Due to the unprecedented consolidation of power, Hungary is no longer a democracy but a “hybrid regime,” according to a new report by American watchdog organization Freedom House. Officials of the Orbán administration, however, rejected this allegation, emphasizing that the organization is supported by U.S billionaire George Soros, hence Freedom House “is not a judge of, but a participant in Hungarian political debates on the side of the opposition.”
Freedom House’s latest ‘Nations in Transit’ study, examining 29 post-communist countries from Central Europe to Central Asia, finds that Hungary’s decline has been the most precipitous, as it was one of the three democratic front-runners as of 2005, but in 2020 it became the first country to descend by two regime categories and “leave the group of democracies entirely.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s administration “dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions,” as the 2020 adoption of an epidemic bill “that allows the government to rule by decree indefinitely [editor’s note – until the end of the pandemic] has further exposed the undemocratic character of Orbán’s regime,” Freedom House researcher Zselyke Csaky wrote in the report. (The exact wording of the law is that “The Government may exercise its power (…) for the purpose of preventing, controlling and eliminating the human epidemic referred to in the Decree, and preventing and averting its harmful effects, to the extent necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued. You can read the whole text here.)
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The survey also concluded that “weakening commitment to democracy” is a wide trend and there are only 10 democracies in the region today, down from 15 in 2010, while the number of hybrid regimes like Hungary has risen from 3 to 10. Also, the number of authoritarian regimes has fallen from 11 in 2010 to 9, Csaky finds.
The report classifies countries into five categories: consolidated democracies, semi-consolidated democracies, transitional or hybrid regimes, semi-consolidated authoritarian regimes, and consolidated authoritarian regimes. The given democracy score is then based on seven categories. This includes national democratic governance, electoral process, civil society, independent media, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. Hungary’s score has deteriorated in three categories since last year: the electoral process, corruption, and local governance.
This year, Serbia and Montenegro were also reclassified as a hybrid regime, while Poland was downgraded from a previously consolidated democracy to a semi-consolidated democracy.
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In response, Zoltán Kovács, Hungary’s secretary of state for international communication and relations, said on Twitter that Freedom House “was once known as a bipartisan human rights organization. With their [George] Soros funding they’ve declined, becoming the fist of the party that is the Soros network. Anyone who doesn’t conform to their liberal view, gets downgraded.”
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Commenting on the report, Gergely Gulyás, head of the PM’s Office, had a similar stance, arguing the organization was starting to shift from being an NGO to a “party political agent.” Freedom House owes its existence to the liberal leadership and support of U.S financier George Soros, so the organization is not a judge of, but a participant in Hungarian political debates on the side of the opposition.
Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI