Paul Lendvai at the University of California at Berkeley

The Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES) presented Paul Lendvai at the University of California at Berkeley on March 22 at Moses Hall.

The title of his presentation was: “Orbán Regime: Splitting the EU and Leading a New East European Bloc?”


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.


Mr. Lendvai is 88 years old and I heard about him decades ago when English editions of his books started to appear in the US. Lendvai was born in Budapest to Jewish parents. He survived the Holocaust and became a journalist working for the Communist newspaper Szabad Nép. In 1957 he left Hungary and moved to Austria where he became a naturalized citizen. There were accusations that he cooperated with the Communist secret service but no credible proof has been presented.

In Austria he was associated with Die Presse and Der Standard. He also wrote for the The Financial Times, contributed to The Economist and worked with various radio stations. Lendvai correctly predicted in 2011 that Viktor Orbán would establish an authoritarian government; today it is called an “illiberal” state. His latest book is Orbán, Europe’s New Strongman.

It is my understanding that Mr. Lendvai is not a supporter of Viktor Orbán’s regime. I mention this, because in the past, Hungarian diplomats often showed up at Berkeley events and, as we reported earlier, they verbally attack and attempt to discredit the speaker. (Read more about the incident here.)

György Lázár


  1. Paul Lendvai is a good journalist, readable and informed, capable of producing easily consumable popular history. (His earlier works, written during the 60s and 70s are far better than his current output.) Unfortunately, he does not possess the analytical skills needed to fully explain the neo-fascist revival that’s spreading across Europe, and is now rearing its head as Trumpism, in America. A fairly good review article of Lendvai’s book, by Princeton Political Scientist, Jan Werner Müller, can be read in the upcoming edition of The New York Review of books. See:

    Referring to this wave of authoritarianism as populism is very misleading. I suggest the following to those who are trying to find the right handle: Tamás Dezső Ziegler, (Research Fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

  2. “his ruthless crackdown on refugees”

    More ruthless than the Turkey-EU deal, or the Libya deal meant to secure the EU’s borders? In 2015 this would have passed the smell test, but in 2018, there is nothing that Hungary is doing to secure its and the EU’s outer borders that is more “ruthless” than what many others are doing. The EU elites did not want to do this. They wanted to keep the borders open and just impose colonist quotas on the native inhabitants of the EU, just like Beijing does in Tibet. But the people of Europe have spoken. They were willing to get rid of current elites if they did not listen, so the EU did what had to be done. And what they did makes what Orban did with his fence look benign by comparison.

    This is just an example of how distorted and misleading the message of this individual is.

    • Avatar Reality Check says:

      It is comical to watch you try and take on Lendvai with your distorted and misleading message. Among EU states, Hunagry is exceptional in its mistreatment of refugees and its violation of international agreements.

      • Really? Any of it worse than EU dealing with Libyan militias, which it turns out sold migrants as slaves? I know everyone likes to single out Hungary, especially because it was a leader in its resistance to the 2015 policies and ideas that dominated in the EU in this regard, which I think encouraged popular resistance across Europe. But objectively speaking……

        • Avatar Reality Check says:

          Haven’t you learned yet that “whataboutism” is just a form of deflection. Hungary is not being singled out. The situation with Italy and Libyia, not the EU as you state, has also been condemned by the UN and Human Rights groups. The HU government has been irresponsive to criticism from the UN and their EU allies. If Italy doesn’t respond then they deserve condemnation also.

          • Congrats Reality Check! You labeled it, it must all be good now. But how about we put it to the test?

            Imagine this guy driving to work every morning in his car, with a licence plate that says “Reality Check”. Speed limit is 50, but he tends to go 55. And quite often he gets stopped and fined. So far so good, except the part I left out (The context) is that everyone else is also going at least 55 or faster every morning, yet “Reality Check” is the one who always gets pulled over, while everyone else gets a pass. How long you figure before “Reality Check” starts engaging in some “Whataboutism”? And if he does, do you think he should just be told that it is just “a form of deflection”? Perhaps what you just suggested is idiotic, because context matters?

  3. Orban isn’t splitting the EU, the EU did that by putting the wellbeing of millions of fighting aged islamic soldiers before future of Europe. Name one European country or European founded country that’s benefited from them. Muslims running from islam, is the Trojan horse.

    • There was/is no immigration in Hun. Even those 20 000 who obtained residence by paying (some opaque offshore cos instead of the Hu treasury) are residing mostly in other countries.

      While Orban is blowing smoke up the dupes about imaginary migration/Soros/conspiracies, the billions he’s pumping out of them are very real, hard cash, e.g. today MN revealed docs showing that undersecretary Zsolt Szabó has $ 4 850 511 stashed in a Belize Bank acc.
      The stench of corruption is overwhelming, rot is under every board lifted.

    • We, Europa have the modern Medicine from the Muslims. Look to Spain, it was modern at the Time the Mauren was there. There you can see impressive Buildings. What do you learn in Hungary, only heil Hitler?

  4. had an indeed reviling article about the subject of the East-European nations dis-statisfaction with EU.
    It hit the nail on the head.

    I have expressed my take on it here before.
    They were far too eager to join the EU, far ahead before they were ready for it. Now they have all a second thought about it.
    The best they should have done is to form their own alliance, economic as well defense alliance.

    If Hungary had initiated that 6-800 years ago, Europe’s present history likely be quite different.
    But they could never cooperate for the common good and defense ever.
    So, it’s no wonder they always soot themselvs in the foot.
    Give then another half century, they might learn.
    May be.
    But do not hold your breath.

    • Bende
      The E.Europeans did “form their own alliance, economic as well [as] defense alliance” and it included mighty USSR too – Comecon and Warsaw Pact. As the joke went goes – seven meager cows milking each other. We know how did it end.
      But you’re right about shooting themselves in thefoot – the Huns are the champions and they are at it again.

  5. From the excerpts offered (haven’t read the book yet), I feel Lendvai is bit aggrandizing Orban, who is, relatively, no more sophisticated than Ceausescu or Zhivkov were. It was Simicska, who developed and institutionalized “ordinary” corruption to make as the foundation of the mafia state. Without money, Orban would have burned out as most BS-ters did, after producing nothing.
    If the Hungarians “deserve the gov they actually have”, maybe they are not very smart at all.

    • “deserve the gov they actually have”. Alleluia!!! We can actually agree on something, even if it is a short sentence, taken out of context. Yes Hungarians do deserve this government. They did not deserve the fiasco they had in 2002-2010, and no they do not deserve the specimens currently in opposition.

      Hungarians have seen one of the fastest-growth in wages in the EU in the 2014-2017 period.

      Hungarians deserve this. In the 2002-2010 period and its immediate aftermath, which is largely attributable to the disaster from that period was when Hungary fell far behind its regional peers in this regard. Same goes for other measures such as GDP/capita and so on. The previous government drove Hungary’s economy into the ditch by 2007, a full year before the global crisis hit. It registered growth of 0%, while Slovakia and Romania were chugging along at around 8%.

      And Hungary’s fundamentals have been improving greatly in the past years, with debt/GDP in constant decline at government & consumer levels. Less of that debt is in toxic FX. Employment rate is highest since the fall of communism.

      Used to be able to claim that it is all about fostered workers, but their numbers have been in decline, and so are the number of people residing in Hungary & working abroad, so that ship is sailing.

      So, more people working for higher wages, I’d say this is a good thing for their livelihood! That is if you care about Hungarians, rather than your own ideological agenda!

      • Avatar Reality Check says:

        You like to exaggerate to make a point. The number of returning Hungarians is a tiny fraction of those who left and are leaving. In addition, several surveys have shown that 100,000’s more are planning on leaving. Even with the modest wage growth, they can still make a lot more in Western Europe.

        • 1) Not modest wage growth, but the third-fastest rate in EU in 2014-2017.

          2) Latest data shows a net flow back into Hungary of people on placement abroad. Do you understand the basic concept of “net”?

          3) Yes wages in Western Europe are still a lot higher, but the gap would have been much smaller if it were not for the 2002-2010 economic fiasco and its aftermath. 2002-2012 was the period when Hungary lost out big time compared with its neighboring peers. And please do not go down the road of making an idiotic argument such as “Yeah, but Fidesz was in power in 2010-2012”, because we all know that things do not work like that. 2013-2017 has been a period of slight catching up to regional peers actually. And there is really nothing else that can be done about it, expect continue to close the gap as Hungary has been doing lately. Or do you believe in magic wands that politicians can wave to just make it all go away?

          Clearly, in terms of the economy, Hungary has been on the right path for about half a decade now. Still a long way to go, but simply stating that “oh, Hungary is not there yet”, is an idiotic argument to say the least! Of course it is not there yet! And even under best of circumstances, with perfect policies, there would still be decades to go! But the other guys actually helped push Hungary further behind, not catch up. Periods like that do not help. Yet, you and others around here continue arguing for a return to those guys.

  6. Orbán Elképzelt beszélgetése USÁval. Orbán: Hallo mr Trump. Trump: Elnézést ön ki? Ja már tudom Soros barátja.. Tesék miben segithetek? Orbán: Ápr 8 választások,van itt egy kényes ugy nem fársztom a részletekkel magyar belügy. Nem jo,hogy a magyar választok a Hülye Semjént és Kosát látják a médiában. Trump: Mit tehetnék önért? Orbán: Én oda szoltam az antena hungáriának,hogy tartsanak karbantartást. Trump: Mit szeretne,miben tudok segiteni. Orbán: Április 8-ig nem tudná elintézni,hogy a googlénál,youtubnál karbantarrási munkálatokat? Trump: O máj gád mr Orbán,mit nem kér.

  7. What the Orbán trolls above don’t get is, that no one with a brain bigger than a wallnut objects to legal, and manageable immigration policy in Europe. Illegal, and a torrential inflow of people, beyond the capacity of host countries to absorb them is to no one’s interest. These trolls are banging on open doors. Suggesting that George Soros wants to inundate Europe with millions of illegal Muslim immigrants is nothing but a monumental lie.

    The problem with Orbán’s approach is, that he defines refugees as hostile agents hell bent on destroying Christian civilization. He has whipped up a frenzy of hatred against Muslims – regardless of the numbers, or reason why they are fleeing – that is similar to the hatred that resulted in the massacre of 600,000 “alien” , “anti-Christian” Jews in 1944. Orbán didn’t just put up a fence !!!! He raised once again the hatred towards outsiders, towards people of color, of different religious convictions. Getting into Hungary today as a legal refugee is as hard for an ordinary Muslim, as it was for a black man or woman to sit at the front of the bus in Selma Alabama before the civil rights movement changed all that.

    If you are a criminal, with hundreds of thousands of dollars, or a member of the Russian secret service, you’ll have no trouble getting an EU passport from Viktor Orbán’s gatekeepers. Tens of thousands are in possession of such a pass, undermining Europe’s security, while the vast profits earned by Orbán’s cronies from this “pay to play” passport business are sitting in offshore bank accounts in Malta, Belize and various cozy places around the world, rather than generating economic activity in Hungary.

    Peter, Bendy-goose, toniaviles, Don Kichote and the other brain-dead trolls who come here to ooze their misleading trivia should be put on a slow boat to China, and made to swallow their curd and whey.

    • “Illegal, and a torrential inflow of people, beyond the capacity of host countries to absorb them is to no one’s interest.”

      Well, it seems based on facts that it was in someone’s interest. Did NGO’s not act as a taxi service in the Mediterranean, picking up the colonists off the coast of Libya and taking them to Europe? They could have dropped them in Tunisia, a safe country, which would have been closer, but of course, that would have gone against the agenda. It just had to be Europe!

      This whole fiasco happened because of one big lie purposely promoted by the Western elites, namely that the people arriving were “refugees”, and there was a humanitarian argument for taking them.

      Let me give you an example: A while back a family was caught at the Bulgaria/Romania border, with their smuggler. It was revealed that the family paid $25,000 to get from Bulgaria to Germany. My guess is that they paid a similar amount to get into Bulgaria. So most likely about $50,000 for the whole trip. They were only exceptional in the fact that they were not the typical single young men that typically paid about $5,000 each to make it to the promised land.

      Now let me give you another example: I was in Turkey a few years ago. I saw plenty of Syrian refugees. One evening, while I was eating at a restaurant, a kid, perhaps 3 years old that looked like she did not have a bath for months, started banging on the window and pointing her hands towards her mouth. I saw her at the entrance before, so I knew she was with her mother, which was just sitting on the ground. I bought them a meal, and left them some cash. The mother seemed like she was just giving up. The kid was driven by hunger, therefore she was hustling people for food. Honestly, I think the 3 year old was keeping them both alive. For $200/month they could have rented an apartment in Turkey, together with others in a similar situation, and could have fed themselves. In other words, very modest, cramped but decent.

      Going back to the family that got caught, seems to me they could have lived in Turkey modestly indefinitely given the financial resources they had. Same goes for the majority of individuals who had at least $5,000 to pay for smuggling services, in order for them to collect about $20,000/year in cash & services in the promised land. With the same money that Germany/EU would have spent on that one family that was caught, they could have helped 100 people in Turkey, by simply identifying the need and setting up a cash handout service. You know? The ones that are actually desperate, and still refugees, not the ones who crossed several safe countries on the way to the promised land,spending a lot of money in the process, therefore not refugees, but rather colonists. Face it! The Western liberal establishment got this one really wrong. They thought they had the appearance of the moral high-ground needed to shove this horde of colonists down the throats of native Europeans, and yes they did act like it was in their interest to do so. Remember all the lies in regards to how these guys were on average better educated than the average European, therefore they were going to be an asset to Europe? Those lies did not appear spontaneously, by accident.

      The kicker is that Orban is the one who had it right from the beginning. He was the one who said that EU should close border and help the needy in the region, where the money would go further. Based on my experience in Turkey, I’d say he has the moral high-ground on this one! Not to mention the moral high-ground in regards to native Europeans having the basic right to say no to mass-colonization! And yet, he continues to be demonized for it.

      Only someone with a brain the size of a “walnut”, or a rabid, self-loathing leftist fanatic, who fantasizes the destruction of Western world, and the extinction of native Europeans (the root of all evil), would be unable to see that there was and there is an agenda meant to facilitate mass-colonization of Europe with ME-African migrants, and that there is no moral high ground to be claimed on it at all!

  8. @ Peter

    “I know everyone likes to single out Hungary, especially because it was a leader in its resistance to the 2015 policies and ideas that dominated in the EU in this regard.”

    I’m afraid you know very little troll.

    Everyone is singling out Hungary not because it was the first to put up a fence, but because it was the first to engage in a national propaganda drive, to demonize and dehumanize refugees, especially those of color and creed different from white Christians.

    The hatred fomented against the foreigners of color preceded the arrival of the foreigners, it preceded the erection of the fence. The reason everyone is pointing the finger at Orbán is, that he was the first to criminalize, dehumanize those of color, who are fleeing hardship and war.

    The fact that the EU does not have a common immigration policy, that it is helpless in curbing illegal immigration, that it cannot distinguish immigration policy from refugee policy,does not make Orbán’s racially driven demonisation of “Muslim” refugees acceptable.

    Yes – the failure of the European liberal establishment to manage the challenges it faces, has a lot to do with the rise of neo-fascist regimes like Orbán’s. But to cheer for the latter is like cheering for the criminals, after someone left open the prison gates. Please let’s not make Chamberlain’s folly Hitler’s virtue. We’ve been there, done that already, troll.

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