Hungary's all-powerful premier Viktor Orban, his party victorious in elections Sunday, is the self-styled defender of Christian Europe against the poison of immigration, an admirer of illiberal democracy and a thorn in the European Union's side.
Preliminary results from the elections put Orban's Fidesz party on course to win a thumping 49% of the vote, likely giving him a commanding two-thirds majority in parliament once again.
With his disdain for the globalist elite, Orban's fiery, nationalist populism has made him a poster boy for patriots everywhere. Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump's former strategist, calls him a hero.
But to detractors Orban, 54, is a xenophobic demagogue aping Russian President Vladimir Putin by eroding democracy in the EU member state, allowing corruption to flourish and public services to rot.
At 26 as a law student in Budapest in 1989, the country boy became a household name in Hungary in the dying days of communism with a stirring speech demanding democracy and that Soviet troops go home.
Co-founding the Alliance of Young Democrats party (Fidesz), Orban was one of new Europe's brightest stars, becoming an MP in newly democratic and optimistic Hungary in 1990.
Soon, however, he shed his image as a radical youth and began molding Fidesz into a new force of the centre-right keen on family and Christian values. It paid off in spades, and with Orban developing a rare knack for connecting with ordinary voters, he duly became prime minister in 1998 at just 35.
His first period in office was rocky, however, and Orban lost to the Socialists in 2002 and again in 2006 before bouncing back, older and wiser, in 2010 -- and with a vengeance.
This time, armed with a two-thirds majority in parliament, Orban implemented a root-and-branch reform of Hungarian state institutions and introduced a new constitution steeped in conservative values.
Critics at home and abroad, including in Brussels and Washington, worried that the sweeping changes undermined the independence of the judiciary, muzzled the press and rigged the electoral system.
Orban maintains that he was repairing years of left-wing mess, while his unorthodox economic policies like special crisis taxes on foreign companies helped Hungary balance the books.
He was re-elected in 2014, again with a super-majority, and Europe's migrant crisis the following year saw Orban morph into a lightning rod for opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy.
As hundreds of thousands of people streamed through Hungary bound for western Europe, and with Budapest train stations resembling squalid refugee camps, Orban erected a fence on Hungary's border with Serbia.
Illegal immigration -- a Trojan horse for terrorism -- was made punishable by lengthy jail terms. It was Hungary's duty to defend the outer frontier of Europe, just like against the Ottomans in the 17th century.
Orban's strident stance has turned Hungary, along with Poland's like-minded government which has also raised concerns with its own reforms, into a headache for Brussels and the rest of the EU.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland's governing party, said the Hungarian election was a decision about the road to freedom, not only in Hungary but also in Europe and the world.”
Orban's victory in Sunday's election is a confirmation of Central Europe's emancipation policy, Poland's deputy foreign minister and envoy to the European Union, Konrad Szymanski, said on Monday.
It's a confirmation of Central Europe's emancipation policy, Szymanski told the private TVN-24 broadcaster when asked what Orban's victory means for the EU.
Emancipation not directed at fighting anybody but at making Central Europe visible as a very constructive European and European Union partner.