Hungary and the World at the Dawn of 2017

Report of an OPUS Listening Post® held in Budapest on 13thJanuary 2017



In this part, the Listening Post participants were invited to identify, contribute, and explore their experiences in their various social roles, be they: in work, unemployed or retired; as members of religious, political, neighbourhood, voluntary or leisure organisations; or as members of families and communities. This part was largely concerned with what might be called, ‘the stuff of people’s everyday lives’: the ‘socio’ or ‘external’ world of participants.

In our case the composition of the group was quite homogenous in that members of a university department and people, who were in some way connected to this department (one psychologist, and two students) altogether 9 people were participating.

The sharing was lively and smooth, everybody has contributed to a certain extent. Some ideas were connected to each other, but there was no debate, or discussion of a specific topic.


In Part 2, the aim collectively was to identify the major themes emerging from Part 1.

Group 1:

  • our own fears
  • fragmentation and isolation (in the world)
  • here and now, as a ‘solution’ (real and as a solution)
  • What are humans/ is humanity like; towards which direction are they/is it moving?

Group 2:

  • fear
  • boundaries
  • communication (mass, manipulation, dialogue, communication among individuals)

Group 3:

  • fear – security (loosing security)
  • instincts – rationality – new balance
  • readiness (how to handle the new situation) →we and the next generation
  • Western/ European glasses (seeing all that happens on the globe through a filter of a European perspective)

We have consolidated these topics into the following three major themes:

  • Fear and insecurity
  • My reality, your reality
  • Changes and how we react

Theme 1 – Fear and insecurity

In the first part this was the most predominant theme that re-emerged again and again during the sharing of preoccupations.

References were made to the current political situation in Hungary. Based on the perception of the participants the governing party is creating a culture of fear in order to create the sense of a common enemy (outsiders, immigrants), and in order to control the masses by attacking on their basic level of security – ‘there is a total attack, this is the real dictatorship, it’s even tougher than in 1984’. One participant also mentioned that she limits her interactions with people who sympathise with the views of the (extreme) right. The uncertainty of the global political situation in connection with the election of Trump as the new president of the US was also mentioned by the participants – ‘They (Americans) can be as vindictive as everybody else? Now there’s no supreme nation to which we could turn to?’.

The topics of terrorism and migration were also mentioned by several of the participants. They expressed a strong sense of insecurity- ‘These terrorist attacks completely freak me out. I have a sense that we can’t even feel secure in our own cities.’ The participants agreed that the organisations planning the attacks build on people’s feeling of insecurity and attract volunteers and followers by offering seemingly stable ideologies – ‘Where there is strong insecurity any fix point is valuable, it is easy to offer a stable structure. This is exactly what these organisations offer’. Also, the effects of terrorism can be utilized for some to achieve their own goals. They enter our private lives, homes under the keyword ‘security’.

Related to migration a reference was made to the fence built between Hungary and Croatia, and also participants shared their thoughts on how their attitude to borders and security checks have changed – ‘There is a temporary mobile border crossing point at the border, but it so fixed. Previously the border gave me a sense of security – it gave me a framework, rules that I can decide to cross or not -, but now I somehow feel that the border is a bad thing. How come that the border control guy decides to stop and examine certain cars, and decides to let others go. This makes me feel afraid and uncertain.’

Related to the theme of fear and insecurity the question of perception and reality was also raised – ‘What is that we create for ourselves, and what is that really exists?’ ‘I don’t know that I’m afraid because I’m mistrustful or that I’m mistrustful because I’m afraid.’ Participants also aimed at understanding whether the fear that they are experiencing is rational or not – ‘These are irrational fears….If they [the government] discontinue to financially support a cancer medication, that means the death of 1000 people in a year, and yet we don’t get scared of it.”

Theme 2 – My reality, your reality

The other dominant theme in the preoccupation of the participants was how subgroups of society are able to influence larger social groups by manipulating them through mass media and targeted campaigns. They agreed that a significant part of our society takes whatever comes from the media as granted. The participants were pondering about what makes a campaign focused on provoking fear successful – ‘How few are there, who see reality as it is! Where are the points to attack? What makes a fear-raising campaign successful?’ There was a general agreement that one of the key elements that contribute to the success of such a campaign is that a majority of the target group has no access to or no interest in alternative sources or channels of information – ‘In the channels, that everyone has access to, it’s not about how you see it; they tell you how to see things’. They also referred to how the low level of education makes it less difficult to manipulate people, moreover one of the participants emphasised that she feels that her space for self-reflection and thinking becomes more and more limited as the amount of information to be processed increases – ‘Some time ago self-reflection was luxury for me… right now even thinking is luxury. I don’t know whom to believe, they’re telling so many things; it’s also about the volume, the quantity’. Continuing this discussion the topic of respectful behaviour came up.  One of the participants mentioned that ‘I don’t dare to think any more because people don’t respect my thoughts’, an idea was articulated that all those who dare to have individual opinions are attacked more than ever, and on the online platforms it is very easy to express disagreement.

Another subtopic of this theme was the feeling of isolation due to differing political or social views. One of the participants mentioned that she consciously avoids topics and conversations if she thinks that there is a risk of arguing over contradicting opinions – ‘I remove my acquaintances, who pushes government propaganda, from my newsfeed on Facebook. I’d rather not have conversations with those whom I know we are not able to agree’. She expressed her concern about the distance between people that is created this way; it is not about thinking together, wanting to converge thoughts, but about excluding whatever does not fit our picture.

Another participant said that he feels threatened to talk about his views aloud in public – ‘I feel that talking about politics is like a taboo. As if we talked about things like this (the topic of migrants), we should be afraid that the system will lock us up. The whole system feels like being observed and maybe sometime they will use it against us.’

Theme 3 – Changes and how we react

The third main theme that has emerged is related to the changes that surround us on a national, international and global level.

Related to the terrorist attacks of the near past, participants shared their uncertainty of handling the situation, their thoughts on how to remain humane and trusting in these situations, and their dilemmas on how to prepare the next generation for a world like this. ‘I have small children. For what should I prepare them? What will come? If I can prepare them for being trusting, hopeful, and loving – whatever may happen in the world – that would be the best.’

Several of the participants had similar views in connection with the fact that our society considers mind (being smart) more valuable than the heart (being human) – ‘The belief in the omnipotent mind, that we’re going to create a very smart world in a very ‘pc’ way, isn’t really working. We should get closer to our human side.’ ‘It’s no wonder that the cleverness and bureaucracy of Brussels triggers these (unintended effects)’ ‘We need radical acceptance and a secure self-identity’.

The subtopic of isolation and limited scope also emerged in relation to changes. Participants expressed their sense of helplessness, that they feel unable to make things better in a larger scope, therefore they feel limited to their core social environment or to themselves – ‘I feel lonely and isolated in this. It makes me apathetic, I will survive it somehow. I feel that I can only do something on the personal level, but not on higher levels’. References were made to the terrorist attacks as a way of limiting people to only focus on their very short-term goals and pursue immediately available pleasures – ‘I feel that they are making me get prepared to not being afraid, to just think over whether I had a good day and then go to sleep’.


In Part 3, the participants were working with the information resulting from Parts 1 & 2, with a view to collectively identifying the underlying dynamics both conscious and unconscious that may be predominant at the time; and developing hypotheses as to why they might be occurring at that moment. Here, participants were working more with what might be called their ‘psycho’ or ‘internal’ world: their collective ideas and ways of thinking that both determine how they perceive the external realities and shape their actions towards them.

Analysis and Hypothesis 1. The risks in making decisions and taking action.

Analysis 1:

The phenomenon of fear in the society is a self-generating spiral: people started to behave more and more strange, because of this we have become more and more afraid; because we are afraid we behave more and more in a strange way. By ‘strange’ we mean that we behave not in a natural way, unlike how we feel deep inside how we should behave. Our consciousness narrows.

Members of the current Hungarian society narrow their connections, they don’t go out, don’t meet new people, don’t do new things, so their thoughts are also limited. They simply do not meet new ideas, new knowledge. They have no real idea about what is going on in the world. Since they don’t know what is really surrounding them they feel afraid, and since they only collect limited information they see that the world is a bad place to live in.

Hypothesis 1: Since people feel afraid, members of the society narrow down their connections, and their relation to the outer world, so as a result they will feel even more afraid, and further narrow their connections.

Analysis and Hypothesis 2

Analysis 2:

Where does all this fear come from?The world is changing so quickly, people are confronted with unknown situations, and the unknown is already generating fear.

Everything changes (human relations, globalization), and the technological innovations accelerate these changes:

  • social media transforms human relations
  • one of the participants, a psychologist organizes events for groups of people, and now it became a tendency, that a participant writes an sms at night saying he/she is not coming on the next day, and they feel this is absolutely ok, because they have communicated
  • even when we sleep, others are still online and writing e-mails. Waking up in the morning seeing that there are a number of unread e-mails, we can have a feeling that we are left out, we are behind
  • news also spread faster than ever
  • for elderly people, it is difficult to follow all these gadgets, and this makes hard to connect to people and to discussions

Change is not necessarily development, as terrorism is also among the changes.

Human nature is like we feel afraid of the unknown, and this fear is more likely to be coming from uncertainty and mistrust.

All this leads to striving for short-term survival. If we are not able to foresee the future, even not the near future, at least we have a good dinner today. That is at least sure… (like the last wish in the prison).

Hypothesis 2: Since the pace of change grows exponentially, members of the society live their lives in insecurity and mistrust, so the attitude of short-term interest-enforcement gets more powerful. 

Analysis and Hypothesis 3

Analysis 3:

The motivation of people is focused on minimizing this constant fear and uncertainty. If there is no fear the focus of motivation becomes creating, building, making things better. Since people feel afraid the energies of the members of society are focused on diminishing this fear and uncertainty. This is the best interest of politics, so they can make all the decisions, and have no organized civil control.

So all this results in us being stuck with physiological needs and striving for safety and survival.

Hypothesis 3: Since people feel afraid, members of the society have no energy left for creating, so we are stuck on level 2 of the Maslow pyramid (striving for security).

Analysis and Hypothesis 4

Analysis 4:

In today’s world, there is a fast paced economic and technological change happening, to which people should adapt. Members of the society feel uncertain and afraid due to the (perceived or real) risk carried by the required adaptation (failing to adapt, fear of the unknown). Certain subgroups of society (e.g. political parties, radical social groups) exploit people’s desire for security and by offering seemingly stable ideologies they build trust and manipulate members of the society to join and support them as followers; by doing this, they gain dominance or strengthen their dominant position in society building on the elementary need of people to decrease the feeling of insecurity.

Hypothesis 4: Since there is a fast-paced economic and technological change going on in the world, to which people should adapt, members of the society feel insecure due to the risk implied by the necessary adaptation; subgroups of society (e.g. political parties) exploit this situation, and use it to gain/strengthen their own dominant position (manipulation).

Analysis and Hypothesis 5

Analysis 5:

The above-mentioned changes are driven by the intention to make the world a better place to live in and to make life easier. While we are focusing on the positive and progressive aspects of change, we are reckless and often unconscious about the unintended destructive effects of the same global trends (e.g. widening gap between social clusters, deepening social inequalities, war, terrorism). Members of the society are not prepared to manage the negative ‘side effects’ of the economic and technological progress, due to the fact, that humanity itself is not able to take up the pace of the change and handle such complex phenomena, thus people as human beings haven’t changed, progressed, adapted along with the advancement of technology and economy.

Hypothesis 5: The global economic and technological changes are aimed at creating positive effects, however they also generate unintended destructive forces (social inequality, war, terrorism); members of the society are not prepared to tackle these negative effects, as humankind itself has not changed alongside.

Analysis and Hypothesis 6

Analysis 6:

Today only a small fragment of society has personally experienced war, we don’t have a sense of what is it like when we are not applying self-regulatory institutions (e.g. EU, NATO) to keep ourselves under control. Most members of the society have a stronger desire for freedom and autonomy than their urgency for avoiding the negative consequences of entering the struggle for power and authority. As we do not have a sense of urgency to avoid situations that could lead to extreme inequalities and eventually war, we recklessly ‘play with’ edged tools, we are easier to be influenced by radical views perceived as attractive.

Hypothesis 6: Since only a small fragment of the society has personal experience of war, members of the society don’t know what it is like when they don’t apply self-regulations, therefore people are not afraid of the consequences and easily get carried away.

Analysis and Hypothesis 7

Analysis 7:

There is a tendency of learned helplessness, and a lack of clear identity in our society. We can’t define our own identity as individuals or as a nation, but only in the face of a common enemy. Our [Hungarian] history is also unprocessed, which makes it easier to manipulate people and it opens the way for scapegoating to create the common enemy. Some people are satisfied by the mere illusion of a common identity (instead of a real one that would stem from within) and,  in order to decrease their sense of uncertainty, they accept what is presented for them as “their own identity”. Others seek alternative ways out of this situation by leaving the country or by isolating themselves and limiting their relations and interactions to their core environment. The first group can be manipulated effortlessly by mass media and campaigns, as they are in the state of waiting for a Messiah, and solely relying on the messages that they receive from the dominant social subgroups (e.g. political parties or radical groups), in the hope that these ideologies will bring a sense of common identity and thus stability.

Hypothesis 7: Since there is a phenomenon of learned helplessness in the society, and people can only define their identity in contrast with a common enemy, it is easy to manipulate them by scapegoating, because they are in a state of messiah-seeking. 

Convenors: Kinga Illyés and Tímea Ágota Tóth

with the support of András Gelei, Ph.D. and Sándor Takács, Ph.D.