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'Putinization' spreading in Europe, US group warns

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, above, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been systematically breaking down critical democratic checks and balances, Freedom House said in a report Wednesday.

LONDON -- The leaders of Hungary and Ukraine are following in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin and imperiling the young democracies, U.S.-based non-governmental organization Freedom House said in a report on Wednesday.

"Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances," Freedom House's president David Kramer said in a statement.

"They appear to be pursuing the 'Putinization' of their countries, which is ironic, given that in Russia itself Putinism has been largely discredited over the past year, as ordinary Russians increasingly seek guarantees of government accountability and transparency," he added. 

A wave of demonstrations have swept through Russia in recent months, with citizens protesting corruption and the Putin government's growing power.  

On Wednesday, Russian lawmakers voted through a controversial bill that dramatically increases fines for those accused of participating in banned public protestsThe bill was proposed in response to big public rallies against Putin's second term as president.

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The autocratic tendencies seen in the post-communist democracies pointed out in the Nations in Transit 2012 report risk taking root elsewhere among the European Union's newest members and aspiring members, Freedom House warned. Five other EU members in the region -- Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia -- also have seen a decline in democratic practices and traditions over the past five years, according to Freedom House.

Alexey Nikolsky /Ria Novosti /Pr / EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) talks to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) during their bilateral talks in Moscow, Russia, on May 15.

Hungary's anti-democratic lurch, made worse by the economic downturn, was deemed the worst in the region by Freedom House. 

The report cited a swift dismantling of democratic checks in Hungary, made easier by a weak opposition and the ruling supermajority in parliament. 

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"Hungary’s precipitous descent is the most glaring example among the newer European Union members," the report added. "Its deterioration over the past five years has affected institutions that form the bedrock of democratically accountable systems, including independent courts and media."

More than 10,000 people stormed the streets in protest after Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

Hungary is a member of the EU while Ukraine is an aspiring member.

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While the trend predates Orban's conservative government, his administration's drive has hastened the trend, Freedom House said. 

Officials at the embassies of Hungary and Ukraine in London were not immediately available to comment on the report.

Freedom House is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It was founded in 1941, with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and defeated Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie as its honorary chairpersons.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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