Freedom House: Hungary following in Russia’s footsteps

June 23, 2015

Putin

Freedom House just released the 2015 edition of Nations in Transit (NIT) report, an annual study of democratic governance in 29 countries from Central Europe to Central Asia. (The full report can be found here)

Here’s what the report had to say about Hungary

Media freedom, national democratic governance, and the fairness of the electoral process in Hungary have declined more rapidly in the five years since Viktor Orbán and his right-leaning Fidesz party came to power than in any other NIT country during the same period. Only Russia’s judicial independence rating has seen as much deterioration as Hungary’s over the last five years…

While Orbán stands out in the region for the virtual political monopoly he has achieved, he is not alone in his disdain for democratic standards. The European Union and its aspiring member states have no shortage of individuals and groups that, through the exercise of political and economic pressure, or by exploiting public anxieties and prejudices, contrive to keep or obtain power at the expense of democratic values and institutions in their countries…

In Hungary, elections in 2014 confirmed and strengthened the dominance of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz-led coalition. Throughout the parliamentary campaign, opposition parties criticized alleged gerrymandering in the ruling party’s favor and the government’s heavy influence over state television and radio, among other problems. Most of these grievances were echoed by international transparency monitors and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which also pointed to strong government influence over private media and the advertising market, and grossly unequal financial resources among the competing parties. A team of anticorruption watchdogs accused Fidesz and its junior coalition partner of spending more than twice the legal limit on their campaigns…

The resulting decline in Hungary’s electoral process rating pushed the country into the “semiconsolidated democracy” category, where it joined Bulgaria, Romania, and three of the Western Balkan states. A new advertising tax on media, a rise in political interference with and harassment of NGOs, and several controversial Constitutional Court rulings contributed to a total of five ratings downgrades for Hungary in 2014, a distinction shared only by Russia. In July, Orbán explained in a speech that he was building an “illiberal state” that “does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom,” but that also “does not make this ideology a central element of state organization.”