Speaker Series: Umut Korkut

   10th October 2023 14:00 - 15:00, 10th October 2023 15:00

Speaker Series: Umut Korkut

Our next guest of speaker series of Institute for Political Science is Umut Korkut (Glasgow Caledonian University) with the presentation entitled:

Illiberal Hungary and Political Accountability: Migration crisis, the Pandemic, and the War in Ukraine

Since the election of Viktor Orbán in 2010 as the Prime Minister of Hungary, there have been a plethora of research on illiberalism and the future of democracy. The continued and unmatched success of Fidesz at four national elections to date with continuous two-thirds parliamentary majority not only has changed Hungary but also made the country an exemplar of illiberalism in power. Hungary’s membership in the EU and NATO, despite being at the periphery of both, has framed the challenges that illiberalism posed to democracy as problems of European integration and stability of the western alliance. Hungary has also served as a reference case for other anti-democratic political parties and movements in the West including those in Sweden, Poland, Italy, France as well as the Republican Party in US under Trump. In time, Orbán also anchored Hungary in its East through a very skilled foreign policy of alliances or personal connections involving Turkey, Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, China and Central Asian countries. Orbán is a political leader, who can simultaneously pursue both Islamophobia and an alliance with Turkey’s Erdogan as well as anti-Semitism harnessed by his endorsement of conspiracy theories and a pro-Israel foreign policy. Despite his constant brawl with the EU over the democratic backsliding in the country ending recently Hungary’s exclusion from the EU Recovery Plan and associated funds and against an all-encompassing opposition alliance behind a single leader, most recently at the 2022 national election, Orbán won his fourth two-thirds parliamentary majority. His continuous success certainly begs a question, and this book proposes that this relates to his exclusive control on truth and its manifestation through lack of accountability for his politics. 

Studies on illiberalism have become pervasive but an extension of the over-arching populism studies. This book will not follow this route particularly but will instead offer a reading of this literature from a perspective of the removal of political accountability and the space that it opens for illiberal leaders to control the political agenda particularly whilst media freedom is also curtailed. Juxtaposing the popular vote against the elites has been a tool of the populist leaders. Contravening the role of the courts and other accountability structures with an increased role allocated to the executive has been a strategy by the illiberal leaders. This has reached its climax in Hungary as the Fidesz has controlled the legislature with two-thirds majority from the outset of its first electoral victory in 2010. 

This monograph elaborates on enfeebled accountability in illiberal contexts from a perspective of how such contexts offer the means to control regimes of truth to the illiberal leader. In other words, as long as the illiberal leader cannot be held accountable for the politics they pursue, i.e., their regimes of truth, not only they can change the remit of their politics repeatedly but also they can make alternative truths. A regime of truth, in this perspective, defines the obligations of individuals with regards to the procedures and manifestations of truth (Lorenzini 2015, 2020). Departing from a general European politics perspective and evaluating on four crises that hit Europe since 2008, namely, the financial, migration, pandemic and the war in Ukraine, this monograph examines illiberal politics in Hungary. 

Illiberalism in Hungary shows how distinctly conservative and anti-modern politics continues to hold in response to crises. Hungary is the first “illiberal democracy” in the European Union in as Viktor Orbán expressed in 2014. Yet, the way politics evolved in time in Hungary has also resonated in the shape that politics have taken on in Poland, Sweden, Israel, Turkey, and the United States. In this respect, this monograph reflects on anti-modern, Christian, and anti-humanitarian elements of illiberal democracy in Hungary and beyond. Rather than taking general illiberal conservative tendencies for granted as EU-sceptic, this monograph elaborates on the future course of European integration in view of the clash between its liberal and conservative conceptualizations as well. Therefore, it promotes the way Hungarian illiberalism operates not anti-European but alternative-European at times anti-western but never rejecting western integration. 

The monograph reflects on the way crisis-management has operated in Hungary as the underlying essence of controlling truth through unaccountable regimes of truth – which the illiberal leaders master in making. To this extent, it adopts a Foucauldian perspective as its conceptual compass. Looking at the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s leadership practices and narratives at the face of four different crises as mentioned above, this monograph reflects on governmentality, biopolitics, and pastorate as informed by Foucault’s works. The monograph aims to problematize the issue of accountability – or its lack – while discussing the effect of truth without any countervailing mechanisms. In other words, replacing accountability – the most essential element of democratic regimes – with the power of establishing his own and alternative regimes of truth, Orbán manipulated four different crisis situations to serve his own ends. Lorenzini (2016, 66) states that “truth is not inscribed in the heart of reality […] instead it is always produced in relation to a specific reality, and this production generates a series of effects that Foucault [was] interested in exploring – paying special attention to the process of constitution of subjectivity”. This certainly opens much space for a leader to manipulate reality insomuch as their production of truth in relation to reality, when that remains beyond any remit of accountability and control. 

Therefore, this monograph offers a theoretical contribution to Foucauldian studies particularly around Government of the Living (GL) as well as Security, Territory and Population (STP), as it takes enfeebled accountability as a facilitator of subjectivation and the conduct of conduct. Its case study is Orbán’s leadership practices and context is Hungary amidst four different crises i.e., financial, migration, pandemic, and the War in Ukraine. Hence, it reflects on Hungarian politics since 2010s, and debates what its transformation from a democracy trend-setter in after 1990s to an illiberal polity can say about the shape of democracy in 21st century.