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Viktor Orbán

Tag Archives | Viktor Orbán

Goulash Democracy? Viktor Orban’s Hungary and Western Misconceptions

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Viktor Orbán, Hungary's firebrand Prime Minister. Photo: Pietro Naj-Oleari

For many, the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Hungary is goulash.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s firebrand Prime Minister. Photo: Pietro Naj-Oleari

Like stew, made from a collection of unlikely ingredients, “goulash” seems an apt metaphor for Hungarian politics today, which has a confusingly mixed image of setbacks and achievements. Depending on who one talks to, Hungary’s current government is either undermining democracy or a shining example for its region. Parliamentary elections are due to take place in a few weeks’ time and, even more confusingly, the country’s firebrand Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, is leading in national polls, despite the fact that his international image is regularly pummeled with accusations of authoritarianism.

According to the established narrative in the West, he has in mind one goal: to obtain and hold on to power. In support of the narrative, many point to criticism coming from the European Union. It is true that the Union tends to its flock with a heavy hand, punishing any transgressions coming from its member states. In the past four years, Hungary has seen a plethora of accusations delivered from Brussels over its democratic credentials, especially on the topics of electoral reform and economic programs.

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Hungary’s Sovereignty Struggle

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Brussels. Source: European Council

When the Hungarian Communist regime fell in 1989, the transition occurred rather smoothly.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Brussels. Source: European Council

The transition to democracy had been encouraged by political parties such as the Christian Nationalist Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum. Hungary did not witness the same amount of violence that has followed dramatic shifts in governance like in Romania at the time, or Iraq in the early part of the last decade or in Libya this decade. A gradual transformation to full democracy was planned and executed. The main proponent supporting the move to a social democracy was Viktor Orbán. Orbán, then only 26, demanded that Soviet troops withdraw, and free and fair elections be held. Flash forward to April 2010, when Orbán’s conservative party, Fidesz, won a supermajority, commandeering two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, as well as making Orbán Prime Minister.

Since that time, the fears of a return to an authoritarian rule have risen under the watch of Orbán’s government. Recently, Orbán has led an effort to change Hungary’s constitution and institute curbs on free speech and the media. There is also a lurking suspicion among many that Orbán’s agenda includes staying on as prime minister. The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders writes, “Across Europe, leaders have been reacting with alarm to a man who has used this huge surge of popularity to impose an assertive, intensely nationalistic style of politics. It marks the latest stage in his startling journey – long-haired, anti-communist libertine in the 1980s; democracy-movement hero in 1989; increasingly conservative leader in the 1990s; and today, a figure likened to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as the most authoritarian-styled elected leader in the 27-nation European Union.”

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