REVIEW #9: No Freedom Allowed: Consolidation of Power in Hungary through Centralization

Centralization, decentralization in Hungary. How to best approach the subject? How best to describe a country, which at the moment has no other long-term goal other than the consolidation and retention of power for the governing Fidesz party?

While I have buried myself deep in already existing analyses, research, and data, my phone suddenly blew up from all the notifications – one of the largest Hungarian TV stations, Hír TV, under its new management reverted to being pro-government.

The situation of the media in Hungary had been dire to begin with, but this was essentially a coup de grace to independent TV broadcast. Similar takeovers have afflicted the print and online media scene, so that the governing party can impose its views on the population, having majority control over the media.

The state’s tendency to try to exert influence not only in the media, but also in education, administration, business, and politics. Therefore, it is currently more crucial than ever to have a comprehensive overview of what is happening in each of these sectors in order to be able to come up with a set of recommendations to counter the current trends.

Governmental takeovers and oligarchs acquiring monopolies are, in fact, are actually a means of centralization, with the sole purpose of consolidating power. This is done in two ways: through centralization either to do away with independent decision making, or in order to reward oligarchs for their loyalty.

This, however, will cause a democratic deficit and a surge in corruption, also any dissenting voice will have fewer platforms on which to voice their critiques. How did Hungary get here?

Brief Historical Overview

In order to gain an overview of current developments, we must first understand how the current government came into power, what attitudes existed back then, and what drove public opinion during that time.

The financial crisis of 2008 hit Hungary hard. Despite the country being relatively better off during the fall of communism than the neighboring countries facing democratic changes, an apparent fatigue with democracy and free markets blossomed into disappointment by 2009.

It is therefore the social attitudes, rather than the financial hardship (which obviously contributed to the former) that had more prevalent effects on politics. Radicalism flourished with the emergence of Jobbik, a party often dubbed back then as neo-Nazi.

People with hitherto no opinion on economics and policies started voicing their views; and underlying tensions that were not polite to mention, such as racism, exploded to the surface. The illusion nurtured during communism that such tensions do not exist shattered along with the belief many people held that democracy, free market economics, and the European Union (EU) will bring about prosperity.

Back then people only speculated whether these attitudes existed or if they were just the fleeting products of heated family arguments, but now we have the numbers.

According to PEW Research1, in 2009, 94% of Hungarians were dissatisfied with the financial situation. Even though at the time MSZP (Magyar Szocialista Párt), the Hungarian Socialist Party (a direct descendant of the communist party that ruled Hungary before the democratic changes), was in power, a relatively free market economic system was in place in Hungary, and no considerable party openly advocated for changing this.


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1Pew Research Center (2010) Hungary Dissatisfied with Democracy, but Not Its Ideals. Available [online]:
Mate Hajba