Hungary was unable to build on its surprise rise from last year, falling a further three spots in this year’s index. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz party’s constant attacks on the country’s democratic institutions are not only contrary to the principles behind soft power but also detrimental to Hungary’s long-term stability. Since becoming a democracy in 1990, Hungary has been considered “free” according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report. This year, Freedom House downgraded Hungary’s status to “partly free”. Freedom House, the European Union and the international community have witnessed Orbán and the Fidesz party assert control over and abuse the media, academic institutions, the courts and anyone that impedes their dominance. Orbán continues to seek out ways to consolidate his power and advance his illiberal agenda by eliminating any institution that dares to challenge his authority. As long as the political leadership in Hungary denies its people these basic freedoms, Hungary will continue to lose soft power at a rapid pace.
Digital remains Hungary’s strongest sub-index due to Prime Minister Orbán concerted push for the country’s digital development. The implementation of Hungary’s National Infocommunication Strategy 2014-2020 has seen incredible investment in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure which in turn has helped grow the country’s digital economy. Minister of Finance Mihály Varga has argued that digitalisation is key to the country’s success and international competitiveness.
Hungary’s education system has fallen victim to the Orbán government’s tight control. Coming in at dead last in the Education sub-index, Hungary has seen the state government consolidate responsibility for the education system at all levels, stripping the local municipalities of their previously held duties. The government has rejected independent textbook publishers’ license requests and instead published textbooks by the state-run Education Research and Development Center (OFI). Orbán’s government has also threatened gender studies courses and programs at Hungary’s universities, arguing that the country has no need for graduates in that field.
The Orbán government has set the country on a path that could lead to Hungary dropping out altogether from the Soft Power 30 ranking. The Hungarian government’s authoritarian actions compounded over time have maimed the international perception of the country. Only through dramatic governmental and institutional reforms will Hungary be able to regain its reputation and soft power. Once basic freedoms are restored to the Hungarian people, the country can utilise its rich history, vibrant culture and digital economy to regain its international status.