Viktor Orbán is one controversial name within European Union circles; some would even argue it is the most controversial. The Hungarian prime minister has a record of demonstrating anti-European behavior, in particular concerning the implementation of democracy within and on national borders. Nevertheless, some Hungarians believe that he and his party, Fidesz, are precisely what Hungary needs.
Orbán shifted his political affiliations and beliefs constantly. He helped found Fidesz in 1988, a populist right-wing party that highly opposed the communist regime. He was seen as a revolutionary freedom fighter, bringing Western-style democracy and liberalism to a country shackled by the Soviets.
After his election as prime minister for a second term, in July 2014, Orbán gave his (in)famous illiberal democracy speech, in which he criticized liberal democracy and asserted that “today, the stars of international analyses are Singapore, China, India, Turkey, Russia.
“Orbán is a shrewd politician, capable of deciphering public and political attitudes and changing accordingly,” said Amy Brouilllette, Director of the European Media Project at the School of Public Policy of the Central European University in Budapest.
“Hungarian citizens were disappointed with market liberalism, which was supposed to create new jobs and lead to economic growth. Orban took advantage of public disenchantment to successfully position himself as anti-Western,” Brouillette continued.
Orbán made international headlines due to his hard-line view on immigration. He has refused to take in any more refugees, claiming it is a German problem and not a European one. He has ordered the building of a 175-km long fence with Serbia. He has also changed the constitution to make it harder for refugees to request asylum in Hungary. Such measures include reducing the time allowed to process asylum applications and to request the opinion of a judge in case of rejection, according to a report by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an organization that aids stateless persons to obtain asylum in Hungary. Needless to say, the report added that the measures are in clear violation of EU and international law.
“I do not understand why all media commentary on Orbán is negative,” said Anna Szathmári, a teacher of Dutch of Hungarian origin, working at the Hogeschool Utrecht in the Netherlands. “I admire him because he is not afraid to say what other European leaders are thinking but don’t dare say.”
According to a report by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that aids in effecting democracy all around the world, Hungary’s democracy has suffered greatly under Orbán’s rule. After his election, he made several amendments to the constitution, some of which concern the electoral law and the media law. The electoral law change meant that a win of 45 percent during his second term was translated into a win of two-thirds for his party. He imposed especially large fines on libel and slander and reduced the number of ministers and judges to favor those who support his party.
“Orbán’s personality and policies surely draw in opposition from the West, but he has also provided great economic support to local businesses and small entrepreneurs in Hungary, which is why he still attracts a large following,” said Száthmari.