How democracy can win again

Democratic erosion in Hungary is symptomatic of structural problems afflicting most democracies, even threatening the future of civilization.
By Gergely Karácsony – My political awakening coincided with the systemic changes that unfolded following the collapse of communism in Hungary in 1989. I was both fascinated and overjoyed by my country’s rapid democratization. As a teenager, I persuaded my family to drive me to the Austrian border to see history in the making: the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, which allowed east-German refugees to head for the west. Reading many new publications and attending rallies for newly established democratic political parties, I was swept up by the atmosphere of unbounded hope for our future.

Today, such sentiments seem like childish naivety, or at least the product of an idyllic state of mind. Both democracy and the future of human civilization are now in grave danger, beset by multifaceted and overlapping crises.

Three decades after the fall of communism, we are again forced to confront anti-democratic political forces in Europe. Their actions often resemble those of old-style communists, only now they run on a platform of authoritarian, nativist populism. They still grumble, like the communists of old, about ‘foreign agents’ and ‘enemies of the state’—by which they mean anyone who opposes their values or policy preferences—and they still disparage the west, often using the same terms of abuse we heard during communism. Their political practices have eroded democratic norms and institutions, destroying the public sphere and brainwashing citizens through lies and manipulation.

Nativist populism tends to be geared toward only one purpose—to monopolise state power and all its assets. In my country, the regime of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has almost captured the entire state through the deft manipulation of democratic institutions and the corruption of the economy. Next year’s parliamentary election (in which I am challenging Orbán) will show whether Hungary’s state capture can still be reversed. more>

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