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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsHungary and Poland, two relatively new, but not all that new, member states of the European Union have recently developed government which is democratic. And most Hungarian and Poland governments have democratic mandates that are supported by the majority in a parliament. But as their own leaders often say, they are not liberal democracies. Liberalism, certainly in Poland, is not generally seen as something positive. It is associated with anarchy. It is associated with a totally permissive society that everyone is willing, is able to do what one wants. So why are these illiberal democracies have been developing in Hungary and Poland? Well, to some extent, it is the unintended consequences of the transformation of economy and political systems in both countries.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 secondsSo with new generations taking freedom and civil liberties for granted, they are at the same time dissatisfied with the achieved level of economic development. They are impatient to enjoy the same standards of living as Western countries of the European Union. And they are, of course, therefore open to argument of those political parties which promise them more, more welfare and better standards of living. The illiberal development also results from the perception of crisis, especially the recent refugee crisis in Europe, the possibility that cultural others in large number will appear.

Skip to 2 minutes and 28 secondsAnd as we know, Eastern European countries, Hungary especially, but also Poland, are very reluctant to receive refugees, are very reluctant to integrate them, prefer not to accept a large number of immigrants who would be culturally different. Hungary and Poland are both societies which have developed their identity on the basis of shared culture. And they are used to relative cultural homogeneity. There's very little experience in recent decades with cultural diversity, with pluralism. Therefore, the prospect of having to integrate cultural others sounds rather alarming to many people. There's also the question of accepting the system, which is not liberal, which limits civic liberties and pluralism, but which offers strong leadership. Both Hungary and Poland have such strong leaders.

Skip to 3 minutes and 49 secondsThere's the Prime Minister Orban in Hungary. And in Poland, there's the head of the ruling party, the Law and Justice party, Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is not officially either the president or the prime minister, but who has consolidated, really almost single-handedly, the total power. So he's really-- he runs the country himself. And this is certainly not the liberal system. But there is a difference. In Hungary, Mr. Orban has had so-called the constitutional majority in parliament. He's got enough majority in the parliament to legally change the constitution. So he may say he has democratic support to do whatever he wants in the country, including to change the constitution. In Poland, Mr. Kaczynski and his party do not have a constitutional majority.

Skip to 4 minutes and 58 secondsThey have the absolute majority in the parliament, but they do not have enough majority to change the constitution. Therefore in Poland, the main development in recent political development, in recent months, has been to incapacitate or even effectively destroy the Constitutional Court, the main element of the system of justice, which by Polish law is able to-- by constitutional law is able to control the government, to control the legislative power, to decide whether the legislation is in agreement with the constitution or not. So for the authoritarian ambitions of the new leader, it was essential to control the Constitutional Court.

Skip to 5 minutes and 48 secondsSo at present, there is a kind of struggle in Poland between the opposition and the new civil society organizations and the government over what's going to be the future of the Constitutional Court. The government's argument is that they have the democratic mandate. They have the majority. They say they speak in the name of the people of the nation, while the opposition says that the law has to be maintained, the law has to be observed or respected, and the checks and balances must remain in existence in the country. So this is very much the discussion about what is democracy, what democracy is about, and what will be the future of those countries which have this kind of debate.

Illiberal democracy on the rise? The case of Hungary and Poland

In this video, Professor Mach explains the rise of illiberal democracy in Hungary and Poland.

Hungary and Poland have recently developed governments that are democratic, but, as their own leaders often say, are not liberal democracies. The governments have democratic mandates from the Hungarian and Polish parliaments, meaning they are supported by the majority in the parliament, but tend to ignore rule of law and other elements of liberal democracy.

Why have these illiberal democracies been developing in Hungary and Poland?

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European Culture and Politics

University of Groningen

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