Viktor Mihály Orbán
(Hungarian: [ˈviktor ˈorbaːn] (listen)
; born 31 May 1963) is a Hungarian politician who has been Prime Minister of Hungary
since 2010; he was also Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002. He has also been President of Fidesz
, a national conservative
political party, since 1993, with a brief break between 2000 and 2003. Under his control it became the most centralized, most homogeneous and most disciplined party in Hungarian history. He supervises communications, long-term planning, daily operations, policy direction, and selection of candidates.
Orbán studied law at Eötvös Loránd University
, graduating in 1987. He briefly studied political science at Oxford, before entering politics in the wake of the Autumn of Nations
. He became head of the reformist student movement the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége
), which would eventually become the Fidesz party. Orbán became nationally known after giving an address at the 1989 reburial of Imre Nagy
and other martyrs of the 1956 revolution
, in which he openly demanded that Soviet troops withdraw from the country.
Orbán graduated from Blanka Teleki High School in Székesfehérvár in 1981, where he studied English. After completing two years of military service, he studied law at Eötvös Loránd University
, writing his master's thesis on the Polish Solidarity
After graduation in 1987, he lived in Szolnok
for two years, commuting to his job in Budapest as a sociologist at the Management Training Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
At the age of 14 and 15, he was a secretary of the communist youth organisation, KISZ
, of his secondary grammar school (KISZ membership was mandatory for university admittance).
Orbán said in a later interview that his political views had radically changed during the military service: earlier he had considered himself a "naive and devoted supporter" of the Communist regime.
Orbán and Gábor Fodor at the Szárszó meeting of 1993
On 30 March 1988, Orbán was one of the founding members of Fidesz
(originally an acronym for Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége
, "Alliance of Young Democrats")
and served as its first spokesperson. The first members of the party, including Orbán, were mostly students from the Bibó István College for Advanced Studies who opposed the Communist regime.
At the college, itself a part of Eötvös Loránd University
Orbán also co-founded the dissidenting social science journal Századvég
Orbán in 1997 as leader of the opposition
On returning home from Oxford, he was elected Member of Parliament from his party's Pest County
Regional List during the 1990 parliamentary election
. He was appointed leader of the Fidesz's parliamentary group, serving in this capacity until May 1993.
On 18 April 1993, Orbán became the first president of Fidesz, replacing the national board that had served as a collective leadership since its founding. Under his leadership, Fidesz gradually transformed from a radical liberal student organization to a center-right people's party.
During the 1994 parliamentary election
, Fidesz barely reached the 5% threshold.
Orbán became MP from his party's Fejér County Regional List.
He served as chairman of the Committee on European Integration Affairs between 1994 and 1998.
He was also a member of the Immunity, Incompatibility and Credentials Committee for a short time in 1995.
Under his presidency, Fidesz adopted "Hungarian Civic Party" (Magyar Polgári Párt
) to its shortened name in 1995. His party gradually became dominant in the right-wing of the political spectrum, while the former ruling conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum
(MDF) had lost much of its support.
From April 1996, Orbán was chairman of the Hungarian National Committee of the New Atlantic Initiative
In September 1992, Orbán was elected vice chairman of the Liberal International
In November 2000, however, Fidesz left the Liberal International and joined the European People's Party
(EPP). During the time, Orbán worked hard to unite the center-right liberal conservative parties in Hungary. At the EPP's Congress in Estoril
in October 2002, he was elected vice-president, an office he held until 2012.
First term as Prime Minister (1998–2002)
The new government immediately launched a radical reform of state administration, reorganizing ministries and creating a superministry for the economy. In addition, the boards of the social security funds and centralized social security payments were dismissed. Following the German model
, Orbán strengthened the Prime Minister's office and named a new minister to oversee the work of his Cabinet.
In the process, thousands of civil servants were replaced (no distinction is made between political and civil servant posts, resulting in a strong "winner takes all" practice). The overall direction was towards centralized control.
Despite vigorous protests from the opposition parties,
in February the government decided that plenary sessions of the unicameral National Assembly
would be held only every third week.
As a result, according to opposition arguments, parliament's legislative efficiency and ability to supervise the government were reduced.
In late March, the government tried to replace the National Assembly rule that requires a two-thirds majority vote with one of a simple majority, but the Constitutional Court ruled this unconstitutional.
The year saw only minor changes in top government officials. Two of Orbán's state secretaries in the Prime Minister's office had to resign in May, due to their implication in a bribery scandal involving the American military manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corporation
. Before bids on a major jet-fighter contract, the two secretaries, along with 32 other deputies of Orbán's party, had sent a letter to two US senators to lobby for the appointment of a Budapest-based Lockheed manager to be the US ambassador to Hungary.
On 31 August, the head of the Tax Office also resigned, succumbing to protracted attacks by the opposition on his earlier, allegedly suspicious, business dealings.
The tug-of-war between the Budapest City Council and the government continued over the government's decision in late 1998 to cancel two major urban projects: the construction of a new national theatre
and of the fourth subway line
Relations between the Fidesz-led coalition government and the opposition worsened in the National Assembly, where the two seemed to have abandoned all attempts at consensus-seeking politics. The government pushed to swiftly replace the heads of key institutions (such as the Hungarian National Bank
chairman, the Budapest City Chief Prosecutor
and the Hungarian Radio
) with partisan figures. Although the opposition resisted, for example by delaying their appointing of members of the supervising boards, the government ran the institutions without the stipulated number of directors. In a similar vein, Orbán failed to show up for question time in parliament, for periods of up to 10 months. His statements of the kind that "The parliament works without opposition too..." also contributed to the image of an arrogant and aggressive governance.
A later report in March by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists
criticized the Hungarian government for improper political influence in the media, as the country's public service broadcaster teetered close to bankruptcy.
Numerous political scandals during 2001 led to a de facto
, if not actual, breakup of the coalition that held power in Budapest. A bribery scandal in February triggered a wave of allegations and several prosecutions against the Independent Smallholders' Party. The affair resulted in the ousting of József Torgyán
from both the FKGP presidency and the top post in the Ministry of Agriculture
. The FKGP disintegrated and more than a dozen of its MPs joined the government faction.
Orbán's economic policy
was aimed at cutting taxes and social insurance contributions over four years, while reducing inflation and unemployment. Among the new government's first measures was to abolish university tuition fees
and reintroduce universal maternity benefits. The government announced its intention to continue the Socialist–Liberal stabilization program and pledged to narrow the budget deficit, which had grown to 4.5% of GDP.
The previous Cabinet had almost completed the privatization of government-run industries and had launched a comprehensive pension reform. However, the Socialists had avoided two major socioeconomic issues—reform of health care and agriculture, these remained to be tackled by Orbán's government.
Economic successes included a drop in inflation from 15% in 1998 to 10.0% in 1999, 9.8% in 2000 and 7.8% in 2001. GDP growth rates were fairly steady: 4.4% in 1999, 5.2% in 2000, and 3.8% in 2001. The fiscal deficit fell from 3.9% in 1999, to 3.5% in 2000 and 3.4% in 2001 and the ratio of the national debt decreased to 54% of GDP.
Under the Orbán cabinet, there were realistic hopes that Hungary would be able to join the Eurozone
by 2009. However, negotiations for entry into the European Union
slowed in the fall of 1999, after the EU included six more countries (in addition to the original six) in the accession discussions. Orbán repeatedly criticized the EU for its delay.
Orbán also came under criticism for pushing through an unprecedented two-year budget and for failing to curb inflation, which only dropped a half point, from 10% in 1999 to 9.5% in 2000, despite the tight monetary policy of the Central Bank. However, investments continued to grow.
Hungary attracted international media attention in 1999 for passing the "status law" concerning estimated three-million ethnic Hungarian minorities in neighbouring Romania
, Serbia and Montenegro
. The law aimed to provide education, health benefits and employment rights to those, and was said to heal the negative effects of the disastrous 1920 Trianon Treaty
Governments in neighbouring states, particularly Romania, claimed to be insulted by the law, which they saw as an interference in their domestic affairs. The proponents of the status law countered that several of the countries criticizing the law themselves have similar constructs to provide benefits for their own minorities. Romania acquiesced after amendments following a December 2001 agreement between Orbán and Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Năstase
Slovakia accepted the law after further concessions made by the new government after the 2002 elections.
Leader of the Opposition (2002–2010)
The level of public support for political parties generally stagnated, even with general elections coming in 2002. Fidesz and the main opposition Hungarian Socialist Party
(MSZP) ran neck and neck in the opinion polls for most of the year, both attracting about 26% of the electorate. According to a September 2001 poll by the Gallup organization, however, support for a joint Fidesz – Hungarian Democratic Forum party list would run up to 33% of the voters, with the Socialists drawing 28% and other opposition parties 3% each.
Meanwhile, public support for the FKGP plunged from 14% in 1998 to 1% in 2001. As many as 40% of the voters remained undecided, however. Although the Socialists had picked their candidate for Prime Minister—former finance minister Péter Medgyessy
—the opposition largely remained unable to increase its political support.
The dark horse of the election was the radical nationalist Hungarian Justice and Life Party
(MIÉP), with its leader, István Csurka
's radical rhetoric. MIÉP could not be ruled out as the key to a new term for Orbán and his party, should they be forced into a coalition after the 2002 elections.
The elections of 2002 were the most heated Hungary had experienced in more than a decade, and an unprecedented cultural-political division formed in the country. In the event, Viktor Orbán's group lost the April parliamentary elections to the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party, which set up a coalition with its longtime ally, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats. Turnout was a record-high 70.5%. Beyond these parties, only deputies of the Hungarian Democratic Forum made it into the National Assembly. The populist Independent Smallholders' Party and the right Hungarian Justice and Life Party lost all their seats. Thus, the number of political parties in the new assembly was reduced from six to four.
MIÉP challenged the government's legitimacy, demanded a recount, complained of election fraud, and generally kept the country in election mode until the October municipal elections. The socialist-controlled Central Elections Committee ruled that a recount was unnecessary, a position supported by observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
, whose only substantive criticism of the election conduct was that the state television carried a consistent bias in favour of Fidesz.
Orbán received the Freedom Award of the American Enterprise Institute
and the New Atlantic Initiative (2001), the Polak Award (2001), the Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit
(2001), the "Förderpreis Soziale Marktwirtschaft" (Price for the Social Market Economy, 2002) and the Mérite Européen prize (2004). In April 2004, he received the Papal Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.
In the 2004 European Parliament election
, the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party was heavily defeated by the opposition conservative Fidesz. Fidesz gained 47.4% of the vote and 12 of Hungary's 24 seats.
Orbán was the Fidesz candidate for the parliamentary election in 2006
. Fidesz and its new-old candidate failed again to gain a majority in this election, which initially put Orbán's future political career as the leader of Fidesz in question.
However, after fighting with Socialist-Liberal coalition, Orbán's position solidified again, and he was elected president of Fidesz yet again for another term in May 2007.
On 17 September 2006, an audio recording surfaced from a closed-door Hungarian Socialist Party meeting, which was held on 26 May 2006, in which Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány
gave an obscenity-laden speech
. The leak ignited mass protests
On 1 November, Orbán and his party announced their plans to stage several large-scale demonstrations across Hungary on the anniversary of the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Revolution. The events were intended to serve as a memorial to the victims of the Soviet invasion and a protest against police brutality during the 23 October unrest in Budapest. Planned events included a candlelight vigil march across Budapest. However, the demonstrations were small and petered out by the end of the year.
A new round of demonstrations expected in the spring of 2007 did not materialize.
On 1 October 2006, Fidesz won the municipal elections, which counterbalanced the MSZP-led government's power to some extent. Fidesz won 15 of 23 mayoralties in Hungary's largest cities—although it narrowly lost Budapest to the Liberal Party—and majorities in 18 of 20 regional assemblies.
On 9 March 2008, a national referendum
took place on revoking government reforms which introduced doctor fees per visit and medical fees paid per number of days spent in hospital as well as tuition fees in higher education. Fidesz initiated the referendum against the ruling MSZP.
The procedure for the referendum started on 23 October 2006, when Orbán announced they would hand in seven questions to the National Electorate Office, three of which (on abolishing copayments
, daily fees and college tuition fees) were officially approved on 17 December 2007 and called on 24 January 2008. The referendum passed, a significant victory for Fidesz.
Second term as Prime Minister (2010–present)
Orbán at a press conference following the meeting of leaders of the Visegrád Group
, Germany and France on 6 March 2013
"Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers", Orbán told the crowd at Kossuth square
on 15 March 2012
During the 2010 parliamentary elections
, Orbán's party won 52.73% of the popular vote, with a two-thirds majority of seats, which gave Orbán enough authority to change the Constitution
As a result, Orbán's government drafted and passed a new constitution in 2011.
Among other changes, it includes support for traditional values, nationalism, references to Christianity, and a controversial electoral reform, which lowered the number of seats in the Parliament of Hungary from 386 to 199.
The new constitution entered into force on 1 January 2012 and was later amended further.
In his second term as Prime Minister, he garnered controversy for his statements against liberal democracy
, for proposing an "internet tax", and for his perceived corruption.
His second premiership has seen numerous protests against his government, including one in Budapest in November 2014 against the proposed "internet tax".
In terms of domestic legislation, Orbán's government implemented a flat tax
on personal income
. This tax is set at 16%.
Orbán has called his government "pragmatic", citing restrictions on early retirement in the police force and military, making welfare more transparent, and a central banking law that "gives Hungary more independence from the European Central Bank".
After the 2014 parliamentary election
, Fidesz won a majority, garnering 133 of the 199 seats in the National Assembly.
While he won a large majority, he garnered 44.54% of the national vote, down from 52.73% in 2010.
During the 2015 European migrant crisis
, Orbán ordered the erection of the Hungary–Serbia barrier
to block entry of illegal immigrants
so that Hungary could register all the migrants arriving from Serbia, which is the country's responsibility under the Dublin Regulation, a European Union law. Under Orbán, Hungary took numerous actions to combat illegal immigration and reduce refugee levels.
In May 2020, the European Court of Justice
ruled against Hungary's policy of migrants transit zones, which Orbán subsequently abolished while also making the country's asylum rules stricter.
Orbán questioned Nord Stream II
, a new Russia–Germany natural gas pipeline. He said he wants to hear a "reasonable argument why South Stream was bad and Nord Stream is not".
"South Stream" refers to the Balkan pipeline cancelled by Russia in December 2014 after obstacles from the EU.
Since 2017, Hungary's relations with Ukraine rapidly deteriorated over the issue of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine
Orbán and his cabinet ministers repeatedly criticized Ukraine's 2017 education law
, which makes Ukrainian
the only language of education in state schools,
and threatened to block further Ukraine's EU and NATO integration until it is modified or repealed.
In July 2018, Orbán travelled to Turkey
to attend the inauguration ceremony of re-elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
In October 2018, Orbán said after talks with President Erdoğan in Budapest that "A stable Turkish government and a stable Turkey are a precondition for Hungary not to be endangered in any way due to overland migration."
On 30 March 2020, the Hungarian parliament
voted 137 to 53 in favor of passing legislation that would create a state of emergency without a time limit, grant the Prime Minister the ability to rule by decree, the suspension of by-elections
, and possibly prison sentences for spreading fake news and sanctions for leaving quarantine.
Two and a half months later, on 16 June 2020, the Hungarian parliament passed a bill that ended the state of emergency effective 19 June.
However, on the same day the parliament passed a new law removing the requirement of parliamentary approval for future "medical" states of emergencies, allowing the government to declare them by decree.
Views and public image
According to Politico
, Orbán's political philosophy "echoes the resentments of what were once the peasant and working classes" by promoting an "uncompromising defense of national sovereignty
and a transparent distrust of Europe's ruling establishments".
Orbán is seen as having laid out his political views most concretely in a widely cited 2014 public address at Băile Tușnad
(known in Hungary as the Tusnádfürdői beszéd,
or "Tusnádfürdő speech"). In the address, Orbán repudiated the classical liberal theory of the state as a free association of atomistic individuals
, arguing for the use of the state as the means of organizing, invigorating, or even constructing the national community
. Although this kind of state respects traditionally liberal concepts like civic rights
, it is properly called "illiberal
" because it views the community, and not the individual, as the basic political unit.
In practice, Orbán claimed, such a state should promote national self-sufficiency
, national sovereignty, familialism
, full employment
and the preservation of cultural heritage
, and cited countries such as Turkey
, Russia, and China
Orbán and Angela Merkel
, Congress of the European People's Party in Madrid on 21 October 2015
Orbán with Vladimir Putin in February 2016
Orbán's second and third premierships have been the subject of significant international controversy, and reception of his political views is mixed. The 2011 constitutional changes enacted under his leadership were, in particular, accused of centralizing legislative and executive power, curbing civil liberties, restricting freedom of speech, and weakening the Constitutional Court
For these reasons, critics have described him as "irredentist
as a "strongman
and as a "dictator
Other commentators, however, noted that the European migrant crisis, coupled with continued Islamist terrorism in the European Union
, have popularized Orbán's nationalist, protectionist policies among European conservative leaders. "Once ostracized" by Europe's political elite, writes Politico
, Orbán "is now the talisman of Europe's mainstream right".
As other Visegrád Group leaders, Orbán opposes any compulsory EU long-term quota
on redistribution of migrants.
He wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
: "Europe's response is madness. We must acknowledge that the European Union's misguided immigration policy is responsible for this situation".
He also demanded an official EU list of "safe countries" to which migrants can be returned.
According to Orbán, Turkey should be considered a safe third country.
Orbán has promoted the Great Replacement
conspiracy theory. Le Journal du Dimanche
reported on Orbán's explicit adoption of the conspiracy theory, after he claimed; "if we let tens of millions of migrants travel to Europe from Africa
and the Middle East
... the young people of Western Europe will know the day when they will be in a minority in their own country".
Despite the anti-immigration rhetoric from Orbán, it has been reported that Hungary has actually increased immigration of foreign workers into the country.
As stated by The Guardian
, the "Hungarian government doubled family spending between 2010 and 2019", intending to achieve "a lasting turn in demographic processes by 2030". Orbán has espoused an anti-immigration platform, and has also advocated for increased investment into "Family First". Orbán has disregarded the European Union's attempts to promote integration as a key solution to population distribution problems in Europe. He has also supported investments into the country's low birth rates. Orbán has tapped into the "great replacement theory" which emulates a nativist
approach to rejecting foreign immigration out of fear of replacement by immigrants. He has stated that "If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others." The Guardian
stated that "This year the Hungarian government introduced a 10 million forint
(£27,000) interest-free loan for families, which does not have to be paid back if the couple has three children."
In July 2020, Orbán expressed that he still expects arguments over linking of disbursement of funds of the European Union
to rule-of-law criteria but remarked in a state radio interview that they "didn't win the war, we (they) won an important battle."
In August 2020, Orbán whilst speaking at an event to inaugurate a monument commemorating the Treaty of Trianon, said Central European nations should come together to preserve their Christian roots as western Europe experiments with same-sex families, immigration and atheism.
He was accused of pork barrel
politics for building a 4,000-seat stadium in the village in which he grew up, Felcsút,
at a distance of some 20 feet (6.1 m) from his country house.
Some opposition parties and critics also consider Orbán an opponent of European integration. In 2000, opposition parties MSZP and SZDSZ and the left-wing press presented Orbán's comment that "there's life outside the EU" as proof of his anti-Europeanism
and sympathies with the radical right
In the same press conference, Orbán clarified that "[w]e're trying to make the accession fast because it may boost the growth of Hungary's economy."
Hungarian-American business magnate and political activist George Soros
criticized Orbán's handling of the European migrant crisis in 2015, saying: "His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle."
The Orbán government began to attack Soros and his NGOs in early 2017, particularly for his support for more open immigration. In July 2017, the Israeli ambassador in Hungary joined Jewish groups and others in denouncing a billboard campaign backed by the government. Orbán's critics claimed it "evokes memories of the Nazi posters during the Second World War
". The ambassador stated that the campaign "evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear", an apparent reference to the Holocaust. Hours later, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
issued a "clarification", denouncing Soros, stating that he "continuously undermines Israel's democratically elected governments" and funded organizations "that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself". The clarification came a few days before an official visit to Hungary by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The anti-Soros messages became key elements of the government's communication and campaign since then, which, among others, also targeted the Central European University
The law granting the Government the power to rule by decree was lifted on 16 June 2020, as the emergency situation concerning the pandemic had ended.
Orbán and his wife, Anikó Lévai, at the funeral of President Árpád Göncz
in November 2015.
Orbán married jurist Anikó Lévai in 1986; the couple have five children.
Their eldest daughter, Ráhel, is married to entrepreneur Tiborcz István [hu]
, whose company, Elios, was accused of receiving unfair advantages when winning public tenders.
(see Elios case [hu]
) Orbán's son, Gáspár
, is a retired footballer, who played for Ferenc Puskás Football Academy
He is also the founder of a religious community called Felház.
Orbán has three younger daughters (Sára, Róza, Flóra) and three granddaughters (Ráhel's children Aliz and Anna Adél; Sára's daughter Johanna).
Orbán has played football from his early childhood. He was a professional player with FC Felcsút
. After ending his football career, he became one of the main financiers of the Hungarian football
and his hometown's club, Felcsút FC, later renamed the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy.
He had a prominent role in the foundation of Puskás Akadémia in Felcsút, creating one of the most modern training facilities for young Hungarian footballers.
He played an important role in establishing the annually organised international youth cup, the Puskás Cup
, at Pancho Aréna
, which he also helped build,
in his hometown of Felcsút. His only son, Gáspár, learned and trained there.
Orbán is said to watch as many as six games a day. His first trip abroad as prime minister in 1998 was to the World Cup final in Paris; according to inside sources, he has not missed a World Cup or Champions League final since.
president Sepp Blatter
visited the facilities at the Puskás Academy in 2009. Blatter, together with the widow of Ferenc Puskás, as well as Orbán, founder of the Academy, announced the creation of the new FIFA Puskás Award
during that visit.
He played the bit part of a footballer in the Hungarian family film Szegény Dzsoni és Árnika
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