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Oct 07, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

More double standards: Freedom House has become a caricature of itself

This time, the once renowned human rights organization found in its democracy-benchmarking that the condition of Hungary’s democracy has – waitforit – grown worse during the COVID-19 crisis.

Freedom House has not been particularly fond of the Hungarian government, at least not in those years when Viktor Orbán has been prime minister.

In the 2018 edition of the “Freedom in the World” report, for example, Freedom House authors placed Hungary among a group of “states that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories” but are now “sliding into authoritarian rule.” Or just last May, in a publication called “Nations in Transit,” they wrote about Hungary “dropping the democratic façade,” only to label it a “hybrid regime” one week later.

The latest “Democracy under lockdown” Freedom House report, however, puts Hungary among a group of 80 countries where, they claim, “the condition of democracy and human rights” has “grown worse” since the COVID-19 crisis hit. And FH does this without as much as a single mention of their reasons. In fact, they don’t even mention Hungary at all in the text of the report.

We could almost take this as a compliment, particularly so, if we take a look at other European states on the list of countries that have allegedly suffered a “decline of democracy” since the onset of the pandemic. Let’s see.

France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovenia… and Hungary. To what do we owe this pleasure? In any other scenario, we would be more than happy to belong in this group of democratic top-performers. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that while one could not hear any concern about the rule of law in Luxembourg or Denmark, fears of a democratic decline in Hungary appear regularly in the news.

Freedom House’s reporting on Hungary, specifically its imbalanced selection of biased sources, has grown abysmal over the years. We’re flattered somehow to appear in the same group with such distinguished company as France and the Netherlands but puzzled at their utter lack of supporting facts for their conclusion about Hungary and the disproportionate amount of attention we get in the liberal press.

Coming in the same days as the ECJ decision and the Commission’s rule of law report, this has truly been a remarkable week of double standards.