Parallel System Narratives – Polish and Hungarian regime formations

Courses of development from 1945 to 1989 still determine the dissimilar attitudes of their societies today

Bálint Magyar
19 January 2018

The Polish election results of 2015 seem to have brought Hungarian and Polish development into synchronicity again, a congruence that is apparent throughout history. A first glance may give the impression that we are dealing with regimes of identical nature, especially taking into account the similarities of the authoritarian politics practiced by Jarosław Kaczyński (PiS) and Viktor Orbán (Fidesz), characterized by a tendency to eliminate autonomous social forces and control mechanisms, as well as the application similar ideological frames.

But beneath the similarities on the surface these are attempts at establishing different types of autocratic regimes—as our paper is to finally conclude. Orbán’s regime, which we can define as a Mafia state, is built on the twin motivations of power centralization and family accumulation of wealth, the subject of its power is the adopted political family freed of the limitations posed by formal institutions. Kaczyński’s regime is better described as a conservative-autocratic experiment driven by ambitions of power and ideological inclinations. The active subject of the Polish experiment in autocracy is the ruling right-wing party, the PiS. While the Hungarian regime essentially operates with ideologies, the Polish one is more ideology driven.

The widely held kindred spirit of Polish and Hungarian people is cemented in historically extant socio-structural parallels—rather than any number of particular historical links—among them the high proportion of gentry, the feudalistic culture they transmitted, to be exact, its gentrification and assimilation into the structure of state power. The shared historical fates are, on the other hand, as much myth as based on true fact. In much of the nineteenth century the lack of sovereignty, the independence struggles against absolutist dynasties, and the similarities in the way the nations were formed, the feudal serfdom, the absence of industrialization are common. But while Poland, separated into three parts, was almost homogenously Catholic, Hungary, in most part Catholic, had strong, influential Protestant churches as well. While the Protestants churches were more in favor of independence, the Catholics institutionally stood more for loyalty to the ruling house. The introduction of dualism (under the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867) meant a quasi sovereignty for Hungary and nearly half a century of extraordinary economic prosperity for the nationalities that composed a majority of the population, while also involving many restraints and efforts to assimilate. World War I concluded differently for the two countries: Poland regained its territory, independence and sovereignty; Hungary not only lost two-thirds of its territory and half of its population, but also the notional middle power status it had with the Monarchy. In addition, it was meted out a liability for material compensation and its military development was capped. Both countries gained experiences of the perceived or real betrayal by the West (Hungary in 1920, 1947, and 1956; Poland in 1939, and 1945).

A long quarter century after regime-change, certain elements in the rule of both the PiS and Fidesz can be observed to have roots in the regimes between the two World Wars. The eras hallmarked by the figures of Horthy and Piłsudski show a good deal of similarity, but there are also a number of structural differences between the two regimes.

In spite of the dissimilar roles the two countries played in World War II, both became communist dictatorships integrated into the Soviet empire after 1945. At the same time, divergent courses of development in the period from 1945 to 1989 are also apparent, and these still determine the dissimilar attitudes of their societies today.


Bálint Magyar is the Member of Hungarian Parliament (1990-2010), and the Member of the Governing Board of European Institute of Innovation and Technology (2008-2012). From September 2015 until October 2016 he was an Open Society Fellow for carrying out comparative studies in this field.

Translated by Bálint Bethlenfalvy

The piece is an extract from the presentation of Bálint Magyar of his book Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary.

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