On Thursday, April 30, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) convened a luncheon entitled, “Intellectuals in Revolution: The Changing Role of Public Intellectuals.” András Bozóki, professor of political science at the Central European University, presented the changing role of intellectuals in the Hungarian revolution, and Vladimir Tismaneanu, professor of comparative politics at the University of Maryland, offered additional commentary and context to the conversation as the respondent, with GMF’s senior vice president of programs Ivan Vejvoda moderating the discussion. The event was attended by about 25 government, academia, civil society, and media representatives.
Bozóki’s presentation highlighted broader trends of intellectuals at various points in history. He argued that there is not one type of intellectual, but rather many different types, who can choose to engage or disengage with political activities depending on the climate. Different types of intellectuals can include the “ivory tower scholar,” “the professional,” “the intermediary between cultures,” “the critical scholar,” and “the telling truth to power scholar.” These classifications provided a roadmap for Bozóki to specifically examine Hungary’s past appearances of these intellectuals throughout the country’s years of change.
Underlining the prominent role of intellectuals in post-Soviet Hungary, Bozóki described the timeframe from 1982-1993 as “the decade of intellectuals,” which was characterized by three phases. The first phase, from 1982-88, was designated by a sense of democratic opposition, in that intellectuals functioned to communicate the truth to both politicians and ordinary people, and in doing so, became mediators between the two groups. The second phase, from 1989-90, described as the “Opposition Roundtable,” included intellectuals from legal and professional backgrounds, who created pacts and legal frameworks that codified democratic ambitions. The third phase, from 1991-93, labeled as the “Democratic Charter,” began a process of intellectual alienation and a general trend of intellectual withdrawal from active roles in the Hungarian political process. As a result, Bozóki concluded that intellectuals held a number of diverse roles in Hungary that fundamentally led to concrete democratization efforts.
Bozóki described the time period following the “decade of intellectuals,” as a technocratic and nationalist response to the lack of progress perceived by the Hungarian people. From 1994-2006, technocrats implemented neoliberal policies that failed to drive economic development and increase quality of living standards for Hungarians. Consequently, the rise of nationalist sentiments that have taken control in Hungary directly developed out of the intellectual decade and technocratic policies.
Tismaneanu highlighted how the role of intellectuals after revolution is often ambiguous, with no clear single event to mark the end of revolutions. Additionally, Tismaneanu indicated that the intellectual heyday that Bozóki described is over and that intellectuals now operate within the “periphery in Hungary.” However, this will not always be the case because the “role of intellectuals evolves over time, but intellectuals never disappear in society.” Bozóki concluded on a similar note stating that he remains hopeful for the future of Hungary, because the future will bring “a new wave of intellectuals… with new ideas and a new spirit to Hungary.”
GMF’s Legacy of ’89 series marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the subsequent unification of Germany, and political transformations across Europe. Examining the cultural, political, social, and economic aspects of these watershed moments of the 20th century, The Legacy of ’89 brings together intellectuals, former and current government officials, and members of the media for reflection, stocktaking, and innovative policy prescriptive conversations amongst the transatlantic and pan-European communities.