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07 February 2013

Interview with Dr. Boda Zsolt

Senior research fellow, Head of Department, Institute of Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

“At the individual level the same mechanisms seem to determine trust in institutions both in Western and in Central and Eastern Europe”

Zsolt, you are leading the research team from the Institute for Political Science, Hungary. Tell me about it.
Our institute is now part of the Centre for Social Sciences, inside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Our only task is to do research, we do not have any educational programmes. The Centre includes four institutes: the Institute for Sociology, the Institute of Legal Studies, the Institute for Minority Studies, and ours, the Institute for Political Science. More than one hundred researchers in social sciences are working here, in the historical building of the Academy, located in the medieval Castle area of Budapest. The venue is nice and the conditions are set for multidisciplinary research. That makes me happy, because though I am a political scientist, I believe that political science, and especially policy studies that I am particularly interested in, is necesserily a multidisciplinary research field. Social factors, political decisions, institutional and legal aspects, as well as organizational dynamics should be taken into account if we want to understand policy change.

Then the FIDUCIA project must perfectly fit your interests, because it also has a multidisciplinary character, doesn’t it?
Yes. FIDUCIA seeks to better understand new forms of cross border crimes and apply the trust-based policy concept on regulating those crimes. We may label it as a project in criminology, but let me stress that criminology is itself a multidisciplinary field… partly sociology, partly legal and partly policy studies. What also makes FIDUCIA a really exciting project is its problem-oriented approach coupled with an innovative, and conceptually well founded theoretical endeavor. The project addresses very practical problems that may affect our lives, but at the same time it is testing a new conceptual model of policy making. And this model is not only innovative, but ethically very appealing in terms of its basic values and principles, as it is based on trust, normative legitimacy and voluntary cooperation.

What is your job within the project?
We are interested more in the policy aspects of FIDUCIA than in the strictly criminology ones. We are working in those work packages which aim at conceptually elaborating and empirically founding the model of trust-based policy making.

Do you already have some results?
We finished a work package which sought to examine, among other, the role of media and political discourse in fueling penal populism, the main ’competitor’ of trust-based justice policy. Penal populism exploits those punitive sentiments which are characterized among other things by an emphasis on unexpected and growing crime, the placing of blame on certain social groups, distrust in the police and justice, and the endorsement of harsh, punitive measures. In a number of case studies we revealed that media, especially tabloid media may indeed have an effect on both punitive attitudes and trust towards justice. It seems that a radicalizing political discourse is also spreading. For instance, in Hungary we found that political actors with almost no exception talk the language of penal populism when it is about crime and justice policy. This is alarming and raises serious practical limitations on the possibility of promoting the idea of trust-based justice policy.

Or, alternatively, signals the significance and relevance of the project for our times…
I certainly believe so.

What are you working on right now?
We are analyzing data of the 2010 European Social Survey (ESS) which included a questionnaire on trust in justice – this was a major achievement of the EUROJUSTIS project, the immediate predecessor of FIDUCIA. We want to draw a broad picture on the patterns of trust in justice across Europe including the underlying factors. We just finished a paper with my colleague, Gergő Medvő-Bálint, which compared levels of institutional trust between old and new European democracies as well as the explanatory variables at the micro level. We found that in spite of some country-level differences, at the individual level the same mechanisms seem to determine trust in institutions both in Western and in Central and Eastern Europe. We argue that citizens of new European democracies are not different from Western Europeans in that they seem to be equally ready to formulate separate evaluative attitudes towards specific institutions. This is good news, because it means that the literature on the roots of institutional trust and the insights of the mainstream trust literature are applicable in the CEE context as well. I also means that creating a ’European’ model of trust-based policy-making is not in principle an impossible objective.

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