An open question if Hungary will remain a fully-fledged democracy

A new report published by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, 'Democracy and human rights at stake in Hungary', describes how Viktor Orbán’s government is centralizing power, undermining the independence of courts and putting media freedom under pressure.

– Until recently, Hungary was seen as one of the most successful of the new democracies, but in a short time democratic standards have deteriorated to a degree few thought was possible, said Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.

The report, which can be downloaded here, highlights amongst other the following issues:

– A rapidly introduced constitution that weakens the balance of power;

– New laws limiting media freedom;

– Election legislation that favours the government party;

– The government failing to address hate speech against Roma.

According to the government party Fidesz the transition from communism to democracy was not done properly in Hungary, and it has been necessary to eradicate old structures once and for all. However, if the aim really is to overcome the communist past, important measures would be to ensure division of power, the independence of the judiciary and a framework that supports media freedom and pluralism, the report argues. The Orbán government has gone in the opposite direction.

The Orbán government undoubtedly faced challenging tasks when it took power in 2010, with a heavy burden of state debt, economic stagnation and widespread corruption. At the same time, the extreme nationalist party Jobbik had considerable support. Unfortunately, the Christian Conservative Fidesz party has opted for solutions which divides the country and puts democracy at peril.

The report presents a number of recommendations to the government of Hungary, the European Union and the Council of Europe. Norway is particularly well placed to influence the Government of Hungary due to its substantial financial contributions through the EEA and Norway Grants.

In order to re-establish trust in democracy, the report recommends that Hungary establish a national democracy commission. It should include representatives of a wide range of institutions and civil society organisations in order to gain broad popular support. The task should be to propose initiatives to strengthening democracy, amongst other through securing more transparent party financing and mechanisms to fight political corruption.

For further comments, contact:

  •  Bjørn Engesland, Secretary-General, cell phone:+47 95753350
  • Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary-General, cell phone: +47 95210307