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Viktor Orbán

Viktor Orbán (b. May 31, 1963) is a Hungarian politician. He was the Prime Minister of Hungary between 1998 and 2002, and is currently the leader of main opposition party Fidesz.

Biography

He was born on May 31, 1963 in Székesfehérvár and spent his childhood in two nearby villages, Alcsútdoboz and Felcsút. In 1977 his family moved to Székesfehérvár.

He studied the English language in high school, from where he graduated in 1981. In 1981 and 1982 he completed his military service, then he studied law at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. He graduated in 1987. For the next two years he lived in Szolnok, but commuted to Budapest where he had a job as a sociologist in the Management Training Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

In 1989 Mr Orbán received a scholarship from the Soros Foundation and spent a year in Oxford, where he studied at Pembroke College.

Viktor Orbán is married to jurist Anikó Lévai. Mr. Orbán is a Protestant, while maintaining good relations with the leaders of all major churches in Hungary. Orbán and his wife have five children. He is very fond of sports, especially of football; he is a signed player of the Felcsút football team, and as a result he also appears in Football Manager 2006.

Political career

Mr. Orbán was a founding member of the Fidesz party (an acronym of FIatal DEmokraták SZövetsége which means "Federation of Young Democrats" in Hungarian), which was formed on 30 March 1988. On 16 June 1989, Mr. Orbán gave a speech in Heroes' Square, Budapest, on the occasion of the reburial of Imre Nagy and other national martyrs of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In his speech he demanded free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The speech brought him wide national and political acclaim. This speech is widely remembered as a turning point in Hungarian history. In the summer of 1989 he took part in the Opposition Roundtable negotiations.

In 1990 he became a member of the Hungarian parliament and leader of Fidesz, which was transformed from a liberal (Fidesz was a member of Liberal International) into a right-wing conservative party under his direction, after the collapse of the national right in 1994. In 1995 the party changed its name to Fidesz-MPP (Federation of Young Democrats & Hungarian Civic Party).

Orbán also holds the position of Vice President of the European People's Party (EPP) since October 2002.

Prime Minister of Hungary

Fidesz-MPP won the 1998 parliamentary elections with 42% of the national vote, in alliance with the remnants of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) (the backbone of Hungary's first democratically elected government from 1990-94), promising improvements in the welfare system as an antidote to the bitter austerity program of the outgoing coalition government of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). Thus, Viktor Orbán became the second youngest Prime Minister of Hungary at 35 (after András Hegedűs), serving between 1998 and 2002.

Orbán's economic policy was aimed at cutting taxes and social insurance contributions over four years while reducing inflation and unemployment. Among its first measures the new government abolished university tuition fees and reintroduced universal maternity benefits. The government announced its intention to continue the Socialist-Liberal stabilization program and pledged to narrow the budget deficit, which had grown to 4.5% of the GDP. The previous Cabinet had almost completed the privatization of government-run industries and had launched a comprehensive pension reform. The Socialists had avoided two major socioeconomic issues, however--reform of health care and the agricultural system--and these remained to be tackled by Orbán's government.

The new government immediately launched a radical reform of state administration, reorganizing ministries and creating a super-ministry for the economy. In addition, the boards of the social security funds and centralized social security payments were dismissed. Following the German model, Orbán strengthened the prime minister's office and named a new minister to oversee the work of his Cabinet.

Hungary gained substantial international exposure in May 1999 when, along with Poland and the Czech Republic, it joined NATO. Hungary was immediately called upon to make far-reaching decisions as an alliance member: the country opted to act as a passive participant in NATO's military intervention in Yugoslavia, its neighbour to the south, over the Kosovo crisis. This passive participation is widely seen as a consequence of the extremely poor state of the Hungarian armed forces at the time (a throwback to the Communist era).

Despite heavy criticism from opposition parties, in February the government decided that plenary sessions of the unicameral National Assembly would be held only every third week. As a result, according to opposition arguments, parliament's legislative efficiency and ability to supervise the government were reduced. In late March the government's move to replace the National Assembly rule calling for a two-thirds majority vote with a simple majority was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

At the same time, the Orbán continued to try to create a prime-minister-led political system (similar to Germany) in place of the consensual parliamentary democracy, which had been agreed upon by various political forces in 1990. Orbán's efforts to strengthen the role of the prime minister and the government's interference in the affairs of the media and failure to live up to election promises led to plummeting public support and accusations of an authoritarian style of government. Meanwhile, the former governing Hungarian Socialist Party took the lead in the polls.

The year saw only minor changes in top government officials. Two of Orbán's state secretaries in the prime minister's office had to resign in May because of their implication in a bribery scandal involving the U.S. military manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. In advance of bids on a major jet-fighter contract, the two secretaries, along with 32 other deputies of Mr. Orban's party, had sent a letter to two U.S. senators to lobby for the appointment of a Budapest-based Lockheed manager to be the U.S. ambassador to Hungary. On August 31 the head of the Tax Office also resigned, succumbing to protracted attacks by the opposition on his earlier, allegedly suspicious, business dealings. The tug-of-war continued between the Budapest municipality and the central government over the latter's decision in late 1998 to cancel two major urban modernization projects: a new national theatre and a fourth metro line.

Economic successes included a drop in inflation from 15% in 1998 to 10.0% in 1999, 9.8% in 2000 and 7.8% in 2001. GDP growth rates were fairly steady: 4.4% in 1999, 5.2% in 2000, and 3.8% in 2001. The fiscal deficit fell from 3.9% in 1999, to 3.5% in 2000 and 3.4% in 2001.

Relations between the Fidesz-led coalition government and the opposition worsened in the National Assembly, where the two seemed to have abandoned all attempts at consensus-seeking politics. Also, a top-level political scandal involving both the government and the opposition erupted. As a follow-up episode to the oil scandal in 1996, in which attempts were made to link high government officials with the Hungarian oil mafia, new testimony by a criminal-turned-crown-witness led the National Assembly's oil scandal investigating committee to accuse a number of former and current top-level politicians of involvement.

Orbán came under criticism for pushing through an unprecedented two-year budget and for failing to curb inflation, which only dropped a half point, from 10% in 1999 to 9.5% in 2000, despite the tight fiscal policy of the Central Bank. Investments continued to grow.

At the same time, negotiations for entry into the European Union slowed in the fall of 1999 after the EU included six more countries (in addition to the original six) in the accession discussions. Mr Orbán repeatedly criticized the EU for its delay.

Numerous political scandals during 2001 led to a de facto, if not actual, breakup of the coalition that held power in Budapest. A bribery scandal in February triggered a wave of allegations against the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), the junior coalition partner, although it did not affect the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz)–Hungarian Civic Party, the senior governing party. The affair resulted in the ousting of József Torgyán from both the FKGP presidency and the top post in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The level of public support for political parties generally stagnated, even with general elections anticipated in 2002. Fidesz and the former governing Hungarian Socialist Party ran neck and neck in opinion polls for most of the year, both attracting about 26% of the electorate. According to a September poll by the Gallup organization, however, support for a joint Fidesz–Hungarian Democratic Forum party list would enjoy the approval of 33% of the voters, with the Socialists drawing 28% and other opposition parties 3%. Meanwhile, public support for the FKGP plunged from 14% in 1998 to 1% in 2001. As many as 40% of the voters remained undecided, however. Although the Socialists had picked their candidate for prime minister — former finance minister Péter Medgyessy — the opposition largely remained at sixes and sevens, unable to attract political support. The Socialist Medgyessy seemed most likely to stand alone against the Prime Minister in the May 2002 elections.

Still, much could depend on the radical nationalist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), notwithstanding its leader István Csurka's radical rhetoric. MIÉP was in opposition, but it could not be ruled out as a kingmaker after the 2002 elections.

Hungary attracted international media attention during the year for its passage of a law that extended education and health benefits as well as employment rights to the estimated three-million-strong Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) minority in neighbouring countries (Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine), said to heal the negative effects of the evil 1920 Trianon Treaty. Governments in adjacent states, particularly Romania, were insulted by the so-called status law, which they saw as an interference in their domestic affairs. The proponents of the status law countered, that several countries criticizing the law have themselves similar constructs to provide benefits for their own minorities. Romania acquiesced after amendments following a December 2001 agreement between Orbán and Romanian prime minister Adrian Năstase; Slovakia accepted the law after further concessions made by the new government after the 2002 elections.

A later report in March by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists criticized the Hungarian government for improper political influence in the media as the country's public service broadcaster teetered close to bankruptcy.

The elections of 2002 were the most heated Hungary had experienced in more than a decade, an unprecedented cultural-political division formed in the country. In the event, Viktor Orbán's group lost the April parliamentary elections to the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party, which set up a coalition with its longtime ally, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats. Turnout was a record-high 73.5%.

Beyond these parties, only deputies of the Hungarian Democratic Forum made it into the National Assembly. The populist Independent Smallholders' Party and the right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) lost all their seats. The number of political parties in the new assembly was therefore reduced from six to four.

MIÉP challenged the government's legitimacy, demanded a recount, complained of election fraud, and generally kept the country in election mode until the October municipal elections. The socialist-controlled Central Elections Committee ruled that a recount was unnecessary, a position supported by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose only substantive criticism of the election conduct was that the state television carried a consistent bias in favour of Fidesz.

Life since government

Orbán was awarded the Freedom Award of the American Enterprise Institute and the New Atlantic Initiative (2001), the Polak Award (2001), the Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit (2001), the "Förderpreis Soziale Marktwirtschaft" (Price for the Social Market Economy, 2002) and the Mérite Européen prize (2004). In April, 2004. he was awarded the Papal Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.

He was the candidate of Fidesz for the parliamentary election in 2006. Fidesz and its new-old candidate failed again to gain a majority in this election, which initially put Orbán's future political career as the leader of Fidesz in question. However, on fighting with socialist-liberal coalition, his position has been solidified again, and he was elected president of Fidesz yet for another term in May 2007.

Viktor Orbán in the media

Viktor Orbán is strongly demonized by the majority of the left wing and liberal media. Ever since 2002, the campaign tactics of the opposing parties MSZP and SZDSZ increasingly rely on communicating the "Anybody but Orbán" message to their voters. The most stormy indignation-generating affairs happened in 2001. In April, Magyar Hirlap made a letter public written by a reader what put down "the killing of Orbán would do good to our nation". Also in April, in the left-sided TV channel RTL Klub reporter Tamás Frei made an interview with a Russian hitman, questioning that for how much money would he kill the Hungarian prime minister (who was Orban then). On the right-wing they thought that that was a provocative question. . After this scandal, RTL Klub apologised Orbán and the luxembourgian owners of the channel started an examination. Frei lost his job (he is working at the rival left-sided channel, "TV2" now). Politologists and right-wing publicists call these phenomena as "orban(o)phobia" .

Having moved from mainstream liberal political views of the early "Orange Fidesz" to populist conservativism over a course of 12 years, Viktor Orbán is sometimes presented as a turncoat, who does not even believe his own Christian-conservative rhetoric (between 1990-1993, then-liberal politician Viktor Orbán was one of the most prominent opponents of the late Prime Minister József Antall, whom current FIDESZ supporters hold in high esteem due to his staunchly Christian agenda). Viktor Orbán's views became more and more conservative as his family expanded, he has now five children. Foreign media usually depict Viktor Orbán as a mainstream Hungarian politician and mention his anti-communist past, while often labelling him a populist. They often voice economic concerns over his proposed growth-based economic reform ideas. In January 2007 The Economist criticised his "cynical populism and mystifyingly authoritarian socialist-style policies".

Trivia

He played a footballist's bit part in the Hungarian juvenile film (made in 1983) 'Szegény Dzsoni és Árnika'

Orbán plays soccer from early childhood, he's currently one of the players and main financers of Hungarian football club Felcsút FC.

References

External links

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