Summary of the debate „Faces of liberalism in Central Europe”

Martin Ehl opened the debate with a question of liberalism in today’s Central Europe. Samuel Abraham gave a definition of liberalism in Central Europe as presented in one of the recent issues of Kritika&Kontext. He […]

Martin Ehl opened the debate with a question of liberalism in today’s Central Europe. Samuel Abraham gave a definition of liberalism in Central Europe as presented in one of the recent issues of Kritika&Kontext. He claimed that in Slovakia and in Central Europe liberalism had often been taken over by the conservatives. However, there has never been any liberalism in Slovakia. It is important to distinguish between early and late liberalism. Many people who today declare themselves liberals are in fact early liberals, like neo-cons. They regard liberalism as a submission of the political to the economical. While the key feature of modern liberalism is different and offers some conceptions not congruent with earlier liberalism, like the concept of a “free choice”. Abraham also referred to Stephen Holmes’s claim that liberalism is not universally valid but is only possible on a small scale.

What does liberalism mean in Slovakia? Its aim is to make one understand other people’s suffering and respond to it. Once people stop feeling secure, they will begin to follow an illiberal path. Talking of political parties in Slovakia, one cannot find a party that responds to the demands of late liberalism. Paweł Marczewski demonstrated a curious history of liberalism in Poland of the last several decades. One of such liberal groups in Poland were the liberals from Gdańsk where the current PM originates from. One of their quests was locality and identity built around locality. The person who built an intellectual platform for the group was Mirosław Dzielski. He was one of those conservatives of today who were rooted in the early liberalism. His ideas were taken by reformist leftists like Adam Michnik, who actually preached for anti-politics. Another protagonist of public life who took Dzielski’s ideas seriously was Tusk. However, he had abandoned them later on. This is how the case of liberalism was lost.

It seemed that Hungary used to be a single liberal country among the socialist camp in Central Europe. Liberalism in Hungary had played an important role, however, after the last election liberals had been erased from the political scene.

Tamas Bauer introduced himself as a jobless politician who for the last 20 years had been strongly engaged in liberal politics in Hungary. Liberal ideas in Hungary have survived much longer than in Poland or the Czech Republic. But the Free Democrats were the first to support capitalism in general. All other parties had strong reservation against a Western concept of capitalism. Toady there is no strongly liberal or antinational party. Second most important idea of Hungarian liberalism is the human rights concept that is also not present in any of the parties’ postulates. This makes the Hungarian population disillusioned with capitalism.

Martin Ehl made a comment that in the Czech Republic there was no liberalism. In Czech politics nobody wanted to be described as liberal, while Radicova claimed now that there was no possibility of a classical right-left division and those ideas could not work in today’s Slovakia.

Samuel Abraham opposed to the idea that there was a demise of liberalism in Central Europe. On the contrary, most features of liberalism had been implemented in all countries of CE. Moreover, they were automatically accepted. He reiterated that modern liberalism could not function without imposing public policy like major construction works, internal reforms and the like.

Tamas Bauer came back to the issue of liberalism in the Czech Republic. He admitted that in a certain sense one indeed did lack a liberal party in the Czech Republic. But most parties there accept general liberal values of the Constitution. The same thing is happening in other countries, e.g. the Hungarian Constitution (postsocialist in heritage) is a masterpiece of liberal thinking.

If we wanted to compare economic programs of Czech and Polish conservative parties, the Czechs excelled in liberalism, even though they call themselves conservative, commented Martin Ehl. Tamas Bauer agreed with the remark, however, he stressed that in those countries where major postulates of liberalism had been accomplished liberal parties were in a difficult situation. Yet liberal parties and the word “liberalism” had become obsolete. They had also become public enemies.

Tamas Bauer made a final comment about liberal parties in general. It is good to have a liberal party, but not always. It is good because present trends in the world economy need a liberal policy and a revision of liberalism from within. If there are populist parties present then liberal parties need to exist to oppose them. A modern socialist-democratic party would do but since today such parties are rooted in post-communism it is not possible to be happy with just a social democratic party, that’s why we need a liberal party.

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