Hungary was accused of “dictatorship” over COVID-19 response. Here’s the truth.

By Jonathon Van Maren

When Hungary’s government imposed a nationwide lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, liberal commentators spoke with a unified voice. Historian and columnist Anne Applebaum called the policy a “de facto coup d’etat” in the prestigious pages of The Atlantic, warning that it was another example of “creeping authoritarianism.” Her colleague Yasmeen Serhan concurred, adding that the policy was actually “outright authoritarianism.” Over in the Washington Post, Dalibor Rohac went all in, declaring that the “brazenness of Orbán’s power grab is without parallel in recent European history.” In fact, Rohac informed us, “Hungary is bound to emerge from the current crisis as a full-fledged dictatorship.”

Other commentators demanded an accounting from traditionalist conservative supporters of Orbán’s government, including Rod Dreher, who has been enthusiastic about Orbán’s pro-life and pro-family policies (as have I). Hungary’s state of emergency passed the Hungarian Parliament on March 30, and Dreher responded on April 6, noting that the liberal panic was more than a little overblown. John O’Sullivan responded to Applebaum in a similar vein over at National Review, noting that he had concerns but that the hysteria was unwarranted. In fact, considering the almost universal condemnation by liberals of Hungary’s rejection of the progressive project, the condemnation was unsurprising — although the fact that many other Western jurisdictions embarked on similarly draconian policies without facing criticism made the salvoes at Orbán seem, once again, opportunistic.


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