The state of autocracy in Hungary

2023/24 Nebenan Gespräch
Photo: Till Schuster

Hungary joined the European Union in 2004 as a democratic constitutional state. The government under Viktor Orbán, which has been in power for over ten years, has turned Hungary into an autocracy. It dominates a compliant parliament and has undermined the independence of the judiciary. All relevant media are under its control. Although elections are free, they are anything but fair under these conditions. Why has an authoritarian regime established itself in Hungary of all places, what are its domestic and foreign policy objectives and what strategy are opposition forces pursuing? The political scientists Edit Zgut-Przybylska, Dániel Hegedüs and the academic and theater critic Noémi Herczog will discuss these issues with three short talks beforehand:

Edit Zgut-Przybylska explains the informal distortion of democracy in Hungary based on three key areas: clientelistic corruption, capture of the media and clientelism in elections. She then discusses the institutional and social components of the same problem, which are mutually reinforcing in the Orbán regime.

Daniel Hegedüs will talk about the strategic role that Hungary’s multivectoral foreign policy plays in the country’s autocratization process and the interactions between the European Union, a democratic semi-federal community, and its autocratizing member state Hungary. He will then assess the available instruments of the EU and its performance in safeguarding pluralist liberal democracy in Hungary.

Noémi Herczog will talk about the centralist and controlling spirit of state cultural policy, about financial censorship as a central instrument of the Orbán system and its impact on independent theater groups – those often critical artists who have never served the interests of the political leadership in Hungary.

Moderator: Volker Weichsel (Slavist, political scientist, editor of the magazine OSTEUROPA)

Duration: ca. 2 h
Language: English with german live-translation

Dr. Edit Zgut-Przybylska is an assistant professor in the Institute of Philosophy at the Polish Academy of Sciences and a visiting fellow at CEU Democracy Institute. She received her PhD in Sociology, holds an MA in Political Science and graduated as a journalist. Her research interest covers informality, populism and Euroscepticism in the context of democratic backsliding. She is the Vice-Chair of Amnesty International in Hungary and a guest lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute of the US State Department. Edit held a re:consitution fellowship, a Rethink.CEE fellowship at the German Marshall Fund and a fellowship at Visegrad Insight. She previously worked at Political Capital Research Institute and before that, she was a journalist at various media outlets in Hungary.

Daniel Hegedüs is a Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and heads the GMF’s Central Europe Program. He studied political science, history and European law at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He previously worked at Freedom House, at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), and at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), and taught at the Institute for East European Studies at the Free University of Berlin, at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and at the Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest. 

Noémi Herczog lives and works as a theater critic, editor and university lecturer in Budapest and Cluj. She is editor of the Hungarian theater magazine “SZÍNHÁZ”. From 2013 – 2020 she taught at the University of Theater and Film, Budapest (SZFE), after which she was a guest lecturer at the alternative teaching institution Freeszfe. In 2019 she was on a lecture tour in the USA on the subject of Hungarian theater. She was artistic advisor of the Péter Halász Award for Contemporary Theater and Experiments and co-curator of dunaPart – Hungarian Platform – a Showcase of Contemporary Hungarian Performing Arts (2015, 2017, 2019). In 2022 she received the Tamás Bécsy Prize for Theater Research, the Éva F. Virág Prize for Theater Criticism and in 2023 the Artisjus Literature Prize in the “Essay” category. She is the author of the book: “Theaterkritik der Denunziation im Ungarn des Kalten Krieges” (2022). Her aim is to follow and support experimental tendencies in Hungarian theater.