Is authoritarian Hungary on the road to dictatorship?

According to Grzegorz Ekiert, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Government at Harvard University, Hungary is not a democracy any more; yet he wouldn’t call it a dictatorship either. He says that it is best described as an authoritarian state…possibly on the road to dictatorship.

On January 18 Prof. Ekiert gave a standing-room-only lecture entitled, Communism to Authoritarianism via Democracy: The Puzzle of Political Transformations in East Central Europe, at the University of California at Berkeley.

Grzegorz Ekiert

Between 1990 and 2010 countries of East Central Europe experienced a relatively successful democratization process and transition to market economy. Liberal democracy and market economy principles flourished. Poland and Hungary became members of NATO and the European Union. It seemed that these countries became “normal” democracies with respectable economic growth and that any concerns about the stability of their newly established democratic rule could be safely put to rest.

Things have turned out differently. The third decade of post-communism has changed everything. Power nationalist governments started to erode democratic commitments and liberal principles. FIDESZ in Hungary and PiS in Poland have begun an assault on the rule of law and the fundamental values of European integration, ignoring concerns of their partners. According to Ekiert, the increasing shift to authoritarian rule and away from Europe is puzzling since these two countries were leading reformers under the Communist rule, led the region in transition and were considered the success stories of post-communist transformations.

Ekiert is a sociologist. He talked in detail about the anxiety of cultural identity in the region and about voter’s apathy and lack of desire to participate in civil society as well as the sudden collapse of the traditional “liberal blocs” and the brutal counter-revolution of the provincial elite. He described the resurgence of traditionalism, the power of the Catholic Church in Poland and about the reappearance of ugly institutionalized anti-Semitism.

I found his approach interesting and his knowledge of the region comprehensive. He was also up to date on current political developments. Overall, the message was sad. Although Ekiert felt that there are still some hopeful signs, such as more people wanting to remain in the European Union than leave it, few doubt that massive damage has been done to these societies.

It may take a long time to heal it and in the meantime things may get much worse before they get better.

György Lázár


  1. Andras B. Gollner says:

    Unfortunately there is nothing new in Professor Ekiert’s discovery that we have not heard before from Members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, from such internationally respected economists as János Kornai, jurists like Kim Scheppele, Gábor Halmai, or the American State Department and Freedom House. It’s heartening to see, that he too has seen the light. Studies that provide empirically verifiable evidence of Hungary’s autocratic, utterly corrupt, governance could fill the shelves of a reasonably sized municipal library. What is sad is, that the majority of Hungarians, the EU’s bureaucrats, and the man who likes to grab women by the short hair, don’t give a hoot about this evidence. We’re living in the age of complacency. Facts are boring, illusions are the talk of the town. American evangelists are now reconciled to seeing their president sleeping with porno stars, when he’s at the golf club, and out of Melania’s sight. “Tweet me up Scotty” is the new password to heaven. Jesus loves us all, and we have God to thank for that. Lord have mercy !

  2. Hungary is not only on the road to dictatorship, but half way there. The best description is still Bàlint Magyar’s Post Communist Mafia State.

    In my approach I see little benefit from going into semantics and highly academic discussion about the definitions of authoritarian and dictatorship.
    The time and place certainly reshape the attributes traditionally ascribed to the phenomenon, but what counts is not so much the outward forms, but the underlying objectives and the stages leading toward their achievement:
    the shirts don’t have to be brown,
    the censor may go by the name of Media Authority,
    the regime doesn’t beat up dissidents as they are silenced by existential threats, etc.
    The Orban mafia doesn’t need thugs and guns to extort money, they pass laws and call tenders raking in much more this way, i.e. the same objectives are achieved by slightly milder, different ways. There’s little Erdogan or Orban can not achieve, and few, if any, can challenge their grip on power.
    There are still elements of democracy in Hun, albeit under pressure (judiciary) or outright attack (civil society) and there are elections even if not fair and not completely free, but not much else separates Hun from the emerging dictatorship in the form of fascism.

  3. If democracy is identified with certain ideological values such as liberalism, globalism and so on, then yes these countries are turning away from it. But in my view democracy cannot be associated with any particular ideology. That in itself is an undemocratic concept, and clearly liberal-minded people do not care to see it as such, because of their zeal for ideological triumph, which in their view trumps democracy as a priority.

    If we take an objective look, in my view it is rather countries like Sweden and Germany that are becoming undemocratic. We see the social media censorship law unfolding in Germany and it is a clear attempt to suppress an ideological challenge, which is undemocratic. It is not like Germany had a great record on media freedom to begin with. We all remember how they stayed silent two years ago in the aftermath of the mass-rapes & molestations carried out on German streets by hordes of recent or less recent migrant men. With the recent social media censorship law Germany in effect took away the only mode that those victims had of getting the word out in regards to what happened. We see the silence of the entire Western MSM, in regards to the gang rape epidemic in Malmo, Sweden. Four young women were raped in the past two months in that town, just because they dared to walk on the street at night. I still remember CNN and others covering in great detail a number of gang rapes in India a few years ago, yet now the silence is deafening, just because it is ideologically inconvenient. This is the portrait of Western liberal democracy today as far as I am concerned. It is ideological authoritarianism and the speaker mentioned in the article is in fact calling for it. Is this democracy? Really?

    • Peter
      Your views that not Hun, but “rather countries like Sweden and Germany that are becoming undemocratic….” are complete bollocks.

      “As far as [you] are concerned” you obviously prefer fascism, but this doesn’t change the reality. And if anything I hate fascists.

      • I am against all fascism, whether right wing or the extreme marxist-globalist fanatics which currently dominate much of the Western world. And given that your fascist camp is the one that threatens to take over completely, I think they are the ones we need to resist most urgently.

  4. Andras B. Gollner says:

    Peter, have you eaten your curd and whey ?

  5. Julia G. Stone says:

    Is there video of this lecture?

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