The long shadow of the dissenter: Challenges to public intellectual practices after 1989 in Hungary

The Hungarian story of how the social role of public intellectuals was undermined may help us make sense of what is happening elsewhere today. Hungary’s case highlights that the real danger to critical commentary and its functions in society arises not out of new media platforms, but out of the demise of the democratic multitude.

“In the 1970s and 80s, I met a fair number of western writers, most of them through György Konrád. In our conversations, the mystery that intrigued them the most was this one: how can opposition writers in Central Europe command such respect, play such an exceptional role in politics and in society – a role that they [the western authors] cannot dream about anymore.” Hungary’s prominent public intellectual Sándor Csoóri made this observation in 2006. At that time Csoóri, a one-time luminary of the Hungarian Narodnik tradition and of the post-1989 political universe as a whole, had been a bitter man for a decade and a half. He had been in the fulcrum of a controversy surrounding remarks he made concerning Jewish-Hungarian relations and the cleavage inscribed into them by the Holocaust.

January 2, 2019 - Gergely Romsics