karacsony1_ATTILA KISBENEDEKAFP via Getty Images_democracy hungary ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

How Democracy Can Win Again

The democratic erosion and state capture in Hungary is symptomatic of deeper structural problems that are afflicting most democracies and even threatening the future of human civilization. Faced with such challenges, democrats must not allow themselves to succumb to fatalism or apathy.

BUDAPEST – My political awakening coincided with the systemic changes that unfolded following the collapse of communism in Hungary in 1989. I was both fascinated and overjoyed by my country’s rapid democratization. As a teenager, I persuaded my family to drive me to the Austrian border to see history in the making: the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, which allowed East German refugees to head for the West. Reading many new publications and attending rallies for newly established democratic political parties, I was swept up by the atmosphere of unbounded hope for our future.

Today, such sentiments seem like childish naivete, or at least like the product of an idyllic state of mind. Both democracy and the future of human civilization are now in grave danger, beset by multifaceted and overlapping crises.

Three decades after the fall of communism, we are again forced to confront anti-democratic political forces in Europe. Their actions often resemble those of old-style communists, only now they run on a platform of authoritarian, nativist populism. They still grumble, like the communists of old, about “foreign agents” and “enemies of the state” – by which they mean anyone who opposes their values or policy preferences – and they still disparage the West, often using the same terms of abuse we heard during communism. Their political practices have eroded democratic norms and institutions, destroying the public sphere and brainwashing citizens through lies and manipulation.

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