Childhood & Early Life
Orbán was born on May 31, 1963, in Székesfehérvár, to Győző Orbán and Erzsébet Sipos. His father was an agronomist and entrepreneur, and his mother was a speech therapist and special educator. He was the eldest of the three sons in his rural middle-class family. He grew up with his younger brothers, Győző Jr. and Áron.
During his early childhood, his family lived in Alcsútdoboz and Felcsút, villages in Fejér County, where he attended elementary school. In 1977, the family moved to Székesfehérvár, where Orbán attended the ‘Blanka Teleki High School.’ He graduated in 1981. He spent two years in military service and then completed law studies from ‘Eötvös Loránd University’ in Budapest.
Back then, a membership of the communist youth organization (KISZ) was essential for university admission. Thus, in his secondary grammar school, he became a member and then secretary of the ‘KISZ.’ However, during his military service, his views changed and he no longer supported the communist regime.
After finishing studies in 1987, he worked in Budapest as a sociologist at the ‘Management Training Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food,’ for two years.
He was awarded a ‘Soros Foundation’ scholarship in 1989, through which he studied political science at ‘Pembroke College’ of the ‘University of Oxford.’
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Orbán was a founding member of the party ‘Fiatal DemoKraták Szövetsége,’ or the ‘Alliance of Young Democrats,’ also known as the ‘Fidesz’ party. The party was founded in March 1988, and he soon became the spokesperson of the party. During the reburial of former premier Imre Nagy and other martyrs of the 1956 ‘Hungarian Revolution,’ Orbán delivered an address at the ‘Heroes’ Square’ in Budapest. This speech, delivered on June 16, 1989, in which he called for free elections and the withdrawal of the Soviet army, brought him wide recognition.
In 1990, the first democratic parliamentary elections were held in Hungary, putting an end to nearly half a century of communist rule. Orbán was elected as a member of parliament (MP) from the ‘Pest County Regional List’ and was made the leader of ‘Fidesz’s parliamentary group.
Earlier, ‘Fidesz’ was run by the collective leadership of the national board, and then Orbán became its first president on April 18, 1993. He was elected as an MP from the ‘Fejér County Regional List’ during the 1994 parliamentary elections. During this term, he was the chairman of the parliamentary committee on European integration affairs. Owing to the party’s poor performance, Orbán formed alliances with center–right groups and slowly altered the party from a radical liberal student group to a center–right party. He met with opposition, and there was split within the group.
‘Fidesz,’ along with its alliances, won the 1998 parliamentary elections with 42% of the total votes and formed a coalition with other parties. Orbán, at 35, became the second-youngest prime minister of Hungary.
He implemented reforms in state administration ministries and made changes to steer the country toward a free-market economy. In 1999, Hungary joined the ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organization’ (NATO) under his guidance. His government took steps to obliterate university tuition fees and offered universal maternity benefits. His tenure saw a drop in inflation. Along with Czech Republic and Poland, Hungary joined ‘NATO’ in March 1999.
As the party congress decided on separating the post of the party head from that of the prime minister, Orbán quit as the party head in 2000. Earlier, ‘Fidesz’ had joined the ‘Liberal International’ and Orbán was appointed its vice chairman in 1992. However, in 2000, ‘Fidesz’ left the ‘Liberal International’ and joined the ‘European People’s Party.’
During the 2002 parliamentary elections, the atmosphere in the country was quite intense. ‘Fidesz’ lost to the ‘Magyar Szocialista Párt,’ or the ‘Hungarian Socialist Party’ (MSZP). Thus, Orbán lost his premiership. Later, in October 2002, he was elected as the vice president of the ‘European People’s Party,’ and in 2003, he became the leader of ‘Fidesz’ once again. In the 2004 European parliamentary elections, ‘Fidesz’ won 12 of Hungary’s 24 seats, while the ruling ‘MSZP’ was defeated.
There were demands of his resignation when ‘Fidesz’ lost to ‘MSZP’ in the 2006 parliamentary elections. In September 2006, a speech made by the ‘Socialist Party’ premier Ferenc Gyurcsány found its way to the media. In that speech, the premier had used foul language and had admitted to misleading the electorate. This added to the rising disapproval of the ‘Socialist Party.’ The October 2006 municipal elections were won by ‘Fidesz.’ Orbán was appointed as the president of ‘Fidesz’ for another term in May 2007. The party won 14 of Hungary’s 22 seats in the 2009 European parliamentary election.
In the April 2010 parliamentary election, ‘Fidesz’ won by an overpowering majority of two-thirds of the total seats. Orbán became the prime minister for the second time. The supermajority gave the ruling party the authority to change the constitution. The new reforms in the constitution resulted in protests that questioned the centralized legislative and executive powers and the new judicial reforms that reduced the independence of the judiciary. Because of the criticism and protests from both the domestic and foreign factors, the Orbán government moderated the proposed media law that would have given them control over the press. An electoral reform reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 199.
In 2013, his government announced new taxes on banking and some industries, while asking utility companies to reduce charges for households. These reforms probably helped the party in the next elections. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Orbán’s party won, earning 133 of the 199 seats in the ‘National Assembly.’ He continued for another term as the premier.
His government added a new tax on advertising revenue. This was generally perceived as the government’s intention of curbing media freedom. There were surprise inspections of NGOs, as according to Orbán’s view, NGOs receiving foreign funds were foreign agents and required observation. However, his government created many jobs, improved living conditions of working families, and affirmed the country’s interest internationally.
During his second term, Orbán was involved in a number of controversies, including the one that was caused due to his remark against “liberal democracy.” In July 2014, he announced that his government intended to build a “workfare” society that would be “illiberal” in nature. This resulted in protests by the opposition and foreign observers. There were also several protests against ‘Fidesz,’ one of them being the November 2014 protest against the proposed “internet tax.”
Orbán initiated actions against illegal immigrants and the inflow of refugees. At the time of the European migrant crisis of 2015, he ordered the construction of a barbed-wire barrier at the Hungary–Serbia border, to stop the entry of illegal immigrants and to facilitate the registration of all the migrants arriving from Serbia. He, like other eastern European leaders, did not agree to compulsory quotas for the redistribution of migrant settlements across the countries of the ‘European Union.’
In the April 2018 parliamentary elections, the ruling coalition of ‘Fidesz’ and its allies (the ‘Christian Democrats’) maintained their supermajority of two-thirds of the seats, by winning 133 of the 199 seats.
Orbán married Anikó Lévai, a jurist, in 1986. They have four daughters, Ráhel, Sára, Róza, and Flóra, and a son, Gáspár, who is a retired footballer. They are also grandparents of two grandchildren.
He has interest in sports, especially football, and was a professional player of the football team ‘Felcsút FC.’ He has also helped create a modern football academy to train young Hungarian footballers.