Angela Merkel wearing a concerned expression as she hosts Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2012. PA Images.

December 29, 2017   < 1

Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban has given a speech in which he set out his belief in what he called “illiberal democracy”. Speaking in 2014 he predicted that systems that were “not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, and perhaps not even democracies” could and would create successful and competitive societies. He asserted that “the stars of the international analysts today are Singapore, China, India, Russia, and Turkey.”

The Human Rights Watch organisation has examined changes to Poland’s judicial system and increased state control of media and has warned that checks and balances have been eroded.

Both Orban and Poland’s ruling Law & Justice Party remain popular in their countries – at least for now. Orban’s ruling Fidesz party consistently scores over 50% in polls. L&J (PiS) enjoy leads of 15% to 20% its their main rival.

With our current introspection, one of the things we have missed is the growing wave of attacks on democracy in Europe and even more importantly the fact that states in the East are beginning to succumb to it. Our fixation, within Britain, on seeing the continent only through the Brexit prism means we have missed the fact that Hungary is now lost as a functioning liberal democracy for the foreseeable future.

Poland has been in the news more recently following the PM’s recent visit and the EU at long last taking action to try and halt the populist government’s attack on the judiciary and independent media.

But while those countries are furthest down the road of weakening their own democratic institutions, it’s not limited to them. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia the politics are different but the fact that authoritarian governments are now in power is the constant across the region.

Since the 1990s we have lulled ourselves into believing that liberal democracy is in some way a default, the settled state of advanced societies.

What we are beginning to see is that it’s not.

It needs to be fought for and defended and Eastern Europe is the new front line.


Introduction to this Under-reported series.

Summary guide to all under-reported articles in this series.