When the Cold War ended, Hungary occupied a special place in the story of the revolutions of 1989. It was one of the first countries in the Soviet orbit to abandon communism and embrace liberal democracy. Today it is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy. It is adopting a new system and set of values that are best exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia but are finding echoes in other countries as well.
In a major speech last weekend, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban explained that his country is determined to build a new political model — illiberal democracy. This caught my eye because, in 1997, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs using that same phrase to describe a dangerous trend. Democratic governments, often popular, were using their mandates to erode individual rights, the separation of powers and the rule of law. But even I never imagined that a national leader — from Europe no less — would use the term as a badge of honor.