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The Transformer

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The Transformer

Orban’s Evolution and Hungary’s Demise

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
4 take-aways
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Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban has evolved from a liberal reformer to an illiberal autocrat.

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Hungary’s strongman Viktor Orban is known for his fiery populism and ruthless crackdowns on the nation’s judiciary, independent media and intellectuals. Yet 30 years ago, no one could have foreseen that a man who started his political career as a champion of democracy and liberal reforms would be touted as a dangerous authoritarian. Orban’s biographer Paul Lendvai details this political metamorphosis in a Foreign Affairs essay that will be of interest to anyone trying to make sense of the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made his political debut as an anti-communist activist in the liberal youth movement.

Born in 1963, Viktor Orban grew up in poverty in Soviet-dominated, communist Hungary. As a law student in Budapest, he joined a group of young liberals and started working for philanthropist George Soros’s organization. The organization, which later became the Open Society Foundations, granted him a scholarship to study European political philosophy at Oxford University.

Orban became a founding member of the Alliance of Young Democrats, or Fidesz, and was catapulted to national attention in 1989 when he gave a passionate, nationally televised speech at one of Budapest’s most memorable anti-communist rallies. In 1993, Orban became president of Fidesz and a forceful advocate for liberal reforms.

To boost his and his party’s political fortunes, Orban moved to the political...

About the Author

Paul Lendvai is a Hungarian-born journalist and the author of Orban: Hungary’s New Strongman. 

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