Viktor Orban: what did Hungary PM say about Zelensky - election win, Putin and Ukraine-Russia stance explained

The controversial Hungarian Prime Minister has won a fourth consecutive term in office on a ticket that included taking a ‘neutral’ stance on Russia

<p>Viktor Orban has won a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s Prime Minister (image: AFP/Getty Images)</p>

Viktor Orban has won a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s Prime Minister (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has secured a fourth consecutive term in office after his nationalist right-wing Fidesz party won the country’s general election.

Mr Orban had appeared to be on the back foot during his campaign after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shone a spotlight on his warm relationship with president Vladimir Putin.

While most countries in Europe have criticised and sanctioned Putin and supported Ukraine with money, weapons and humanitarian aid, Hungary has opted to remain neutral.

But Mr Orban still swept home with more than 50% of the vote and a likely two-thirds majority in Hungary’s 199-seat parliament.

So who is Viktor Orban, what did he say about Volodymyr Zelensky and what’s his stance been on Russia-Ukraine?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Questions have been raised about how democratic Hungary really is under Viktor Orban’s premiership (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Who is Viktor Orban?

Viktor Orban, 58, has been Hungary’s Prime Minister since 2010.

However, he previously served as his country’s leader between 1998 and 2002.

He was a founding member and then leader of liberal, youth-orientated political party the Alliance of Young Democrats - now Fidesz - while still a student in 1988.

Viktor Orban has been a central figure of Hungarian politics for more than 30 years (image: AFP/Getty Images)

A year later, in 1989, Hungary’s communist regime fell.

Mr Orban shot to international fame at the time when he delivered a powerful speech at the reburial of Imre Nagy - the Hungarian leader during the 1956 revolution who was executed by the Soviets.

He was a very different politician then to the man we see today, being a progressive, pro-Western democrat and free marketeer.

After moderate electoral success in Hungary’s first free elections in the 1990s, Fidesz suffered major losses in 1994.

It led Mr Orban to take his party over to the right - a move that saw him become Hungary’s youngest PM of the twentieth century in 1998.

Viktor Orban (pictured with then-US President Bill Clinton) was previously Hungary’s Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 (image: AFP/Getty Images)

After losing office in 2002, he was out in the political wilderness until the 2008 financial crisis after which he positioned himself as an antidote to the ‘elitist’ mainstream domestic and EU politics Hungarians blamed for the collapse of the country’s economy.

This political pitch became the blueprint for subsequent populist movements, such as the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum (as well as Boris Johnson’s general election campaign in 2019) and Donald Trump’s successful run for the White House in 2016.

Mr Orban’s politics are also heavily influenced by conservative Christianity - as seen with his anti-LGBTQ policies - and are often islamophobic and antisemitic.

Viktor Orban’s successful campaigns have provided a blueprint to other populist leaders, like Boris Johnson (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Ever since winning back power in 2010, Viktor Orban has gradually eroded Hungary’s democracy - although his supporters contend it is stronger than ever.

He has rewritten the constitution in his favour, filled Hungary’s legal system with his supporters, and taken control of the country’s media.

It has led the opposition and international observers to note that his landslide fourth general election victory was likely to be as a result of structural impediments, including pervasive pro-government bias in the media and a heavily gerrymandered electoral map.

Edit Zgut, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, predicted that Mr Orban’s latest victory would allow him to become more autocratic, sidelining dissidents and capturing new areas of the economy.

Hungary’s opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay wanted the country to be more supportive of Ukraine (image: AFP/Getty Images)

What did Viktor Orban say about Volodymyr Zelensky?

Having won his fourth term in office, Viktor Orban gave a victory speech aimed not only at Hungarians but also at Brussels and Kyiv.

“The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest that Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics have won. We are telling Europe that this is not the past, this is the future,” Mr Orban said.

According to the AFP news agency, he went on to describe Brussels and Volodymyr Zelensky as “opponents”.

Viktor Orban visited Russian president Vladimir Putin just weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (image: AFP/Getty Images)

"We never had so many opponents," he reportedly said. "Brussels bureaucrats... the international mainstream media, and the Ukrainian president."

His comments came after President Zelensky criticised Mr Orban for not providing enough support to Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

In an address to EU leaders on 25 March, Mr Zelensky listed countries from the bloc who had supported Ukraine before singling out Hungary.

The central European country has reportedly declined to send weapons to its eastern neighbour and has blocked other nations’ military shipments from crossing its border.

“Hungary … I want to stop here and be honest,” Mr Zelensky said in his speech. “Once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with.”

He then went on to directly address Mr Orban: “Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol?”

The Orban administration’s initial response came from Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on 30 March.

Mr Szijjártó accused Ukraine's government of meddling in the Hungarian election - although, he did not provide any evidence for this claim.

What is Viktor Orban’s stance on Russia-Ukraine war?

Despite coming to prominence on an anti-Soviet (and anti-Russian) ticket in the 1980s, Viktor Orban has fostered close relations with the regime of Vladimir Putin during his time in power.

The pair hold similar attitudes towards democracy and social and cultural issues, like LGBTQ rights.

When Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine on 24 February, it appeared to leave Mr Orban in a tricky situation given the widespread condemnation of Russia’s actions.

But he appears to have successfully argued that it is in Hungary’s best interests to remain neutral - despite supporting most of the EU’s sanctions against the pariah state.

Viktor Orban argued during his re-election campaign that Hungary should be neutral on Russia-Ukraine (image: AFP/Getty Images)

This lack of support for Ukraine is also likely to be down to Hungary’s heavy dependence on Russian energy - it imports 85% of its gas and 60% of its oil from the country.

Mr Orban said this meant that supporting Ukraine was "against Hungary’s interests”.

During the Hungarian general election, the principal opposition - an alliance of six parties of different political hues - had argued that Hungary should join EU states in supplying arms to Ukraine.

Its leader - Peter Marki-Zay - accused Mr Orban of watching on while "Putin is rebuilding the Soviet empire”.