Tainted Democracy - Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary

Hosted by the Conflict and Civicness Research Group

Sumeet Valrani Lecture Theatre, Centre Building, United Kingdom


Luke Cooper

Salil Shetty

Zsuzsanna Szelényi


Mary Kaldor

Hungary, once the poster-child of liberal democracy, is fast becoming an autocracy under Viktor Orbán. After winning an absolute majority in 2010, Orbán launched a series of ‘reforms’, fundamentally undermining the country’s twenty-year, post-Cold War liberal consensus.

Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a leading member of Orbán’s Fidesz in its early years, has witnessed first-hand the party’s shift from liberalism to populist nationalism. Offering an insider’s account of Fidesz’s evolution since its creation, she explains how the party rose to leadership of the country under Orbán and made sweeping legal, political and economic changes to solidify its grip on power—from reining in the public media to slashing the number of parliamentary seats. She answers a key question: why has Orbán been so successful, winning widespread support within Hungary and wielding considerable influence in European politics? And how can Hungary’s opposition party Together, which she co-founded in 2014, work to turn the country around?

Underpinned by Szelényi’s own experiences at the heart of Hungarian politics, Tainted Democracy offers accessible, nuanced insights into the global rise of populist autocracy—and how it can be challenged.

The event is also an opportunity to reflect upon the positions taken by Viktor Orbán on the Russian war against Ukraine, which have been noticeably less hostile to Putin than every other EU member state, as well as situate the Hungarian case in the global challenge of authoritarianism. Within the Conflict and Civicness Research Group, the event is organised by PeaceRep's Ukraine team, as part of its work on the regional security impact of the Russian war against Ukraine in a new age of global fragmentation.

PeaceRep: The Peace and Conflict Resolution Evidence Platform is a research consortium based at Edinburgh Law School. Our research is rethinking peace and transition processes inthe light of changing conflict dynamics, changing demands of inclusion, and changes inpatterns of global intervention in conflict and peace/mediation/transition managementprocesses. This event is supported by PeaceRep and funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office(FCDO). The information and views set out at the event are those of the speakers only, and not the views of FCDO.

Meet our Speakers and Chair:

Zsuzsanna Szelényi is the Director of the Democracy Institute Leadership Academy at the Central European University. She was previously a Richard von Weizsäcker fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin conducting research on polarization, populism, and autocratization as threats to democracy in the context of the future of the European Union. Between 2014-2018 Ms Szelényi has been a liberal Member of Parliament in Hungary, covering foreign policy, migration, and constitutional affairs. Ms Szelenyi served at the Council of Europe advising governments and NGOs on conflict management, human rights education, and human development issues. Between 2010-2013 she worked as a human development consultant for international organizations in various Central European and North African countries.

Luke Cooper is the Director of PeaceRep’s Ukraine programme and Senior Research Fellow with the Conflict and Civicness Research Group based at LSE IDEAS, LSE’s in-house foreign policy think tank. He has written extensively on nationalism, authoritarianism and the theory of uneven and combined development and is the author of Authoritarian Contagion (Bristol University Press, 2021).

Salil Shetty is vice president, global, at the Open Society Foundations. Since 2018, Shetty has been a Senior Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and continues to be affiliated with the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University. Prior to that, Shetty was secretary general of Amnesty International from 2010 to 2018, where he helped Amnesty broaden its footprint and convert the organization into a global force for rights and justice. He served as director of the UN’s Millennium Campaign from 2003 to 2010, helping to develop political momentum toward the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, and was chief executive of ActionAid International after leading ActionAid Kenya and ActionAid India.

Mary Kaldor is Professor Emeritus of Global Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also the Director of the Conflict and Civicness Research Group based at LSE IDEAS. Mary has pioneered the concepts of new wars and global civil society. She is the author of many books and articles including New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era (3rd edition, 2012), International Law and New Wars (with Christine Chinkin, 2017) and Global Security Cultures (2018). In addition to her academic engagements, she was co-chair of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a member of the International Independent Commission on Kosovo and convenor of the Human Security Study Group, which reported to the Secretary General of NATO.

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