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Jan 17, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

I know what authoritarian rule looks like. Does Freedom House?

The latest edition of Freedom in the World, an annual survey published by the Soros-funded Freedom House, places Hungary among a group of “states that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories” but are now “sliding into authoritarian rule.”

We know where Freedom House stands on Hungary, and its connection to Soros through its funding and through the experts it frequently relies on for its analysis, so the findings of the latest report should come as little surprise. But “authoritarian rule”? Really?

Makes me wonder whether the Freedom House authors have any idea what authoritarianism really is. I do. I grew up in a country under the authoritarian rule of Soviet-backed communism. Today’s Hungary – with freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression and, yes, freedom of the press – is a far cry from that.

The report throws another jab in its key findings. “In Hungary and Poland, populist leaders continued to consolidate power by uprooting democratic institutions and intimidating critics in civil society”. Which democratic institutions have been uprooted in Hungary? When have critics in civil society been intimidated? They don’t say. Again, we have a baseless claim.

Freedom House, like so many of these other organizations that depend for their livelihood on funding sources like this, has allowed itself to become completely seduced by one narrative about today’s Hungary. That narrative begins with the “illiberal” alarm bells.

There’s another story about Hungary, though. It differs substantially from the one the foreign-paid Hungarian experts depict. It reminds me of a recent exchange between two Hungarian journalists, an interview in 168óra with Péter Kolosi, a producer and deputy chief executive at RTL Klub. Neither one of those media outlets, the publication 168óra nor the television channel RTL Klub – which boasts the largest audience share of any television channel in the country – would ever be described as friendly to the Orbán Government. Here’s the exchange:

168óra: Is there press freedom in Hungary?

Péter Kolosi: There is. If there weren’t, then there wouldn’t be an RTL Klub.

There you have it. Kolosi, an accomplished media professional, swats it away. And if the Freedom House authors exercised a little effort and a degree of objectivity and asked real Hungarians, they would find similarly direct responses to the other questions.

No, this is not authoritarianism.

I’ll never forget the events of October 23, 2006 – when the state deployed violence against citizens assembling peacefully and the rule of law and human rights were under obvious threat. That did not receive even a mention in Freedom House’s annual report.