Imitating Orban: Hungary’s Illiberal Democracy Goes Beyond Borders


By Ákos Keller-Alánt

On taking power in 2010, right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promised the ‘virtual reunification’ of the country with Hungarian-populated lands taken from it by peace treaty in the wake of World War One.

A century since the Treaty of Trianon dramatically shrank the size of the Hungarian state and stranded millions of Hungarians beyond its borders, Orban is pouring money into ethnic Hungarian communities in neighboring states, issuing passports and picking up voters and political leverage for the ruling Fidesz party.

The largesse, however, has come at a price for democracy, according to a BIRN investigation in Serbia, Slovenia and Romania, where Hungarian spending shot up from 40 million euros in 2015 to 330 million in 2018 and amounted to more than three quarters of a billion over the four-year period.

In these countries, local proxies beholden to Budapest now wield a worrying degree of influence over media, culture and development funds, imitating Orban’s own ‘illiberal democracy’.

For Serbia’s Hungarians, More Forints and a Tamed Media

Allied with the leaders of both Hungary and Serbia, the main political party among ethnic Hungarians in Serbia has intruded on media freedom and taken control of huge funds sent from Budapest, to the detriment of democracy, critics say.

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In a Hungarian Corner of Slovenia, a Homegrown Orban

From the marginalization of dissenters to control of the media, Viktor Orban’s Hungary is being replicated in miniature in a tiny patch of neighboring Slovenia inhabited by ethnic Hungarians.

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Living like in Hungary: Orban Bankrolling Romania ‘Ethnic Parallelism’

Viktor Orban’s Hungary is pouring money into Hungarian-language media, education, sports clubs and churches in Romania’s Transylvania, where more than one million ethnic Hungarians increasingly ‘live their lives as if they were in Hungary.’

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Ákos Keller-Alánt is an award-winning investigative journalist for the Hungarian magazine Magyar Narancs.

He mostly reports on politics, economics and corruption and conducts interviews with leading Hungarian and international politicians and professionals.

He’s also a news editor at

This article has been produced as part of the Resonant Voices Initiative in the EU, funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund – Police.

The content of this story represents the views of the author and is the sole responsibility of BIRN. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.