Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 1


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2022): -0,1%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections (2022): -8.6%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (March 2024): Fidesz
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 14/21

01 Speakers

Unlike in other post-communist countries, there was never a unified opposition movement against communism in Hungary. By the time of the first democratic elections in 1990, the opposition was already divided into liberal, agrarian, Christian democratic, and conservative parties. Nationalist currents existed within all these parties, perhaps most notably in the first election’s winner, the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), whose leader Jozsef Antall flirted with irredentist sentiments and implied that the Hungarian nation transcended the borders of the state.

In 1993, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) was formed through a split from the MDF, becoming an antisemitic and extreme nationalist party. It entered parliament in 1998 and was one of the first far-right parties to achieve success in the region, garnering international attention although never obtaining more than five percent of the votes.


The transformation of the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz, established in 1988) from a social liberal to a national conservative party was initially less visible. Part of the reason was the gradual nature of this shift, with Fidesz already moving in a more conservative direction before the 1994 election. 


During Fidesz’s first term in office from 1998 to 2002, the reform policies initiated by the Socialist Party in the previous term were continued, and Hungary took significant steps towards EU membership while joining NATO in 1999. The transition of Fidesz to a national conservative and authoritarian populist party occurred primarily during the 2000s, alongside a sharp increase in polarisation in Hungarian politics. Orbán questioned the election results in 2002 and organized mass demonstrations against the government.

Viktor Orban and Deutch Tamas in 2000.

Fidesz’s return to power and landslide victory in the 2010 election were clearly facilitated by widespread discontent with corruption within the incumbent left-wing government. Viktor Orbán, co-founder of Fidesz and leader of the party since 1993, now became prime minister for a second time with a two-thirds majority in parliament, enabling him to amend the constitution.


Orbán’s project is based on populism, nationalism, and an authoritarian view of governance. In his political speeches in recent years, Orbán repeatedly highlights demography, migration, and gender as three crucial issues. Demography refers to the low birth rate in Hungary and the long-term risk that the Hungarian nation may not be able to reproduce itself. Migration alludes, without reservations, to conspiracy theories of population replacement, suggesting that migrants will come to replace Hungarians. Gender pertains to the perception that the Western world embraces a gender ideology according to which natural gender roles should be broken down.


Essentially, Orbán has transformed the Hungarian constitution from an instrument of democratic governance into a tool of populist rule by incorporating these legal changes into the constitution rather than enacting them as regular legislation.


The current Hungarian constitution came into force on January 1, 2012, and the Hungarian Parliament has passed a total of twelve amendments to the constitution since then. The constitution and its amendments have been criticised by Hungarian opposition parties, human rights organisations, and international bodies such as the Venice Commission (the EU Commission’s advisory expert group on constitutional law). The constitution has been criticised both for its content and the manner in which it was written. The preamble reflects the national-conservative ideology of the Fidesz party, mentioning Christianity as central to the survival of the Hungarian nation and stating that “the family and the nation constitute the fundamental framework of our coexistence.” Later in the constitution, marriage is also defined as a union between a man and a woman.


The Fidesz constitution undermined the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government and the Hungarian courts in many ways. For example, the rules for appointing judges to the Constitutional Court were changed to allow the government to nominate and appoint judges to the Constitutional Court without considering the opinions of opposition parties, which they had been required to do previously. The new rules for appointment to the Constitutional Court also meant that the Hungarian Parliament selects the president of the Constitutional Court for a term of 12 years, instead of the judges previously choosing a president for a term of 3 years. In 2011, the number of judges on the Constitutional Court was increased from 11 to 15, and by the end of 2014, a total of 11 judges had been appointed by the Fidesz majority in parliament. 


The fourth amendment, passed on March 11, 2013, was perhaps the most controversial addition, containing provisions that strengthened the state’s power. For instance, it limited the authority of the Constitutional Court by invalidating all decisions made by the court before the new constitution came into force in 2012 (parts of the fourth amendment had previously been deemed unconstitutional), and removed the Constitutional Court’s power to invalidate laws already written into the constitution. The amendment also restricted the Constitutional Court to only invalidate an amendment to the constitution on procedural grounds (i.e., if the parliamentary vote did not occur correctly), not based on the content of the amendment. The fourth amendment also limited opportunities for campaigning outside of state media. 


After criticism from both the European Commission and the Council of Europe, the Hungarian government made another amendment to the constitution in 2013, which allowed political campaign advertisements in both state and commercial media.

Fidesz supporters.

At this time, Orbán claimed that Hungary was ‘fully dedicated’ to European standards. It was not until a speech in the summer of 2014 that Orbán mentioned the phrase he is now often associated with, ‘illiberal democracy’. 


The last ten years, Orbán has positioned himself as a defender of national sovereignty and as the leader of European nations fighting against globalism, multiculturalism and liberalism.


The nationalist worldview was articulated in a frequently cited speech by Orbán:

 “We do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others. We do not want that at all. We do not want to be a diverse country. We want to be how we became 1,100 years ago here in the Carpathian Basin.”

Orbáns’ and Fidesz’ nationalism is also directed against the neighbouring states. In the fall of 2022, Orbán attended a football match, wearing a scarf depicting a map of Hungary’s borders before the Treaty of Trianon which sparked condemnation from both Ukraine and Romania. In a speech in 2023 in Romania, he claimed that Transylvania and Szeklerland did not belong to Romania: “we have never claimed that these are Romanian administrative areas.”

Viktor Orbán and the controversial scarf.

Since Fidesz came to power in 2010, Orbán’s government has gradually reshaped the Hungarian media landscape, with Hungary steadily declining in press freedom rankings such as Freedom House’s.  The Hungarian government has referred to other European legislation and systems, including Swedish public service, to demonstrate that Hungarian media legislation complies with European norms. However, a study from the Central European University found that these references were arbitrary. This study concluded that Hungarian media legislation violates European norms by centralising control over all types of media, including digital, to a single authority, allowing the media council to appoint positions within state media, and granting extensive sanctioning powers to the media council.


The media laws enacted in 2010 centralised all media regulation – not just for state media but also for private print and digital media – under an authority, whose head also leads a media council of five people. The media council is responsible for content regulation, and every news organisation – including internet-based ones – must register with the media council within 60 days of starting operations, facing fines if they fail to do so. The media council has extensive powers to fine and, in some cases, shut down media organisations if their reporting is deemed unbalanced or incites hatred against nations, minority groups, or even majority groups. The head of the media council has the authority to nominate individuals to leadership positions within all state media, a process that does not occur internally within public service media.


The new media laws also centralised all state media under one umbrella, overseen by the media council. Simultaneously, when the new media laws came into force in 2010, many senior executives and hundreds of employees were dismissed from state media, according to labour representatives. These dismissals were justified by the government as part of a “restructuring” necessary due to budget cuts; shortly after the dismissals, however, state media received a significant budget increase, strengthening suspicions that the restructuring was politically motivated.

Duna TV, one of the state operated broadcasters in Hungary.

The universities are also increasingly controlled. Research institutes sympathetic to the regime receive the funding they need to inundate universities with national-conservative views. A law with the revealing name “Stop Soros” entailed heavy taxation and extensive state control over non-governmental organisations working for freedom of movement and minority rights. A necessary measure, according to Viktor Orbán, to protect Hungary from becoming an immigrant country.


In April 2018, the Hungarian parliament passed a law stipulating that a particular type of institution, funded from abroad but conducting educational activities in Hungary, must operate in both Hungary and the donor’s home country. The law also requires such educational institutions to have obtained permission to operate in Hungary through a bilateral agreement between the Hungarian government and the donor’s home country (in this case, the USA). Coincidentally, there was only one such educational institution in Hungary: the Central European University (CEU), financed by Hungarian-American businessman George Soros and long seen as a liberal bastion in Central Europe. In 2021, Hungary repealed a proposed NGO law that specifically aimed to cover civil society organisations receiving foreign grants of at least 24,000 euros, effectively targeting Soros-sponsored organisations. Amnesty International argued that the proposed NGO law, especially the term “foreign agents,” strongly resembles similar legislation pushed through by Putin’s government in Russia to discredit civil society and turn people against international human rights organisations.


Since 2012, Orbán’s government has als made several changes to electoral laws. Among other things, the number of members in parliament was halved, and the number of electoral districts decreased from 176 to 106, these changes being highly advantageous for Fidesz.


In economic matters, Fidesz is difficult to categorise. Orbán positions himself to the right, but in practice, he has advocated for and implemented nationalisations, expansions of the state bureaucracy, and profit caps on companies.

George Soros.

Fidesz was early on challenged from the right by Jobbik (Movement for a better Hungary). Jobbik emerged from the remnants of the defunct MIEP before the 2002 election but made significant strides in the 2010 election, winning almost 17 percent. At the subsequent opening of parliament, party leader Gábor Vona took his oath of office wearing a black vest resembling the uniform of the paramilitary organisation Hungarian Guard, reinforcing the informal links between the far-right movements parliamentary and extra-parliamentary currents.


Initially, Jobbik continued the antisemitic tradition in Hungary. In 2013, they organised protests against the Jewish World Congress held in Budapest with Vona telling his supporters that “The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale.”


Jobbik has gradually moderated and in the 2020s seeks to rebrand itself as a conservative European party. It has abandoned its euroscepticism and now participates in a broad electoral alliance that gathers most opposition forces against Fidesz. Given the history of the party, however, the democratic credibility of the party can be questioned.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 14/21


Since Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004, Fidesz has won all European Parliament elections in the country and been a member of the EPP group in the European Parliament. In 2019, Fidesz was suspended from the European political family but did not leave the party group until 2021.


Jobbik has been represented since 2009 but has never been part of a European party group.

Fidesz summary

Economics: CENTRE
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW

Jobbik summary

Economics: CENTRE
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM

MHM summary

Economics: CENTRE
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW