The 50,000+ People Who Reminded Me: Democracy is Fragile

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the impressive rally calling for the Hungarian President to veto the legislation that would rule Central European University’s current operations illegal. It’s a political play by the Hungarian government to assert power and limit academic freedom. Wiser people with better context can explain the political context here, here and here. For me, it’s a short-sighted step that prioritizes politics and control over transparency and academia. Last night, the president signed it into law, which spurred on spontaneous protests at the official residence.

At Sunday’s protest, it was beautiful to see tens of thousands of people united for freedom. The crowd was the full range of Hungarian demographics, with a smaller mix of global geographies, which CEU is often responsible for inviting to the city. Here, you could feel the energy of the crowd and the real desire for openness and change. It’s not about which party’s struggle for power is less corrupt, but about corruption itself. About representation itself. CEU, though important, is now but one of the issues to protest.

Photo taken by (the much taller) Mr. Stahl.

Living in a post-Communist country, I’ve really begun to value the democracy in which I grew up in small-town Canada. Our parliamentary democracy is not the best system. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. It has its flaws, and currently, Trudeau ought to stick to his election promise and reform the electoral system. But it’s evolving. When my grandparents were my age, corruption was blatant. On the day after an election, some road workers wouldn’t show up to the construction site knowing that their political party lost, and so too were their jobs. Today, that kind of nepotism is unimaginable. (Or in some cases kept hidden as it’s known to be unacceptable.) In these three generations, Canadian politics have grown-up.

Central European University Protest

Yet, this protest was a reminder for me in order to appreciate the democracy, I can’t be complacent. To best appreciate the democracy, I need to be continuously active. I need to keep participating, asking tough questions of my representatives, expecting the best of the policymakers and challenging politicians on their decisions to ensure they are in the country’s best interest.

Hungarian politics has a complicated landscape. There is deep frustration, corruption, and uneven policies, but there’s also hope. There is a younger generation who is ready to make their own change in Hungary. There’s an older generation who know change is possible because they saw it happen.

The Hungarians are cradling a 27-year-old democracy in a 1121-year-old nation. It’s incredibly fragile. As opposed to most things I highlight on this blog, it’s not simple. The simplest thing I can do though is to talk about it.

I learned that politics is as controversial as it is exciting from listening to my grandmother talk politics with her children around her kitchen table in Margaree. There were heated arguments and there was hearty laughter. Politics and democracy should be picked apart, challenged and allowed to grow-up. This week, I am reminded that our work in raising democracy is never done.