Melissa Hooper: Helsinki Commission Briefing on Hungary
Statement of Melissa Hooper
Human Rights First
Helsinki Commission Briefing on Hungary
April 9, 2019
Since coming to power with a supermajority in 2010, the Fidesz party and Prime Minister Viktor Orban have used their power to hollow out democratic institutions to such a degree that Hungary has been called a “Frankenstate” – an illiberal mutant composed of ingeniously stitched-together imitations of western liberal democratic elements. While the Obama-era policy of limited high-level engagement precluded some of the Hungarian government’s controversial actions, it did not appear to motivate fundamental change. The Trump-era policy of warm embrace and transactional engagement devoid of values has fared no better. The U.S. should therefore reexamine its policy toward Hungary such that the administration becomes more vocal, critical, and active in imposing consequences when fundamental values are undermined – not only as an attempt to ameliorate Hungary’s flagging democracy, but also as a method of reinvigorating democratic values in the region. The U.S. government should also consider taking specific actions to hold the Hungarian government accountable and support local civil society.
I will review some of the major policies that demonstrate the extent of democratic deterioration, with an emphasis on recent developments, and note how the U.S. can bolster democracy in the region, protect its own interests, and impose consequences when movement toward authoritarian governance crosses a line.
In April 2018, Orban and Fidesz won a third election in a row, maintaining a supermajority after winning only 50 percent of the vote (largely due to recent changes to election laws that gave the ruling party significant political advantages). The OSCE, which monitored the election, criticized the xenophobic, antisemitic, and intimidating rhetoric used by the government, the undue advantage given the ruling party through the use of state-funded resources for its campaigns and messaging, the politicization of media ownership and limits on media freedom, and a lack of transparent campaign-financing.
Since last year’s election, Orban and Fidesz have continued to undermine, hollow out, and even attack fundamental tenets of democratic governance.