Francis Fukuyama on Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

I cannot promise that this will be my last post on Viktor Orbán’s  infamous speech and its reverberations. As so many people have already said, in that speech delivered in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad, Romania, Orbán may have crossed the Rubicon. Until now only his critics called him a wannabe dictator, but now he himself made clear that in the last four years he has been creating an illiberal state in Hungary. For good measure, he repeated the adjective four times. For foreign consumption the official English translation of the speech tried to avoid the term. The translator used the word “illiberal” only once. Surely by that time the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office must have realized that Orbán had gone too far and tried to minimize the damage.

Even the subdued English translation, however, couldn’t paper over the dire import of the speech. The message the speech conveyed was frightening in and of itself, but given the tense situation in Ukraine Orbán’s words sounded even more ominous. Perhaps it was he who shot himself in the foot and not the European Union which decided to punish Russia with economic sanctions, as he claimed in his customary Friday morning interview.

I have been collecting every important article pertaining to Orbán’s ideas about the future of Hungary under his leadership. Most of them are in English or German and therefore easily accessible. Here I would like to summarize an important interview with Francis Fukuyama, the well-known political scientist. The interview appeared today in Magyar Narancs.

First a few words about Francis Fukuyama, who is currently the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Studies and a resident at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. Prior to 2000 he was a professor and director of the International Development program at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The Hungarian edition of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man

The Hungarian edition of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man

While I was perusing Fukuyama’s biography I was struck by his varied interests and expertise. He received his B.A. in classics from Cornell University. He went on to do graduate work in comparative literature at Yale University, during which time he spent six months in Paris where he studied under Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. It was only after his stint at Yale that he finally decided on political science, in which he received his Ph.D. at Harvard.

His first book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), made him famous overnight. What did he mean by that title? With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire, he argued that the struggle between ideologies was largely over, and he predicted the triumph of liberalism.

Fukuyama is interested in Hungarian political developments. A few days after the Orbán speech, he wrote a tweet expressing his dismay over Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state. He said: “Hard to believe that a European leader would openly call for illiberal democracy as Viktor Orbán has done.”

I guess it was this tweet that prompted the editors of Magyar Narancs to approach Fukuyama for an interview. So, for those of you who don’t know Hungarian here is a loosely translated summary of the interview.

* * *

The first question was about how seriously we have to take Viktor Orbán’s words. Did he simply use them as a rhetorical device or is the situation more serious than that?

Fukuyama was inclined to consider the message of the speech as more than rhetoric. These were not empty words. Here is a European political leader who openly admits that he became an admirer of authoritarian states. These words will sooner or later have consequences. Such a case is unprecedented. He violates the consensus in the western meaning of the word that is the essence of good governance.

The journalist of Magyar Narancs wanted to know what Fukuyama thinks of Hungary’s place on a scale between democracy and dictatorship. The answer shows that Fukuyama follows the events in Hungary. In his opinion, the concept of  illiberal democracy describes pretty well everything that is happening in Hungary today. We can talk about democracy in the sense that a large majority of the Hungarian people voted for Orbán’s government, but at the same time democracy means a great deal more than an election won with a large majority. In normal circumstances the rule of law, the system of checks and balances, the guarantee of  minority rights are part and parcel of democracy. Orbán and his friends destroyed all that. What Fukuyama is most worried about is that this kind of thinking is spreading in Europe. But other European leaders who entertain similar ideas are quiet about their thoughts on the subject. Orbán was the only one who openly trumpeted his own illiberal system.

The conversation then turned to the weaknesses of the left both in Hungary and in the United States. Fukuyama expressed his surprise that the 2008 economic crisis electrified the right, in the United States the Tea Party, instead of the left as one would have expected.

After this brief detour the conversation returned to Orbán’s fascination with the East, countries like China, India, Turkey, Russia, and even Kazakhstan. Fukuyama admitted that it doesn’t matter how hard he tries to find an answer to the efficacy of such an orientation for Hungary, he cannot come up with anything. Hungary’s aim should be convergence towards countries like Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. But Russia and Kazakhstan? Yes, these countries have immense energy reserves, but otherwise what keeps these countries together is sheer corruption. It is most likely the case that Orbán is guided by short-term interests, but “that game cannot be won without serious consequences.”

Fukuyama was then asked what he thinks of China’s prospects. Everybody, he replied, wants an “opening” toward that country. In his view, China already has serious economic and political problems. What keeps the regime going is economic development, but that accelerated growth cannot be maintained in the long run.

The next topic was whether a welfare state can exist without democracy. Fukuyama brought up the example of Singapore as an authoritarian regime that is economically very successful. But he pointed out that in Singapore the president can stay in office for only two five-year terms, and politicians obey the law mostly as a result of the inherited British common law system of justice. Clearly, although Fukuyama did not mention it, he is aware of Viktor Orbán’s plans for staying in power for a very long time, if necessary by the ruse of becoming president following the example of Putin and Erdoğan.

The next question was a really pessimistic one: Could Hungary end up being an outright dictatorship? Fukuyama did not answer this question directly. Instead he talked about the weaknesses in the European Union’s structure that fail to give Brussels any effective instrument to deal with a politician like Viktor Orbán. He noted, however, that Angela Merkel and the European People’s Party have shielded Orbán in the past because of the party’s selfish interests. Perhaps now, after this speech, they will wake up and, instead of playing party politics, will rethink their policies toward Hungary.

Another question concerned the role of the United States in the resurgence of illiberalism. Fukuyama replied that the reaction to 9/11–the invasion of Iraq–was a huge mistake and caused a loss of American prestige. And the economic crisis gave the opponents of democracy an opportunity to show the U.S. and Europe as failed economic and political systems. These mistakes can be corrected. “But the damage done to the image of the United States as a strong democratic model will be more difficult to restore.”

Finally, there had to be a question on Fukuyama’s famous book, The End of History. In that book he proclaimed the final victory of democracy. Is he still that sanguine about its prospects? His answer was that if one looked around the world in the 1970s and 1980s there were no more than 35-40 democratic countries. Today they number 110-120. Yes, there is China and Russia, but democratic institutions are resilient. The autocratic models of China or Russia don’t offer long-term sustainable models.

* * *

Hungarians always complain that foreigners know so little about their country. There are many who keep telling us that Hungary is too insignificant and that the influential countries pay little or no attention to it. But this is no longer the case. First of all, people are increasingly interested in what’s going on in Hungary because they have awakened to the fact that something went very wrong in that country. Second, we shouldn’t think that Hungary is insignificant in international affairs. No, its geopolitical position can make the country an important player, as the present situation amply demonstrates. There is a war going on next door in Ukraine and while the EU stands by Ukraine, Viktor Orbán is trying to weaken its resolve. The small Hungarian minority seems to concern the Hungarian government more than the Russian encroachment on a neighboring state. Just yesterday Tibor Navracsics raised his voice in defense of the Hungarian minority.

It is hard to tell what the next step of the European Union will be, but I am sure that, just as Fukuyama predicted, Orbán’s speech will have serious consequences.

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August 21, 2014 7:27 pm

As far as I can see, it was not a majority who reinstated Orbán in office, but only 27%. The rest is manipulation and abstention. According to a commentator on this blog, the “final” election results on TV changed miraculously between 23:30 and 01:00 on election night, and the OSCE didn’t want to hear or see any of it. – Soon, there will be mathematical proof that the election system itself was unfair (TéT, 3rd issue 2014).

I cannot but repeat that, unfortunately, Merkel (the chancellor of my home country) is no European. She is a provincial mind, obsessed with staying in power. Her only instrument: a wet finger kept into the wind.

But I put some hope on Juncker.

The problem with Western democratic systems is that – especially in the USA – they are bought up by big finance and lobbyists – or by populist parties (also financed by big capital).

A “res publica” demands the energetic involvement of its members. Otherwise you get the government you deserve.

I rest my case.

August 22, 2014 12:04 am

“The small Hungarian minority seems to concern the Hungarian government more than the Russian encroachment on a neighboring state.”

I don’t believe that it really concerns Orban that much as it is used by Orban as a plausible justification for what has now become a clear pro-Russian stance.But it works well only to deflect public-criticism, behind closed doors nobody is deceived.

Eliezer Rabinovich
August 22, 2014 12:08 am

>His first book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), made him famous overnight. What >did he mean by that title? With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire, he argued that >the struggle between ideologies was largely over, and he predicted the triumph of liberalism.

It is amazing to refer to Fukuyama as a political thinker now, after his idea of the end of the history has failed so miserably. After about 10 years he wrote another article and opened the history anew. The triumph of liberalism! Give me a break!

Reality Check
Reality Check
August 22, 2014 2:17 am

@Rabinovich you have read how many of his books ( to judge him as “Give me break”? Or is your “expert” analysis based solely on the titles?

August 22, 2014 2:38 am

OT: one of the issues with Identitás Szövetség (where our troll Otto yesterday came from) is that Hungarian fascists are not good at international relations. (This is where Béla Kovács of Jobbik and IMO came in handy). They are really oddballs in every way compared to Belgian or Finnish extreme right wingers. Hell, not even the pro-EU Hungarian leftist organizations have so formalized and comprehensive a European network as this organization and especially not under one single brand (it almost seems looking at their home page that this movement is the first truly EU political organization, with the same names, designs etc.). The whole idea that all extreme-right wing organizations of Europe must unite, as it were, and move together is clearly a Russia-inspired idea as we will see from their upcoming Budapest gathering.

Carl Hungus
Carl Hungus
August 22, 2014 2:53 am
Orban is not really concerned with the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, his and Navracsics’ efforts in this respect are only lip service to which they can plausibly refer to before the EU people, i.e. they “have” to do that because the voters “demand” that from them. This is bull***t of course, people call Hungarians from Transylvania living in Hungary as “Romanians” (a derogatory term referring to their essentially immigrant status) behind their back just as TGM wrote about it. This term is totally standard unfortunately, this supposed love of ethnic Hungarians is not even true for most Fidesz or Jobbik voters. Orban is just supporting Russia in every way it can, and this is one way: to move Hungarian attention from Russia and the war (which could mean Russia would appear as villain) to other issues like ethnic Hungarians. Also as it was mentioned, Orban is actively hoping that Ukraine will fall apart and he can obtain however small a piece from Ukraine. Orban is a Russian puppet and he knows exactly what is expected from him, it is not necessary that Putin should instruct him all the time. There wasn’t a formal censorship authority in Hungary, still the editors… Read more »
August 22, 2014 3:28 am
London Calling! Minusio “According to a commentator on this blog, the “final” election results on TV changed …….” I believe the ‘commentator’ was our amazing Tappanch. You do him a discourtesy by not acknowledging him properly. It takes little effort to look him up and attribute his work. “Fukuyama replied that the reaction to 9/11–the invasion of Iraq–was a huge mistake and caused a loss of American prestige. ” I believe that history is littered with events which, after the event can be considered mistakes. 9/11 was such an extreme event that world politics had to write the script as it went along. Pardon me for mentioning it, but Hungary’s record for making the correct decisions is not exactly exemplary. (And before our conscientious objectors cavil over this – and nor is the UK’s) I believe the fear of making a mistake with the recalcitrant Orban is what is stopping the EU from putting the Chief Thug President’s hat on straight. They can easily deal with minor transgressions but major ones put them in a quandary. By not seeking to equip themselves with appropriate strength tools they are just kicking the can along the road. However they will have to… Read more »
August 22, 2014 3:46 am

Oh! Yes!

I predict that President Orban-Mugabe will be El Presidente on August 20 2015 – St Stephen’s day.

August 22, 2014 4:27 am

Is Orban simply Herostratic?

“On July 21, 356 BC, seeking notoriety, Ἡρόστρατος burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus”

He “proudly claimed credit in an attempt to immortalise his name. To dissuade those of a similar mind, the Ephesian authorities not only executed him, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, this did not stop Herostratus from achieving his goal because the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and its perpetrator in his Hellenics.”


August 22, 2014 5:34 am


“Is Orban simply Herostratic?”

Of course banning the mention of someone’s name is no longer possible with the toxic CNN around.

(I’ve been appalled by CNN’s early reporting on the Ferguson incident: in the first few days they
fanned the flames of black anger by continually mentioning “teenage boy” with never a description of the 6’6″ monster of 350 lbs. who, from the video, is a perfect bully.)

Without a doubt, Orban is doing a Nero on Hungary…but, if you’re just after the loot, do you
have to burn down the house you’re living in? The mystery grows.

August 22, 2014 5:54 am

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

August 22, 2014 6:50 am

There was a Raphael Lemkin.
The future Lemkin price will go to a few of our friends here.
The MOST ELOQUENT local champion of human rights and human dignity is PETOFI.

Le us keep up the good fight, and shame the others into the path of decency.

D7 Democrat
D7 Democrat
August 22, 2014 7:05 am

“Bye bye EU – hello Putin”
Yes, Putin has the same hatred of human rights and general democratic freedoms as our own dictator and *if* he were prepared to subsidise the regime as much as the EU does, there is no doubt that Orban would leave the EU tomorrow.

I know some believe that our home-grown fascist’s ultimate aim is to financially ruin Hungary in order to create something along the lines of the Third Reich but the business wing of the Fidesz mafia appreciate the financial worth of the EU much more than Orban. The Fidesz thugs will push it so far but not far enough to *force* the EU to throw the Orbanist regime out of the EU.

August 22, 2014 7:10 am
Fukuyama’s famous book, The End of History really overreached, it did not contemplate the ideology of al-Qaeda and its promotion of a Feudal Islamic Caliphate that has now caught fire. It did not consider the possibility of the institutionalizations of what Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi have called the Mafia state as a sustainable but low productivity based post communist model of governance and economic control. Everyone’s vision has its limits. Critically I do not believe that Fukuyama and other western political scientists fully grasp the impact of the 2008 crisis on the transitional economies of Central Europe that have given rise to Orban’s promotion of the confused concept of the illiberal state. Part of the problem was that many Central Europeans had an incredibly idealized vision of the market economy and governments associated with it. Idealized so much so, that many Central Europeans believed that the idea that capitalism goes through cycles of boom and bust was effectively just more communist lies. Unfortunately for all of us we may enter into yet another global economic downturn before we have fully recovered from the 2008 crisis. Even the greatest promoter of the market economies recognized the inherent cycles with capitalist… Read more »
August 22, 2014 8:46 am


Not sure whether it was out of a Wikipedia-like policy of “Neutral Point of View (NPV)” (whereby the rapist’s perspective gets airtime alongside the rape victim’s) or out of a wry sense of humor that the Washington Post has blogged as an opinion — Viktor Orban is successfully rebuilding Hungary — a letter by one “Louis Kovacs, Ottawa” for whom the only candidate identity that the Google-notability metric yields is some Canadian realtor (but “Kovács” = “Smith” in Hungarian). Canada has lots of Fidik-leaning expats, despite the fact that many of them originated as ’56 “Freedom Fighters” and have sampled decades of the experience and perks of non-illiberal democracy. Nevertheless, they are ever-ready to parrot the Fidik electoral slogan “Hungary Is Performing Better” that was forcibly rammed down the throats of Hungarian voters by the Hungarian-language media, which, in turn, are nearly all owned and dominated (or, like just about every other asset in Hungary, about to be) by the Karpathian Bargain-Basement Kleptocracy of Presidential hopeful Viktor Orban, now affectionately kleped “Liliputin.”

August 22, 2014 9:03 am


I don’t suppose the Louis Kovacs, Ottowa is our long-lost troll Louis Kovach (Louise as our Mutt revered to him!), is he?

August 22, 2014 9:06 am

Or was it Wolfi?!

August 22, 2014 9:51 am


“I have been reading Orban’s repeated answers to the questions over the last year or so as to when it is likely that Hungary will achieve wage equality with the mean in the EU nations. His answer always is things are steadily improving”

Let us calculate the desired data from the official EU statistics.

Median “equivalised” NET income of the 18-64 year old population
EU27= 100

2005: 26.4
2006: 29.5
2007: 27.8
2008: 29.6
2009: 31.7
2010: 28.2
2011: 30.0
2012: 30.5
2013: no data published, as of today

We can see that the Hungarians were the closest to the European average median in 2009,
but their income have never reached the 1/3 level.

August 22, 2014 10:10 am

2012 net earnings, Hungary vs EU27= 100

Single person w/o children, [salary at] 50% of average worker: 24.5
Single person w/o children, [salary at] 100% of average worker: 27.3
Single person w/ 2 children, [salary at] 67% of average worker: 31.1

1-earner married couple w/ 2 children, [salary at] 100% of average worker: 30.6
2-earner married couple w/ 2 children, both salaries at 100% of average: 29.8
2-earner married couple w/o children, both salaries at 100% of average: 27.3

August 22, 2014 10:57 am

@Tappanch – and all readers of his data:

To illustrate your data it’s interesting to look at this:

A table at the end of this shows

The average wage in 2011 was around 237 500 HUF

But in many industries it was much lower:

Human health 150 000
Manufacturing clothing 151 000
Agriculture 178 000

So obviously there must have been a lot of people who earned less than this average!

How can you exist with those wages (and without an extra job …)?

And also interesting is this sentence:
“The remainder of the increase in employment is due partly to the public work programme and partly to employment of Hungarians abroad, something other labour statistics fail to grasp so clearly. “

August 22, 2014 10:58 am

Sorry for the redundancy – I thought that copy&paste for the table didn’t work!

August 22, 2014 11:12 am

And…. the hits keep on coming!

Yesterday this piece appeared on the Foreign Policy website:

Absolutely nothing new here, but the fact that articles like these keep appearing nearly a month after the Tusnádfürdő speech in prestigious and influential outlets like FP, WashPo, etc. must have the Prime Minister’s officer tearing their hair out in frustration… (heh)

August 22, 2014 11:16 am

@ i-e

Kind words. Especial thanks for the introduction to Raphael Lemkin–I’ve done some searches but more to come later.

As for this: “….shame the others into the path of decency.”

Oh, if it was only so! I applaud the sentiment but the fact is…Hungarians cannot handle ‘shame’.
(And so, Reconciliation is far down the road.) On a personal level, anytime a friend or relative
here as experienced shame, the reaction was standoffishness…followed in time by a topsy-turvy
recreation of events were they became the wronged party! I’ve seen it time and again–and Hungarians seem constitutionally–emotionally–incapable of apologizing. (While Donne has said that no man is an island, I see the waters rising around me…)

August 22, 2014 11:22 am

spellcheck corrections: a) ‘if it WERE…’
b) ‘…a friend or relative here HAS..”
c) ‘…recreation of events WHERE…”

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
August 22, 2014 11:25 am
Well, we’re certainly witnessing a global triumph of consumerism. But clearly, this doesn’t mean that a liberal model (liberal both in the political and economic sense) is bound to prevail. Firstly, because the model is in my view under very serious threat from inside. Not so much by movements acting on their belief in an alternative model (they exist – as they should in an open society – but my impression is that they are rather weak), not so much by the current economic crisis either, but because of some nasty effects of the tremendous success of consumerism itself. White-collar workers have abandoned the workplace as a battleground for political action. In legislative bodies, moving coalitions of corporate interests too often take the wind out of the sails of reforms – with very little reaction from people who massively seem to have better things to do. Second, because a growing trend in consumerism, satisfying enough for a population, can be achieved under regimes which are not liberal democracies. This is not new in history (the Third Reich did deliver ‘butter’ and much more). Today, China and Iran, Russia and Turkey seem good examples. In the first two, the original staunch… Read more »
August 22, 2014 11:49 am


Dear wolfi,

It is always useful to go back to the source of a piece of news. has made errors copying the data.

They incorrectly state in their table that 237,561 forints is the average NET earnings for the 2011 January-June period.

In [statistical] reality, this number is the average GROSS earnings for June 2014!

Here is the source of the official statistical data, published today:

The average NET earnings in Hungary were 153,939 in June 2014.

cheshire cat
cheshire cat
August 22, 2014 11:59 am

Eva, you say:

“It is hard to tell what the next step of the European Union will be, but I am sure that, just as Fukuyama predicted, Orbán’s speech will have serious consequences.”

I’m not so optimistic.
Yes, we have heard soime noses from a handful of Western politicians, including one or two German social democrats. Many more articles have been published in newspapers both In the US and EU.

But we have seen it all before. The German government under Merkel and the EPP will carry on shielding Orban, they will act surprised and shake their heads, but in reality, Hungary is not worth losing political capital over – for anybody.

August 22, 2014 12:09 pm

The Jolly Joker in the Hungarian employment statistics is the arbitrary and secret number of the Hungarian workers in Western Europe that are counted in the official numbers.

This number was disclosed only once, in December 2013 – they used up about 100,000 to improve the statistics.

The number of employees in government & enterprises with at least 5 employees grew by 3.3% from 2.568 million in June 2013 to 2.654 million in June 2014. Let me repeat: these numbers include an unknown number of people who actually work in Germany, UK, Austria, etc.

The number of “fostered workers” grew by 1.2% to 154 thousand in the same period.
The peak was in the election month last April with 220 thousand which was halved in May 2014 (I am quoting these numbers from my memory).

August 22, 2014 12:22 pm

London Calling!

Cheshire Cat

I share your pessimism too. You only have to see how the EU responded (ignored) to the Budapest Appeal to back up what you say.

And btw… Your analysis of English education was not in vain!

Did your ears burn?

For the last week we had another Hungarian family over to London for a sightseeing holiday. The Mother wanted to know how the education systems compared so I read your illuminating discourse over the dinner table!

(Took quite a time to find though!)