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Radicalism and indifference

Memory transmission, political formation and modernization in Hungary and Europe

Domonkos Sik

Most theories of radicalization focus on the birth of antidemocratic ideas, semantics, behavior patterns and organizations. However, such focus is one-sided: radicalization is as much about the forgetting of historical lessons and the weakening of a democratic consensus, as the spreading of populist ideas. A case study of public and private processes of memory transmission in Hungary reveals how the ambiguous relation to modernization affects political formation: the failures provoke populist reactions, while the successes result in political indifference. The combination of these two political cultures creates a dangerous compound including both the opportunity for the birth of antidemocratic semantics and their ignorance. The author analyzes the potential of such «incubation of radicalism» on a European survey.


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The public reconstruction of the past: from identity crisis to memory vacuum


Memory, the interpreted past, is the fundament of personal and collective identity. Questions concerning ourselves, the legitimate goals and the acceptable means, that is, the horizons of action, are all answered according to a specific construction of the past that is the space of individual and collective experiences. The way a community interprets and institutionalizes its past, grounds its political culture as well. Questions concerning the civic rights and obligations in relation to the state and other citizens are all determined by the evaluation of the significant historical events, which function as paradigms of political action. In this sense, the space of collective experiences outlines the horizon of political actions. Accordingly, un- derstanding the political culture of a community requires a prior understanding of its collective memory. However, neither the political culture, nor the collective memory is a static attribute of a society. Both of them can be characterized rather as a continuous reproduction and potential renewal. In this sense, they can both be analyzed in the process where they are reproduced or renewed, that is, the pro- cesses of memory transmission. From this perspective, collective memory is treated as a dimension of the ‘so- cially constructed reality’ (Berger-Luckmann 1966). This means that it is continu- ously reproduced in individual and institutional interactions parallel with the renewal of personal and collective identity (e.g. Assmann 1992, Halbwachs 1992, Olick 1992). Such interactions occur in those action situations where memory becomes ‘problematic’, that is, an interpretation of the past generates an inter-...

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