Throughout the last few years, Hungary has been becoming a more nationalist, authoritarian country. The country is dominated by a single party, Fidesz, and has been in a downward spiral, with the organization Freedom House giving them diminishing scores for the past 14 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, prime minister Viktor Orbán has dissolved the parliament in Hungary and has complete control of the government until (or if) he decides to relinquish it (BBC). This, paired with the racist anti-Islamic and anti-refugee policies is showing that a once-promising democratic nation is turning into one of the most oppressive regimes in Europe. It is now a question of how or if democratic nations around the world can do anything to halt this nationalistic progress or if by the time this crisis if over it will have been to late.
The rise of authoritarianism and nationalism in Hungary goes much farther back than the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19. In 2010 Viktor Orbán won the election for prime minister under the Allegiance of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Union Party, otherwise, know as Fidesz (Britannica). Since 2010 there has been a methodical effort on the part of Fidesz to compromise all independent institutions and slowly consolidate all power in the country. As of today, Fidesz holds 47% of all seats in the parliament, with the closest opposition parties winning only 17.6% and 13.6% of the vote respectively (New York Times). The new regime in Hungary has been controlling the media and narrative in the country to be in line with what Fidesz wants and that has effected journalists as well as NGOs attempting to operate within the country (Freedom House). These steps taken by the Fidesz party show that the current development is not a random act but the final act of a movement designed to take complete control of a democratic nation.
One more inclined to give leeway to authoritarianism may argue that a political party should not be judged based on the power they accumulate but on the actions that they take on behalf of their country. For Fidesz, these actions include a plethora of racist and anti-immigrant policies. Members of Fidesz have called for a ban on burkas as well as prohibiting the construction of mosques around the country. This is because many Fidesz representatives see Hungary as a fundamentally Christian nation and see Islamic refugees as a threat (BBC). This sentiment led to border fencing during the mass displacement of people in the conflict in Syria among other regions. This is in addition to the censorship of the media that was alluded to above that has seen many major new organizations being purchased by leaders of the Fidesz party which have completely compromised their journalistic integrity (Freedom House). Along with media outlets, educational systems have also come under the influence of the Fidesz party. Research programs in Hungary have been completely stripped especially those that were doing work in cooperation with other nations (Freedom House). The actions that this regime takes are nationalistic in nature and much suffering has been caused by the influence that they were able to obtain so far. The recent increase in power looks to jeopardize Hungary’s standing in the world as it is likely to fall out of the EU and most likely will continue to slide downward until it becomes a completely nationalist state.
With so much power consolidated in the past decade, the free world was paying close attention to Fidesz party actions. Media was covering the outrages stories of Islamaphobia and it looks as though the war of public opinion would turn on Hungary and the world community would begin to hold them accountable nationalistic actions and halt the consolidation of power. This was until a pandemic began demanding all resources including media coverage of the virus. It was during this time of mass panic that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared a national emergency and took complete control over the country until he decides to relinquish that power. This decree includes a provision that anyone deemed to spread false news about the virus is subject to imprisonment of 5 years (BBC). This sudden power grab is a calculated move by Orbán to take advantage of a world too busy to hold them accountable. There are many parallels between what is going on in Hungary and what was done in Mexico by the PRI throughout the 20th century. The playbook of authoritarian regimes does not see much revision as the same toolkit of fear, corruption, and single party tactics lead to positive results for those who pursue them.
The question then arises of whose responsibility it is for holding Hungary responsible for their nationalistic actions. One could argue that despite a clear ability for voters to gain knowledge due to a media bias, that Hungarians have chosen this fate. The elections they have held have been for the most part free and fair and Fidesz have routinely won around 50% of the vote. This Islamophobic rhetoric is not just reserved for the leaders of the country as 74% of Hungarians view the religion of Islam negatively (BBC). Because of this, an argument could be made for the sovereignty of Hungary to be respected as democratic institutions have led it to the state that it is in. However, a counter-argument that could be made is that any attempt to consolidate power which is clearly prevalent in Hungary is a violation of the human rights of the citizens of Hungary who deserve free and fair elections. This argument relies on the fact that past free and fair elections do not give the country the power to hold unfree elections in the future simply because they won.
The future of Hungary rests on the international community and whether they decide that severe economic sanctions will be sufficient to curb the nationalist movement in Hungary. It is entirely possible that by the time this outbreak ends, Hungary will be too far gone to return to having free and fair elections anytime soon. It is also important to note that this is not an isolated even with leaders all over the world, most notably Vladimir Putin, consolidating power and increasing authoritarianism. However, the timing of their actions shows just how important it is for groups like NGOs and the media to put pressure on these leaders as it is a direct response to their absence that these power grabs have been made.