Dealing with Hungary's past: the impact of the politics of memory and transitional justice on the democratic consolidation process

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Moes, Anne
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Like every country transiting to democracy, Hungary had to engage in the necessary process of dealing with its authoritarian past. By discussing how the past has been handled on both the symbolic level and the legal level of transitional justice, this thesis argues that post-transitional Hungary has not yet fully succeeded in the task of honestly and seriously working through the communist past, and that the way in which this country is dealing with its past has a detrimental impact on the process of democratic consolidation. It is shown how the revaluation of Hungarian history has served for a redefinition of national identity in exclusionist terms and as a basis for the political rightwing’s confrontational anti-communist discourse, which has contributed to the deep polarisation of Hungarian society into two antagonistic camps. It is further argued that the transitional justice measure of lustration has largely become subject to political expediency and that it has failed to ensure the purity and transparency of democratic public life. Hungary’s handling of the past has thus undermined the emergence and strengthening of aspects necessary for the consolidation of democracy on the behavioural and attitudinal levels, such as trust in democratic institutions. In this context, the importance of a generalised public disclosure of the secret police files will be underlined.
Second semester University: Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest
democracy, Hungary, history, politics, transitional justice