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

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