Ambassador András Simonyi, political commentator and former ambassador of Hungary to the U.S., addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy as a panelist on the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel – see quotes below.

For the full text of the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel, click here.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 7, 2021

On growing autocracy in Hungary:

“Hungary is a cautionary tale of how easily a democracy, with all its institutions, can slip away and how you can demolish democracy in just a couple of years.”

“I heard [Viktor Orban] speak after he had declared victory, and I said to myself: This man is never going to let go again. That was the moment when I realized that, sooner or later, Hungry is going to slide in this direction.”

“I think what really is driving Hungary towards autocracy is this constant hunger to grab more and more and more.”

On Viktor Orban:

“Orban is my personal biggest disappointment.”

“In 1989, I was with Victor Orban in Spain at a big peace conference in San Sebastian. That was exactly the days of the Tiananmen Massacre. We demonstrated together. He was a Democrat, he was a liberal.”

“Fast-forward, I have to say that he is brilliant — unfortunately, he is brilliant.”

“You can definitely compare Mr. Orban to Erdogan. You can compare him to Vladimir Putin. Or, recently, he’s become a great fan of Xi Jinping.”

“Viktor Orban understands the way the West thinks. He understands that the first reaction to crises of the West is appeasement. And he’s very good at doing this.”

On Western complacence to erosion of democracy in Hungary:

“The West became too complacent after the fall of the Berlin wall. It became lazy. It did not see the democratization process through in Central and Eastern Europe.”

“[The West] did not understand the depths of the damage by communism on the minds of people.”

“Germany bears huge responsibility for what’s going on in Hungary. It has been shielding Viktor Orban within the European Union.”

“The interest of the German auto industry has always come before Hungary’s democratic interests.”

On the relationship between the EU and Hungary:

“There comes a point when keeping Hungary inside these institutions — and I hate to say this — becomes a threat to the integrity of these institutions, including NATO and the European Union.”

“The European Union need to get tougher not in the interest of Hungary but in the interest of its own integrity and future.”

“Viktor Orban…understands that he’s only interesting to Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin as long as he is inside these organizations. Once he’s outside NATO, once he’s outside the European Union, Hungary is just a tiny, tiny little country nobody will care about.”

“In hindsight, I would say both NATO and the European Union should have added a clause that, if you don’t fulfill the democratic criteria, you can be pushed out of these institutions; this is not a marriage forever.”

On fighting for change in Hungary:

“I didn’t want to be a hero. I just wanted change. The people who were fighting on the outside didn’t want to be heroes. They just wanted change. Heroes are not made; heroes happen.”

“If the West does not offer solutions to the individual that they can follow and they can believe in, then it’s going to be very, very hard to demand from the individual to fight these dictatorial regimes.”

“As much as we shouldn’t take democracy for granted, I have a message to the dictators or dictators to be: Don’t take your power for granted. It might not last forever. And I think every single individual can do their part in bringing closer the moment when dictators fall.”

“A lot hinges on leadership. A lot hinges on courageous people standing up and saying, ‘Hey, things have got to change.’ And I’m very optimistic.”

On how the West can help bring change:

“I wish the West would go hard on corruption and stealing.”

“My hope is there will be a change of government in Germany — a government that understands better the threat coming from authoritarian regimes, that understands that appeasing China is not an option, appeasing Russia is not an option, and appeasing the leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, is not an option.”

On what people can do to help:

“Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Don’t be silent. And do what you can and what you have to because the future, your future, and the future of your children depend on it.”