The Guarini Institute Hosts Discussion on Russia and Hungary

The Guarini Institute for Public Affairs organized a talk called Elections in Italy, Russia, Hungary and the EU on April 11, 2018. The guest speakers were Political Science Professors Ronald Linden (University of Pittsburgh), Eszter Salgó (John Cabot University), and Hans Noel (Georgetown University). The discussion, moderated by Guarini Institute Director Federigo Argentieri, focused on the similarities of the elections in Russia and Hungary, and on why Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán were so successful at the polls.

The speakers concurred that it is imperative for Brussels to carefully look at the Russian and Hungarian elections. Linden, Salgó and Noel explained that the 2/3 seats victory gives Fidesz (Orbán’s political party) the power for passing constitutional reforms, which increases the possibility of causing a heavy democratic regression in Hungary.

The speakers also asked whether the Hungarian elections can be put on the same level as the Russian plebiscite against Putin. According to Linden, Russia and Hungary seem to be excluded from the democratic system where electoral competition is “genuine and transparent.” However, leaders like Orbán and Putin are forced to organize elections to mobilize support and give the world a chance to assert their power. “The outcome of the Russian elections served to reject the accusations of the Western world, to strengthen Putin’s perception as a leader, and to bring the opposition to its knees by attacking it in the press,” said Linden.

Noel agreed that elections in Russia are not free, but he pointed out the difference between Putin and Orbán. According to him, Orbán does not have the same control over society in Hungary as Putin has in Russia. However, the concern for a slow, inexorable transformation of the Hungarian State, where Orbán will implement a “systematic transformation of the institutions, and an increasingly pressing control over public opinion and workers in public administration” remains. Noel explains that now that Orbán has received the chrism of the popular vote, one can expect a more cumbersome presence of the State, especially in the field of business. “If a business deal is not to the liking of the head of the government, then one makes sure that it goes upside down,” he added.

Salgó, who was born and raised in Budapest, is not surprised by Orbán’s Hungary. She believes that the Hungarian society is still pervaded by a post-Soviet mentality, and that the victory of Fidesz does not represent a return to authoritarianism because democracy never actually existed in Hungary. She added that ever since the aftermath of the 2010 elections, when Orbán talked about the “revolution at the ballot box,” Hungary has stood in an “Orwellian surveillance system.”

In their closing remarks, the speakers agreed it was Europe’s wrong to “not take the Orbán phenomenon seriously.” Since the 1990s, Europe has thought it could “Europeanize” the countries of the East, but judging by the Hungarian case, this strategy does not seem to have paid off to this day.

(Translated and edited by Carolina Tellez)

Read the article in Italian by Francesco Bechis