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Transatlantic Institutions Must Address Hungarian Concerns—Or Russia and China Will

March 8, 2018

As Hungary heads to the polls next month, IRI’s latest survey on Hungarians’ values and attitudes towards democracy sheds new light on the country’s social and political challenges—findings that should be duly noted by all who want Hungary to remain in the European fold.  

Like Poland, Hungary has become increasingly divided. According to the new poll, more than half of Hungarians think the country is going in the wrong direction, a trend that has increased since IRI's last nationwide poll in March 2017.

This division is also evident in perceptions of the state of democracy in the country, with a combined 56 percent of respondents expressing their belief that democracy is not functioning well. While most respondents recognize (65 percent) and regret (70 percent of those who recognize) this polarization, they are also less inclined to compromise on issues of national identity such as immigration.

The poll indicates that Hungarians remain strongly attached to the transatlantic alliance and Western institutions. Only six percent view NATO negatively, 68 percent view Hungary’s membership of the European Union as a good thing, and a plurality (30 percent) see the EU as serving their national interests.

However, this positive view of the EU is tainted by a belief that it is failing to protect Europe’s borders: immigration control ranked as the top issue on which the EU did not perform well, and migration ranked as the top issue facing the country. Furthermore, despite Hungarians’ generally positive views of transatlantic institutions, a combined total of more than 50 percent either “somewhat” or “strongly agree” with the claim that “the West” does not treat Hungary “fairly.”  

On a reassuring note, a majority of Hungarians do not think that Vladimir Putin’s style of government should be applied in Hungary, and just five percent believe China is the country that helps Hungary’s national interests the most.  However, if Hungarians become disillusioned with the capacity of Western institutions to address the challenges facing their country, this could leave them increasingly receptive to attempts by foreign powers like Russia and China to gain influence in Hungary.

The survey underscored the crucial need for transatlantic institutions to optimize the goodwill expressed by Hungarians and take meaningful action to help address the issues of importance to the populace. In doing so, Hungary’s democratic partners can help to strengthen Hungarian democracy and inoculate the country against meddling by revisionist authoritarian powers.

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