Freedom House: Hungary downgraded from democracy to "hybrid regime"

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Hungary has ceased to be a democracy and can now be qualified as a "hybrid regime", according to the 2020 Nations in Transit report from US-based NGO Freedom House.

The report, which examined 29 former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries, showed that the decline of Hungary, classified as a "consolidated democracy" as recently as 2014, was "the most precipitous ever tracked in Nations in Transit". Between 2015 and 2019, the country steadily dropped while remaining in the range of "semi-consolidated democracies", but in 2020 it became the first country to descend by two regime categories and leave the group of democracies entirely.


The government under Viktor Orbán has centralized power, tilted the electoral playing field, taken over much of the media and harassed critical civil society organizations since 2010, according to the report. In 2019, Orbán moved to consolidate control over new areas of public life including education and the arts, it continued, and the 2020 adoption of an emergency law that allows the government to rule by decree indefinitely has further exposed the undemocratic character of Orbán’s regime.

Hungary's democracy index places it on equal footing with Serbia and Montenegro, while other Balkan countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are still classified as "semi-consolidated democracies". Of the 29 countries examined, only ten qualified as democracies, the fewest since the report was launched in 1995. 

Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács dismissed the report on Twitter, writing that Freedom House, "once known as the bipartisan human rights organization", had become part of the "Soros network" and declined due to the funding it receives from George Soros. "Anyone who doesn’t conform to their liberal view, gets downgraded," Kovács wrote.

Freedom House, founded in 1941, is a non-profit NGO funded by the United States government.

EC forecasts sharp economic contraction as tourism, manufacturing slump

A new economic forecast from the European Commission predicts a 7 percent decline in Hungary's GDP this year, far more pessimistic than the Hungarian government's forecast of a 3 percent drop.

The sharp decline is partly due to the coronavirus crisis hitting Hungary's economy during the peak of a period of above-average economic growth, only adding to a slowdown that was already expected, the EC wrote. Tourism and transport, which make up half of Hungary's service exports, are particularly affected by travel restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic: in March, 68 percent fewer guests spent nights in commercial accommodations compared to a year earlier, a figure which is expected to be even lower for the month of April.

Hősök tere in Budapest stands empty of tourists.Fotó: Magyar Turisztikai Ügynökség

The Commission's forecast also painted a darker picture for unemployment and budget deficits than projected by the Hungarian government: the EC predicts a 7 percent unemployment rate compared to the government's 5.6 percent forecast, and a budget deficit of 5.2 percent compared to the government's outlook of 3.8 for 2020.

Hungary's dependence on the automobile manufacturing sector makes it particularly exposed to economic damage, the Commission found. In a major hit to the sector, German automaker BMW announced on Wednesday it would suspend construction for at least a year of an electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Debrecen as the company slashes capital investments after a 20 percent decline in sales in the first quarter. (In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó assured the public that BMW is still obligated to undertake construction of the factory, which would have begun this spring.)

Szijjártó and other government officials conclude the agreement with BMW in 2018.Fotó: Czeglédi Zsolt/MTI/MTVA

The government's economic response to the crisis was addressed by the Commission, which wrote that Hungary's "muted fiscal policy response" would be insufficient to buffer the economy from a "sharp recession". Fiscal measures adopted so far to contain the economic impact of the pandemic amount to only 1 percent of GDP, the reports states. These measures are financed not by pumping new money into the economy, but from the reshuffling of existing budgetary chapters and reserves and from new taxes on banks and retail companies.

Hungary is predicted to fare the worst among the V4 countries: GDP in the Czech Republic will fall by 6.2 percent, in Poland by 4.3 percent, and in Slovakia by 6.2 percent. Still, economic growth in the European Union will shrink by 7.5 percent on average this year, meaning Hungary, like other countries in Central Europe, will be less severely affected than some countries in Western Europe. The EC projected 6 percent GDP growth in Hungary for next year.

Parliament rejects convention on combating violence against women

The Parliament on Tuesday accepted a declaration submitted the previous day by Fidesz's junior coalition partner KDNP on refusing to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

One of the declaration's authors, KDNP caucus leader Lőrinc Nacsa, argued that the Convention would introduce "destructive gender ideology" to Hungary, while another author, Fidesz-KDNP communications director István Hollik, called the Convention "the Trojan horse of the liberals and genderists".

Opposition MPs protest the vote on rejecting the Istanbul Convention.Fotó: Hoppál Péter Facebook

The declaration states that the protection of women is already enshrined in Hungarian law, and that the convention's "gender-based approach" is contrary to Hugary's interests and the will of the majority of Hungarians. The authors argued that Hungary does not wish to incorporate the Convention's concept of gender as a social construct into its national laws, and that giving gender-based considerations to asylum applications would inhibit Hungary's legal structures for combating illegal immigration. According to KDNP, the paragraphs in the Convention's text which require governments to ensure that gender-based violence against women be recognized as a form of persecution in assessing asylum claims could be interpreted as a “compulsory guarantee of asylum for women”.

"We have a right to defend our country, culture, laws, traditions and national values, and these may not be jeopardized either by a gender ideology which differs from the majority consensus nor by limitless immigration or immigration which offers advantages based on gender," the declaration reads.

In an article for 444, Kitti Fődi observes that while the declaration points to both the Convention's "gender ideology" and its requirement that asylum procedures take gender considerations into account as the pretext for rejecting its ratification, the text of the convention does not support these arguments. The term "gender" only appears in one paragraph of the Convention, defining the term rather than expounding on a broader ideology. The Convention also calls on governments to recognize rights to asylum for victims of domestic violence, and does not amount to a compulsory guarantee to asylum for women as KDNP argued.

Hungary signed the Istanbul Convention in 2014 but since 2017 has steadfastly refused to ratify it. The declaration passed on Tuesday calls on the government to urge the European Union in all institutions in which the government takes part not to accede to the Convention.

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