Forget about the Money: Why Hungary is much more worrisome than Brexit or Greece

The recent struggle about the fate of CEU in Hungary is just the latest installment of a move towards what the Hungarian government calls ‘illiberal democracy’.  In real terms, this is a misnomer as Hungary has become a democracy only in the sense of an (not really fairly) elected government, whereas most of the other institutions have been gradually dismantled: checks and balances, independent judiciary, independent press, academic freedom are all severely damaged.

I am not alone in this assessment: Just look at the recent relative performance of Hungary in the Bertelsmann Democracy Status Index. It not only tanks, it also tanks in a region with a declining trend (recent events in Poland might also drag the region average down, though).



The only positive aspect of the Hungarian lex specialis against CEU is however, that it gives salience to an issue which is much more worrisome than BREXIT or the debt crisis in Southern Europe: it is the question, whether the EU can continue to exist if some of its members cease to be democracies.

Historically, the European Communities were founded as a zone of economic integration and cooperation to stabilize the partly nascent democracies in Western Europe. One might argue that ironically, the economic integration has contributed to a destabilization of these democracies. And yet, in many respects the current resentment against the EU is just a typical example of scapegoating: the debt crisis, the integration in a global economy could perhaps have been mitigated without the deep European economic integration, but they would have happened nonetheless.

Forget about the money for a second. The fog of economic turbulences has clouded our eyes when it comes to the original idea: creating a mutually stabilizing club of democracies. The legitimacy of the European Union itself is at stake, if it transforms into a mixed bag of democracies, semi-democracies, and outright autocracies in the near future. Like the United Nations such an EU would suffer tremendously from the most basic disagreements on fundamental human norms. Just think of the fact that Saudia Arabia gets to chair the UN Human Rights Council panel. However, unlike the United Nations, the EU would still consist of a much deeper level of political integration, of shared areas of competences and common institutions.

Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to think that the current crisis in Hungary and in several other European countries poses the most existential threat to the EU since its existence. Forget about the money, this is about basic freedom, democracy and rule of law. This is about the reason why the EU was called into existence.




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11 responses to “Forget about the Money: Why Hungary is much more worrisome than Brexit or Greece

  1. Pat

    Cannot agree more with your analysis.
    Brexit and the illiberal politics of Hungary are symptoms of a crisis. My hopes are that the EU interprets this crisis as a systemic one that requires enforcing the values, those that go beyond the economy and embrace social justice and democracy, and not as episodes.
    Values are there to be enforced and there’s the need to rethink how to enforce them and create the stability that is so much needed.
    The lack of clear policies to enforce and create European citizens and clearly spread EU values in new generations is a pricey detail that has been long overlooked.
    I struggle to explain to European teenagers the value of Europe, as they cannot see anything different, they still study National history and lack an european civic education and knowledge of why Europe is and should be a united entity. It’s a constant struggle to share my experiences, the emotion of then the wall came down, and the hopes that brought to the world.
    Because none told them what was Europe before, and none sees the huge leap forward we made in a relatively short time.

  2. Do you have ANY facts to support your negative opinion? Otherwise it looks like just another Soros-paid propaganda against Hungary.

  3. Thank you for your prompt reply. The graph unfortunately doesn’t show right now with my poor internet connection. Does it also include data of how democratic are the Muslim non-integrated societies in their host countries, like in the wonderfully democratic Sweden, UK, or Denmark?

    Or data about the numbers of and numbers of victims of recent terror attacks and other violence committed by (mostly illegal) MENA migrants in the above mentioned democractic countries and in Germany, France, Belgium,…?

    Or the politically correct censorship in Sweden or Germany?

    Any specifics on how exactly Hungary is violating “basic freedom” and “rule of law”? WHICH law?
    That the government was not fairly elected?
    That independent press can’t work? (you seem to ignore the heavy presence of opposition press like 444, index, HVG and quite a few others). BTW, it is rather funny for someone on Soros’ pay roll to demand independency…

    Where and how EXACTLY is Hungary in crisis? The country is doing much better economically than in the past Socialist government, also, we are a leading force in some political questions such as the migrant invasion, for more and more countries. There is only a minority of leftist politicians, (mainly foreigner) media and their (often paid) followers, activists who are trying to make it seem that Hungary is in trouble.

    BTW 2: Do you also have articles denouncing Sharia being practiced in a few democratic countries in Europe? Or maybe that is not your concern.

    I don’t continue. Any solid facts? Thank you.

    • I fear that this is an endless conversation. Why should an infringement of a right in Germany rectify or make seem relative what is going on in Hungary. Why would strong economic performance rectify curtailing press freedom and so on…

      You can turn to these assessments of international agencies yourself. You might claim that they have a liberal bias, but wasn’t this what the fall of the Berlin wall era was supposed to be about?

      You can always discredit me for being biased, and I truly am. But you have to be in your cosy echo chamber, if you ignore all inconvenient facts against the Hungarian government.

  4. In other words: you can’t support your claims. Clear.

    Well, Herr Professor, if you have family and friends in your homeland, I wish you that they stay safe and don’t get raped, blown up, knifed, shot or driven over in the next attack which is already kind of “normal” in that part of democratic Europe.

  5. Why do you now get personal, I thought you were looking for facts. I gave you some, you do not believe them. That’s all I can do. Why can you not live with the fact that people are seriously worried about questioning some major achievements such as separation of power, rule of law? Instead you refer to something totally different: the migration question. You are shifting from one thing to the other. Please, this is not about me, but go out and look up the sources, try to understand why there is something serious at stake here. Separation of powers as a fundamental part of functioning democracy is not at all related to Marxism…

    • Is that how you teach at CEU? You claim several things (admittedly having a political agenda), give only one reference that doesn’t show any specifics at all, and refuse to give more sources and to answer questions?

      Sorry, if I made you feel offended by asking for references…

      I highly appreciate though that you did not delete my definitely not politically correct comments. Big kudos to you for that!

  6. Yes, this is how we teach: openness to criticism, also knowing that we dont know everything, and that we also have our biases. But if you are interested in more critical sources, maybe this is a great resource for you showing how corruption in Hungary and other countries nowadays works:, see also here: This is the field I know best. I know that these sources are very technical, but I am also very happy to explain more what the authors do and how they do it.
    If you rather want to know why, for instance, the constitutional changes in Hungary are very dangerous, I can gladly refer you to my colleagues who know much more about this than I do.
    I can totally understand that many Hungarians are tired of foreigners telling them what they should do. I myself am quite critically of what the EU, the Worldbank and others (even including OSF) have been doing in the region. But this should not mean that you should automatically accept whatever the government does. Democracies only work if there are enough critical citizens to check the government.

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