The conference organized by Védegylet (Protect the Future), the One Million for the Freedom of the Hungarian Press Movement (Milla) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation had a double objective: to discuss problems of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and to present a new project (the “Hungarian Octopus”) on democratic renewal to the Hungarian public.
In the first part of the conference speakers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary offered insights the state of democracy in their respective countries. Although speakers’ perspectives and approaches differed, their opinion also converged on critical issues. It was first of all clear that problems subsumed under the label of “democratic deficit” are plaguing the political process in the whole region. While autocratic tendencies may only be clearly discernible in Hungary, the political landscape of all four countries is marked by widespread disillusionment with the performance and “behaviour” of elites, a process that feeds dangerous populist tendencies. The discussion also brought to light the nexus (or better put dialectical relationship) between the growth of inequalities and the quality and stability of democratic politics.
The second part of the conference focused on the country where the populist drive and deep social rifts have led to an illiberal backlash and the emergence of right-wing authoritarianism: Hungary. The Hungarian organizers of the conference presented their common project: the Hungarian Octopus. The project aims to map the structural causes of undemocratic governance in view of elaborating a new, scientifically informed way of thinking about the de-democratization process Hungary is going through and thereby helping civil society engage with this process in a more constructive manner. The Hungarian Octopus seeks to achieve this through the use of the most up-to-date visualizing techniques that will hopefully allow it to reach out to a wider audience. At the conference the beta-version of the project’s website (www.magyarpolip.hu) and the first animation movie produced in the framework of the project were presented.
The conference ended with the organizers expressing their hope that the two-hundred participants crowded in the conference hall and the more than thousand people following the discussions real time (via an on-line broadcasting system) will act as disseminators for a project that could play a small, albeit not insignificant role in the re-energization of the democratic process without which there is little hope for democratic renewal in Hungary or elsewhere.