Passive supporters of democracy

By Csa­ba Mol­nár and Vesz­na Wesse­nauer.

Young Hun­gar­i­ans may not be polit­i­cal­ly active, but most of them sup­port an open soci­ety, accord­ing to research by the Open Soci­ety Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Insti­tute and d|part.

Most young Hun­gar­i­ans aren’t inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics or activism, yet they are deeply com­mit­ted to demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues. This pat­tern has been con­sis­tent over the last ten years, although lit­tle is known so far about what 18-to-24 year- olds think about spe­cif­ic closed and open soci­ety values.

Reports on polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion have shown that youth in Hun­gary doesn’t like the cur­rent polit­i­cal sys­tem, but isn’t will­ing to under­take action that could change it. So how does one cap­i­talise on young people’s sup­port for demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties to encour­age them to artic­u­late their com­mit­ment? This is one of the big chal­lenges ahead.

A more detailed view of young peo­ple and open soci­ety values

The Hun­gar­i­an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem may offer class­es in civics and demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues in the cur­ric­u­la, but not in a way that encour­ages debate or dis­cus­sion on social and polit­i­cal issues. Instead, Hungary’s high­ly cen­tralised pub­lic schools are old-fash­ioned and apo­lit­i­cal, and this may explain why young peo­ple are rel­a­tive­ly uncon­cerned about social issues, pub­lic affairs and democracy.

Our Voic­es on val­ues sur­vey reveals that most peo­ple aged 18 to 24 eval­u­at­ed many of the attrib­ut­es list­ed as less essen­tial for a good soci­ety than the old­er gen­er­a­tions, regard­less of whether or not they were open or closed soci­ety attrib­ut­es. For exam­ple, they are the least sup­port­ive of ban­ning the pub­lic prac­tice of non-Chris­t­ian reli­gions, and they are also the least sup­port­ive of an open soci­ety attribute, name­ly that every­one should be allowed to prac­tise their reli­gion freely.

Some atti­tudes to open soci­ety val­ues were often spe­cif­ic to the younger age group. Young respon­dents showed lit­tle inter­est in closed soci­ety attrib­ut­es, although they did echo the preva­lent anti-immi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment in Hungary.

Young Hun­gar­i­ans also shared the preva­lent view that majori­tar­i­an democ­ra­cy, or democ­ra­cy in which the major­i­ty decid­ed, is a good thing. This is hard­ly sur­pris­ing, as Hun­gar­i­ans have had lit­tle expe­ri­ence of lib­er­al democracy.

The heat map shows that all age groups val­ue free­dom of speech, but have lit­tle con­cern about extend­ing reli­gious free­dom to non-Chris­tians. Younger respon­dents were more inter­est­ed than old­er gen­er­a­tions in free­dom of the press, and also in equal treat­ment for new immigrants.

Young peo­ple in Hun­gary val­ue free­dom of expres­sion above all oth­er open soci­ety val­ues. There may be an easy expla­na­tion for this, as free speech was con­sid­ered one of the main ele­ments of the new polit­i­cal regime and has become a sym­bol of democ­ra­cy. It has always been con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant civ­il lib­er­ty and has late­ly become more val­ued still as it is con­sid­ered under threat.

FIGURE 1: Com­par­i­son of Trade-off deci­sions between whole sam­ple and 18–24 year-old respondents

Despite the pre­vail­ing over­all mood of hos­til­i­ty to immi­grants, young Hun­gar­i­ans believe in their equal treat­ment, although they see this as the least impor­tant open soci­ety val­ue. On the oth­er hand, their respons­es to closed soci­ety val­ues shows they are far less nation­al­is­tic than old­er gen­er­a­tions. These atti­tudes are com­plex, but on the whole they are clos­er to open soci­ety values.

What does this tell us about the dis­course on open soci­ety in Hungary?

The sur­vey results imply that anti-immi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment and a strong empha­sis on tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian and nation­al val­ues are sig­nif­i­cant­ly less impor­tant to younger respon­dents. They feel that a good soci­ety requires free­dom of expres­sion, free media, polit­i­cal plu­ral­ism and polit­i­cal dia­logue. This dif­fers from the cur­rent government’s argu­ment about what makes a good society.

Although young respon­dents gen­er­al­ly eval­u­at­ed open or closed soci­ety attrib­ut­es as less impor­tant than did old­er age groups, their strongest com­mit­ment is towards open soci­ety val­ues. Hungary’s young peo­ple have the poten­tial to become the most vocal and con­sis­tent pro­mot­ers of an open and demo­c­ra­t­ic society.

Csa­ba Mol­nár is head of research and quan­ti­ta­tive ana­lyst at the Polit­i­cal Cap­i­tal Insti­tute. Vesz­na Wesse­nauer is an ana­lyst and project man­ag­er at the Polit­i­cal Cap­i­tal Institute.


The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the authors.

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