What Went Wrong in Hungary

Issue Date April 2024
Volume 35
Issue 2
Page Numbers 52–64
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Why did Hungarian democracy have a harder time developing and rooting itself than democracy in other countries? The answer lies in the overlapping institutions and incentives that create democratic resilience. Hungary’s political elites never finished their constitutional transition from communism to democracy by agreeing on a new democratic constitution. The 1998 elections polarized Hungarian politics around competing conceptions of democracy in ways that made it hard to reach consensus on a shared constitutional arrangement. Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party rose to power in the late 1990s by offering a strong state that would protect Hungarian society from the threat of social liberalism and foreclose a potential return of communism. Orbán returned to power in 2010, on the heels of the global financial crisis, and began centralizing and entrenching power by deft manipulation of democratic institutions. The case of Hungary tells us what to look for in anticipating democratic failure and serves as a cautionary tale for the EU.

About the Authors

Veronica Anghel

Veronica Anghel is a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

View all work by Veronica Anghel

Erik Jones

Erik Jones is director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.

View all work by Erik Jones