|Parliamentary leader||Máté Kocsis|
|Founded||30 March 1988|
|Headquarters||1088 Budapest, VIII. Szentkirályi Street 18.|
• Liberal conservatism
• National liberalism
Right-wing to far-right
Centre-right to right-wing
|European affiliation||European People's Party (suspended)|
|European Parliament group||European People's Party|
117 / 199
12 / 21
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Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈfidɛs]; in full, Hungarian: Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség) is a national-conservative, right-wing political party in Hungary.
Founded in 1988 as a liberal youth party opposing the ruling communist government, Fidesz has come to dominate Hungarian politics on the national and local level since its landslide victory in the 2010 national elections on a joint list with the Christian Democratic People's Party,[a] securing it a parliamentary supermajority that it retained in 2014 and again in 2018.
Fidesz also enjoys majorities in all county legislatures (19 of 19), but the party only has majorities in 10 out of 23 assemblies in cities that have county rights and is currently in opposition (13 of 33) in the Budapest Assembly. Viktor Orbán has been the leader of the party for most of its history.
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1980s: Activist beginnings
The party was founded in the Spring of 1988, named Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége, meaning the Alliance of Young Democrats, abbr. FIDESZ. Growing out of an underground liberal student activist movement opposing to the ruling communist party. Founding such a movement was half-illegal at that time, so the founders risked their careers by being involved in the opposition. The membership had an upper age limit of 35 years (this requirement was abolished at the 1993 party congress).
1990–1998: In opposition, conservative turn
In the 1990 elections the party could get into the National Assembly with a result of about 6%. They became a small, though quite popular oppositional party. In 1992, Fidesz joined the Liberal International. At that time, it was a moderate liberal centrist party.
At the 1993 party congress they changed their political position from liberal to civic-centrist ("polgári centrumpárt"). The turn in ideology caused a severe split in the membership. Péter Molnár left the party, as well as Gábor Fodor and Klára Ungár, who joined the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats. Viktor Orbán was elected the chairman of the party.
In 1995, it changed its name to Hungarian Civic Party (Magyar Polgári Párt) and sought connection to the former governing parties.
1998–2002: The first Orbán government
Fidesz gained power at the 1998 elections. Viktor Orbán became prime minister. Their coalition partners were the smaller Hungarian Democratic Forum and the Independent Smallholders' Party. In 2000, Fidesz terminated its membership in the Liberal International and joined the European People's Party. The government constituted a "relatively conventional European conservative" rule.
2002–2010: Return to opposition
Fidesz narrowly lost the 2002 elections to the Hungarian Socialist Party, garnering 41.07% to the Socialists' 42.05%. Fidesz had 169 members of the Hungarian National Assembly, out of a total of 386. Immediately after the election, they accused the opponents of electoral fraud. The 2002 Hungarian municipal election saw again huge Fidesz losses.
In the spring of 2003, Fidesz took its current name, Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union.
It was the most successful party in the 2004 European Parliamentary Elections: it won 47.4% of the vote and 12 of its candidates were elected as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including Lívia Járóka, the second Romani MEP.
Fidesz's nominee, Dr. László Sólyom, was elected President of Hungary in the 2005 election. He was endorsed by Védegylet, an NGO including people from the whole political spectrum. His activity does not entirely overlap with the conservative ideals and he championed for elements of both political wings with a selective, but conscious choice of values.
In 2005, Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) formed an alliance for the 2006 elections. Despite winning 42.0% of the list votes and 164 representatives out of 386 in National Assembly, they were beaten by the social-democratic and liberal coalition of Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ).
On 1 October 2006 Fidesz won the municipal elections, which counterbalanced the MSZP-led government's power to some extent. Fidesz won 15 of 23 mayoralties in Hungary's largest cities—although its candidate narrowly lost the city of Budapest to a member of the Liberal Party—and majorities in 18 out of 20 regional assemblies.
In a closed-door party meeting in 2009, Orbán called for a "central political forcefield" to govern Hungary for up to 20 years to achieve political stability.
2010–: In power
The strong and preeminent Fidesz has benefited from the fragmented and disjointed opposition that has proved inept at mounting a unified challenge to the ruling party in a country where a majority of parliamentary seats are allocated to the party that garners the plurality of votes in a constituency.
Government debt has fallen by 6% in the 8 years after Fidesz took power in 2010 while the country's credit ratings have improved. Economic growth had almost quadrupled with wages rising by over 10% and destitution decreasing by almost 50% (though still considerable). According to official figures, unemployment had fallen by nearly two-thirds. However, as many as almost half of newly employed Hungarians had found work elsewhere in the EU. A public works program has also been criticized by some economists for artificially and deceptively reducing unemployment numbers while engaging in and compensating people for possibly unneeded or unnecessarily inefficient work.
Hungary has been highly dependent on EU funds during Fidesz's rule; these representing nearly 4% of the country's GDP, more than for any other EU member.
2010–2014: Second Orbán government
In a landslide victory in the 2010 parliamentary elections, the party won an outright majority in the first round on 11 April, with the Fidesz-KDNP alliance winning 206 seats, including 119 individual seats. In the final result, Fidesz 263 seats, of which 173 are individual seats. Fidesz held 227 of these seats, giving it an outright majority in the National Assembly by itself.
Fidesz was widely seen as propelled to a sweeping victory in large part due to the dissatisfaction with the ruling political establishment which was plagued by corruption scandals and suffered a further blow by the global financial crisis. The Socialist government had also imposed harsh austerity measures in an attempt to reign in its ballooning budget deficits even before the global crisis. In September 2006, a recording of the prime minister admitting to lying about the country's dire economic prospects was revealed by the media and broadcast on radio. Steel barriers were erected around Parliament to protect it from tens of thousands of protesters.
After winning 53% of the popular vote in the first-round of the 2010 parliamentary election, which translated into a supermajority of 68% of parliamentary seats, giving Fidesz sufficient power to revise or replace the constitution, the party embarked on an extraordinary project of passing over 200 laws and drafting and adopting a new constitution—since followed by nearly 2000 amendments.
The new constitution has been widely criticized by the Venice Commission for Democracy through Law, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the United States for concentrating too much power in the hands of the ruling party, for limiting oversight of the new constitution by the Constitutional Court of Hungary, and for removing democratic checks and balances in various areas, including the ordinary judiciary, supervision of elections, and the media.
2014–2018: Third Orbán government
Fidesz won the nationwide parliamentary election in April 2014 and secured a second supermajority with 133 seats (of 199) in the legislature. This supermajority was lost, however, when Tibor Navracsics was appointed to the European Commission. His Veszprém county seat was taken by an independent candidate in a by-election. Another by-election on 12 April 2015 saw the supermajority lose a second seat, also in Veszprém, to a Jobbik candidate.
2018–: Fourth Orbán government
Fidesz won the nationwide parliamentary election in April 2018 and secured a 3rd supermajority with 133 seats (of 199) in the legislature. Orbán and Fidesz campaigned primarily on the issues of immigration and foreign meddling, and the election was seen as a victory for right-wing populism in Europe.
With the start of 2019, the prime minister's residence was relocated from the Hungarian Parliament Building to the Buda Castle, a former Carmelite monastery and former royal residence. The move first planned in 2002 during the first Fidesz government, but was never carried out. Government representatives stated the move was necessary to uphold the separation of the executive and legislative branch by physically separating the two (in contrast to the communist era when the two branches operated in the same building) while the opposition criticized the move as profligate (the renovation cost Ft21bn, or €65.5M) and as a symbolic revival of the Horthy era (Miklós Horthy also took up residence in the building).
Ideology and policies
Fidesz's position on the political spectrum has changed over time. At its inception as a student movement in the late-1980s, the party supported social and economic liberalism and European integration. As the Hungarian political landscape crystallized following the fall of communism and the first free elections, Fidesz began moving to the right. Although Fidesz was in opposition to the Hungarian Democratic Forum's national-conservative coalition government from 1990 to 1994, by 1998 Fidesz was the most prominent conservative political force in Hungary.
Fidesz is currently considered a national conservative party favoring interventionist policies on economic issues like handling of banks, and a strong conservative stance on social issues and European integration. Recently, the party has increasingly been described as far-right; its ruling style has also been variously described as "soft fascism", "soft dictatorship", and "soft autocracy". The Fidesz party has denied such accusations and distanced itself from the extreme right, criticizing such accusations as politically motivated opposition to its anti-immigrant policies and pursuit of "illiberal democracy".
Orbán and other Fidesz politicians have prominently described their model of government as a Christian illiberal democracy. Orbán has described liberal democracy as having undemocratic characteristics because of "being intolerant of alternative views" and incompatible with and antithetical to Christian democracy, and listed Turkey, Russia, China, and Singapore as successful examples of illiberal states.
See also: Orbanomics
Like the Hungarian right in general, Fidesz has been more skeptical of the neoliberal economic policies than the Hungarian left: according to researchers, the elites of the Hungarian left (MSzP and the former SZDSZ) have been differentiated from the right by being more supportive of the classical liberal economic policies, while the right (especially extreme right) has advocated more interventionist policies. In contrast, on issues like church and state and family policies, the liberals show alignment along the traditional left-right spectrum. However, Fidesz has implemented several liberal economic policies, including a flat income tax, reductions in the corporate tax rate, restrictions on unemployment benefits, and privatisation of state-owned land.
The Fidesz government has embraced a populist economic policy, including "public works job program, pension hikes, utility bill cuts, a minimum wage increase and cash gifts for retirees". It has also implemented a national public works program aimed in particular at assisting neglected rural communities. It has sought national control of key economic sectors while assuming a cautious stance on economic globalisation.
Despite the conflict with the European People's Party and European Union institutions, Fidesz and the Orbán government have claimed to be not in conflict with, but purportedly in line with pan-European values. As he struggled to maintain rapport with the EPP, Orbán began forming a right-wing populist alliance to electorally challenge the conservative EU establishment despite voicing a desire for Fidesz to remain a member. Orbán and his government have clashed with the EU over the handling of the European migrant crisis and the death penalty (which is prohibited by EU rules).
Russia and Ukraine
Fidesz-led Hungary was the only EU member state to vote against financial aid for Ukraine during its conflict with Russia-sponsored separatists, and has been a vocal critic of EU sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. The main cause is that since 2017, relations with Ukraine rapidly deteriorated over the issue of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Hungary has been obstructing Ukraine's integration efforts in the European Union and NATO even though Hungary has also been continuously helping and supporting Ukraine, with an exceptional attention to Transcarpathia. Orbán has "strongly" criticized EU sanctions against Russia, but abstained from vetoing them. The Fidesz government joined the UK-led diplomatic offensive after the Skripal poisoning, expelling Russian embassy officials. Orbán has hailed Russia as an exemplary case of "illiberal democracy".
During his presidency, Orbán has been described as "drawing closer to President Vladimir V. Putin". The closer relationship between the two leaders and nations has however largely been motivated by a tighter economic relationship, part of the government's "Eastern Opening" strategy, announced in 2011.
Fidesz has adopted anti-immigration stances and rhetoric. The Fidesz government has conversely begun admitting increasing numbers of foreign workers due to a labour shortage resulting from strong economic growth, population decline, and rising wages.
In a 2018 address, Orbán said "We must state that we do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed: we do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others. We do not want this. We do not want that at all. We do not want to be a diverse country." Orbán has "often expressed a preference for a racially homogeneous society". The Fidesz-led government has modified the country's Constitution to make it illegal to "settle foreign populations in Hungary".
Despite a very low fertility rate that has led to a demographic deficit, the Fidesz government has remained steadfastly opposed to economic immigration that has been harnessed by other European countries to relieve its worker deficits. Instead, the government announced pecuniary incentives (including eliminating taxes for mothers with more than 3 children, and reducing credit payments and easier access to government-subsidized mortgages), and expanding day care and kindergarten access. The Fidesz government's child incentive program also offers a 10-million-forint government-subsidized zero-interest loan to married couples who are willing to have a baby after 1 July 2019.
Orbán has on multiple occasions emphasized upholding Christian values as central to his government, and has described his government as creating a Christian democracy. However, some of Fidesz' policies, such as the of providing free IVF treatment for couples at state-run clinics, is at odds with some Christian denominations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church which opposes IVF. Orbán is a member of the Reformed Church in Hungary.
The party is anti-communist. In May 2018, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker attended and spoke at a celebration of the deceased Karl Marx's 200th birthday, where he defended Marx's legacy. In response, MEPs from Fidesz wrote: "Marxist ideology led to the death of tens of millions and ruined the lives of hundreds of millions. The celebration of its founder is a mockery of their memory."
The Fidesz government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, justified the government's controversial policies as an effort to "get rid of the remnants of communism that are still with us, not only in terms of institutions but in terms of mentality."
During the party's rule, statues of communists regarded as traitors have been removed with Fidesz politicians in attendance, being replaced with statues of Miklós Horthy. In December 2018, Hungarian authorities removed a statue of Imre Nagy for renovation. Nagy was a Hungarian reformist communist politician who led the failed anti-Soviet 1956 Hungarian Revolution and was later executed for his role in the uprising, to replace it with a memorial dedicated to the victims of the short-lived communist 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. After being renovated, however, the statue was erected again. Orbán is an admirer of Imre Nagy and has continuously defended the former premier in the past.
Direct democracy (National Consultations) and political informational campaigns
The government has often propagated Fidesz's political ideas in tax-funded advertisements, putting up posters portraying a grinning George Soros while calling on the citizens to oppose his purported support of illegal immigration (many of the posters portraying Soros – who is Jewish – were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti), posters depicting Soros and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker laughing together with text suggesting Soros' control of EU institutions (while also disseminating the accusation by letters sent to all Hungarian citizens), and posters using the stock photo featuring photo models from the "distracted boyfriend" internet meme to promote family values.
The government has also employed so-called National Consultations, sending questionnaires to citizens that survey their opinions on government policy and legislation while pushing the Fidesz governments' ideology and agenda with suggestive questions (e.g. by referring to a supposed "Soros plan" to "convince Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East annually on the territory of the European Union, including Hungary" and "It is part of the Soros plan to launch political attacks on countries objecting to immigration and impose strict penalties on them", and asking citizens whether they agree, or blasting "Brussels bureaucrats" in a consultation about family policy). On other occasions – just prior to elections – the government sent letters notifying citizens that it will reduce their gas payments by €38, or sent pensioners gift vouchers.
The Fidesz government has also carried out taxpayer-funded "information campaigns"/"national messaging initiatives" that have denounced supposed enemies of Hungary with budgets of tens of millions of euros per year.
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In December 2005 the Congress of Fidesz established the Fidesz Youth Section ("Fidelitas") as a division within the party gathering all members below the age of 30. The chairman of Fidesz Youth Section was Dániel Loppert until 2011. The current chairman is Áron Veress. The Fidesz Youth Section is member of European Democrat Students (EDS) and observer member in the Democrat Youth Community of Europe (DEMYC).
Fidesz is a member of the European People's Party (EPP) but was suspended on 20 March 2019. Prior to the 2019 European Parliament election, Fidesz announced it would discuss an alliance with Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) party if it leaves the EPP. The two nations' conservative governments have shared a close friendship and alliance for multiple years and the Polish government has pledged political support for Fidesz-led Hungary within the EU. Orbán and PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński have vowed to wage a "cultural counter-revolution" within the EU together, with the Polish government seeing Hungary under Fidesz as a model for Poland.
Orbán and his government have gained favour with US president Donald Trump and his Republican administration (in stark contrast to the policy of isolation practiced by the preceding Obama Administration). Orbán was the first European head of government to endorse Trump's presidential bid during the 2016 United States presidential election. Trump has praised Hungary's anti-immigrant policies in a discussion with Orbán. The more amiable attitude of the Trump Administration toward the Hungarian government prompted criticism and a protest by 22 Democratic Party lawmakers that called for a more disciplinary policy towards the country's government over what they perceived as a problematic track record. Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News a former close associate of President Trump who had an integral role in Trump's electoral campaign and administration, has also praised Orbán and announced plans to work with Fidesz in orchestrating the party's electoral campaign for the 2019 European parliament election.
Orbán has allied closely with Slovenian PM Janez Janša and the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party he heads, going so far as to campaign for SDS during the 2018 Slovenian parliamentary election. Businesspeople close to Orbán also provided funds to SDS-affiliated media companies that then also used some of the funds to purchase campaign ads on behalf of SDS to circumvent Slovenian campaign finance laws. After the election, and while SDS was struggling to secure political support to form a coalition government, Janša again met with Orbán on a private visit to Budapest; during the meeting, Orbán also conducted a conference call with US president Trump with Janša joining in. SDS's unconditional backing of Fidesz within the EPP was reportedly pivotal in preventing Fidesz's expulsion from EPP, resulting in a more lenient suspension. In a letter to EPP leader, Janša warned of an "inevitable" split in the EPP if the vote to expel Fidesz were to take place.
Orbán has also fostered close political ties with right-wing VMRO-DPMNE politician and former Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski. While awaiting a ruling on an appeal to a corruption conviction in early 2019, Gruevski fled to Hungary to evade a looming jail sentence. The whereabouts of Gruevski were revealed only 4 days after he failed to report to serve his prison sentence. Macedonian officials have suggested that Gruevski (for whom an international arrest warrant had been issued) was in contact with Hungarian officials in the days preceding his flight, and Macedonian authorities have launched an investigation into whether Gruevski was transported across the border in a Hungarian diplomatic vehicle. The Hungarian government denied accusations of impropriety. Hungarian businesspeople close to Orbán – the same that have previously invested into Slovenian right-wing media – have also entered into ownership of Macedonian right-wing media companies, propping up outlets friendly to Gruevski and his party.
Orbán has a warm relationship with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party, with the Hungarian Foreign Minister campaigning for Vučić before the 2017 Serbian presidential election. Companies close to the Orbán government have won public contracts with the Serbian government. The Serbian government has also been accused of taking a similar approach to the Hungarian government towards the media.
Orbán and his government have also fostered close ties with the Israeli Likud government under Benjamin Netanyahu, with the two heads of state forging a cordial relationship, having known one another for decades. Netanyahu advised Orbán on economic reforms conducted by the Hungarian government in the early 2000s. Netanyahu later extended public political support to Orbán at a time when Orbán was confronting criticism for praising Miklós Horthy, Hungary's former leader, whose government passed anti-Jewish legislation and collaborated with Nazi Germany, and for allegedly employing anti-Semitic tropes in his criticism of George Soros. The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement condemning Soros in a show of solidarity with the Orbán government. A Likud lawmaker also introduced legislation modeled on Fidesz's "Stop Soros law" in the Israeli Knesset.
Orbán expressed strong support for Tomislav Karamarko's leadership of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), having written a letter endorsing Karamarko for his stance on immigration that was read out at an HDZ rally during the 2015 Croatian parliamentary election campaign.
Orbán has more recently cultivated close ties between Fidesz and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), noting "strategic cooperation" between the parties and "friendly ties based on mutual confidence and Christian-conservative values". Prior to the 2019 Austrian legislative election, he held a joint press conference with FPÖ leader Norbert Hofer, where he wished the party success in the upcoming election and stressed the "similar views" of the two parties.
Orbán has praised the tenure of former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, declaring him an "ally and our fellow combatant in the fight for the preservation of European Christian heritage and the tackling of migration" after Salvini's departure from the Italian government in August 2019. Orbán previously urged closer political ties between the EPP and the League, and cooperated extensively on immigration with Salvini, describing Salvini as "my hero".
Orbán sent a letter of support to Václav Klaus Jr.'s newly formed Tricolour Citizens' Movement in the Czech Republic in 2019. Orbán has a relationship with Klaus's father, President Václav Klaus, who has expressed support for Orbán's rule.
Orbán has also developed ties with Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders, Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni, and Estonian Conservative People's Party leader Mart Helme. However, he has rejected association with Marine Le Pen's National Rally, and instead endorsed François Fillon, the candidate of The Republicans, in the 2017 French presidential election.
Some political parties of Hungarian minorities are said to be allies of the Fidesz like the Slovak Party of the Hungarian Community (MKP), the Serbian Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ), the Ukrainian KMKSZ – Hungarian Party in Ukraine, and Hungarian Democratic Party in Ukraine (UMDP), the Slovenian Hungarian National Self-Government Association of Prekmurje (MMNÖK), the Romanian Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) and the Hungarian People's Party of Transylvania (EMNP). The Fidesz, the RMDSZ, MKP, VMSZ the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Croatia (HMDK) and the Democratic Party of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMDP) support each other in the 2019 European Parliament election. The MKP, VMSZ and RMDSZ are members or associates of the EPP.
Criticism and controversies
The Fidesz government has been accused of "[chipping] away at the country's democratic framework, reducing judicial independence, taking control of most state and private media and reshaping the electoral system to favor [...] Fidesz." It has also been accused of providing a "blueprint for the erosion of democratic institutions" in countries like Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Brazil, while leaving analysts struggling to determine "whether Hungary is still a democracy". Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German research organisation, has assessed that Hungary under Fidesz-led government is approaching autocracy. Fidesz's governance has been described by some as reminiscent of communist-led Hungary of the Kádár-era.
The Fidesz government appointed former party politicians to non-partisan oversight institutions that were created as checks on government power after the fall of the communist regime. The institutions involved included the State Audit Office, the State Prosecution Service, and the National Fiscal Council.
In 2011, the government proposed legislation that could endanger the independence of the Hungarian central bank, according to the then head of the organisation, András Simor. The law was also criticized by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi. Due to the controversial central bank reforms, IMF and European Commission representatives walked away from 2011 negotiations about providing assistance for the heavily indebted Hungary. A Fidesz loyalist was later appointed to head the central bank.
Taking power in 2010 with a supermajority able to propose and pass legislation largely at will, Fidesz has often denied parliament sufficient time to deliberate proposals, sometimes giving only a few hours' notice before discussions on proposals and only allowing a few hours of debate. The laws were also often presented by low-ranking lawmakers that had neither written nor read the legislation they were introducing.
The Fidesz government has been accused of "silencing media" and controlling all major media outlets in Hungary, thus creating an echo chamber that has excluded alternative political voices. The government has been accused of selectively starving non-loyal media organisations of government advertising revenues (the government is the country's second largest advertizer) while pressuring the owners by targeting their other business interests so that the owners would either fall in line or sell their media holdings. Over 500 Hungarian news outlets were said to be supportive of the government in their coverage as of 2018, up from only 31 in 2015. By 2017, 90% of all Hungarian media was owned by either the state or by Fidesz allies, according to one Hungarian scholar. All regional newspapers are said to be controlled by pro-Fidesz owners.
Orbán attributed Fidesz's 2002 electoral loss to the country's "liberal media", initiating a campaign to recruit loyalists who would buy up media outlets and create a more friendly media environment while engaging operatives to coordinate and administer the media under the government's sway. Media organisations owned by Fidesz-friendly oligarchs are said to coordinate daily press coverage, following "preset news themes".
Shortly after taking power in 2010, Orbán passed laws enabling him to appoint candidates to lead the country's main media regulators while expanding the powers of the same regulators to fine and punish media organisations. The law would also impose hefty fines for coverage it finds "unbalanced or offensive to human dignity or common morals". The law was strongly condemned by the European community. Journalists working for public media organisations are furthermore required by law to "promote a national identity" in their reporting.
State media is said to be "entirely loyal to" Orbán and his government, and has been accused of refusing to cover protests opposing the government. Soon after taking power, the Fidesz government dispatched new managers to the offices of the Hungarian public radio that were later characterized as "propagandists" by an employee (a popular radio host). A third of the staff at public broadcasters was also purged.
Journalist require government permits to report from near the national border. The government has been accused of blocking journalists' access to refugee camps and immigrant transit centres, restricting refugee-related coverage, and government forces have been accused of forcing journalists to delete footage, physically attacking journalists, and damaging journalists' equipment.
Pro-government media has been known to attack and deride opposition politicians and other critics, including a high school student that used obscene language to criticize and lampoon the government and Fidesz politicians during a protest.
The independent opposition-aligned radio station Klubrádio was taken off air by the Hungary's media council in 2011. The largest-circulation daily newspaper, Népszabadság, was shut down shortly after publishing a story about a profligate luxury helicopter trip of close Fidesz ally and media operative Antal Rogán and his family. In 2018, immediately following a landslide Fidesz electoral victory, Magyar Nemzet, one of the two national daily newspapers opposed to the government (which had been in print for 80 years) and its sister radio station (both owned by Lajos Simicska, a businessman that entered into confrontation with Orbán in 2015 after a longstanding alliance between the two) announced their intention to cease operations due in part to a government advertising boycott. Hír TV, another media holding of Simicska's media empire, was converted into a pro-government outlet.
The transformation of Origo, Hungary's leading news website, from an opposition publication to a government-friendly one has been regarded as an exemplary "cautionary tale" for the stifling of press independence. The site was established in the late 1990s by Magyar Telekom and gradually evolved its investigative journalistic brand. In 2013, Origo was Hungary's most-read news website known for its investigative journalism. Magyar Telekom was acquired by the German Deutsche Telekom (DT) in 2005. In 2010, DT encountered a hostile business environment fostered by the new Fidesz government which adopted punitive measures against foreign owners of domestic companies. During DT's negotiations with the Hungarian government over telecommunications policy, a senior Fidesz official (János Lázár) suggested a covert line of communication between the government and Origo editors because "Origo's journalists had historically struggled to grasp the government's perspective on certain matters". Origo signed a contract with a media consultancy firm run by Attila Várhegyi, a former senior Fidesz member, after which the telecommunications deal was finalized on terms favourable to DT. This resulted in a revolt of Origo employees and editors. During the first half of 2014, political interference in journalists' work and editorial policy began to become noticeable, according to one former employee. After one Origo journalist launched an investigation of Lázár's foreign travel expenses despite Várhegyi's firm's requests to slow the investigation, Lázár complained to Magyar Telekom executives in 2014. Origo, headed by a combative editor-in-chief (Gergő Sáling) protecting a tenacious investigative reporter, persisted in scrutinising Lázár's record and eventually launched court proceedings to obtain documents regarding Lázár while also publishing several pieces unfavourable to Lázár. After Orbán re-election and months of pressure, Magyar Telekom gave in and fired the editor shielding the investigations. Several journalists resigned in protest. Regarding it as a political liability, Magyar Telekom decided to sell Origo. In an open sale process, businesspeople close to the ruling party purchased the news outlet. By 2018, Origo's coverage took a steadfastly pro-government stance.
In late 2018, over 400 news media outlets – most of the private media in the country – were consolidated into a central holding company, the Central European Press and Media Foundation, administered by people close to the government. The media organisations were transferred to the Foundation by over a dozen pro-government business "moguls" and were already highly supportive of the government. The move was thus largely symbolic, but nonetheless unprecedented within the EU. One of the foundation's board members announced the Foundation has an "undeniably" right-wing agenda and that one of its goals is to prevent "opposition-minded media outlets" from regaining "the prominent market position that they held before Mr. Orban's election". Viktor Orbán argued that in Hungary still the "leftist, liberal media outlets are in majority", and the new foundation created became a national interest because it is non-profit.
Slovenia-Hungary diplomatic row over press freedom
On 22 March 2019, Slovenian weekly political magazine Mladina published an issue with the feature article detailing the intervention of the Slovenian Democratic Party within the European People's Party (of which SDS is a member) to prevent Fidesz's exclusion from EPP, reporting that SDS was the pivotal factor in EPP's decision to enact the much more lenient suspension of Fidesz's membership instead of a full ousting. The issue also featured a comical cartoon cover portraying Hungarian MP Orbán giving a Nazi salute and wearing a Hungarian flag armband while being amorously embraced by SDS politicians (with one of them holding a Slovenian flag featuring the Hungarian tricolor). Mladina's cover was widely covered by Hungarian opposition media. Mladina has long been known for its satirical and politically provocative covers.
The portrayal of Orbán as a Nazi was harshly criticised by Hungary's ambassador to Slovenia, and by the Hungarian press secretary. The ambassador's protest was lampooned by the magazine, which published a "corrected and courteous" cover, now portraying Orbán, with a flower in his hair, extending an olive branch, while Mladina's cartoonist jestingly published a sarcastic "apology".
On 5 April, the Slovenian Foreign Ministry dismissed a formal request by the Hungarian embassy on the topic of the contentious Mladina cover that called on Slovene authorities to assist the Hungarian government in preventing "similar incidents" from occurring in the future because "the Hungarian embassy in Ljubljana is convinced that actions such as the publication of the aforementioned cover harm the otherwise excellent bilateral cooperation between the countries". The Ministry responded by stating "[we] strictly respect the freedom of speech and freedom of the press and would never interfere in any of the media's editorial policy". The request was condemned by the Slovenian Journalists' Association, multiple MPs of Slovenia's governing coalition, the president, prime minister, and other prominent politicians, with one MP announcing that he will be requesting that the parliamentary Committee on Culture and Foreign Policy be convened over the issue. Multiple diplomats and experts also expressed consternation over what they described as an unprecedented/"unheard of" diplomatic move.
Freedom of the judiciary
The Fidesz government has been accused of removing independent judges, stacking the Constitutional Court and judicial institutions with loyalists, and appointing as chief prosecutor a former party member who has seldom pursued corruption charges against Fidesz politicians.
In 2011, the government lowered the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 62, forcing judges to retire and freeing up vacancies for appointments by the government. In 2012, the government was criticized by the Venice Commission for concentrating too much power in a single official, the head of the then recently established National Judicial Office.
Fidesz dismantled a Constitution Court nominations committee that was originally staffed by representatives of all parliamentary parties to ensure consensus, instead taking complete control over the nomination process. The size of the Constitutional Court was expanded to allow for stacking by Fidesz appointees. This resulted in all Constitutional Court judges being appointees of Fidesz after 8 years of its rule, with multiple judges having close connections to the party and the Constitutional Court consistently voting in line with the Fidesz government. In instances where laws were struck down by the Court as unconstitutional, the Fidesz-dominated parliament simply amended to Constitution. The authority of the Constitutional Court was also constricted by the new Constitution in 2011 in a move that further drained power away from the judicial branch.
In 2018, Tünde Handó, the government's judicial chief with close personal ties to Orbán and Fidesz, was accused by an independent panel of senior judges of abusing her function to interfere with the appointment process for senior judges in a move that confirmed longstanding accusations by individual judges and the political opposition. Hando unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the council from convening to frustrate the release of the report. A flurry of judges' resignations prior to the report's release had also fueled suspicions that "something [...] sinister was afoot".
The Fidesz-dominated parliament has altered the Constitution to establish a "parallel court system" to handle cases pertaining to public administration, leading to fears that the new courts would be stacked by government loyalists and used to approve contentious politically motivated reforms and actions ("for instance dismissing challenges to government decisions, penalizing civil servants whose loyalty to Mr. Orbán is in doubt or rejecting freedom of information requests from journalists investigating government corruption"). The government has argued that the new judicial system is in keeping with European and international norms and recommendations, and that the system will be independent and more efficient.
The Fidesz-led government has redrawn electoral boundaries in a move that critics have condemned as favouring the party. The Fidesz government has also abolished the two-round/round-off election system, strengthening its preeminent position while further confounding and weakening the fragmented opposition. The electoral system has also been reformed in a way that gives advantage to parties that won more constituencies which has so far also benefited Fidesz. Fidesz has also passed legislation setting up lax requirements and financial incentives for creating new political parties. The resulting proliferation of fake parties has further divided the opposition vote. Fidesz candidates have also been accused of directly colluding with the "bogus parties" to prop them up. By expanding the ability to easily gain citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad with a 2010 law, Fidesz was able to greatly expand its electorate; about 10% of the current electorate acquired voting rights due to the measure, with 95% of these voting Fidesz. The government has also been accused of blocking opposition candidates from publishing ads in state media while allowing the same for Fidesz candidates.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international election observer, has accused Fidesz of using government resources to bolster its electoral chances, "[blurring] the line between state and party" during the 2018 parliamentary election. It also reported "media bias, and opaque campaign financing", describing the election as "free but not entirely fair".
The Orbán government has been accused of infringing on a free civil society. The Fidesz-led Hungarian government passed a bill allegedly targeting the Soros-funded Central European University; the bill would effectively prevent CEU's operation. The law was denounced both domestically and internationally as it was perceived as infringing upon academic freedom. CEU announced it was closing down due to government pressure in December 2018.
The Hungarian government has cracked down on NGOs that receive foreign donations; such organisations have to register with authorities and follow stringent rules to declare their foreign funding (including on all websites and publications) or risk fines or termination. In 2018, the government also passed laws (the "Stop Soros Law") that financially sanction any NGO that "promotes illegal migration", threaten activists that organize or support migration or carry out work contrary to "Hungary's national security interests" with restraining orders preventing them from approaching the boarder, criminalize assistance to asylum seekers ("facilitating illegal immigration") thus potentially threatening activists, lawyers, and NGO employees with prison sentences, allow the banishing of foreign citizens who support migration from the country, and vest the interior minister with the authority to review organisations involved in immigration advocacy and forbid them if they are deemed to represent a "national security risk". The reform has been widely condemned, including by the UN, and Amnesty International.
In 2018, the youth wing of Fidesz engaged in a campaign marking the buildings of civil organisations with red stickers with the message "This organization supports immigration".
Fidesz's attacks on civil society organisations are often combined with attacks on Hungarian-born financier George Soros whom they accuse of attempting to undermine the traditional Hungarian and European societal values by surreptitiously and insidiously promoting mass migration through covert channels that include NGOs. After 35 years, Soros' Open Society Foundations relocated from Budapest to Berlin in 2018 due to the increasingly hostile attitude the government has taken against the organisation and its founder.
The government's crackdown on civil society organisations has been criticized as an assault on the only bastion of democratic checks and balances and opposition to the Fidesz government and its agenda.
The National Cooperation Fund, headed by László Csizmadia, a vocal Fidesz supporter, has preferentially tended to support groups with religious and nationalist aims, with three of the top recipient organisations led by Fidesz politicians. Csizmadia, a right-wing theorist, has on numerous occasions written about his belief that the function of NGOs should be to "preserve national identity and uphold Christian values" and that civil society should be subjugated to the will of the government to enact the will of the people.
The government funding squeeze of non-loyal NGOs has left these starved of resources; NGOs have thus increasingly turned to foreign donors to finance their operations, in particular, the Norwegian government, and the Soros-headed Open Society Foundation. The government had subsequently raided some organisations distributing Norwegian funds while accusing recipients of being beholden to foreign powers. In a meeting with a government minister, PM Orbán reportedly labelled NGOs as "foreign-funded enemies of the state" that he wished to eliminate completely.
The government has battled educators over textbook content that promotes a narrative of ethnocentrism and Hungarian victimhood. The government line has been pushed into school textbooks; history textbooks present Orbán's views on the threat of immigration, going on to state that "It can be problematic for different cultures to coexist", and the high school curriculum has been expanded to include teaching the new Fidesz-passed Hungarian Constitution (that includes provisions that may discriminate against religious minorities). Funding of university departments has been transferred to government-appointed supervisors in a move the government argues was intended to reduce costs.
Fidesz appointees and loyalists have also come to dominate artistic institutions and universities. Art exhibitions and plays have begun to assume nationalist and anti-Western undertones. The government wields the authority to appoint theatre directors, and it has, in one instance, appointed a director who pledged to promote Hungarian values and combat liberalism, and attract audiences that believe in a "nation state", while in another instance summoning a theatre director that was appointed by the previous government and produced plays that questioned "Hungarian national narratives" for questioning by Parliament and later refusing to renew his contract. The government also recruited a group of right-wing artists with ties to Fidesz and turned it into a government agency with the power to distribute stipends and prizes to artists that displayed a "clear national commitment".
"The government is using its democratic legitimacy not only to reform the state but to reform the society" said professor Andras Patyi who had headed a new university established by Fidesz to train future civil servants, police, and soldiers, adding that other leaders in democratic societies have commonly attempted to do the same.
Religious organisations critical of the Fidesz government have allegedly been selectively denied legal status and funding. Religious institutions had historically dependent upon significant government subsidies. Loss of legal status would result in the loss of government and taxpayer funds. The law was deemed a violation of religious freedom by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, but the Hungarian government refused to properly amend it. The government asserted the reform was necessary to address widespread abuse of the system while some government officials said the law needed to be amended but blamed a lack of cooperation from the opposition.
The Fidesz government has been accused of corruption and of fostering a "clique of loyal oligarchs". Hungary's corruption assessment has worsened significantly according to World Bank data despite a regional trend in the opposite direction. During the first 6 years of the Fidesz government, 5 of Orbán's closest associates were awarded ~5% of all public procurement contracts, totaling $2.5bn. The Fidesz government has been accused of diverting billions of euros of EU and federal funds toward loyal allies and relatives (with those who fell out of favour with the party also ceasing being granted the lucrative contracts). The EU anti-fraud agency has launched multiple investigation into misuse of EU funds by people close to PM Orbán, including a company owned by Orbán's son-in-law. The government has been accused of punishing non-loyal businesspeople with punitive taxes and regulation. A Hungarian economist described the government's economic shenanigans as "authoritarian capitalism" while some Hungarian and international experts have described post-2010 Hungary as a kleptocracy.
The "Stop Soros" law outlawing support or promotion of illegal immigration has been criticized for being so vague as to potentially criminalize providing humanitarian aid to immigrants; giving food for undocumented migrants on the street, distributing information about the asylum process, providing migrants with financial assistance, or even attending political rallies in support of immigrants' rights.
The Fidesz government has been accused of using an illusory spectre of immigration for its political gain; despite decreasing numbers of migrants making their way into the region, the government escalated its rhetoric on immigration.
Due to socioeconomic factors, the Orbán government increased the extent of economic migration into the country, despite Orbán's previous statements denouncing foreign workers. Reportedly, the government's anti-immigration sentiment has fueled social strife between Hungarian and foreign workers. Hungarian trade unions also voiced fears that the increase in low-wage foreign labourers could suppress overall wages.
Conflict with the EU
In September 2018, the European Parliament voted to suspend Hungary's voting rights within the EU, accusing it of breaching democratic norms and EU's core values. Poland vowed to veto the sanctions, however, immediately after the European Parliament voted to pursue the sanctions against Hungary. The move was the first step in a procedural process to sanction the Hungarian government that could result in the country losing its EU voting rights were it to be successfully completed, marking the first instance of the punitive process' use in the history of the EU. "A report detailing Hungary's alleged breaches of democratic norms, which was used to justify European Parliament's disciplinary action, cited violations including weakening media plurality, crackdowns on civil society and moves towards limiting educational freedom."
Members of the Hungarian government challenged the legality of the vote saying that the just made decision of not counting abstentions as votes cast is irregular and because only by violating rules was it possible to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. Péter Szijjártó, Hungary's FM stated "it's a collection of qualified lies" and they will challenge the vote with the EP's leadership
On policy grounds, Orbán and his government also came into conflict with the EU by voicing support for the possible reintroduction of the death penalty within Hungary (EU rules prohibit the death penalty for all member states) and by clashing with the EU over the handling of the European migrant crisis.
Fidesz has also come into conflict with the EPP; after 12 member parties called for Fidesz's expulsion or suspension, Fidesz's membership was suspended by a mutual agreement. Orbán has also suggested that Fidesz is considering leaving the EPP voluntarily.
Fidesz has also been condemned by EU politicians and institutions for launching a government campaign involving ads, billboards, and letters sent to all citizens suggesting that EU's immigration policy is being controlled by Soros (who is depicted standing behind and smiling with Jean-Claude Juncker with the subtext reading "‘You have the right to know what Brussels is planning to do ... compulsory relocation quotas"). In response to the political ad campaign, the leader of the EPP has demanded Orbán apologize for and renounce the criticism levied against EU by him and his party or face Fidesz's suspension from the EPP.
Orbán was on multiple occasions also rebuffed by various institutions of the European Union. In a speech, Orbán boasted to his supporters that he had been out-maneuvering EU institutions by implementing contentious policies without excessively provoking them and incurring only painless criticism instead of any real push-back (a tactic he has dubbed "the dance of the peacock").
Internet tax protests
After the government revealed a plan to tax internet users' traffic in 2014, up to 100,000 people gathered in a series of protests. Facing widespread opposition, the government reduced the proposed tax rates, however, discontent and protests continued. The design of the tax was also criticized by the European Commission. The plan was eventually scrapped by the government entirely.
In late 2018, the government amended the labour code to increase maximum overtime from 250h to 400h, and delaying the employee compensation deadline from 1 to 3 years. In some instances, the law would also allow employers to compensate workers at the regular hourly rate for overtime work. The changes were motivated by the country's labour shortage, and sparked a wave of protests and opposition. Opponents dubbed the proposed changes the "Slave law". The government says the labor reforms are necessary to provide much-needed support for businesses struggling to cope with a shortage of workers. The jobless rate in Hungary has dropped to a near all-time low of 3.7 percent, while the number of unfilled jobs has reportedly doubled to a record high in the last three years.
The protests that initially opposed the "Slave law" soon evolved to also voice opposition to the nature and actions of the ruling government in general, with multiple opposition parties joining the protests in solidarity. The protests, with the number of attendants peaking at about 15,000, have been one of the most significant shows of public opposition to the Fidesz government, but have fallen far short of the wast political support the party enjoys within Hungary. A government spokesman dismissed the notion of popular support for the protests.
|Image||Name||Entered office||Left office||Length of Leadership||Note|
|1||Viktor Orbán||18 April 1993||29 January 2000||6 years, 286 days||Prime Minister, 1998–2002|
|2||László Kövér||29 January 2000||6 May 2001||1 year, 97 days|
|3||Zoltán Pokorni||6 May 2001||3 July 2002||1 year, 58 days|
|4||János Áder||3 July 2002||17 May 2003||318 days|
|5||Viktor Orbán||17 May 2003||Incumbent||17 years, 155 days||Prime Minister, 2010–present|
22 / 386
20 / 386
|2||6th||MSZP–SZDSZ Supermajority||Viktor Orbán|
148 / 386
164 / 386
141 / 386
227 / 386
|86||1st||Fidesz–KDNP Supermajority||Viktor Orbán|
117 / 199
|110||1st||Fidesz–KDNP Supermajority||Viktor Orbán|
117 / 199
|0||1st||Fidesz–KDNP Supermajority||Viktor Orbán|
1 Joint list with Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF)
2 Joint list with Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP)
Single member constituencies voting consistently for Fidesz
The SMCs shown on the image have voted for Fidesz ever since 1998. SMCs with a paler hue of orange elected FKGP candidates in 1998, as part of a pact between the two parties.
In January 2010, László Kövér, head of the party's national board, told reporters the party was aiming at winning a two-thirds majority at the parliamentary elections in April. He noted that Fidesz had a realistic chance to win a landslide. Concerning the radical nationalist Jobbik party's gaining ground Kövér said it was a "lamentably negative" tendency, adding that it was rooted in the "disaster government" of the Socialist Party and its former liberal ally Free Democrats.
|Election year||# of overall votes||% of overall vote||# of overall seats won||+/-||Notes|
12 / 24
13 / 22
11 / 21
12 / 21
1 Joint list with Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP)
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The European People's Party, a grouping of centre-right parties at the European Parliament, voted to suspend Fidesz, Hungary's ruling party, as a protest against what many in the parliament believe are repeated attempts by the government to undermine the rule of law
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fidesz.|
- Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union Official website
- Fidesz page on the website of the European People's Party
- Speech delivered by Mr Viktor Orban at the 17th Congress of Fidesz upon his election as president of Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union, 17 May 2003 (from Google's cache)
- The History of Fidesz (from Google's cache)
- Hungary's PM calls confidence vote