Europe's New Strongman
Winner of the Prix du Livre Européen 2018
‘Paul Lendvai, a veteran eastern Europe watcher, tracks the career of a man who started out as an anti-communist rebel and gradually turned into an autocrat . . . [Lendvai] has become the doyen of central European analysis.’ — The Times
Through a masterly and cynical manipulation of ethnic nationalism, and deep-rooted corruption, Prime Minister Orbán has exploited successive electoral victories to build a closely knit and super-rich oligarchy. More than any other EU leader, he wields undisputed power over his people.
Orbán’s ambitions are far-reaching. Hailed by governments and far-right politicians as the champion of a new anti-Brussels nationalism, his ruthless crackdown on refugees, his open break with normative values and his undisguised admiration for Presidents Putin and Trump pose a formidable challenge to the survival of liberal democracy in a divided Europe.
Mining exclusive documents and interviews, celebrated journalist Paul Lendvai sketches the extraordinary rise of Orbán, an erstwhile anti-communist rebel turned populist autocrat. His compelling portrait reveals a man with unfettered power.
Paul Lendvai is a Hungarian-born Austrian journalist who worked as a correspondent for the Financial Times for more than two decades. He is the author of Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism; Inside Austria: New Challenges, Old Demons; and Blacklisted: A Journalist’s Life in Central Europe.
‘Lendvai’s excellent book is a lively account of how one very smart politician has changed the weather in his own country. It is also an invaluable guide to what has happened over the past years elsewhere in the erstwhile Eastern bloc, while the rest of Europe has barely been noticing.’ — The Sunday Times
‘Thoughtful, entertaining biography . . . 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.’ — The Financial Times
‘Paul Lendvai, a veteran eastern Europe watcher, tracks the career of a man who started out as an anti-communist rebel and gradually turned into an autocrat … [Lendvai] has become the doyen of central European analysis.’ — The Times
‘What Lendvai says in his new biography of Orbán should be taken seriously.’ — The Times Literary Supplement
‘Lendvai’s book is both a profile of the man and a potted history of Hungarian politics since 1989. Unlike most journalists who pass hasty judgment on the country, Lendvai is well-informed.’ — The Spectator
‘Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, has become infamous for his ruthless crackdown on refugees and embrace of an unabashed nationalism. This first English-language biography of Orban captures how he turned himself into one of the most successful populist autocrats of our times.’ — The New York Review of Books
‘In this well-informed and up-to-date biography of Orbán. . . Lendvai offers a detailed account of when and how [he] changed his spots over the years. . . . Lendvai’s fair-minded book is a reminder that the lobbyists’ claims about Orbán’s democratic credentials and his goodwill toward the United States are fake news . . . As Lendvai makes it clear, he should be taken seriously.’ — Washington Post
‘[Either] Mr. Orbán has always been a right-wing nationalist and merely adopted the guise of a Central European dissident to curry favor with Western liberal elites [or] the other, less charitable explanation is that Mr. Orbán is a power-hungry opportunist. The truth, according to Paul Lendvai in his new book, “Orbán,” is that he is both—and all the more dangerous for that. . . In a country as inscrutable as Hungary, Mr. Lendvai makes a valuable guide.’ — Wall Street Journal
‘Paul Lendvai ‘s book is sobering reading and its telling of the widespread corruption in Fidesz and the Orbán family is carefully researched. After laying down his brief to be truthful and dispassionate, he succeeds admirably.’ — The Budapest Times
‘Brilliantly researched, knowledgable and richly detailed … [Lendvai] explains why Orbán’s Hungary … is in peril.‘ — Süddeutsche Zeitung
‘[Q]uietly devastating . . . highly recommended.’ — Prospect Magazine
‘An astonishing story, told here in remarkable detail . . . an alarming, worrying and illuminating tale.’ — The Journal of Liberal History
‘This book explains Viktor Orbán’s evolution from a liberal, pro-Western opponent of communism in the twentieth century to a radical, right-wing and nativist authoritarian in the twenty-first century. It sheds light on how Orbán can rightfully claim to be both Vladimir Putin’s and Donald J. Trump’s ideological soulmate.’ — Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University
‘Only very few people know Hungary and the personalities active there so well as does Paul Lendvai. Anyone seeking to gain a clear picture of developments in Central and Eastern Europe cannot ignore this book.’ — Dr Heinz Fischer, Federal President of Austria, 2006-2016
‘Paul Lendvai covers an impressive sweep of Hungarian history, starting with the gloomy events in the midst of the twentieth century to the encouraging liberal interim period and ends with Viktor Orbán’s destructive vision of an “illiberal democracy”. Lendvai’s remarkable book should be a warning — beyond Hungary — for the whole of Europe.’ — Franz Vranitzky, Federal Chancellor of Austria, 1986-1997
‘In Europe, Viktor Orbán is the pioneer of populism in power. Paul Lendvai’s excellent book is an indispensable guide to understanding the man himself as well as the increasingly authoritarian system Orbán has been constructing in Hungary.’ — Jan-Werner Müller, Princeton University, author of What is Populism?
‘Paul Lendvai presents the story of Viktor Orbán,the populist-nationalistic-authoritarian prime minister of Hungary in a balanced and masterful way. His excellent portrait exposes the personal characteristics and political methods of a talented, power-seeking and authoritarian politician. This book is a must read that helps to understand the phenomenon of populist demagogues.’ — Ivan T. Berend, Senior Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
‘A superb political observer, researcher and writer, Paul Lendvai tells the story of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s world-famous leader, and his rise from rags to riches, and from a young revolutionary democrat to a chauvinist demagogue and a savvy, conservative statesman. As Lendvai explains so well, Orbán won the loyalty of the majority of Hungarians by securing them a safe existence, free from parliamentary turmoil and from the alleged danger represented by “swarthy” refugees. In his relentless pursuit of money and power, Orbán — and his team of fellow former country boys — gravely weakened the system of checks and balances, and extended his authority over much of the media, education, and the economy. Lendvai does not deny Orbán’s charm and outstanding intellect but warns of the damage his cold narcissism is causing to European unity, mutual trust, and humane behaviour.’ — István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University