Hungary Becomes First ‘Partly Free’ EU Nation in Democracy Gauge

(Bloomberg) -- Hungary has become the first European Union country to be designated as “partly free” in an annual gauge of democratic freedoms, underscoring the effects of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s drive to create an illiberal state.

The erosion of democracy under Orban constitutes “the most dramatic decline ever charted” in the EU, Freedom House, a Washington-based think-tank, said in its annual Freedom in the World report. All other 27 EU members retained a “free” label.

The government in Budapest rejected the report, saying in a statement Tuesday that Freedom House was part of the “empire” of George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire investor and philanthropist. Most of Freedom House’s funding comes from the U.S. government.

Orban, who returned to power in 2010, has overseen the most extensive centralization of power since the end of communism. He’s appointed allies to head formerly independent institutions, extended his influence over parts of the court system and curbed dissent by tightening regulations over universities and civil society. The EU is currently probing whether to sanction the perceived rule-of-law violations here and in Poland.

“Hungary has become a trailblazer when it comes to dismantling democracy,” said Zselyke Csaky, Freedom House’s head of research for Europe and Eurasia. “It’s spawned copy-cats inside the EU as well as across the Atlantic.”

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