Hungary made some of the strongest gains in the index this year, climbing three places. In many respects, this positive movement runs contrary to the negative international coverage which has dogged Hungary under the leadership of Viktor Orbán, especially in recent years. The country continues to rank poorly in the Education, Culture, and Government sub-indices but rises four places to 11th in the Digital sub-index. Despite international criticism, the strongman approach adopted by Orbán appears to have paid off domestically. His right-wing coalition recently secured a super-majority in national elections, shoring up Orbán for a fourth term as Prime Minister. The government’s consistent use of social media platforms to deliver clear messages directly to the electorate is likely to have played a decisive role in this victory. Although Orbán’s vocal opposition to the EU’s immigration policy will have won him some admiration globally, his continued right-wing rhetoric comes at the expense of Hungary’s many other tangible soft power assets. The government should now turn its attention to promoting the more positive aspects of Hungarian culture, increase investment in education, and attempt to address concerns around Orbán’s authoritarian tendencies.
Hungary continues to perform strongly in the Digital sub-index. This is a definitive sign that the government is making effective use of its digital diplomacy tools and that Hungarian citizens are increasingly interconnected in the digital environment. However, if these positive assets cannot be effectively leveraged to help address other shortcomings, Hungary’s rise is likely to be short-lived.
Hungary has a rich historical past, is easily accessible by Europeans via several low-cost airlines, and the global appeal of Budapest to international visitors remains strong. Despite these positive assets, Hungary remains at the bottom of the Culture sub-index, unchanged from 2017, a clear sign that it continues to suffer from a wider perception problem.
Despite Orbán’s electoral success, Hungary continues to languish towards the bottom of The Soft Power 30 table. As Orbán turns towards a fourth consecutive term in office, much effort will be needed to shift global perceptions and convince critics that the Central European nation is not heading down an authoritarian path. The government must work hard to demonstrate that Hungary remains a key member of the international system, has a varied and exciting cultural offering, a young, bilingual workforce, and a robust, outward facing economy.