Orbán | Paul Lendvai

Summary of: Orbán: Europe’s New Strongman
By: Paul Lendvai


Dive into the world of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, a leader who has single-handedly transformed the nation into an authoritarian stronghold since returning to power in 2010. In ‘Orbán: Europe’s New Strongman’, author Paul Lendvai explores Orbán’s rise to prominence, his early life, and political journey. Discover how his party, Fidesz, has strategically undermined liberal values and checks and balances within the government. Get an insightful view into how Orbán’s leadership and policies have shaped Hungary’s political landscape and impacted people’s lives.

Orbán’s Path to Power

Viktor Orbán, the current prime minister of Hungary, has taken the nation from democracy to authoritarianism since returning to office in 2010. Orbán has worked to increase his hold on power while reducing checks and balances within the government. Although not as oppressive as other world leaders, Orbán demands absolute loyalty from his associates and places gaining fealty above defending the rule of law. Despite his humble beginnings as a misbehaved child from a poor family, Orbán found success in football and eventually attended law school. There, he formed crucial political connections that would shape his rise to power. His absolute will to power molded Orbán’s character and has been evident throughout his political career.

Hungary’s Turbulent Path to Democracy

Hungary’s transition to democracy in 1990 was fraught with challenges. The economy nosedived, and the new democratic government’s decision to raise gas prices was met with protest. Amidst the chaos, Viktor Orbán’s political career hit a low point. However, Orbán, the founder of Fidesz, a political party with a core membership made up of rural workers and lawyers, soon reinvented himself as a right-wing nationalist who exploited populist sentiments. Orbán’s Fidesz party scored a surprise victory in 1998. As prime minister, Orbán elevated his office’s role and downplayed that of parliament while remaining secretive in his decision-making processes.

Orbán’s Political Rise in Hungary

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister, achieved immense popularity during the country’s 2010 elections, where his party won with a substantial majority. Orbán’s rise to power runs parallel to Hungary’s political and economic fluctuations. Earlier, when Orbán became the Prime Minister in 1998, he initiated austere spending policies that he later reversed in 2001 by increasing pensions and wages for public-sector employees. However, his efforts proved insufficient to stay in power as he lost the elections in 2002. His successors followed his footsteps and doled out more public spending, pushing Hungary towards a crisis due to rising consumption and no means of payment. Orbán rose again in 2010, seizing the opportunity when Ferenc Gyurcsány, the then Prime Minister, saw his legitimacy weakened by a scandal. Orbán’s harsh attack on Gyurcsány’s regime and growing public discontent with democratic institutions bolstered Orbán’s and far-right parties’ popularity.

Hungary under Orbán

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has made bold changes to the country’s laws and institutions since winning his second presidential election in 2010. These changes include allowing Orbán to fire civil servants at will and neutering the already weakened opposition. The once-necessary four-fifths majority of parliament to approve a new constitution was abolished, and parliament with its huge Fidesz majority, took charge of appointing constitutional judges, who now serve longer terms. Orbán established his own Budget Council, which can block any budget proposed by parliament and nix spending proposals. The council’s three members, all nominated by Orbán, cannot be removed from their positions and even if Fidesz were to lose power, the council would remain in a crucial position. Orbán has also clamped down on the media, combining Hungary’s media outlets under the oversight of Orbán appointees, creating harsh defamation guidelines, and forcing journalists to reveal their sources. Hungary’s Prime Minister continues to come under fire for his actions, inviting comparisons to totalitarian regimes.

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