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What is going on in Illiberal democracy Hungary?

In July 2014, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán gave what has come to be known as his “illiberal democracy” speech in Băile Tuşnad, Romania. In this speech, Orbán summarised the key factors that distinguish a fully democratic “Western” system based on liberal values and accountability from what he calls an “Eastern” approach based on a strong state, a weak opposition, and emaciated checks and balances. Even though the European Union is supposed to be the model of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, an authoritarian state has arisen within its borders. What has been happening in Hungary ever since Orbán came to power and how is the EU responding to this development?

Restricting judiciary

Having come to office with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, Orbán was able to rewrite the constitution without the consent of the opposition. He rushed through a series of constitutional changes, cardinal laws (requiring a two-thirds vote to change or remove), and regular laws that had the effect of turning the Hungarian political system upside down.

The following measures were taken by his party Fidesz after its 2010 triumph: The Constitutional Court was overhauled so that Fidesz appointees became a majority and its jurisdiction was narrowed. A new election law created gerrymandered legislative districts that were favourable to Fidesz. Orbán gave voting rights to ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries, who were likely to support Fidesz and the government created a new press authority whose chair and members were Fidesz loyalists. These steps represent only part of the campaign that has transformed Hungary into a full-fledged illiberal democracy.

Stop Soros Laws

Most recently, in January 2018, the government has proposed a set of laws that if adopted will have a devastating and chilling effect on civil society. The proposed legislative package seeks to punish the legitimate work of civil society groups that defend human rights, provide legal and social services, and offer support to people seeking international protection. The government’s goal is simple and clear: to silence independent and openly critical NGOs, such as Amnesty Hungary. If the new legislation is adopted, the government will be able to control and restrict the activities of independent human rights organisations in Hungary.

Masterclass: symposium human rights in illiberal democracy Hungary

On Saturday 9 June Amnesty is organising a masterclass about the state of the rule of law and human rights in present-day Hungary. For this symposium, we have invited three speakers. Each speaker will deal with a separate aspect of this topic.

  • Júlia Iván. Júlia Ivan is the director of Amnesty Hungary and a lawyer specialised in human rights and migration. She used to work for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee as a Senior Legal Coordinator for 9 years. She coordinated research, legal representation of asylum seekers and human rights training with the organisation.
  • Judith Sargentini. Judith Sargentini is the former Faction Leader of Groenlinks in the Amsterdam City Council and now Member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Greens. As Hungary Rapporteur for the EU she wrote the report on the European Parliament’s investigation into whether or not Hungary is in breach of the values of the European Union. Sargentini’s report recommends that the Council should initiate Article 7 (of the Treaty of Lisbon) proceedings against Hungary.
  • Arne Muis is a former Officer at Amnesty’s Strategic Studies Department and the co-editor of the essay collection: ‘Will human rights survive illiberal democracy?’ He is now working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The masterclass will not only consist of lectures, it will also be an interactive afternoon with room for discussion, and interesting assignments on lobby strategy and campaigning.

Do you want to know more about illiberal democracy in general and the human rights situation in Hungary? Join the masterclass! Register here.