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U.S., International Community Cannot Ignore Hungary's Crumbling Democracy

by Thomas Wilson, published

At the heart of the Carpathian Basin pulses the resilience and hope of the Hungarian people. A civilization molded from a history fraught with compounding obstacles, the pain of the past still burns deep in the national consciousness as the struggle for stability continues.

Clawing for survival, the Orban administration has turned inward and eastward. Hungary's retreat from a liberal democracy has been executed in the shadows of the dark clouds in the Middle East and Ukraine. The international community, however, cannot afford to ignore the dissolving democracy.

Beginning with the Mongolian invasion in 1241, where nearly half of the Hungarian population was decimated, Hungary’s location has generated a history of deflecting invading hoards for Western Europe. Again in 1456, the Hungarians, led by Janos Hunyadi, defeated the Turkish Army, thus defending the gates of the European heartland.

In recent memory, Hungary has played an intricate role in the balance of power within Europe. Its defeat in World War I, compounded with the loss of significant portions of territory through the Treaty of Trianon, contributed to Hungary’s alignment with the Axis Power in the signing of the Tripartite Pact. The arrangement would again lead the Hungarians to defeat.

Defeat was followed by the occupation of the Communists within the nation-state for much of the twentieth century. Hungary found itself caught between the struggles of NATO super powers and their Soviet counterpart.

Shackled by the tentacles of Moscow, Hungary retained its focus on the west, persistently pushing the Communist boundaries.

The perseverance would pay off with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1990, Hungarians returned to the polls for the first free elections held since 1945.

The transition from Communism was not easy, however. The jolt that followed the release from a command economy and Soviet constraints shuddered the social stratums.

Decreased living standards and a transition toward more open markets contributed to significant political volatility throughout the years following the emergence of the new Hungarian Democratic Republic. Hungary, however, showed significant promise as it embraced Western Europe.

In 1999, Hungary became a member of NATO and was integrated into the European Union in 2004.

Turbulent politics and a poor economic structure left Hungary vulnerable to the 2008 recession. The global economic crisis would prove too detrimental for the Hungarian economy and it broke Forint’s poorly-retained power and stability.

Disproportionately high spending, corruption, a significant accumulation of debt compounded with a relatively small domestic market, scarce resources, and a low competitive edge within the region laid the foundation for severe economic devastation. As history has proven time and time again, drastic times lead to drastic measures.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban returned to the premiership in 2010. This time, however, he brought with him a supermajority.

The alliance of Fidesz, Orban's political party, and the Christian Democrats positioned the administration in a manner that would allow for dramatic shifts within various public policies. Little time was wasted before crafting a new constitution.

Unapologetically, Orban turned to the east in search of a template for stability: places such as Azerbaijan, Singapore, and even China. With this shift, fundamental principles adherent to a healthy democratic system were discarded. The dance between liberty and stability is a dangerous one, and in the end, with each misstep the individual is punished.

“A lot of people expected big changes from Fidesz,” said Csaba Csapo. “Now they are disappointed with what is being delivered. Many fear it is moving toward a much less democratic future.”

In an attempt to improve individual quality of life issues as well as improving the staggering Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the administration has adopted several drastic economic policies. Although there has been modest growth within the GDP, tax policies have deterred foreign investments and have had a lasting impact on an individual's buying power.

Therefore, the dance continues. With each step, necessary ingredients to a healthy democracy are removed.

While adhering to the belief of majority rule, the supermajority has neglected the necessity of minority rights. These rights are demonstrated through equality of all persons. The September 8, 2014, raid of several Non-Government Organizations in Budapest is a clear retreat from this principle.

The supermajority has also proved that the need for compromise is removed as policies are pushed through or, in this case, new constitutions and amendments are drafted.

"If the prime minister wants to regulate a piece of something, his party will make it happen,” said Tomas Kocsis as he reflected on current trends of the Hungarian political order. “The ruling coalition thus can change whatever they want to change -- even the constitution.”

A central pillar to a healthy democracy is an insistence on the widest possible degree of individual freedom. As government centralizes control, the liberties of the individual are assimilated into the wishes of the collective.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s seizure of the media has caused many outcries from human rights organizations throughout the international system. Control over media advertisement and the repercussions that come from a government-operated media have caused many information outlets to shutter their windows.

Therefore, the flow of information, a critical aspect of a democratic society, is controlled under the pressure of a clenched fist.

Regardless of the rising volume of human rights condemnations, the international community has done little to curb Hungary’s movement away from being a liberal democracy.

The credibility of the European Union is at risk of being compromised. The longer it neglects to impart sanctions and consequences on the Orban administration, the more the integrity of the Union is destabilized.

As Western European nations weaken under the shackles of Russian energy, it makes the strength of independent democracies that much more important. With Hungary’s strategic location, ensuring the focus is on the western horizon is important as concerns of Russian regional hegemony surge.

Hungary’s relatively small population and frequently forgotten place in the pages of western history make it easy to neglect the dealings of its people. The answer is not an infringement on the sovereignty of the nation-state, but corrective guidance and assistance in its rehabilitation process.

As Hungary attempts to find its footing on the international stage, it is critical that the right actors are the ones who assist the country in finding its path. Apathy and neglect will only allow the issue to fester and grow, contaminating not only the region, but also allowing the demise of civil liberties to proliferate across the international system.

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