Book review: Europe’s new strongman
Book Title: Orbán: Europe’s new strongman
Author: Paul Lendvai
Review by: Byron clark
While there has hardly been a shortage of strongmen for the right to admire in recent years, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stood out. Last year, Vox called him “the favorite strongman of the American right”1
and British far-right figurehead Tommy Robinson described him as the “Defender of Europe” when he appeared on Hungarian television.
Reuters / Laszlo Balogh
In New Zealand, Orbán has been praised by far-right YouTube personality Lee Williams (who compared the neoconservative party favorably to Orbán’s Fidesz party) and in Australia his support does not come just from the fringe, but traditional politicians; in 2019, former prime minister Tony Abbott gave a speech in Hungary claiming that migrants “swarm across borders in Europe”.2
Orbán was also praised by then-US President Donald Trump in 2019 for doing a “great job”.3
The biography “Orbán: Europe’s new strongman»Is the first book published in English on the subject of the Orbán regime. Paul Lendavi was born in Hungary and is now based in Austria. For this book, he drew on the work of Hungarian journalists and political scientists, rendering it in-depth despite its short length. It is written for an international audience and does not require a prior in-depth knowledge of Hungarian history or politics.
Orbán’s rise to power follows scandals within the center-left Socialist Party, including financial corruption. While Orbán’s Fidesz regime has been much more corrupt, Orbán enriching himself using the power he wields as prime minister, the Socialist Party is judged harshest by voters for the sheer hypocrisy of their corruption; with Orbán’s Fidesz Party, that was expected.
Orbán has used anti-immigrant populism to gain support in one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe. During a march in Paris following the terrorist attack against the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, he announced “Zero tolerance towards immigrants … As long as I am Prime Minister, and as long as this government is in power, we will not let Hungary become the destination of immigrants driven from Brussels. “
His government put up billboards with messages to the refugees – that if they want to come to Hungary, they must integrate into Hungarian society and must not take jobs from the Hungarians. These billboards are however written in Hungarian and are unlikely to be read by Syrian or Iraqi refugees entering the country – a very low number, in part due to fences erected at the country’s border with Croatia. The notice boards are not really there for the refugees to read; they are there to implant in the minds of the Hungarians the idea that immigrants will steal jobs and refuse to integrate.
The regime has succeeded in spreading this xenophobia. Polls cited in the book indicate that fear of a terrorist attack by refugees (a statistically unlikely probability) is higher in Hungary than in any other European country. More recent polls since the book’s publication show that sixty percent of Hungarians have a negative or very negative opinion of immigrants while a similar number (fifty-four percent) have negative or very negative opinions of Muslims.4
“Orbán does not hide his satisfaction in the face of the misery of the refugees,” writes Lendvai, referring to one of the Prime Minister’s speeches in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis, where Orbán said: “The crisis offers an opportunity to national Christian ideology to reign supreme, not only in Hungary but throughout Europe ”.
Orbán also made a scarecrow of George Soros, the billionaire Hungarian-born philanthropist who is a common figure in far-right conspiracy theories. Orbán, echoing these same theories, asserts that Soros encourages the mass migration of Muslims to Europe. While Orbán claims Muslim migrants will spread anti-Semitism, his rhetoric about Soros (a Jew and Holocaust survivor) comes with a heavy anti-Semitic subtext. Paraphrasing the Hungarian Liberal Weekly Magyar Narancs, who compared Soros’ conspiracy theory to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Lendvai writes: “The Jew of the world was not mentioned in the context of Soros because there is no need for it – everyone understands the reference”. Polls cited by Lendvai show that nearly a third of Hungarians hold anti-Semitic views. Ironically, it is the philanthropic work of Soros’ Open Society Foundation, which promotes human rights and liberal democracy in Europe after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, which funded much of education. from Orbán.
Hungary’s Fidesz regime is likely to stay in power for years to come – in part because of constitutional changes with the party’s unprecedented two-thirds majority in parliament and extensive gerrymandering – and will serve as an inspiration for the groups of extreme right in Europe and even further. This book will give readers a general overview of contemporary Hungary that will help us recognize when politicians in our own countries will attempt to come to power on a similar platform of xenophobia and bigotry.
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