Building Blocks for a Renewed Human Rights Narrative

The human rights discourse as constructed after the Second World War has come under increasingly sweeping attacks both as a global explanation and with respect to the universality of its values. As a more or less general trend, it has been reduced to political correctness, identified as a repressive, taboo-generating discourse. A number of elements, however, have been adopted, sometimes appropriated by extremists in Europe and in Hungary as well. A number of analysts have described how legal advocacy organisations have become silent in public discourse, failing to remain attractive to large groups of young people. Others point to a more profound turn, concerning not only politics but the role of truth in politics, and identifying a “post-truth era” as exemplified by the Brexit and Trump campaigns.

Furthermore, these changes are taking place in the midst of a major shift in the media world that has led to the polarisation of public discourse. Due to the spread of the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies, the procurement of information is based increasingly on content created by people with a similar range of interests. This not only makes it harder to formulate challenges to prejudice or to reject them, but has also enabled the construction of strong subcultures based on xenophobia, anti-Roma attitudes and anti-Semitism in Hungary and elsewhere. In Hungary, this goes hand-in-hand with attempts by the state to discredit organisations protecting human rights. These attacks are for the most part orchestrated by those in power, having launched attacks against several fundamental values, such as measures implemented against the homeless, the campaign against refugees, phrases alluding to “vainglorious human rights banter”, and the creation/import of a new anti-gender argumentation.

These trends make it clear that without protecting and reframing fundamental values, persuading their supporters to act and to speak up, and linking the available platforms of communication, the sphere of human rights protection could be further circumscribed in Hungary.

This work aims to lay the foundations of a collaboration that can be joined by other organisations still being formed, as well as by actors sharing human rights values who can reach out to additional potential supporters in Hungary and abroad. This text is designed to be continuously expanded in the future, so as to further incorporate increasingly sensitive analyses along with a growing pool of creative ideas and recommendations.

The publication is a shortened English translation of the original Hungarian study commissioned by the Open Society Institute in Budapest.



Product details
Date of Publication
2017 December
Number of Pages
Language of publication
Table of contents



1. The argument pool

1.1. Narratives on the poor, the Roma, and the feminists: worldviews and justifications for deprivation

1.2. The supply of narratives in the marketplace of ideas

1.3. Constructing systems of argumentation

1.3.1. "Making the record skip"

1.3.2. Having something better to say

2. Overlapping issues

2.1.1. Fundamental human rights values

2.1.2. Moral imperatives, general truths, cultural stereotypes

2.2. Interests

2.3. "Ambivalent groups"

3. A worldview with which people can identify morally and emotionally

3.1. Anxiety management and power

3.2. Responses to fear - and to our own dogmas

3.3. Building positive identities

4. Finding supporters, bringing them on board, making them speak up

4.1. From fixating on the enemy to addressing supporters

4.2. Action as anxiety management

4.2.1. A cause of one's own

4.2.2. A role of one's own

4.2.3. Low barriers to entry

4.3. Strength in results

4.4. Even more talk: community, strength, going step-by-step

4.5. Local cooperation and identities

5. Solutions and positive scenarios

5.1. Solutions do exist

5.2. The solutions offered are not solutions / are fake solutions / only exacerbate the problem

5.3. Changing the world one step at a time, with a little help from... you

6. Telling stories

6.1. Storytelling and the infrastructure of memory

7. Redesigning the linguistic toolbox

7.1. Words that identify and words that shut down

7.2. Hierarchy

7.3. Elements of style

8. Visibility, imagery and visual representation

8.1. A void to by filled

8.2. Image and dogma

8.3. Creating visibility

8.4. Manufacturing and dissemination

8.4.1. Memes and counter-memes

8.4.2. Platforms of representation - promoting self-representation

9. Linking communication platforms

9.1. The new media environment

9.2. Opportunities

9.2.1. Coordinating our own platforms

9.2.2. A more inclusive worldview instead of the logic of programmes and organisations

9.2.3. Membership and bonding

9.2.4. Respecting debate

10. In lieu of conclusions