On Sunday, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party will likely cruise to another victory in Hungary’s general election, giving Mr. Orban, the reigning champion of “illiberal democracy” — a term he proudly embraces — a fourth term to pursue his assault on democratic institutions, immigrants, the European Union and anything smacking of social change. The campaign has been surprisingly tough, but then Fidesz designed the voting system and controls much of the media. A victory will no doubt hearten the ranks of the nativist populists who, despite their avowed aversion to international organizations, take pride in being in the vanguard of an international reactionary movement. It is telling that after his ouster from the White House, Stephen Bannon went on a tour of European soul mates, during which he hailed Mr. Orban as his hero and “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”
A report by The Times’s Patrick Kingsley on how Mr. Orban reached that august status offers a chilling look at the breadth of the populist assault not only on the “hardware” of democracy — constitution, judiciary, the electoral system — but also the software: the culture, civil society, education system and religious organizations. Fidesz (founded in 1988 as the Hungarian Alliance of Young Democrats) has actively pushed a narrative of Hungarian victimhood and ethnocentrism in schools, theaters and universities while vilifying any opposing viewpoint, and especially pro-democracy organizations funded by George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire who has become something of a whipping boy for the far right throughout Central Europe.
Mr. Orban’s defenders say people support him not for his populism but for his handling of the economy. Government debt and the budget deficit are down, the country’s credit rating is up, growth has almost quadrupled since 2010. What these figures do not show, though, is that many of these improvements have come through membership in the European Union, which Mr. Orban assails at every opportunity. At the same time, according to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, corruption has risen significantly under Mr. Orban.