EIU: democracy further weakening in Hungary

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The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has released the 10th edition of its Democracy Index, a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide in 165 independent states and two territories. Hungary ranks 56th on the list, at the same level with Lesotho.

The Democracy Index compiled by the EIU is based on five categories: the electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on its scores for a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy”; “flawed democracy”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime.”

“Flawed democracies” are concentrated in Latin America (16), Asia (13), and Eastern Europe (12), but notably Western Europe has six too, including leading European countries such as France and Italy, many more than a decade ago.

Eastern Europe does not have a single country qualifying as a full democracy, as some of the region’s most politically developed nations, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, have failed to establish a democratic political culture or encourage broad political participation, the EIU observes.

The 28 countries in Eastern Europe, which includes the Balkans, the Baltic states, the Visegrád countries (plus Slovenia), and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in the Democracy Index classification of regions, now have more non-democratic countries than democratic ones, being home to 16 “hybrid” or “authoritarian” regimes, up from 15 in 2016, and 12 “flawed democracies” - the latter including Hungary.

Based on the overall score, the democracy index of Hungary has been continuously deteriorating since 2011, the last time when Hungary achieved a score above 7. In 2016, Hungaryʼs score reached 6.72, and last year it shrank further to 6.64, placing it in 56th position together with Lesotho, below Colombia (53rd), and just above Croatia (58th).

Media freedom compromised

In terms of freedom of the media, the EIU observes that even in Eastern Europe’s most advanced democracies the media environment can be problematic. The highest scores are attained by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with scores of 9 and a joint ranking of 11th. The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia all score 8 and are ranked in joint 31st place. Several countries have scores of 7 (Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia) and rank equal 49th.

However, two Visegrád countries, Hungary and Poland, score only 6 for media freedom, ranking them in joint 71st place, having experienced a significant deterioration in their media scores over the past year and more.

Poland has brought public radio and TV broadcasters under state control and replaced their directors, notes the report. Several independent publications which are critical of the government have been subjected to a state-led financial squeeze, and the government has also been highly critical of foreign-controlled media organizations.

The EIU finds a similar pattern of heavy-handed state interference in the media evident in Hungary in recent years, where the government, led by the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been consolidating its control over the media since taking power in 2010. It has overseen the sale of several media outlets to new owners who appear to have close government ties, notes the report. In addition, the closure and subsequent sale of Népszabadság, one of Hungary’s oldest and most respected newspapers, revealed the government’s intolerance of a critical press, the EIU says.

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