The Republikon Institute, with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit, organized an online conference on the situation of liberal thinkers and liberal voters in the Central-Eastern European region.
In the first panel discussion, experts from the V4 countries presented the results of their latest research on liberalism and the situation of liberal voters. In the first half of the discussion, Andrea Virág (Strategic Director, Republikon Institute), Blazej Lenkowski (President, Fundacja Liberté! (PL)), Sarka Prat (President, Institute for Politics and Society (CZ)), and Viera Zuborova (Strategic Director, Bratislava Policy Institute (SK)) participated, and the panel was moderated by Dániel Mikecz (Republikon Institute).
Blazej Lenkowski highlighted that there is currently no strong liberal party in Poland. According to him, the role of leaders in modern politics and society is very important, but leaders in Poland, including liberal politicians, just want to gain power and control. Furthermore, in his opinion, Polish liberal parties have limited financial resources and they do not have clear liberal party program. Liberalism has a negative connotation in Poland, so liberal politicians are very cautious about claiming liberal values openly and they often turn to the means of populism. Another problem for Polish liberal parties is the lack of a communication strategy. According to him, the PiS party has a very well-established communication campaign, which is why they are so popular. He further stressed that supporting political and cultural liberalism does not necessarily mean that Poles would also support economic liberalism.
Sarka Prat highlighted that there are several liberal parties in the Czech Republic, such as Ano 2011, which are still popular today. Liberal culture evolved from a movement against communism and the Soviet regime, and its central element was the building of an independent country. Today, economic liberalism is also an important element of several parties’ campaigns. But today, more and more people in the Czech Republic are getting more sympathetic to far-right and populist parties, and many have turned away from traditional parties. According to her, it would be important for Czech liberal parties to better target young voters.
Andrea Virág presented the Republikon Institute's recent representative research on the situation of liberalism in Hungary. After nationalism, order, and stability, respondents most often cited liberalism as the worldview value closest to them. This is an interesting result, as the Hungarian government has been running a very strong communication campaign against liberalism and liberal values for the last ten years. The survey found that liberalism is particularly popular among young people, graduates and people living in larger cities, and that the majority of respondents with liberal value-orientation are critical of the current situation in the country. Although 19% of liberal respondents would still vote for Fidesz. In Hungary, too, those who sympathize with political liberalism do not necessarily support economic liberalism.
According to Viera Zuborova, it is better to measure the popularity of cultural liberalism, ie the support of open society, rather than the popularity of liberal parties, as it is difficult to determine exactly which parties can be considered liberal in Slovakia. According to her, cultural and economic liberalism have been truly emerging in Slovakia only recently, as more and more voters are turning to the concept of an open society and the economy is undergoing a strong transformation. She believes it would be important for conservative and liberal parties and politicians to work together and to try to find a compromise. At the end of the panel discussion all participants agreed that economic liberalism is not against cultural liberalism, and a liberal leader can also be a strong leader.
In the second panel, Hungarian liberal public figures, Anna Donáth (Member of the European Parliament, Momentum Party), Krisztián Nyáry (writer, creative director, Líra) and Bálint Magyar (founder of the first liberal party in Hungary (SZDSZ)) discussed what it means to be liberal in Hungary today and 30 years ago, and how liberalism can function in an illiberal state. This discussion was moderated by Gábor Horn (Republikon Foundation).
According to Bálint Magyar, due to a historical misunderstanding, Hungarian liberalism does not represent the same in the real value system as in the linguistic value system, and it includes much broader values than in the West. In the early 1990s, a so-called liberal paradox emerged in Hungary, and the SZDSZ party incorporated social democratic and conservative elements into its party program, that had long since separated in advanced Western liberalism. In his opinion, a well-functioning state can remain liberal even in a crisis situation, and in his opinion, the biggest problem with the current Hungarian government's epidemic management is the lack of reliable information, non-transparent measures and the lack of economic support for enterprises.
Krisztián Nyáry claimed the (neo)-liberal term has become a two-sided swear word, that both Fidesz and the oppositional parties claim as reasons for the problems in the country. According to him, what is interesting is not how many people claim to be liberal, but how the value system of Hungarians has changed over the years. He emphasized that the current parties in Hungary or in the world do not have a coherent party ideology anymore, so it is difficult to say whether a party is truly liberal or illiberal. According to him, a liberal state considers its citizens to be adult citizens, which is currently not the case in Hungary.
Anna Donáth emphasized that it is shocking for her that, according to the recent representative survey of the Republikon Institute, only 14% of respondents in Hungary consider themselves liberal, and this proportion had changed little since the change of regime. In her opinion, the problem for younger generations is that they cannot identify with empty labels and they only believe in real value systems, so they do not necessarily claim themselves to be liberal at such surveys. According to her, it is not ideologies that are needed, but more complex values. As liberalism in Hungary has a negative connotation and has lost its cultural values, voters and parties tend to rather call themselves progressive. She believes that not only the Hungarian state, but also the European Commission has not been fully transparent with its measures during the epidemic management, but there have been huge successes at EU level, such as the establishment of the Economic Recovery Fund.