Hungary: A Hijacked Democracy?

The enfant terrible of the European Union – that is how many see the Hungary of today. The direction the country is taking towards becoming an “illiberal democracy” must be viewed from both the internal political and international contexts. The key question is whether, after nine years of rule by the right-wing Fidesz party, led by its controversial chairman Viktor Orbán, there is still a chance for change in Hungary.

In the 1990s, Hungary was considered a champion amongst the Central European countries as they underwent the democratisation process; however, twenty years after the fall of communism the country started to capture attention at the start of the second government of the Fidesz party, whose chairman, Viktor Orbán, launched a transformation of the country based on the model of illiberal democracies. Now, at the start of his third continuous term as the country’s prime minister, it is obvious that he has succeeded to a great extent.

Although Viktor Orbán is, without a doubt, a capable politician, it would be a mistake to interpret the long-term success of the Fidesz party simply as the story of a populist rogue, who used lies, manipulation, propaganda, and nepotism to lead a country that had been blossoming down the path to ruin.

Yes, the rhetoric used by Fidesz representatives as portrayed in Eszter Hajdú’s film Hungary 2018 – Behind the Scenes of Democracy is demagogic, xenophobic, and places all bets on fear mongering. The way in which the ruling party is taking advantage of the refugee crisis, and is systematically criticising George Soros as being the insidious machinator behind the ultimate plot to destroy European civilisation, is indubitably reprehensible. To say the least, some of the steps the three Fidesz governments have taken in Hungary have no place in a member state of the European Union.

However, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who, in Eszter Hajdú’s film, represents the positive face of the opposition party, dreaming of an open, civil, and pro-European Hungarian society, has his own skeletons in the cupboard. The government led by the Socialist Party, of which he was the chairman, left Hungary in a condition that made the Fidesz party’s victory much easier. At the start of 2010, when the Fidesz party won the parliamentary elections, Hungarian voters were disgusted with lying politicians, a high level of corruption, and the fact that the promised “Western” prosperity refused to materialise. To that, it is necessary to add not only the European-wide economic and financial crisis that existed at the time, but also the political crisis and increasing feeling of uncertainty affecting an increasing percentage of the population. Viktor Orbán and his fellow party members offered Hungarians both an improvement in financial indicators but also a higher level of certainty associated with national cohesion and a stand against Western globalism and the decadence undermining “traditional” values.

The events that have taken place over the past eight years along the path changing Hungary’s direction are not only the results of Viktor Orbán’s political skills as the leader of the Fidesz party, but also the consequences of the opposition’s inability to offer a sufficient number of Hungarian voters an adequate alternative solution given the existing situation and suitably credible individuals. Over these eight years the government has implemented a number of measures that significantly limits the possibility that Fidesz will lose any election.

One World is also presenting a Czech film on the same subject – Kateřina Turečková’s Illusion. As one of it’s protagonists claims: “It’s not about Orbán. Orbán is in the middle, but it is that which is around him and behind him that is rotten, that is falling apart and needs to be rebuilt […] We should focus on moving forward.” But is there anyone in Hungary who is capable of doing this?

Pavlína Janebová, Head of the AMO Research Centre


Podařilo se Viktoru Orbánovi proměnit Maďarsko v „neliberální demokracii“? / Has Viktor Orbán succeeded in transforming Hungary to an “illiberal democracy”?
Has Viktor Orbán succeeded in transforming Hungary to an “illiberal democracy”?

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