Democracy Deficit: Hungary's "polarised political environment"


An "intensely polarised political environment" - is how the 2007 Freedom House report describes the Hungarian situation. It says Hungary is an electoral democracy and puts the country in the top category as far as political rights and civil liberties are concerned. However, the report finds two issues, the political fight between government and opposition for power - and deep-rooted corruption - as causes for major concern and gave these as reasons for marking Hungary down on the democracy index.

Last September radical groups and football hooligans put the building of Hungarian Television under siege - a phenomenon that played a significant part in the latest Freedom House country report talking about a downward trend in the level of democracy in Hungary. The attack on the TV building and riots a few nights afterwards began after a leak of a speech made in May - after winning the general elections - by prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. As the Freedom House report puts it the Prime Minister tried to galvanise the members of the national assembly of his Socialist Party to support upcoming reforms by saying that they lied and did nothing in the previous few years in power. Balazs Kovacs of Freedom House Hungary, one of the authors of the country report, says both the government and the major opposition party Fidesz have carry responsibility for what can be considered a democracy deficit:

"The government's responsibility in handling of the riots is that they are ultimately in charge of the police. The police did not show professionalism in the face of the events in the streets of Budapest, they were really unable to contain the rioters, and on the subsequent night, there have been several incidents in which police dragged innocent passers-by. Now, the problem with the opposition is that they acted in a very reckless and irresponsible manner in which they mingled - without much hesitation - with anti-democratic and irregular elements. Support by the biggest opposition party is not conducive to a strong democratic state."

All this can be considered as one of the consequences of the 'intensely polarized political environment' the report talks about. Although, realistically, not too many people would share his optimism, the chair of the advisory board of Freedom House Hungary, economics university professor Peter Akos Bod is cautiously hopeful.

"Well, there is always hope. The two major blocks, political blocks are neck-to-neck, and this is not a structure that would easily result in a smooth and friendly flow of decision-making. Yet, I'm just hoping as a Hungarian citizen that the general public will turn to politicians and parties, personalities who are more friendly and do not want to sharpen the polarised situation."

Although, it is not as much spoken of as the riots and demonstrations, the Freedom House report also emphasises the significance of corruption as a democracy deficit in Hungary. While party politics divide people in Hungary, most of them agree that corruption is deep-rooted in this country, something Transparency International also confirms. Experts we talked to are puzzled about what the solution to corruption would be but professor Bod has an idea:

We also asked for comments of the Hungarian government on the report and we received a written statement that says the government is open for constructive political talks with the opposition to ease the deep political division but currently sees a slight chance for this as it also needs cooperation from the major opposition party.