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Tainted Democracy
 Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary

Tainted Democray by Zsuzsanna Szelényi

Hungary, once the poster child of liberal democracy, is fast becoming an autocracy under Viktor Orbán. After winning an absolute majority in 2010, Orbán launched a series of ‘reforms’, fundamentally undermining the country’s twenty-year, post-Cold War liberal consensus. For supporters and foes alike, the rise and rise of Hungary’s prime minister is a vivid example of how democracy can be subverted from within.

Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a leading member of Orbán’s Fidesz in its early years, has witnessed first-hand the party’s shift from liberalism to populist nationalism. Offering an insider’s account of Fidesz’s evolution since its creation, she explains how the party rose to leadership of the country under Orbán and made sweeping legal, political, and economic changes to solidify its grip on power—from reining in the public media to slashing the number of parliamentary seats. She answers a key question: why has Orbán been so successful, winning widespread support within Hungary and wielding considerable influence in European politics? And how could Hungary’s opposition party Together, which she co-founded in 2012, work to turn the country around?

Underpinned by Szelényi’s own experiences at the heart of Hungarian politics, Tainted Democracy offers accessible, nuanced insights into the global rise of populist autocracy—and how it can be challenged.

Tony Barber, Financial Times

There is much illuminating detail on these practices [by Viktor Orbán] in Zsuzsanna Szelényi’s book. Read her book, you may learn a lot

Tim Judah, Special Correspondent for The Economist

Zsuzsanna Szelényi has lived and breathed Hungarian politics for more than thirty years which means that this is the right book, written at the right time, by the right person.

Judy Dempsey, Editor-in-Chief of Strategic Europe

This compelling book is about how Viktor Orbán systematically subverted democratic institutions to build a corrupt and nepotistic system while EU leaders turned a blind eye to Hungary’s hijacked transformation.

Dimitar Bechev, Lecturer in Russian and East European Studies, University of Oxford

A cautionary tale for the whole of Europe. With unrivalled insight and precious autobiographical detail, Zsuzsanna Szelényi traces Hungary’s descent into authoritarianism under Viktor Orbán.

R. Daniel Kelemen, Professor of Political Science & Law, Rutgers University

A definitive insider’s account of how Viktor Orbán dismantled Hungarian democracy and replaced it with an autocratic and profoundly corrupt regime. Szelényi’s vivid chronicle will leave readers aghast but forewarned–saddened by the lost promise of 1989 in Hungary but better equipped to recognise any erosion of democracy in their own countries.

Kati Marton, journalist, and author of The Chancellor

This is a sobering but absolutely essential narrative of aborted democracy in a country that once held such promise.

Martyn Rady, The Times Literary Supplement

[A] masterly new study of the rise of Fidesz and Orbán. Szelényi’s Tainted Democracy … is detailed and thorough. It offers a rigorous account of how Orbán bent an initially liberal party to his will, and how he and his acolytes have subverted institution after institution.
Read the full review here

Andrew Moravcsik, Foreign Affairs

For readers seeking a balanced analysis of Hungary’s recent political evolution, this is the one.

Martin Ehl, Visegrad Inshight

Zsuzsanna Szelényi’s new book explores the inner workings of Viktor Orbán’s regime in Budapest. While breaking down campaign strategies, media capture and the rampant clientelism that is destroying the economy, it gives a sobering account of the state of Hungarian democracy.

Jeffrey C. Isaac, Los Angeles Review of Books

Szelényi adds important detail to how Orbán’s autocratic innovations have actually worked, showing how they have frustrated politicians, journalists, legal professionals, and academics seeking to defend liberal democracy. It is in its nuanced discussion of the political dynamics behind Orbán’s electoral conquest and exercise of political power that the real importance of this book lies
Read the full review here.
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