Mass protests challenge Hungary’s ‘authoritarian’ regime

Mass protests challenge Hungary’s ‘authoritarian’ regime

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Protesters demonstrate at a Hungarian state-run TV network after MP Laszlo Varju was beaten by security guards during an unsuccessful attempt to gain airtime. December 17, 2018. Courtesy: Fábián Tamás / Facebook
Protesters demonstrate at a Hungarian state-run TV network after MP Laszlo Varju was beaten by security guards during an unsuccessful attempt to gain airtime. December 17, 2018. Courtesy: Fábián Tamás / Facebook

Will the Hungarian government's recent embrace of force to counter protesters finally push the E.U. to isolate Viktor Orbán?

UNITED NATIONS – Mass protests are continuing in Hungary after President Viktor Orbán okayed a labor law making it legal to force employees to work as many as 400 hours of overtime a year.

But as protests continue, popular anger is being directed more broadly at the many ways Orbán changed Hungary since he swept into power in 2010.

A new 2012 constitution forced judges into early retirement, reigned in a nagging Constitutional Court and required all electoral campaigning be carried out on state media.

Since then, Hungary’s slide away from liberal democracy has only continued.

“Political scientists who study these things, no one would consider Hungary [to be] any more a democracy. It’s what’s categorized as a competitive authoritarian regime.”

Daniel Kelemen is a professor of political science and law at Rutgers University.

“It’s not a North Korea-style dictatorship. It’s something more along the lines of a soft version of Russia, where they have elections but the elections are rigged in favor of the ruling party, the media is completely controlled and now with these final steps, what had remained of some judicial independence is being put under government control.”

But for all that backsliding, Hungary still receives billions in annual E.U. aid and Orbán’s ruling party sits with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union at the European Parliament.

“So long as there was no violence. So long as his authoritarian system was a kind of legalistic one – where they shut down newspapers instead of arresting journalists, they rigged elections instead of physically intimidating opposition politicians – as long as it was like that, then the E.U. didn’t do anything, the European People’s Party really didn’t do anything.”

As Hungarian police start using violence to subdue protests, the E.U. and the world are starting to take note. The question is, after being asleep as Orbán hollowed out the Hungarian state, does it even matter that they’re awake?

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