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Last month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made his boldest attack yet on civil society. In a speech marking 170 years since Hungary’s 1848 revolution, Orban railed against “media outlets maintained by foreign concerns and domestic oligarchs, professional hired activists, troublemaking protest organisers, and a chain of NGOs financed by an international speculator, summed up by and embodied in the name ‘George Soros.’” Unfortunately, such rhetoric is no longer confined to Orban, who famously calls himself an “illiberal democrat.” Increasingly, attacks on civil society and independent media have become normalized throughout central Europe, threatening the future of democracy in the region.
Through Freedom House’s Nations in Transit project, which has tracked developments in postcommunist Europe and Eurasia since 1995, we have seen an explosion of illiberal smear campaigns in the last five years, with ruling party politicians or the president attacking civil society or the media in 25 of the 29 countries in