The Hungarian Illiberal Democracy

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaims the foundation of the illiberal Hungarian state in 2014 (photo: MTI).

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaims the foundation of the illiberal Hungarian state in 2014 (photo: MTI).

Since coming to power in 2010, the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has systematically dismantled the liberal democracy built in Hungary following the collapse of communism and established in its place an illiberal democracy (see Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State).

This hybrid political system has preserved many of the fundamental elements and attributes of liberal democracy: free elections; independent opposition parties; the rule of law; observance of the human and civil rights of all citizens; and respect for civil liberties—the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly and, on a practical level, the media.

The semi-authoritarian régime established in Hungary—the first to emerge within the European Union—also has the following general and specific traits that within the country’s present political context are indicative of illiberal democracy:

Manipulates elections and state institutions in order to preserve political power. See:

National Assembly Election System

2014 National Assembly Elections

Crunching the Election Numbers

The Budget Council

Centralizes and obfuscates executive power. See:

The Prime Ministry

Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office

Establishes legal, institutional and economic framework to stifle independent media. See:

Media Laws

The National Media and Infocommunications Authority

The Big Gun Swings into Action

Black Screen of Protest

A Few Thousand Malcontents

The Demise of People’s Freedom

Curbs the authority and independence of the judiciary. See:

The Constitutional Court

The Curia

The National Judicial Office

Attacks decisions of judiciary. See:

Having Your Cake

Organizes show trials. See:

Why Just Now?

Maintains dominant one-party system with weak liberal-democratic opposition. See:

State of the Democratic Opposition

Testament to Weakness

A Few Thousand Malcontents

Slanders liberal-democratic opposition. See:

Naming the Assassins

Extends state control over behavior of citizens on paternalistic grounds. See:

State Monopoly on the Retail Sale of Tobacco

Sunday Shop Closing

Uses powerful internal-security force for political purposes. See:

The Counter Terrorism Center

Marching to Praetoria

The Dubious Plot

The Dubious Plot (2)

Uses mass propaganda to support political policies. See:

Viktor’s New Sign

Sign War I

Sign of Things to Come

National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism

National Consultation on the Fundamental Law

Mass Mobilization 101

Peace, Bread and Utility-Fee Cuts!

Minus 20 Everywhere

Illustrations in the Decorative Edition of the Fundamental Law (gallery)

Uses state-run media as propaganda tool. See:

The Media Services and Support Trust Fund (MTVA)

The Röszke Telephones: Hungarian Television Anti-Migrant Propaganda

Referendum Homestretch on Hungarian Television

Uses direct democracy as source of legitimacy. See:

National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism

National Consultation on the Fundamental Law

Mass mobilization 101

The Referendum That Couldn’t Fail

Hungary’s 2016 Referendum on European Union Migrant Resettlement Quotas

Uses mass mobilization as show of force. See:

Pro-Government Peace March Demonstrations

Not with a Whimper

The Soft, White Underbelly

First Peace March (photo gallery)

Sixth Peace March (photo gallery)

Appeals to petty motives of the electorate in order to gain support. See:

Government Public Utility-Fee Cuts

Peace, Bread and Utility-Fee Cuts!

Minus 20 Everywhere

The Ignoble Struggle

Impugns and obstructs the operations of non-governmental organizations. See:

The Orbán Government and EEA-Norway Grants

Invasion of the HomoVikings

Slaying the Gentle Giant

Operates government-organized non-government organization (GONGO). See:

The Civil Cooperation Forum (CÖF)

Making Politics of Migration: the Civil Cooperation Forum Signs

A Thousand Clowns

Rejects multiculturalism; opposes immigration. See:

Hungary and the Great Migration

Je Suis Viktor

National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism

Hungary’s 2016 Referendum on European Union Migrant Resettlement Quotas

Builds border barriers. See:

The Curtain Falls Again

Fortress Hungary

Patronizes racist and xenophobic journalists. See:

Journalist Zsolt Bayer

Who Should Not Be?

The Same Stench

Stage 3: Dehumanization

Too Close for Comfort

Will the Real Mr. Fidesz Please Stand Up!

Advocates policies similar to those of the radical-nationalist opposition. See:

The Jobbikization of Fidesz (Act 1): Reinstatement of the Death Penalty

Follow the Evil Twin

Taking the Ball

Tolerates manifestations of radical-nationalist xenophobia and racism. See:

Uniform Disorder

See No Evil

The New Hungarian Guard/For a Better Future Hungarian Self-Defense

Utilizes irredentist sentiment to consolidate popular support. See:

The Alienator

The Friends You Keep

Attempts to deflect blame for the Holocaust away from the Hungarian state. See:

Round About Midnight

What Is Truth?

The German Occupation Memorial (gallery)

Opposes opening communist-era domestic-intelligence files to the public. See:

Communist-Era Domestic Intelligence Files

Restricts the liberty of the homeless. See:

Fidesz-KDNP Homeless Policy

Where Have All the Bums Gone?

Refuses to explicitly or implicitly endorse homosexuality. See:

The Cardboard Men

Conducts Statist Economic Policy. See:

Nationalization of Private Pension Funds

Orbán Administration Measures to Reduce Household Foreign-Currency Debt

State Monopoly on the Retail Sale of Tobacco

Land Law

Curbs the independence of the central bank. See:

The National Bank of Hungary

Operates large-scale, semi-compulsory public work program. See:

The Fluorescent Army

Promotes sports to strengthen legitimacy. See:

Football stadium construction

Consolidates power through patron-client relations with business oligarchs. See:

Lőrincz Mészáros

Andy Vajna

Árpád Habony

Gábor Széles

Lajos Simicska


The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned

Cleft in the Monolith

Life Instinct or Insider Trading?

The Hungarian Investment Immigration Program

Enables high-ranking officials to use public position to achieve personal benefit. See:

One Man’s Plaything

Football stadium construction

Feeling No Shame

The Crossroad of Principle

Strengthens relations with Russia and other authoritarian régimes. See:

Vlad Beyond Reproach

From Russia with Love

Deal of the Century

An Archconservative Speaks Out

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather (2)

Back to the Future

Eastern Opening

Eastern Opening: China

Eastern Opening: Azerbaijan

Eastern Opening Russia

Maintains antagonistic relations with the European Union. See:

Hell-lo Dictator!

Sign of Things to Come

Swallowing the Frog

The Bantam Shows His Spurs

The Faux Foe

Hungary and the European Union Excessive-Deficit Procedure

The Tavares Report

Prime Minister Orbán’s March 15 Speech


The main objective of illiberal democratic systems such as that currently functioning in Hungary under the leadership of Prime Minister Orbán appears to be to concentrate power as much as possible within the formal parameters of democracy. The rise of this type of system, which also exists in Russia and Turkey and is under formation in Poland as well, poses a significant threat to the unity and political stability of the liberal-democratic European Union in particular and to the global strength and influence of liberal democracy in general.