A Hungarian-Austrian journalist charts the rise of Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orbán from his days as a progressive, anti-communist upstart to his current rightwing, anti-immigrant Nationalism and ties to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
As Paul Lendvai observes in Orban: [Hungary's] Strongman, his thoughtful, entertaining biography, Hungarian political scientists wrestle over how to define Mr Orban’s proudly illiberal regime ... The value of Lendvai’s book lies in his penetrating explanation of why Hungary’s post-1989 institutions have proved so vulnerable to Mr Orban’s assault.
In a country as inscrutable as Hungary, Mr. Lendvai makes a valuable guide. His book is more a socio-political history of postcommunist Hungary than a straightforward biography of its leader. At times, however, his distaste for the man he calls the architect of a 'Führer democracy' clouds his analysis ... Mr. Lendvai betrays a haughty contempt for the Hungarian (and, by implication, wider European) voting public, which he slams for credulously accepting Mr. Orbán’s rhetoric on migrants. But Mr. Orbán was 'able to dictate the narrative about refugees' because Europe’s ruling class had ignored the problems associated with migration for so long and derided anyone expressing even mild opposition to it as cryptofascist. This is the only blind spot in an otherwise convincing indictment of Hungary’s prime minister, a man who is becoming increasingly unhinged.
In this comprehensive study, Lendvai offers a detailed account of when and how Orban changed his spots over the years. He shows that Orban was an anti-Soviet radical in the 1980s, a strong critic of Russia for two decades, before becoming Vladimir Putin’s advance man in the E.U. in the past 10 years or so ... Lendvai’s fair-minded book is a reminder that the lobbyists’ claims about Orban’s democratic credentials and his goodwill toward the United States are fake news ... As Lendvai makes it clear, he [Orban] should be taken seriously.