Hungary and Poland: Drifting towards downgraded democracy

People protesta against the so called “Lex-CEU” in Budapest, on 9 April 2017.


After a successful transition from communism to democracy, Hungary and Poland are slowly drifting towards a Russian-style authoritarian new type of regime, and away from European core values. A trend that is affecting the whole region.

The new Hungarian law signed on 10 April by President János Áder has been branded Lex-CEU. This new legislation allowing the government to expel the Central European University (CEU) from Hungary is like an X-ray image of a hybrid regime – a democracy drifting towards authoritarianism. Moreover, it is not an isolated case but already a regional trend.

The alarming Nations in Transit 2017 report by Freedom House found that, with regards to democratic institutions and values, more countries were on the decline rather than an upswing.

The Lex-CEU

CEU is perhaps the only university in the region highly ranked in numerous world and European university reviews. It was founded by George Soros who registered it in New York and first accredited it in Prague in 1991, and shortly after, moved the institution to Hungary.

It appears Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was not joking when he described 2017 as “the year of repulsing” George Soros. Besides “sweeping clean” many civil society organisations receiving funding from the Open Society Institute, he has started to make it impossible for CEU, labelled as “Soros University”, to operate in Hungary.

Putin’s playbook

It might have been just a coincidence that just a week prior to Lex-CEU Russia revoked the license of the European University at St. Petersburg. Perhaps it is also a fluke that, parallel to the Lex-CEU, Hungary has also drafted a “foreign agent law” which strongly resembles another of Mr. Putin’s pieces of legislation.

A hybrid regime

Viktor Orbán’s post-2010 regime can be categorised into the group of so-called hybrid regimes where leaders do not completely dissolve democratic institutions and the rule of law, but they strive to empty them of content and restrict their operation.

Democratic institutions do exist in Hungary, but they barely work. Their role as a check on those in power has been gradually restricted since 2010. The National Assembly operates as a government-dominated law factory and the national government has either weakened autonomy or taken control of every institution that could in some way keep its power in check. Parallel to this process, the government restricted journalists’ freedom.

On a crash course with Europe

Full article: Hungary and Poland: Drifting towards downgraded democracy (VOX europ)

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