Hungary in Focus

A landscape view of Budapest with the phrase 'Hungary in Focus'

The past decade has seen Hungary, with prime minister Viktor Orbán at the helm, on a steady course to become one of the most substantial threats to democracy and rule of law in the European Union today. While right-wing populists wax hysterical about immigration, fundamental European Union values are being corroded from within. In an increasingly polarised Hungary, political divisions have come to represent the gaping divide between open and closed society.

Since his election victory in 2010, Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party have set Hungary on a path which runs contrary to EU values, undermining the rule of law with the ultimate aim of making the country, as Orbán himself put it, an ‘illiberal democracy’. EU funds are channeled to enrich Orbán’s inner circles while public jobs are instrumentalised to shore up wider support for the regime. Critics of the government find themselves on the wrong end of hiked taxes and torrential government propaganda, part of a wider toolkit to punish dissent. In response, Hungary’s middle class and political opposition are fleeing the country in droves.

While Orbán has perhaps gone further than any other in the EU to unpick the stitches of an open and democratic society, Hungary is by no means an anomaly. Orbán has become a trendsetter, the figurehead of far-right, anti-EU forces at Europe’s very heart. Poland is keen to join the illiberal democracy club, and Orbán’s highly charged, anti-immigration rhetoric chimes with that of conservative nationalist parties across Europe, from Italy and France to Austria and the UK, which edge increasingly closer to the mainstream. Orbán and his fellow strongmen are symptomatic of a rising tide of illiberalism globally.

Europe has been painfully slow to react. September 2018 signaled a potential turning point, as the European Parliament voted through the damning report spearheaded by Green MEP Judith Sargentini. The subsequent triggering of Article 7, the EU’s infringement procedure against member states which have violated fundamental rights, may be a significant step but serious action could well be blocked by Hungary’s allies. Will it be enough to halt Hungary’s backslide on the values which underpin the European Project, or is it too little, too late?

In this focus, we shine a spotlight on Hungary, hearing from diverse and critical voices about the reality on the ground, why Orbánism has gained so much momentum, and what this means for Europe. We connect the dots, from the hollowing out of the free press to the Hungarian government’s brutal campaign against homelessness and the demonisation of state critics like George Soros, to build a bigger picture of the state of play in Hungary today, and what the fight to maintain the founding values of the EU is up against.



Journalist Krisztian Simon sets out why the long-overdue triggering of Article 7 is one of the EU’s last shots at saving rule of law in Hungary and across Europe.








In Viktor Orbán’s self-styled illiberal democracy, power is maintained through patronage and cronyism built around public jobs and EU money. An interview with Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University and political scientist Daniel Hegedűs.







An illustration representing populism: a monster emerging from a ballot box3. TOUGH WAY FORWARD FOR POLARISED HUNGARY

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz were delivered to victory by an unfair system, media manipulation, and attacking their enemies. Opposition failure made it too easy for them. Eva van de Rakt spoke with analyst Bulcsú Hunyadi in the wake of the 2018 parliamentary elections in Hungary.






Illustration of a person sleeping rough over a background of two large hands 4. HARASSING THE POOR: ORBÁN’S FIGHT AGAINST THE HOMELESS

Since October 2018, it has been illegal to live in the street in Hungary. Social anthropologist and housing rights activist Tessza Udvarhelyi explains why homeless people are such an easy target for populist politicians, and how the newest measures humiliate those who cannot afford a place to live.






5. The Economics of Fear: How Orbán Profits from Insecurities

By playing upon fears linked to social insecurities and loss of national identity, as well as threats to national security, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seeks to position himself as the sole protector of his nation. An interview with Zoltán Lakner from our 2017 edition on security.






Illustration: A person blowing into a dandelion clock with the seeds representing the stars of the European Union6. The Population Was “Frozen”: Why Hungarians Started Migrating

A discussion with Antal Örkény, sociology professor at the University of Budapest, on the driving forces and effects of changing attitudes to migration in Hungary.







Illustration: a computer screen with people jumping out, representing digital issues and culture and society7. “We would like to carry on working. Here in Budapest, where we belong.”

Why is Hungary’s Central European University under threat? Aaron Sterniczky spoke to the university’s Head of the History department Matthias Riedl to find out what is going on.

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