Civic Strategies Against Governmental Populism and Hate Campaigns

The systematic demolition of the institutional system under the rule of law has been ongoing in Hungary since the change of government in 2010, being executed in a well-documented manner, and despite plentiful criticism at home and abroad. It is interlinked with governmental attacks on external and domestic voices that are critical of the process. Political philosophers, sociologists and practitioners of constitutional law have all been trying to define the theoretical framework that would allow an interpretation of the process in the course of which a European Union Member State has demonstrated a conscious shift away from the core values of liberal democracy and the rule of law (and, as such, those of the European community).

The interpretation of the Hungarian “illiberal state,” in terms of political philosophy and political science outlines a set-up in which even though the constitutional institutions typical of democracies still formally exist, they however no longer function—even while occasionally adopting decisions that comply with constitutionality—as intended at the system level: Instead of serving as true checks on how the government wields power, they function as institutions stabilising the autocratic workings of the state.

This paper aims to examine one of the crucial features of how “illiberal states” operate, namely populist and inflammatory government communication that seeks to make public debate hegemonistic and the closely related government actions intended to silence critical opinions, together with the legal instruments available to counter these things. Typical cases are examined and grouped by types of government action which, in terms of subject matter, constitute valid problems for the legal regime or the respective legal concept as a whole; as such, one may be justified in assuming that the conclusions related to the effectiveness of legal instruments linked to them will also be valid concerning similar matters that are not touched upon in the paper. In the research, legal regulations, constitutional court, court and authority proceedings were scrutinised in the light of rule of law standards, and the learning points—associated with this paper’s purpose—gleaned are summarised after typifying them.


1 The Struggle Against Hegemonising Political Power—Legal Instruments Available for Use Against Government Propaganda
1.1 Complaints related to the referendum campaign during the campaign period
1.2 Media authority proceedings outside the campaign period
1.3 Action taken by municipal governments against the government’s inflammatory posters
1.4 Civil disobedience actions
2 Action Against Governmental Anti-NGO Measures
2.1 Requests for data of public interest to certify the political nature of anti-NGO measures
2.2 Legal proceedings available for use against legislation attacking NGOs
2.3 Personality rights-related lawsuits filed by NGOs subject to attack
3 Options for Taking Action Against Government Initiatives Feigning Direct Democracy
3.1 The referendum and boycott related to settlement quotas
3.2 National Consultations
Product details
Date of Publication
April 2018
Eötvös Károly Institute, Heinrich- Böll-Stiftung
Number of Pages
All rights reserved
Language of publication