The Malta Independent 6 December 2021, Monday

Watchdog report: 'Breakdown of democracy' in Poland, Hungary

Associated Press Tuesday, 4 April 2017, 14:11 Last update: about 6 years ago

U.S.-based pro-democracy group Freedom House said Tuesday that a "spectacular breakdown of democracy" has been taking place in Poland and Hungary, two countries that stood as models of democratic change after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

The watchdog organization's report said that Hungary now has the lowest democracy score in the Central European region and that Poland's score is falling. It cited an attack by populist leaders in both countries on constitutional courts and the system of checks and balances, as well as the transformation of public media into "propaganda arms."

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"The spectacular breakdown of democracy in these countries should serve as a warning about the fragility of the institutions that are necessary for liberal democracy, especially in settings where political norms have shallow roots and where populists are able to tap into broad social disaffection," the report said.

The downward spiral, according the report, began with the election in 2010 of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (above) and his ruling Fidesz party, who re-wrote the constitution, took over the courts, eroded critical media, attacked civic society and stoked anti-migrant feelings.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, under the leadership of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has taken similar steps since assuming power in 2015, eroding the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal and turning public media into a tool of propaganda for the party.

"Despite their apparent maturation, the media, the judiciary, and institutions of democratic representation in Poland and Hungary have turned out to be quite vulnerable," the report said.

Freedom House made the assessment in its yearly "Nations in Transit" report, which assesses the state of democracy in 29 formerly communist countries from Central Europe and the Balkans to Central Asia.

It found backsliding on democracy across much of this region but also noted Ukraine, Romania, and Kosovo had made some "modest gains" thanks to reforms.

The group also argued that the state of democracy in the region was influenced by Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the election of President Donald Trump in the United States, saying both developments "have emboldened anti-democratic populists."

"A critical mass of leaders in the region openly reject the idea of liberal democracy," said Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations in Transit. "Populism increasingly is combining with crude ethnic nationalism in a way that threatens peace in Europe."



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