Viktor Orbán is the incumbent Prime Minister of Hungary and has been in office since 2010; he also served a previous term from 1998 to 2002. He is leader of the national conservative party, Fidesz. He achieved prominence in 1990 by openly demanded the withdraw of Soviet troops from the country and the transition to democracy. Under his direction, Fidesz then shifted from a liberal, pro-European integration party to a populist brand of right-wing national conservatism.
In 1999 under Orbán, the Hungarian Parliament passed the controversial “status law” which aimed to provide preferential education, health benefits and employment rights to Hungarian ethnic minorities in neighbouring countries, such as Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine. The Romanian Government claimed that this law was an interference in their domestic affairs.
During the negotiations of the Nice Treaty which paved the way for Hungary’s EU membership, Orbán noted that “there is life outside the European Union” to express his dissatisfaction with the way in which the negotiations were proceeding.
In a 2014 speech Orbán claimed that traditional liberal states are ‘illiberal’ because they see the community and not the individual as the basic political unit. In practice, Orbán claimed that this kind of state should promote national self-sufficiency, national sovereignty, family values, full employment, and preservation of cultural heritage, and cited countries such as Turkey, Singapore, Russia and China as models.
In 2015 Orbán ordered the erection of a wall on the border between Hungary and Serbia to block entry of illegal immigrants.
In 2017 he announced that Hungary wanted to strengthen its army and had started construction of the first factory for the Hungarian arms industry. He also stated, “However much of a taboo one is breaking by saying it, there is no cultural identity in a population without a stable ethnic composition. The alteration of a country’s ethnic makeup amounts to an alteration of its cultural identity. A strong country can never afford to do something like that – unless some global catastrophe forces it to do so.”
In April 2017 Orbán’s government passed the Lex CEU, whose aim was to limit academic freedom and outlaw the Central European University, based in Budapest: this sparked protests both in and outside the country. At the same time, the NGO Law was adopted, stipulating that non-governmental organizations receiving more than HUF 7.2 million (USD 27,300) from foreign sources annually must be registered in a court of law as “foreign-funded” and be visibly branded as such; organisations that support migration were also heavily penalised. This law was criticised by the EU as “…violat[ing] the right to freedom of association and to protection of private life and personal data enshrined in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as breaching the principle of free movement of capital.”
In his annual state of the nation speech in 2018, Orbán claimed that Hungary is “the last bastion against the islamisation of Europe.” He also said that immigration was “no more helpful for a country’s national development than influenza contributes to the health of the human body.”
Orbán is strongly opposed to the mandatory EU quota on the 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.”
However, Orbán is no climate change sceptic: he remarked that he was “in a state of shock,” after he heard of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Orbán stated that neither the Hungarian right, nor Hungarian society in general, tend to question the science of climate change: “In Hungary, there is a consensus that climate change is real, that it is dangerous and since it is a global phenomenon, it requires global action to combat it.”
Orbán has been publicly criticised by figures such as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Presidents of the European Commission José Barroso and Jean-Claude Juncker, of pursuing anti-democratic reforms; reducing the independence of Hungary’s press, judiciary and central bank; and of cronyism and nepotism.
Orbán has also been criticised because of his friendly relations with leaders such as Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan. In 2015 during a visit to Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, he claimed that Hungarians feel more at home there than in Brussels. On the subject of Saudi Arabia, he has stated, “We are here not to instruct anyone on human rights or modern ways of looking at the world. We are here because we respect the Arab culture and we appreciate that they made their own world one of the most successful parts of the globe.” He has stated that “in Hungary we don’t think that Russia could threaten our security;” “Hungary stays with its friends and stands on Turkey’s side;” and “Egypt is not only a country close to us but it is also politically our neighbour.”