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The University of Gothenburg at the Book Fair: Hungary upsets

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Bo Rothstein and Gabriel Byström at the Gothenburg Book Fair. Photo: Johan Wingborg/GUThe University of Gothenburg’s stand was overcrowded when professor Bo Rothstein discussed Hungary with journalist Gabriel Byström at an open seminar at the Göteborg Book Fair.

- Hungary is a good example of what I would like to call a totalitarian democracy, Bo Rothstein explained. 70 per cent of the Hungarians vote either for the nationalistic party Fidesz or for the ultra-right party Jobbik. This affects what kind of vocabulary that is used in the public debate, says Gabriel Byström, and read aloud an example from a newspaper where the Roma are described more as animals rather than humans.

- When Fidesz in 2010 got two thirds of the seats in the parliament, they also got the mandate to reshape the Hungarian society as a whole. Journalists where fired from their jobs, and instead a national agency for media was created with employees loyal to Fidesz. People loyal to the government have also replaced heads of schools, authorities and museums.

Democracy is created with a well-functioning government machine and neutral civil servants

But does this mean that Hungary in just a few years has turned into a dictatorship?

– I would say that Hungary, together with a number of countries, is a totalitarian democracy, Bo Rothstein explains. The governments in many countries think that a victory in an election means that you get the right to decide most things in that country, whether it is appointing judges or professors at universities, or what should be written in the history books. In the western world we have a somewhat naïve view on democracy, that if only the people get the right to decide, most problems will be solved. But it often seems to be the opposite – a well-functioning government machine with neutral civil servants is a prerequisite for creating a democracy.

Bo Rothstein thinks that it is pure cowardness that the EU doesn’t put stronger economic pressure on countries that break the EU acts. But isn’t there anything positive at all to say about Hungary?

– Yes, there is. A grass-root social movement is growing stronger, and maybe this could be the beginning of a more humanistic development for the country,  according to Gabriel Byström.