforce principles (transparency, accountability, human rights, eradication of corruption, disclosure) that can be interpreted broadly enough to be used smartly against political opponents. The discourse of ‘rule of law’, a concept of purposely blurred definition, is ultimately about sovereignty, national identity, and popular democracy. It invariably sanctions any defiance of the centre’s normative, political, and financial authority. All of this is further related to the threat posed to the model of national, majority democracy by the powers wielded by international courts of justice.33 It comes down to international bureaucracy versus majority democracy and national sovereignty.
Arguments posited on the notion of the ‘hybrid regime’ are well-suited to the task of keeping the colonial logic intact, despite its dwindling political clout. Online forums, news coverage in daily papers and on television, conferences, publications, and petitions routinely feature the perception that Hungary derailed from the tracks of progress in 2010, no longer meets the criteria of liberal democracy and, as a result, has detached itself from the Western consensus. Academic circles, with their higher respect for the exactitude of terminology, tend to use the subservient phrase of ‘competitive authoritarian regime’ or, attesting to a measure of independent thought, of ‘externally constrained hybrid regime’ to describe the political arrangement in Hungary since 2010.
However, the moment they enter the limelight of the greater public, they begin to speak about the ‘age of hybrid counter- revolution’, sometimes wasting no time in providing advice on ‘how to overthrow Orbán’s hybrid regime’.34 As for what to do about this phenomenon in practical terms, we now have a Hungarian translation of a manual on how to make a copy/paste revolution (Srdja Popovic, Blueprint for Revolution).
Commentaries like these cannot be simply dismissed as further attempts on the part of foreign actors to meddle in Hungary’s internal affairs, who fall in line with a string of interventionists from the American Deputy Chief of Mission (acting more like a proconsul) in Budapest from 2013 to 2014, through the subversive machinations of NGOs funded by Soros to the coordinated action of the opposition in the winter of 2018–19. Efforts to roll back countries liberated from colonial rule are exemplified by the destabilization of Congo between 1960 and 1965, accomplished by methods that seem relevant today. As Kwame Nkrumah wrote, reflecting the rather wide- ranging experience of Africa at the time, ‘The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.’ 35 Admittedly, the Cold-War arsenal of recolonialization has now been replaced by softer, subtler tools, striving all along to refrain from offending the sensibilities of the ‘international community’. In fact, today it is by construing that very sensibility that efforts continue to discipline maverick countries, using the alternative techniques of broad condemnation, soft intervention, and economic pressure. In a manner of speaking, the Article 7 proceedings are the parachute commando of our age.
The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion
A liberal New York journalist positively hostile to the changes in Hungary has provided an eloquent example of the resentment and furious antagonism that a national action against the local representatives of imperial structures is capable of provoking. The Hungarian government’s decision to subject the Budapest university of George Soros to the domestic laws in force triggered a concerted assault on Hungary. The article in question is merely an afterword to this commotion, but it does contain a passage worth quoting at length, because of the zeal with which it conveys the unadulterated colonialist attitude of the Central European University. ‘Soros had conceived the school during the dying days of communism’, Foer writes, ‘to train a generation of technocrats who would write new constitutions, privatize state enterprises, and lead the post-Soviet world into a cosmopolitan future. The university, he declared, would “become a prototype of an open society”. … And so, for much of the past two years, CEU has been the barricades of a civilizational struggle, where liberalism would mount a defense against right-wing populism. The fate of the university was a test of whether liberalism had the tactical savvy and emotional fortitude to beat back its new ideological foe.’ Well, that fortitude seems to be lacking. Another telltale symptom is the vehemence of international protest elicited by the abolition of the privileges of certain ‘ideological apparatuses’ (Althusser), specifically the CEU, the MTA (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), and NGOs. For instance, the defence of Soros’s university marshalled a wide range of forces from the American deep state through the ‘international academic community’ to the European People’s Party, while the gainsayers of the transformation of academia by the state point-blank declared that ‘we have our vested connections and are determined to mobilize half the world’.
For at least half a decade now, Central and Eastern Europe has been the subject of a back-rolling experiment, fuelled by the local hostility toward migration and the solidarity of the Visegrád Group. The alliance of the domestic opposition is organized in a quasi- franchise system from Warsaw to Prague, Budapest, and Belgrade. Ukraine and Romania are paralyzed by, respectively, a perpetual war of unforeseeable outcome and a National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), while Bosnia and Herzegovina is troubled by its admitted migrants, and North Macedonia has even had its government overthrown. In the words of Vladislav Surkov, these attempts, not unlike neo- colonization, do not seek to establish sovereign democracies but rather governments resembling a pilotless aircraft.
Even if used only as an analogy or metaphor, there is no term more apt than colonization to describe the relationship in which Hungarian society, globalization, neoliberalism, and liberal democracy find themselves in. These days, the military force of colonization is virtual, its economic operation clandestine, and its administrative implementation coalescent with the institutions of global integration. However, its voice of culture still speaks loudly enough, despite the fact that its settlers, pith-helmeted officials, and local vicars have lost some of their leverage.
Liberation from colonial rule usually takes place in three phases: 1) first, political decolonization is accomplished, removing the most obvious yokes of colonization; 2) this is followed by economic decolonization, which amounts to shaking off a more indirect form of colonization; 3) the final stage is that of cultural/mental decolonization, in the course of which the tools of independence and self- determination are augmented by a nationalism capable of generating identity and cohesion.38 Ewa M. Thompson calls attention to the tendency of some Western researchers to frown upon the strengthening of national feeling after the colonial era in Asia and Africa, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe, as if to insinuate that building an identity with the nation as its core value, is somehow disgraceful.
The Eurasianist Nikolai Trubetzkoy suggested early on, in the mid-1920s, that though the order of colonization had firmed up owing to economic domination, its most distinctive feature consisted of the cultural superiority of the colonizers. Therefore, in his eyes, liberation was unimaginable without simultaneously ensuring the consolidation and independent development of a unified national culture. It is very much the same story today. If we remain a colony in the cultural sense, because we allow our mindset, concepts, points of reference, and standards to be dictated by rear-guard comprador intellectuals, we will not have won complete independence even if we manage to step up advocacy of native interests and detach ourselves from the centres of colonialism in the economic sense. Thus, freedom from colonial rule begins in the minds of people. As Amilcar Cabral observed, culture is a weapon in the struggle for independence. It is especially so in our day and age, when occupation is carried out not by armies but by cognitive means.
Edward Said points out that ‘Belgian rule in the Congo may have come to an end in 1960 but that does not mean the effects of Belgian rule have also ended’. The weakening of the colonizers at home, the relaxation or even cessation of colonial control are simply not enough. An efficacious advocacy of the natives must simultaneously aim to fortify their own proper identity and to pave a consistently independent political path for them, unless they want to remain colonized long after the colonizers have left. Representing indigenous interests implies both the protection of local culture and the operation of a domestic political model appropriate for that culture. The two prerequisites presuppose each other by necessity. In short, there can be no pro- native model without a truly indigenous culture, and vice versa. The elaboration of our ‘Hungarian identity’ (László Németh) and a governance serving the interests of Hungarians constitute the double-edged sword of independence.
The disorienting erosion of identity is a vital part of the discourse which seeks to perpetuate the cultural hegemony of colonization. Transitology is a case in point. The scientific and political labels under the umbrella term of ‘hybrid regime’ serve as clever instruments of the linguistic-political campaign which articulates its aversion to the periphery, including us, in terms of its endorsement of the values and interests of the centre that is global liberal democracy. It represents nothing but the age-old colonialist attitude, the civilizing mission, and the mindset of conquerors. The aspect of colonization that is the most difficult to eradicate consists of its use of increasingly less tangible, less physical tools, and its ability to leave behind, long after literal dependence has ended, pessimism, apathy, lack of self-confidence, and a sense of belatedness. Robbing the natives of their self-awareness, diminishing their self-esteem, and the indoctrination of their inferiority are more hard-hitting weapons than any armed occupation, which more often provokes resistance. Moreover, in the age of hybrid warfare, an underhanded operation is clearly more efficient, cheaper, and less messy than deploying tanks or dropping bombs. The key strategy today is not to vanquish the adversary by main force but to persuade the population of the enemy. Wars are no longer fought primarily in the battlefields but in the consciousness of people. In the twenty-first century, the would-be victors must stage their landings on the shores of the mind.
Part of this cognitive warfare is the relegation of people to the eternal fate of natives, in which any shift toward independence is cut short by their being at the mercy of financial markets, the pressures exerted by the media and NGOs, regime changes imposed from the outside, and civilian coups d’état. Under the circumstances, a nation with ambitions of independence, which insists on treading its own path on its own resources, and whose government is committed to protecting the native population, inevitably poses a peril to the invisible empire. Make one Hungary, make two Hungarys, and many more Hungarys, if you can!
This article was originally published in Hungarian in the 2 (2020) issue of the journal Kommentár, pp. 91–206.