Hungary: New report describes a democracy in peril

Hungary was until recently seen as one of the most successful new democracies. However democratic standards have in a short period of time deteriorated in a degree that few thought was possible. A new report, Democracy and human rights at stake in Hungary, describes how Viktor Orbán’s government is centralizing power, jeopardizing the independence of the courts and putting freedom of speech and media freedom under pressure. It is an open question whether Hungary will remain a fully-fledged democracy.

The developments in Hungary are unfortunately not unique. Similar developments are taking place in a number of countries in Eastern and Central Europe. However, due to its supermajority in the parliament, the Hungarian government could go further than other governments. It is only in Ukraine we have seen a sharper drop of central indicators for democracy and fundamental freedoms.

Hungary has great challenges due to a heavy burden of state debt, economic stagnation and corruption. Large parts of the Roma population are marginalized and victims of racism. At the same time, the extreme nationalist party Jobbik has considerable support. No doubt, the Fidesz government faced difficult tasks when it took power in 2010. Unfortunately, the Christian-Conservative party under the leadership of Prime Minister Orbán opted for solutions which divides the country and puts democracy at peril.

One of the main arguments in the rhetoric of Fidesz is that transition from communism to democracy was not done properly in Hungary. It is about time to eradicate old structures once and for all, the party contends. Fidesz also talks about the need for spiritual and intellectual renewal, and has seen to it that a new Constitution and a wide range of new legislation have been adopted in order to facilitate that.

However, a central feature of communist rule was centralization of power in the hands of the executive committee of the communist party, the Politburo. If the aim really is to overcome the past, important measures would be to ensure division of power, independent courts and a framework that supports media freedom and pluralism, the report argues. The Orbán government has gone in the opposite direction.

The report presents a wide range of recommendations to Hungary’s government and to European institutions like the European Union and the Council of Europe. The authorities of Norway could also play an important role by criticizing lack of respect for democratic principles, and by contributing to projects that promote democracy and human rights. Norway is a major contributor through the EEA and Norway Grants.

In order to recreate trust in democracy, the report recommends that authorities establish a national democracy commission. It should include a wide range of Hungarian institutions and movements in order to gain broad support in the general population. The task should be to propose initiatives to strengthening democracy, amongst other through securing more transparent party financing and mechanisms to fight political corruption.

Oslo 24 January 2013


For further comments, contact:

  • Bjørn Engesland, Secretary-General, cell phone:+47 95753350
  • Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary-General, cell phone: +47 95210307

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