‘Orbanization’? How to capture a democracy


Following the re-election of Hungary’s Viktor Orban for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister last month, the European Parliament released a draft report characterizing Hungary as a ‘hybrid regime of electoral autocracy’. While not labelling Orban a fully fledged autocrat, the report asserts that his administration’s abuses of power are sufficient to disqualify Hungary as a democracy, despite its holding ostensibly democratic elections, The Strategist’s  and report:

Experts concur that Orban has triggered a decade of ‘severe democratic backsliding’ in Hungary. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which tracks global democratic trends, says Hungary has experienced steep declines in electoral legitimacy, judicial independence and media integrity since Orban’s 2010 election. This ‘backsliding’ is particularly troubling in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a member of the European Union, Hungary can unilaterally vote down petroleum sanctions critical to Europe’s response to Russian aggression.

Should Orban further consolidate himself as an immovable pro-Putin autocrat in the EU’s ranks, Russia will profit from the internal obstacles impeding comprehensive EU sanctions, they add.

Mr. Orban’s neighbors—particularly Poland and its conservative government—have shielded him from some criticism in the past, The Wall Street Journal reports. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Orban has become scorned in his own region for blocking weapon shipments through his border with the war-torn country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lambasted Mr. Orban and compared his lack of support for Ukraine to the murder of Jews by Hungarian fascists during World War II.

Peter Kreko

Mr. Orban is “extremely isolated, and more and more openly criticized,” said Peter Kreko (left), a Budapest-based senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). “The only thing that remains for him is his veto power, and his appetite for obstruction is for that reason on the increase.”

“Democracies depend on an institutional framework and on a cultural background: the acceptance of democratic norms,” wrote Zsuzsanna Szelenyi, a  former Hungarian parliamentarian. “In Hungary, the institutional framework is formally still there, but Orban’s government gave up on democratic norms and used government power to capture the institutions, which are not fulfilling their roles as checks and balances.”

Since September 2018, violations of fundamental rights in Hungary have escalated, persistently eroding the democratic principles of the EU to which Hungary has committed itself, notes a Joint Letter from Civil Society Organisations to EU Governments prior to the Article 7(1) TEU Hearing on the Rule of Law, Democracy and Fundamental Rights in Hungary.

National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

These developments all highlight persistent, structural and interrelated deficiencies with the respect for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and point towards the need for urgent action, say the signatories, including partners of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  If these trends are not stopped a definitive collapse of EU values in Hungary is foreseeable, the statement adds.


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