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Post Satisfaction with Democracy in Post-Communist World
Created by John Eipper on 04/11/22 5:40 AM

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Satisfaction with Democracy in Post-Communist World (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 04/11/22 5:40 am)

The post-Communist world thinks very differently from what we would like to believe based on our Manichean worldview, where democracy and capitalism are the light, and other systems are nothing but evil and dark. As I said, I do believe that democracy and capitalism are better systems than any others (or as Churchill famously said, the worst system there is, except for all of the others), but the devil is in the details, and badly implemented capitalism is not necessarily better than socialism, nor do people necessarily perceive it to be.

This is a little dated, but still very telling:

From Pew Research, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2010/04/07/hungary-dissatisfied-with-democracy-but-not-its-ideals/

Poland, where more people are happy with democracy than not, and where a significant plurality of people consider themselves to be better off after the end of Communism, is a big exception. In most other post-Communist countries apart from Poland, democracy and capitalism are not considered to be working out all that well so far, and even in Poland, large minorities are dissatisfied with democracy and believe that people were better off under Communism.

Few people in the former Communist world actually want to go back to Communism, but nor do they consider Communism to have been such an unalloyed evil as we tend to see it.  On the contrary, nostalgia for Communism is a very widespread phenomenon in the former Communist world.

JE asked, about the Hungarians, "Do they have no memory of 1956?" The answer is--indeed they do remember, and totally differently from how we might think.  Most Hungarians in fact view 1956 as the start of a golden era. 72% vs. 8% of Hungarians, according to the Pew poll above, a huge majority, say people were better off during the Kadar period than they are now under democratic government and as EU members, and only 21%, vs. 77%, are satisfied with democracy. Kadar, the Communist dictator who was installed by the Soviets after they crushed the 1956 uprising and ruled right through to the late 1980s, is rated by today's Hungarians as by far the best leader they ever had. For a nuanced view of all this, see this fascinating resource, from a Hungarian blogger: https://hungarianspectrum.org/2020/05/28/nostalgia-for-the-kadar-era-and-the-failure-of-hungarian-democracy/

So why is anyone surprised they would re-elect Orban?

All of these nuances further underline that we know much less than we think we do about post-Communist peoples, and that we should not be meddling in the internal affairs of these (or any other countries), trying through propaganda to tell them what they should want. A fundamental value of democracy should be that people should be left alone to make up their own minds and figure it out for themselves without outside interference.

One of the truly evil things about Marxism-Leninism was the concept of "false consciousness." Marxist-Leninists believed that the rightness of Communism was axiomatic, scientifically proven, as it were, therefore, anyone who doesn't accept Marxism-Leninism is suffering from "false consciousness"--cognition distorted by some malfunction. It seems to me that we have developed our own ideology of "false consciousness"--we consider the rightness and goodness of democracy and capitalism to be so much axiomatic, that any Hungarian or Ukrainian who doesn't buy into our version of these institutions is suffering from faulty cognition, such that this person's views can be simply ignored. This is the only explanation I have for ideas like the widespread view that overthrowing Yanukovych in Ukraine in a violent coup in 2014, "ushered in an era of democracy in Ukraine" (reminds me a bit of "destroying the village to save it," actually).

Yanukovych was democratically elected! You can't hold such a view without considering that "democratic" is only when someone we like is elected; it's not "democracy" and can be discounted (e.g., overthrown), if the "wrong" person is elected. This is no less evil and no less wrong, than the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of "false consciousness," in fact, it amounts to the very same thing. And of course we do the very same thing in our minds when the Hungarians elect someone we don't like; "that's not democracy"; "don't they remember 1956?", etc.

JE comments:  I just learned that Kadar was born in Fiume, then (1912) Austria-Hungary, but now Croatia (Rijeka). Our own Eugenio Battaglia was also born in Fiume, but in Italy.  What a fascinating town for geopolitics.

In this "satisfaction" ranking (WAISers know I cannot resist a ranking), I wonder how much of an impact comes from religion.  Of the nations above, Poland had the strongest (Catholic) church tradition.  Hungary, in contrast, is fundamentally a secular nation.  For his part, Orban was born to a Calvinist family, and later professed atheism.  Now he relies heavily on religious rhetoric, but one suspects it is only for political benefit.

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