Over the past decade, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party have transformed a democracy into something close to an autocracy. Shortly after his first reelection in 2014, Orbán gave a speech outlining his political project. Citing globalization’s economic and social failures, Orbán defended the course he had set by noting that those nations best prepared for the future were “not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies.” Drawing on that message, he defined a form of regime change. “The Hungarian,” he said, “is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened, and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”
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Hungary had to be anchored in a sense of nationalism, Orbán believed, and that nationalism required an autocratic hand, and that hand belonged only to him and Fidesz. The identity of the Hungarian nation and Viktor Orbán’s politics would be one and the same.
Orbán had spent years softening up his nation for this turn. In his first term, he systematically worked to remold Hungary’s democratic institutions. Parliamentary districts were redrawn to benefit Fidesz. Ethnic Hungarians outside the country were given the right to vote. The courts were methodically packed with right-wing judges. Fidesz’s cronies were enriched and, in turn, members of the business elite funded Orbán’s politics. The government constructed a massive propaganda machine, as independent media were bullied and bought out and right-wing media were transformed into quasi state-media. Whereas Fidesz once had a foreign policy formed in opposition to Russian dominance, Orbán embraced Vladimir Putin and courted Russian investment and the corruption that went along with it.