The Demise of Hungary and America’s Democracy
Hungary is experiencing a democratic erosion and the world needs to be put on notice. The country has been involved in unfair elections, mischaracterization of opponents in the elections, and making the media the enemy. These effect the country of Hungary and it also effects any other country or leader that is looking for an authoritarian path. This is an example of Democratic Erosion. This has potential implications for the United States. The United States is not immune to democratic erosion and it looks to be happening currently.
Democratic erosion is defined as a democracy and its process being undermined. This is a trend that has not gone away at any time in modern history. Whether it was Hitler in Germany or Putin in Russia, both slowly eroded their respective democracies to carry out their own agendas. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban has showed some of the authoritarian traits that both Putin and Hitler displayed during their tenure as leader.
Bermeo argues that backsliding can occur at two different speeds. It can be fast by way of coup or slow by way of the democratic process. When it is slow and gradual change, “it is likely to lead to all out regime change and more likely to yield political systems that are ambiguously democratic or hybrid”. Hungary has experienced slow democratic backsliding. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban was elected because Hungary’s socialist party was not improving the entire country and their middle class was slowly declining. He came into power by election and not by coup. He slowly came into power and is slowly eroding Hungary’s democracy. Matt O’Brien, a reporter for the Washington post states that none of the Hungarian citizens “understood just how dangerous Orban, who by this point was the last man standing in Hungarian politics, really was”. His political opposition, Schepple warned that Orban had autocratic tendencies. Larry Diamond argues that every democratic wave will be followed by a reverse wave. The reverse wave is a wave towards authoritarianism.
Once Orban was elected, his party Fidesz, started to commit numerous violations of democratic principles and rules. Orban and his party discredited and tried to silence and demonize the media that was not supporting Fidesz. A major newspaper in Hungary, Nepszabadsag was obliterated from existence. This was done by a takeover of the newspaper’s website. Another is muting the critics or their opposition. This is severe undermining of the democratic policy. Similarly, in America, whenever Trump is faced with a tough question or clear evidence proving he is wrong in every way; the news network is considered “fake news”.
Another is fixing elections so that Orban and his party stay in power. This is a tactic used a lot by autocratic governments. Vladmir Putin used these tactics to keep himself in power and they’re working. While there maybe an opponent to run against, there always seems to be a way for the incumbent to win. In a democracy, there are supposed to be competitive and fair elections, so does this still make Hungary a democracy? Orban has also cut ties with key allies in favor of extreme nationalist organizations. Once again, this ties into America. Donald Trump has cut ties with different groups and has also made some of our key allies furious with America. He pulled troops out of Syria and this upset people in his own party and the ones fighting the war. However, Trump is great friends with Putin. The two are both very supportive of each other. Trump seems to befriend any authoritarian.
Orban has stated, “we are fighting an enemy that is different than us,” Orban said, “not open, but hiding; not straightforward, but crafty; not honest, but base; does not believe in working, but speculates with money; does not have his homeland, but feels it owns the whole world.” He is directing this towards Jews in Hungary with no basis of this thinking. He is discriminating against this population in Hungary from everybody else. The Fidesz new slogan is “Hungary First”. This should raise some eyebrows because Trump used the phrase “America First” to world leaders. This is an example of nationalism that each leader is trying to convey to attract a population that expresses similar beliefs, even if the supporters have radical tactics. Is Donald Trump trying to homogenize America through hateful speech and actions? Yes. Separating children at the border from their parents counts for that. Also, the number of violent acts that have been committed in the name of hate have been increasing. The shooting in Texas is a key example. The shooter targeted people of color, mainly Latinos. That attack was fueled by Trump’s hateful speech about Mexico and how “we need to build that wall!”
What do these things mean for
Hungary and America? In the past we’ve seen this with Hitler, and it led to the
genocide of 11 million men, women, and children. This number included Jews, gay
men and women, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The parallels between Hungary and
America are overwhelming. Could this really be the end of our democracy as we
know it? Or, more importantly, is this the end of democracy? America is the
major power in the world and if it is being led by a dictator, then it will
only encourage the spread of autocracy.
- “Democracy is dying in Hungary. The rest of the world should worry.”, The Washington Post, 4 December 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/04/12/democracy-is-dying-in-hungary-the-rest-of-the-world-should-worry/
- “Anti-Immigrant Policies and Democratic Erosion in Hungary”, Democratic Erosion, 3 December 2019, https://democraticeros.wpengine.com/2019/11/24/anti-immigrant-policies-and-democratic-erosion-in-hungary/
- Larry Diamond, “Defining and Developing Democracy”, 4 December 2019
- Nancy Bermeo, “On Democratic Backsliding”, 3 December 2019