In many parts of the world, rivers of humanity are drying, fruits of globalization perishing, and dictators coming down from the gallows. Not only democracy but also many hard-earned values of humankind is suffering from erosion. In such context, Viktor Orbán as the impersonation of Eurus is doing his part. Many Rapid democratization does not necessarily lead to consolidated democracies. When there is not enough time to internalize the democratic values by public or invested institutions, they are more prone to breakdown or erosion. Reasons differ for many cases around the world. A spark can turn years of progress into ashes and that spark was the 2007-2008 financial crisis for Hungary. After the economic decline, Viktor Orbán took the power with 2010 parliamentary elections and with more appetite than Cookie Monster still craving for more. To examine the illness of Hungary, I will utilize Levitsky and Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die and four key indicators of Authoritarian Behavior, and how Hungary satisfies them.
Firstly, Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
Although Fidesz does not reject the Constitution or express a willingness to violate it, they are very enthusiastic to change the rules of the game. At the 2018 elections campaign, he promised vengeance for the critics and called voters who choose the opposition as traitors. After the elections, it can be observed thats he is following his agenda carefully. Moreover, he openly suggests a need for anti-democratic measures and banning certain organizations. In his speech on 26 July, 2014 Orbán said:
“The Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”
Illiberal democracy, as a diminished subtype, is even considered fundamentally undemocratic by some scholars and grouped under not a democracy but authoritarianism.
Moreover, the election law that passed in 2011 dropped the number of electoral districts from 176 to 106 with a pinch of gerrymandering seasoning. After reshaping the electoral districts, left-wing parties needed to win 300,000 extra votes to win the election, comparing with previous elections. Therefore, it can be claimed that Hungary’s ruling party mostly satisfy first indicator.
Secondly, Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
Orbán and Fidesz claim that their rivals constitute an existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life. Orbán turns his wheel of enemies and creates antagonists faster than the tv series Supernatural.
He challenges those who support George Soros, Open Society, immigrants or critic him altogether. In one of his speech Orbán said:
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”
The vast pro-government propaganda machine labels the critical voices as “traitors” “enemies of the state” and collaborators of the foreign enemy. Orbán not only polarizes the society to gain political advantage, but he also tries to cripple the opposition’s legitimacy to appeal to the public.
Moreover, the government brought the Authorization Act to parliament on March 23, 2020, which enables the government to apply significant restrictions without any time limit. The opposition voted against and the bill did not reach the 4/5th majority and ruling party members and propaganda machine started to depict the opposition as perpetrators of the crimes against the people. Hence, policies of Orbán almost fully fits the second indicator.
Thirdly, Toleration or encouragement of violence
Although the ruling party does not have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence; they tolerate some violence such as far-right vigilante migrant hunters in Assotthalom. It is non-democratic and non-humane in any sense but also can pave the way for future implications toward labeled enemy-of-the-states.
Moreover, the ruling party developed a strategy that avoids physical violence and jailing journalists but limiting their positive freedom to achieve their goals. Turning media into state apparatus, re-directing media funds, purchasing some media agents and financers. For instance, a pro-government media manager bought Indamedia -which operates financial affairs of Index- and turned editorial policies of Index -which was a heavy critic of government- opposite way. Pre and post-purchase ways of newsmaking in Index differ significantly. Hence, Hungary case is not much satisfies the third indicator, noting that mentioned support to vigilante and other undemocratic policies can rather easily pave the way for future satisfaction for this indicator.
Lastly, Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media
As some cases overlapping with previously mentioned examples, the Orbán administration is nowhere near reluctant to curtail liberties. They support laws or policies that restrict civil liberties, such as laws restricting criticism of the government, or certain civic organizations.
A new law passed to criminalize the spreading misinformation on undermining authorities’ fight against coronavirus. This law is generally perceived as Orbán’s effort to silence media even further. Additionally, a shrinking number of independent media in Hungary also facing with severe hardship. While it is already hard to survive with such economic burdens, they are struggling with an effort that tries to push them out of the system. Hungary’s last independent political radio station’s license is not renewed by the government. Klubrádió’s license is expiring in February 2021 and they will operate online with a shrunk audience.
To finish, using Levitsky and Ziblatt’s four indicators, it can be claimed that the situation in Hungary is severe. After the collapse of Communism, Hungarians enjoyed the brief spring and now they are witnessing the fall. According to Freedom House Index, Hungary’s score is 70/100 lowest in European Union with 27/40 for political rights and 43/60 for civil liberties. Anti-democratic trends are not much promising but the hope is not totally lost. Maybe EU or domestic voter’s re-realization of democratic values will stop the erosion. Nevertheless, whether will winter come to Hungarian democracy or not is yet to be observed.