With each passing month of crisis, the transnational solidarity on which the European project depends looks ever more unstable. Domonkos Sik uses Hungary as a case study to argue that attitudes towards the European Union are shaped by the degree of trust which characterises relations between citizens and the state at a national level.
It increasingly seems as if the prolonged economic crisis is slowly but surely generating an identity crisis in Europe. Unsurprisingly, increasing invocations of what is necessary are once again followed by a decrease in solidarity, a tendency which is even stronger in a transnational context, such as Europe. Of course, crises do not only have negative consequences. As they are also the beginning of any renewal, they hold the potential of emancipatory change. Therefore the question at present is whether this European identity crisis will result in the weakening of the union, or in the finding of a new, more inclusive collective identity.
The most important areas, where the outcome of this dilemma will be decided, are those national discourses, where the reason for the existence of the EU is questioned. As the fate of the EU fundamentally depends on the willingness of member states to give up a part of their sovereignty in exchange for economic, political, security and moral benefits, those processes where this willingness is renewed or changed are crucial. These processes are fundamentally embedded into local citizen-state relations, which ground the willingness to trust in any kind of authority.
That is the point where collective memory comes into the picture. In those countries, where historical experiences have ensured a trusting relationship between citizen and state, trusting the EU is framed in a completely different manner than in those countries where the citizens tend to be distrustful of their own state. In the former cases the willingness to partially give up state sovereignty to the EU depends on the estimated effectiveness and trustworthiness of the EU-bureaucracy in comparison to the national state. However in the latter case, no such comparison is applied. Actually in that case those basic experiences of a trustworthy state are missing, which could ground a trust in an even more complex and distant meta-state such as the EU. In this sense the real problem in these countries is not euroscepticism, but state-skepticism.
Post-socialist Hungary certainly belongs to this latter group. During the 50 years of state socialism an alienated and paternalistic political culture emerged, which resulted in a mutually hostile and suspicious relation between citizens and state. Of course the transition provided an exceptional chance to overcome these destructive and unconscious habits. However as research shows, even in the case of the youngest of those who are deemed to be adults politically, no such overcoming has yet occurred.
According to a representative survey finished in 2011, almost 50% of the high school students answered “1” and 30% answered “2” to the question, “Personally how much do you trust politicians on a scale, where 1 means not at all and 5 means absolutely?” This means that approximately 80% of the younger generation, which has been socialized solely in the post-transition period are still highly suspicious towards politicians.
Questions concerning the EU are embedded within this context. While the general attitude towards the EU is ignorance (70% of the high school students answered that joining the EU did not affect their life at all), this could easily transform into suspicion. Although analysis of the data is ongoing, from our experience of fieldwork from the MYPLACE project it seems that young people do not have any personal experiences about the EU as such. Thus their concepts are derived from their impressions of the local political field.
This means that until relations between citizen and state improve on a local level, attitudes towards the EU will also tend towards negativity. It is important to note that this constellation is burdened with a special difficulty. As euroscepticism is rooted in state-skepticism, fighting the former requires the strengthening of the latter. However this results in a paradox, as the strengthening of the nation state implies the distancing from other state-like entities such as the EU.
In the present situation, when the future identity of the EU is at stake such a trap is particularly dangerous, as it could easily lead to the strengthening of populist voices, providing oversimplified solutions, which, above and beyond the problem of euroscepticism, constitutes a worrying tendency.
This post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and Policy, EUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.
Domonkos Sik is Assistant Lecturer in the Deptment of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Debrecen.
The young people of Hungary are in no different position from all other ill-informed young people in this world whose birthrights are ignored from birth and their disenchantment with the governments of the states they have been born into could be due to the fact that sub-consciously they believe they’ve been robbed but don’t know how and what of. Unfortunately the bulk of all young people are not interested in the basic constitutional arrangements of their states which would enlighten them as to who has actually appropriated their birthright; the appropriation of the resources of the group by cliques is an abiding theme in human history. And then, as now, after appropriating the birthright of the rest the privileged sections of society invariably complain about the cost of keeping their dispossessed in the station to which they believe they belong.
A child has contributed nothing to the security or economic viability of the state, its birth is a deferred contribution to the state’s survival – a new worker and customer in the nation’s economy, replacing those who are leaving it. No one is in a position to say who will or will not contribute to the state’s perpetuation and prosperity (although by the inequitable delivery of educational provision we could hazard a guess). Their unsolicited enrolment into a nation entitles one child as much as another to a proportion of the state’s territory – their birthright – as Woody Guthrie (US) sang, ‘this land is my land, this land is your land‘.
Biologically and socially all humans are not equal but the state’s longevity is dependent on minimizing discontent and promoting stability, to that end protection of all its citizens’ right to be treated equitably, by the laws to which the nation subscribes, would seem essential. To which may be added a commitment to protect the life and property (personal and territorial) of all its citizens – without which the citizen will see little advantage in being part of a state.
Parents generally want to secure a future for their children and will favour their own children over other citizen’s children to get it. The acceptance of an equitable birthright puts all children at the same starting position in the state (but not society). This right can only be realized when a majority of the group truly believe in equity of treatment for its members and are willing to construct a legal framework that will defend it from the greedier members of the group. Presumably the avaricious members would oppose equity and, if they were in the majority, install a political system more favourable to the creation of a plutocracy. In times past the wealthier were the minority but their ability to coerce or con their fellow citizens or subjects trumped any thought of equitable treatment for all, and still does despite the proclaimed benefits of ‘democracy‘. The young people of today live in an age where their birthright is not only denied but their future has been stolen, no wonder many are just a little discontented.
What rational justification has the government of a state got, to expect its citizens to give it the support necessary for its continued stability if citizens are denied a stake in the state of which they are the integral part? The citizens’ common interest in the nation’s stability would be enhanced by the recognition of their right to a stake in the state’s territory from birth. Without the population there is no state. States with small populations are vulnerable to the attentions of those with larger ones. Only with a critical mass of citizens has the state the ability to prosper in peace or war.
A substantial majority of citizenry’s acceptance of themselves as subject to the laws of the state is a necessary condition for the state’s long term survival. The denial of citizens a stake in the territory of the state would tend to undermine the citizen’s affinity to the state and threatens the government’s need for the citizen to positively identify with it. The acceptance by a government of a citizen’s inalienable stake could be the basis of the citizens willing acceptance of their subjection to the state’s laws – a substantive foundation for a state that is governed by consent, a contract between the citizen of a state and the government of that state. The recognition of an individual citizen’s right to a stake (birthright) could reinforce their connection with the state and support the legitimacy of its government, without it that legitimacy is always in question (making every present state of questionable legitimacy).