The consolidation of authoritarian rule in rural Hungary: workfare and the shift from penal populist to illiberal paternalist poverty governance


Convenors: Dr Nicolette Makovicky, (REES, OSGA) and Dr Agnieszka Kościańska (Leverhulme Fellow at REES, OSGA)

Speaker: Dr Kristof Szombati (Maz Plank Institute for Social Anthropology)

This paper analyses the consolidation of authoritarian rule in Hungary by focusing attention on the ruling party’s workfare programme (the Hungarian Work Plan), which has become the cornerstone of rural poverty governance. I argue on the basis of ethnographic research I carried out in the village where the programme was launched in 2011 and the secondary literature that workfare successfully tamed the angry politics born out of the dislocations caused by neoliberal restructuring by tying the ‘deserving poor’ into clientelistic relations with mayors. The paper advances theoretical discussions of authoritarianism by showing how authoritarian power-holders, at least in rural areas, offer an alternative to neoliberal regimes of poverty governance. The concept of ‘illiberal paternalism’ captures how the regime has inscribed the selective provision of protection and care within the limits of producerist ideology and local notions of deservingness. It also highlights how by mixing familialism and political clientelism, the ruling party has managed to legitimize its rule and transform abject rural spaces into its political heartland.

Dr Kristof Szombati is Research Fellow at the Maz Plank Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle and the author of The Revolt of the Provinces: Anti-Gypsyism and Right-Wing Politics in Hungary (Berghahn Books, 2018). He is working on a new research project that investigates the Fidesz party's success in stabilizing an illiberal regime in Hungary. The project builds on his earlier work on the making of right-wing hegemony, but it shifts and expands its focus by mapping a set of authoritarian populist strategies. He relies on ethnographic evidence, as well as my in-depth knowledge of the political context in his native Hungary, and takes inspiration from Stuart Hall's work as well as the political economy of dependent capitalism. His other interests include neo-nationalism and right-wing politics, and the politics of climate change.


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