The Rubik’s Cube of Hungarian Politics

An On the Ground Meditation on Hungarian "Democracy"

UPDATED: Aug. 24, 2012, at 8:38 a.m.

Living in Budapest this past summer, I learned that Erno Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, is Hungarian. The discovery came right after a visit to the Hungarian Parliament building, and since then I have thought a lot about the Rubik’s Cube, its absolute solution, and what it represents in the context of Hungary’s extreme political tendencies.

The Rubik’s Cube is a physical manifestation of logic, a model that Erno Rubik calls “an improvement on life.” While life is filled with imperfect puzzles, the Cube provides a challenge with one pure solution. TIME Magazine even lists the puzzle’s perfect solution as an explanation for the toy’s popularity. The Rubik’s Cube offers players “order and stability in an uncertain world,” and so it’s no surprise that the toy remained a Top 20 seller during the recession.

While the philosophy of the Rubik’s Cube is beautiful in theory (and in toy stores), the item symbolizes a frightening political idea: the idea of absolutes. Like the Rubik’s Cube, extreme political parties promise strength, durability, and clear solutions to hard problems. The trouble is that in the real world, and especially in Hungary, theoretical perfection does not equal working solutions.

Take the last 70 years of Hungarian political history. Absolute ideals have reigned supreme. In 1944, the Arrow Cross Party took power of Hungary as the Nazi’s puppet government. Months later, the Soviets “liberated” Hungary, dissolved Parliament, and installed a government that enforced four decades of communism. Hungary swung from absolute right to absolute left with little room for argument. At both ends, the Hungarian population faced deportation, imprisonment, and death.

Today, Hungary considers itself a democracy—despite the raft of decidedly non-democratic reforms called “Basic Laws” that replaced its constitution earlier this January. This new constitution increased government control over the country’s media, banks, and courts.

In the face of economic downturn, identification with extremes still permeates the political scene. The far right-wing Fidesz Party controls two-thirds of the Parliamentary vote. Led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the government is regulating critical radio stations, transferring funds to universities with right-wing philosophies, and fostering a counter-terrorism unit that acts more like a secret police force.

Frankly, it’s terrifying. After disposing of the Arrow Cross Party’s red flag and the Communist’s Red Army, Hungary once again finds its government abusing power under the imposing red roof of its Parliament Building. The situation, seemingly inescapable and colored in red, conjures up the same sense of finality as the finished red side of the Cube.

Comparing the Hungarian government to the Rubik’s Cube illustrates why the Cube’s extreme logic should never become a model for real-world action. The Rubik’s Cube represents the idea of finality unattached to morality—a mantra that is meaningless for a toy but dark for a government. I hope that Hungary embraces the complexity of its political puzzle instead of rushing toward an extreme solution—because if Hungarian politics continues on its current trajectory, then nascent fascism is emerging as the winner.

—As part of an Artist Development Grant, author Stephanie L. Newman completed a poetry writing project this summer based on her grandmother's memories and experiences of the Holocaust in Hungary.