Could Hungary’s ‘dark path to dictatorship’ set precedent?


Hungarian citizens are increasingly disturbed by the country’s authoritarian trajectory, while civil society groups fear Viktor Orban’s illiberal turn could establish a precedent for other European states, reports suggest.

Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE), which provides about €4m to around 50 NGOs in Hungary every year, even suggests Orbán’s crackdown could spark a contagion, as other EU leaders eager to silence their critics do the same.

“It creates a precedent where other leaders – in particular Slovakia, Romania, Poland, to list just a few – may follow suit because they could see this as establishing a certain control of sovereignty in their countries,” Buldioski tells IBTimes UK. “My worry is first contagion – that the civil society space will shrink and will not be as open as it were. But I also have an additional worry. Today it’s civil society – will other entities be next?”

Hungarians are anxious about the state of the economy and the country’s trajectory, according to a poll released today by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research:

Seventy-four percent of Hungarians do not think young people have a good future in Hungary, and half of respondents feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Twenty-eight percent say that poverty and inequality are the most important problems facing Hungary, followed by corruption at 15 percent and jobs and unemployment at 13 percent.

A combined 37 percent believe that Hungary’s standard of living is closer to that of Russia than Western Europe (25 percent “somewhat akin to Russia,” 12 percent “completely akin to Russia”), and a combined 40 percent feel that their pensions and healthcare system are more like the Russian model (25 percent “somewhat akin to Russia,” 15 percent “completely akin to Russia”).

A clear majority (72 percent) believe that the peace of Europe is threatened on multiple fronts, including from “the influx of migrants,” “terrorism,” and “a resurgent Russia.” Although nearly half (49 percent) are skeptical about Russia’s attempts to paint itself as a defender of traditional European values, 54 percent think that Russia should be considered a partner in European security, and 52 percent say the European Project should be “rethought.”

“This survey shows that Hungarians are deeply dissatisfied with a host of economic indicators, and fear that they are not leaving a better future behind for their children,” said IRI Europe Regional Director Jan Surotchak. “On a range of issues, it is clear that many Hungarians haven’t felt an economic uptick since the crisis began in 2008.  Unfortunately, the Kremlin has demonstrated a sophisticated ability to exploit these types of weaknesses throughout Europe and may be in a position to do so in Hungary.”

Central Europe’s illiberal regimes are also forging a degree of international authoritarian solidarity.

Orban has made clear that he would veto any attempt by the EU to censure Poland over recent judicial reforms. Despite the scolding statements coming from various corners, real punitive measures can only be slapped on Warsaw by a unanimous vote within the bloc. The Washington Post adds.

The illiberal populists’ rhetoric of civilizational decline is scurrilous and disingenuous fearmongering for the sake of power, according to Michael Ignatieff, president of the Budapest-based Central European University. Such leaders “traffic in a politics of cultural pessimism,” he says. “I do ask myself who actually believes that Western civilization is under threat. Isn’t Western civilization defended best by people who actually believe in its future, in its capacity to adapt and change?”

IRI is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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