The Autocrat Inside the EU

August 29, 2014

by Amy Brouilette

"In late July, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a bold speech in the Transylvanian town of Tusnadfurdo. His message, articulated at a retreat of Hungarian leaders, was unquestionably controversial; to many observers of Hungarian politics, it was nothing short of galling. Orban announced plans to make his country an "illiberal state," citing some of the world's more repressive regimes -- Russia and China, for instance -- as models.

"The new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state," he said. "It does not deny foundational values of liberalism, [of] freedom.... But it does not make this ideology a central element of state organization."

It was Orban's brashest anti-democratic salvo since his conservative Fidesz party swept to power in 2010 -- and the bar was already high.

The "end of liberal democracy" speech, as it has been dubbed by Hungary's opposition media, caps years of wrangling between Orban and European Union officials over measures that critics say have removed democratic checks and balances and have cemented the prime minister's control over key institutions. In the span of a few short years, using his party's two-thirds parliamentary majority, Orban has passed a new constitution and restrictive media laws, limited the powers of his country's Constitutional Court, introduced an election law that led critics to call polls this April "free but not fair," and installed party loyalists in all important state bodies, including the central bank. There are fears that the "Putinization of Hungary" is occurring -- a concern that carries all the more weight given Orban's increasingly cozy relationship with Moscow.

For some who have known Orban longer than his recent years as prime minister, however, his speech marks something more: the final step in a steady tumble from his once-elevated status among Central Europe's most promising democratic reformers to one of Europe's most worrisome autocrats."

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