Last week, the nonpartisan human rights watchdog group Freedom House published its annual “Nations in Transit” report, which offers particular focus on the nations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. Alongside the usual depressing reports from Central Asia (where every country, except Kyrgyzstan, is still designated “Not Free”), the most important finding regards Hungary.
“Hungary’s year-on-year performance [is] the most glaring example of democratic decline among the newer European Union (EU) members, where the combination of poorly rooted traditions of democratic practice, resilient networks of corruption, low levels of public trust, and shaky economic conditions have hampered indelible democratic reform,” the report states. In a statement released with the report, Freedom House President David J. Kramer went one step further with an attention-grabbing (yet unfortunately accurate) use of the word “Putinization” to characterize developments in Hungary and Ukraine, the latter of which is not a European Union member and is widely considered to be in a different league entirely when it comes to things like judicial independence, political corruption, press freedom, and the like. “Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances,” said Kramer. “They appear to be pursuing the ‘Putinization’ of their countries, which is ironic, given that in Russia itself Putinism has been largely discredited over the past year, as ordinary Russians increasingly seek guarantees of government accountability and transparency.”
I’ve written elsewhere about the unfortunate turn of events in Hungary since Viktor Orban took power, which have culminated, most bizarrely and disturbingly, in his government’s recent insistence that a long-dead ethnic Hungarian fascist be reburied—with official state honors—in present-day Romania. Those of us interested in the long-term spread of democracy have affixed our eyes more recently to events in the Middle East, but let us not forget that democracy is still under threat closer to home.
Photo Credit: Európa Pont