Hungary has been headed down a path toward a Vladimir Putin–style authoritarian state for the past few years, ever since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took power in 2010. Driven by a supermajority of the governing party, Fidesz, Hungary’s government has settled into a status quo bolstered by self-serving propaganda and corruption of the rule of law. A series of scandals has opened the eyes of many previously uninterested citizens, though, allowing an opposition movement to take root. Hungarians have not given up on regaining their freedoms.
As tensions escalate in Ukraine, and relations between the European Union and Russia slow to a crawl, Orbán has placed Hungary in a precarious position — publicly praising and supporting Putin even as he begs Brussels for more money. Orbán actually declared this past summer that he wishes to remodel Hungary on the basis of Putin’s illiberal democracy, a model that is evident from the actions he took as soon as he gained power. A new constitution has been written; companies, banks, and assets have been nationalized; freedom of speech has been curtailed; and Hungary’s system of checks and balances has been undermined.
After five devastating years filled with lies and promises, however, Hungarians have had enough. The wall of Fidesz support has begun to crumble, brick by brick — first through the party’s unrealistic and unpopular plans to tax Internet traffic, then after the U.S. State Department acquired proof that the head of the Hungarian tax office and some of his associates had been involved in an extensive corruption scheme and imposed a travel ban to the United States.
Public discontent first manifested in November, when the sleepy town of Veszprém woke from its slumber on a cold November night to the roars of Hungarians as they cheered during the area’s biggest anti-government demonstration in recent years. The cheers were for Zoltán Kész, who had expressed his intentions to run for the open parliamentary seat vacated by the city’s former MP, and to vanquish the Fidesz supermajority.
Kész is president of the Free Market Foundation, a pro-liberty think tank and Atlas Network partner in Hungary. He is well known in pro-liberty circles around the world, having promoted his democratic, freedom-loving values in many conferences and other events. Kész has run numerous successful campaigns to combat the rise of anti-Semitic and racist sentiments in Hungary and to fight for the representative democracy that the current government is strangling. He has even toured the United States to raise awareness of the problems facing Hungary.
People from factions opposing the governing party immediately stood behind him in support, regardless of whether they lean center-left or center-right — and not only in Veszprém, but all over the country. The fact that they have effectively joined forces and abstained from nominating other candidates against him demonstrates how deep Hungary’s problems run. Kész, as a leader in civil society and as a vocal advocate of liberty, has found a way to exploit a chink in the armor of the current establishment.
The governing party has worked hard to cement itself into its current position of power, but the desire for freedom is stronger in the hearts of Hungarians. They want to live in a free country and not be taken down the path blazed by the current dictator in the Kremlin. They want liberty, not an illiberal state, and have triggered a strong new movement to sweep away the nation’s corrupt autocracy — a movement far larger than any one candidate or election. Hungarians have not given up on regaining their freedoms.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.