Hungary: Illiberal Democracy in Action
John Morgan, American Renaissance, June 7, 2019
This article is adapted from a talk given at the American Renaissance conference on May 18, 2019.
It’s great to be back here. It’s the first time I’ve been at AmRen since 2014, and of course the world has changed a lot since then. This is why I think it’s timely that I talk about what’s happening in Hungary today, since I spoke about that in 2014 as well, but at that time, Europe’s migrant crisis was nothing more than a twinkle in George Soros’ eye. The Hungarian political landscape has been completely transformed since then, probably more so than any other Western country in recent years, and in some very unexpected ways.
So what is Hungary like today? Well, I’m sorry to say, Hungary lies under a pall of darkness. Its citizens are kept in thrall by being fed a steady diet of fear of imaginary threats, unbridled racism, and cynical hatemongering through the government’s relentless propaganda. They are cowed and starving, but dare not speak out, as the government brutally cracks down on even the slightest dissent. Alternatives to the official narrative are smothered. Hopelessness and despair are rampant. A small handful of resistors, supported with funds provided by noble and selfless oligarchs, are waging a desperate battle to overthrow the oppressive regime and put Hungary back in the hands of the wise men and women of Brussels, who want nothing but to guide the country away from dictatorship and towards the utopia the European Union wants to grace it with, in its infinite benevolence.
I’m just kidding, of course. Hungary in 2019 is a very nice place. And given that the opposition regularly holds demonstrations challenging the government — demonstrations tolerated by the authorities — and the fact that its capital, Budapest, is just as cosmopolitan as any Western European city, the idea that Hungary is a dictatorship is a fantasy dreamed up by the same people who equate Donald Trump with Hitler. But this is the image that the Hungarian opposition, and of course the international media, wants people to have–most especially abroad, since they want help from Western governments, including the US — in undermining Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, and its Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. But while they have been very successful in convincing the rest of the world that Hungary is a dictatorship, so far they haven’t enjoyed much success at home. Orbán remains very popular in Hungary, most Hungarians don’t trust the opposition, simply because the opposition is so incompetent. I’ll get more into that later.
In 2015, when the migrant crisis erupted — or perhaps it’s better to say accelerated, since mass immigration has been a growing problem in Western Europe for going on half a century now — Viktor Orbán chose to take the lead in resisting the invasion, and since then has openly established Hungary as a haven from the ravages of mass immigration and neoliberal cultural insanity that afflict the West. In my opinion, Orbán is the most inspirational political leader today, and Hungary proves that it’s not impossible to stand up to the neoliberal globalist order when there is the political will to do so. When Steve Bannon was in Budapest last year, he said that Orbán had been “Trump before Trump.” I would counter that Orbán is what Donald Trump would be if Trump were actually as how his fans imagine him to be. Hungary is a tiny country of ten million citizens, its military is negligible, and its economy is nowhere near the level of the large Western European nations. And yet Orbán has managed to leverage Hungary into becoming one of the most important movers and shakers on the European stage by taking the lead in opposing Brussels’ stands on immigration and culture. Orbán today serves as an inspiration to critics of immigration and multiculturalism and to populists around the world, most especially in Europe, where he has become an important symbol for Rightists everywhere. Where Hungary is today, socially speaking, is what we are working for in America and Western Europe.
Orbán has referred to his doctrine as “illiberal democracy.” What this term means exactly remains unclear — there is no Illiberal Democratic Manifesto yet — although in interviews, Orbán has described it as a type of politics that refuses the regime of political correctness that prevails in Western Europe, and that acknowledges that Europe’s peoples have a distinct culture rooted in Christianity, which it is our duty to preserve. In 2014, Orbán also said of illiberal democracy that “the Hungarian nation is not an aggregate of individuals, but a community that we must organize, strengthen, and uplift as well.” Earlier this year he warned, “It is not written in the great book of humanity that there must be Hungarians in the world” — and while this is most certainly true of Hungary, which has been beset by many enemies throughout its history, all of us here would agree that this is equally true for people of European descent everywhere in the world today.
But in order to understand how Hungary got to this point, I should say a few words about Hungarian history, and how this has forged the unique identity for which Hungarians are fighting so fiercely. On the timescale of history, Hungarians are relative newcomers in Europe, having only arrived as nomadic raiders from the Central Asian steppes in the ninth century, and it wasn’t until their conversion to Christianity at the end of the tenth century that they began to settle down and become good Europeans. But this unique origin means that to this day, Hungarians see themselves as distinct even from other European peoples. This is nowhere more evident than in their language, which is not Indo-European and bears no connection to any other European language whatsoever. Since Hungarian has always been limited to Hungary itself, this has helped isolate the country to a certain extent, and despite their immersion in Europe for over a thousand years, still gives Hungarians a culture and an ethnic identity very unlike any other, and I think it contributes both to their strong sense of self-preservation as well as to their innate suspicion of outsiders. Even today, Hungary has one of the lowest levels of English proficiency in Europe, and many Hungarians find it annoying when they find people in their own country who don’t know their language.
On top of this, Hungarian history is the story of the many empires that have overrun it over the centuries, and Hungary has been on the losing side of every major war it has been involved in during modern times. Hungary was fiercely attacked by the Mongols in the 13th century, and then much of the country was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, after which the Turks ruled for more than a century before being evicted by a pan-European army. This left Hungary under the dominion of the Habsburgs, whom they rebelled against during the 1848 revolution, only to be crushed by combined Russian-Austrian forces. This led to the period of the dual monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which any Hungarian would tell you was the Golden Age of Hungarian history, but which was cut short by the outbreak of the First World War, when Hungary fought alongside the Central Powers.
The victorious Allies, who sought to break up the allegedly oppressive Austro-Hungarian Empire by encouraging ethnonationalism among the minority peoples in Central Europe and the Balkans, were particularly harsh with Hungary in the aftermath of the war; the Treaty of Trianon, which was signed in 1920, was even harsher than the terms dictated to Germany at Versailles, and Hungary lost nearly 70 percent of its territory and 30 percent of ethnic Hungarians were left outside Hungary’s borders — a shock that unleashed ethnonationalist sentiments across the region, and is something Central Europe is still struggling to recover from a century later.
The enmity between Hungarians and Romanians over Transylvania continues to be a running sore that divides the region, for example. In the Second World War, Hungary fought with the Axis, and was briefly annexed by the Third Reich from 1944 to ’45, when the Germans overthrew the government of Miklos Horthy after he tried to negotiate a separate peace with Stalin. This led to Hungary becoming a battlefield where the Axis and the Soviet Union fought it out, and much of the country, including Budapest, was devastated in the fighting.
The aftermath of the war saw Hungary under Soviet domination, against which they famously rebelled in 1956 — only to be crushed yet again, after the Western help that had been promised in CIA radio broadcasts failed to materialize. Communism in Hungary ended in 1989, as it did throughout the Soviet bloc, and the Russian occupation ended soon after that; but in 2004, Hungary joined the European Union, which seemed enticing at first, but which many Hungarians, as well as government propaganda, have begun to describe as being something akin to the Soviet Union with its many diktats on how Hungarians should run their country.
So, as you can see, it’s not surprising that Hungarians are inherently deeply suspicious of outsiders and foreign powers. There’s a very apt title of a history of Hungary — which was written by a liberal author, unfortunately, but the title nonetheless remains accurate: Hungary, a Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Even among other Europeans, Hungarians have a reputation for a strong sense of identity; this is doubtless born out of the fact that their identity has been under existential threat for so much of their history. As one Hungarian friend put it, whenever there have been a lot of foreigners around, that has always meant something bad was happening to them. Thus, the sight of the thousands of migrants camped out around Keleti train station in central Budapest in the summer of 2015 was something very shocking and disturbing to Hungarians. Indeed, when Orbán and his party Fidesz ran for reelection in the national elections last year, opposition to mass immigration was essentially their only campaign issue — and they won handily. This should tell you all you need to know about Hungarians’ feelings about the possibility of becoming an “immigrant country” — a term that Fidesz frequently uses to describe Western European nations.
But the nature of the Hungarians’ conception of their own identity can sometimes be difficult for Westerners to grasp. I believe this is traceable to Hungary’s long history as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. You have to keep in mind that Hungary, and many of the other nations of Central Europe today, have been nation-states for barely a century. The concept of identity that arose in the late 18th and 19th centuries in Western Europe and the United States was very much tied to the rise of the nation-state, which sought to unite all peoples of a common language, culture, and later, race under one political roof. But Hungary and Central Europe persisted as an empire until after the First World War. As such, the idea of Hungarianness as tied to race is still something quite foreign to the Hungarian mentality.
As in much of the rest of Continental Europe, you rarely hear Hungarians use the term “white” to describe themselves — they think of themselves as Hungarians, first and foremost, rather than primarily as part of a wider race. I have occasionally heard Hungarians use “white,” and it’s occasionally cropping up in right-wing political discourse there these days, but I think this represents something new that is emerging as Hungarians become increasingly aware of the threat posed by non-whites. The concept of whiteness is something that emerges in countries where there are a lot of non-whites, and that’s never been the case in Hungary. Hungary today is still de facto an ethnostate, not because of government policies but simply because they’ve never had mass immigration from outside Europe (with the exception of the gypsies, but that’s a topic for another day). Once I was walking in the streets of Budapest with a friend from Italy who happily exclaimed, “This is like going back to the 1970s, demographically speaking!” — which to a Hungarian would be quite amusing, since central Budapest is the most “diverse,” to use modern parlance, area of Hungary.
But to return to the issue of Hungarian identity, their unique sense of themselves is not to say that Hungarians don’t identify with Europe or Western civilization — they absolutely do, but they see themselves as distinct within that group. A good illustration of what I’m talking about is perhaps Transylvania, which, until it was ceded to Romania in the Trianon treaty in 1920, was in many ways the cultural heart of the Kingdom of Hungary, even though it was home to three major groups: Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans.
My mother’s grandparents were Transylvania Saxons, the largest group of ethnic Germans in the region, and they were born before the Trianon treaty. Thus, although their primary language, customs, and religion were German, they were nonetheless subjects of the Hungarian Kingdom, as were all of the peoples of Transylvania at that time. This did not mean, however, that there was an expectation that the Germans and Romanians of Transylvania would adopt the Hungarian language and customs as their own, as is expected of foreigners in a nation-state: “integration” and so forth. A Transylvania Saxon would of course speak Hungarian, Romanian, and other languages, but would understand his own language and culture to be German. And at that time, all of the towns and villages of Transylvania were legally required to have a Hungarian, a Romanian, and a German name. Regardless, each ethnic group had its own schools, community authorities, and even laws that were distinct from the others, and these were very different peoples living side-by-side. Generally, at least until the 19th century, this was rarely seen as a cause for friction.
It was only then, with the rise of the nation-state, that calls for “ethnically pure” communities began to be heard in Transylvania and throughout Central and Eastern Europe — and this led to a great deal of strife throughout the region. Indeed, while those of us here tend to think of ethnonationalism as a good thing (and I am not saying that I oppose ethnonationalism in principle), I think it is highly questionable whether ethnonationalism was a good thing for Central Europe. Most Hungarian conservatives today, looking back on their history, acknowledge that the Hapsburg Empire was the best time for their region, and that in hindsight, the Hungarians’ many attempts to secede from the Empire were shortsighted and ill-conceived.
The Habsburg Empire shows that even very different peoples, when they have certain cultural fundamentals in common, where central authority tends to be loose and most power is reserved for local communities, and where there are not lots of ethnic aliens as in today’s Europe, can live together in harmony. Compare that with the efforts of the European Union to attain the same result today, albeit without any acknowledgment that the European Union actually needs to consist of Europeans. And of course, despite living as separate communities, when the Mongols or the Turks attacked — which they did frequently — nobody had any hesitation about where they should stand on the battlefield and understood the need to come together. Historical Transylvania is an example of true multiculturalism, as opposed to today’s false, plastic, corporate version of it: unity in diversity, but remaining rooted and distinct — not a vague universalism.
So why does the notion of racial purity, which has long been so popular among Western European and American nationalists, tend to be alien to the Hungarian consciousness? This is not because of their Asian origins, as some Westerners tend to believe. In my experience, the idea that Hungarians are deeply rooted in Asia is generally limited to some very esoteric and romantic groups on the fringes of Hungarian cultural life. And indeed, a recent genetic study showed that the average Hungarian has only four percent Asian DNA. I’ve only once met a Hungarian who claimed one hundred percent Magyar ancestry.
After centuries of living in the ethnic hodgepodge of Central Europe and freely mixing with others, most Hungarians are a mix of many different European ethnicities — not unlike white Americans, of course — and it’s been my observation that Hungarians tend to be more like Americans in their attitudes, sense of humor, and sense of individualism and so forth even than most Western Europeans. A typical Hungarian will tell you that his ancestors are Czech, German, Croatian, Greek, and Hungarian. In his mind, however, he’s no different from any other Hungarian, being united with them by language, culture, and history. Central European identity is something that needs to be more deeply explored by the Right.
But let’s get back to Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. When the Soviet empire in Europe collapsed in 1989, Orbán was a student activist whose main causes were the dismantling of the Communist state and the expulsion of Soviet troops from Hungary. Orbán, who was born in 1963, came from a rural background, which gave him a more practical approach to problems than many of his anti-Communist colleagues, who tended to be more urban and intellectual, and thus it was easier for him to become dominant in the party. (Indeed, when Chuck Norris visited Orbán last year, Orbán acted as Chuck’s driver, and told him that like him, he is a “street fighter.”)
Fidesz, of which Orbán is an original member, had been founded the year before the Soviet collapse, and Orbán, who was working as a sociologist in the Ministry of Agriculture, quickly made a name for himself as a charismatic speaker. Like most of the emerging leaders of the anti-Communist opposition at that time, he could be described as a liberal — liberal in the economic sense — believing that opening Hungary to free-market globalism and adopting Western-style democratic institutions would solve all problems. Perhaps needless to say, he’s since repudiated these views. Fidesz even got funding from George Soros’ organizations in its early years, which has given rise to conspiracy theories in some circles, although I’ve never understood why we politicians shouldn’t have the right to change their minds as they mature just like anyone else.
In 1993, Orbán became president of Fidesz, and began the move away from liberalism toward a center-Right position, which was what defined the party for more than 20 years thereafter. In 1998, he was elected prime minister at age 35, but lost that position in the next election, in 2002, to the MSZP, the liberal socialist party, when it formed a coalition with another liberal party. The socialists’ gross mismanagement of the country led to some very dramatic events that completely transformed the Hungarian political landscape in 2006.
The socialists bankrupted the Hungarian economy but lied openly about the figures in order to win reelection in 2006. Afterwards, the party held a secret meeting at which the then-prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, admitted that they had lied in order to win. Unfortunately for them, the meeting was being secretly recorded and was later broadcast on Hungarian mass media, which led to months of protests, rioting, and clashes with the police by the nationalists. It was in the street fighting that the formerly radical nationalist party Jobbik first came to prominence — I’ll have a few words to say about them later. Fidesz positioned themselves as the right-wing parliamentary opposition.
The socialists managed to hold on to power until the next election in 2010, but by then their reputation had been destroyed. In 2008, Hungary was forced to take out loans from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank to keep the economy afloat. In 2010, Orbán and Fidesz easily won the election, and even won a supermajority in Parliament, which meant they could create a new constitution without having to consult any of the other parties. Hungary hadn’t had a new Constitution since the end of Communism, so Fidesz quickly changed that, and it enshrined Christianity as the basis of Hungarian culture, thus establishing their conservative intentions. Orbán has frequently said that Christianity must be the basis of Europe as a whole if it is to survive. In statements, however, he has clarified that he doesn’t mean that Hungary should literally enact Christian laws or bring religious authority into politics, as some American conservatives are fond of calling for, but rather that Hungary should seek to preserve institutions that were founded on Christian values, which he sees as being an expression of the Hungarian and European consciousness.
Fidesz began defining Hungarian identity in terms of its pre-Communist traditions and customs. This was something sorely lacking in Hungary, as of course any talk of a traditional Hungarian identity was squelched during the Communist period, and no other party took up the issue during the first two decades after Communism ended.
In the same election, the nationalist party Jobbik, which had previously not even been in Parliament, emerged as the second-largest opposition party, and began to exert influence on the political atmosphere. And this is more or less the state of affairs that has persisted since then. The liberal Left has not been able to return to the political stage in any significant way.
Orbán immediately found himself in a predicament, however, with the country’s economy in a shambles when he took over. He at first requested a delay in repayment from the European Union — which was denied, and this was Orbán’s first indication that Brussels wasn’t going to be very friendly toward his government. The International Monetary Fund suggested an austerity program, similar to the one in Greece, which would have essentially turned Hungary into a ward of the international banks. Orbán rejected this and instituted a radical economic program that involved cutting taxes, raising the minimum wage, and most importantly, taxing multinational corporations in Hungary. In spite of the dire predictions of Orbán’s critics, this quickly got Hungary out of the red, and it managed to repay its debt to the IMF early, in 2013.
In 2011, Fidesz also passed a series of laws that gave the state greater authority over the mass media, which allowed their own messages to dominate in the public sphere. This is obviously something crucial for any political movement that seeks comprehensive change, but it’s also one of the main things the opposition and international liberalism cite when they call Orbán “anti-democratic.” When the EU has attacked Orbán over this, he has replied that these laws are not significantly different from those that exist in Western European countries — and in fact he’s right, although in Western Europe, such laws are generally used to suppress right-wing and nationalist discourse, which goes to show that it’s not the law, but how it is used, that is the crucial issue for liberals.
The fact is, the opposition still has plenty of opportunities to get its viewpoint out, given that it has many newspapers, magazines, websites, and even the most popular television network at their disposal, not to mention public demonstrations. The government’s viewpoint certainly dominates, and it has definitely taken steps to preserve and extend that dominance, but the image of stormtroopers raiding opposition media offices and shutting them down is simply false. When liberals claim that something is undemocratic, what they really mean is that a viewpoint other than their own is being communicated. Democracy, in their view, prevails only when theirs is the only permissible message.
During Orbán’s second term, Fidesz was really a center-Right party, with Jobbik occupying the radical spectrum of the parliamentary Right. The migrant crisis in 2015 changed everything. Hungary lies along the Balkan route the migrants use to get to Western Europe from Greece, through its border with Serbia. When the migrants started flowing through, Hungary at first did nothing, since the migrants wanted only to transit through Hungary to richer pickings in the West, and it was evident from the rhetoric coming from Brussels and Western European leaders that they wanted to take in the migrants.
But Orbán soon recognized that migration was still a threat to Hungary, considering that once they were in Europe’s Schengen Zone, where there are no border checks for travel between Schengen states, there would be no way to prevent the migrants from returning to Hungary later. Likewise, Orbán recognized that the fate of Europe today is a collective one; if Western Europe loses its European majority and identity as a result of mass immigration, that will be devastating for Europe as a whole. So he’s taken the lead in articulating this danger; few in Western Europe are willing to do so. And moreover, Orbán saw it as a political opportunity: As I mentioned before, by establishing himself as the center of the anti-migration Right in Europe today, he has managed to leverage Hungary into a much more influential position, politically speaking, than it would otherwise have. I should note that some Hungarian critics have countered that Orbán uses immigration to distract from domestic problems, and there might be some truth to this, but at the same time he recognizes that immigration and demography are the most crucial issues of our age.
So in September 2015, Hungary finished its fence on the Serbian border and passed a number of laws to make it work better, such as making it a crime to damage the fence. Angela Merkel agreed to take in the migrants that were already camped out in Budapest, and they were soon packed off. Having been an eyewitness, I can tell you that it was remarkable: the center of Budapest went from teeming with migrants to there being no migrants within a few days after the fence was completed. It goes to show that immigration is a problem that can be dealt with when there is the will to do so. Whenever people tell me that a wall on the Mexican border won’t solve America’s immigration problem, I just say, “It worked for Hungary!”
But the fight against the migrant invasion wasn’t over yet — and isn’t. The EU soon began demanding that all of its member states accept quotas of migrants, so that they could be more evenly distributed and not concentrated in the border states. Orbán refused, saying that when Hungary agreed to join the EU, there was nothing in the agreement the said Brussels would get the right to decide who could live in Hungary and who couldn’t. In October 2016, Orbán put the measure to a national referendum — the liberal parties boycotted it, but of those who participated, over 98% voted against the EU’s demand. And as I mentioned before, in their campaign for the 2018 national elections, opposition to immigration, and their struggles with Brussels and the Soros network, were more or less Fidesz’s only campaign platform. It was widely expected that they would win, but as the opposition was highly motivated, many anticipated that Fidesz would at least fail to attain a parliamentary supermajority again. The skeptics were wrong; Fidesz won with the supermajority, showing that most Hungarians agree with Orbán’s insistence that Hungary never become an immigration country.
Immigration isn’t the only area in which Fidesz has made its mark as a right-wing force. Last year, Fidesz enacted legislation that defunded gender studies programs in all Hungarian institutions, which it condemned as pseudo-science. Orbán himself has repeatedly condemned the “values of the 1968 generation” more generally. And in February, Orbán announced an ambitious new program to promote an increase in the Hungarian birthrate, including the life-long elimination of taxes for women who give birth to four or more children. Orbán, it seems, has the radical notion that the solution to the much-discussed labor shortages and problem of economic growth, which Western countries constantly say justifies mass immigration, is to have more Hungarian babies rather than to bring people in from the Third World.
At the same time, George Soros has become the antichrist in Fidesz propaganda. And Fidesz has been pressing the attack against his network, passing what was termed the “Stop Soros” bill last year, which had the aim of driving the Open Society Foundations from the country by, among other things, imposing huge fines for providing aid and services to illegal immigrants. Upon the passage of the bill, the OSF announced that it would move its operations to Berlin. Fidesz has also famously been in conflict with Central European University, an institution founded and funded by Soros, which was granting American degrees in Budapest and acting as a vehicle for Western liberal opposition to Orbán. I don’t have time to go into the details now, but suffice it to say Fidesz passed legislation that forced CEU to close most of its operations in Budapest and move them to Vienna.
Likewise, Orbán has been establishing himself as an integral part of the international Right. He maintains close ties with Vladimir Putin — to the EU and America’s chagrin — and has been cultivating close economic ties with China and Turkey, and with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, who came to his aid during his conflict with Soros in 2017. Within Europe, he is close to Matteo Salvini in Italy, whom he recently welcomed to Hungary, as well as to the ruling PiS party in Poland. Poland and Hungary, as they always historically have had against other enemies, have a mutual aid policy in their respective conflicts with Brussels, and stand for many of the same things.
It should be clear that Orbán is dedicated to preserving Hungary’s sovereignty and identity. He is frequently derided in the West for being a “radical” or worse, but that his rhetoric and actions be seen as in any way radical is only an indication of how far to the Left the West has gravitated over the past few decades. In my opinion, Fidesz is not at all radical. Its policies would all have been seen as sensible to most people only half a century ago. And indeed, I think the term “illiberal democracy” is a bit of a misnomer, as Frank Furedi has suggested in his book Populism and the European Culture Wars, which is primarily about Hungary. I can highly recommend it, by the way, and it’s been praised by Orbán himself.
The irony of Hungary’s supposed illiberalism is that it is actually Brussels, and the globalists more generally, who are being illiberal. Their liberalism is not that of John Stuart Mill. Rather, liberalism today is a set of dogmas that are militantly imposed, by force if necessary, on anyone who dissents from them. Orbán wants to set Hungary outside of these dogmas, and is skeptical of the Western approach to immigration; in a truly liberal viewpoint, his desire to present alternatives would be tolerated, but he is instead derided for being a dictator by his opponents for daring to propose a unique path forward for his people. Thus, his illiberalism should be seen as a rejection of attempts to make Hungary submit to the demands of globalization rather than as a rejection of the values of classical liberalism per se. The fact that this is being condemned by our international elites is a sign of how much trouble we’re in. As an aside I’ll mention that just this week, Facebook deplatformed Mediaworks, which is Fidesz’s biggest media distributor — probably not coincidentally, the week before the European elections.
Unfortunately, we must recognize that the United States as part of the opposition. The situation has gotten slightly better than it was under Obama, when John McCain lambasted Orbán for being a dictator and when the then-acting US Ambassador to Hungary, Andre Goodfriend, openly encouraged anti-Orbán protesters. But the situation still isn’t good. During the 2018 election campaign, the US State Department funded the opposition media in Hungary. And just on Monday, Orbán was invited to meet President Trump at the White House — the first such invitation Orbán has received since the Clinton administration.
Trump praised Orbán, but on the same day that they were meeting, State Department officials were meeting with leaders of the Hungarian opposition in Washington. And on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that sanctions are being readied that will target members of the Hungarian government if they don’t comply with American demands. So don’t believe, if any of you still do, that Trump has changed anything in Washington; the US still acts against nationalist movements around the world. I still think the meeting was a victory for Orbán, however. The goal of the meeting for the neocons in Trump’s administration was to try to convince him to stop getting so chummy with Russia and China. He won’t do this, but he does get the added legitimacy of having met with the American President. So Orbán got something while the US got nothing.
While I think Orbán has been very good for Hungary, I don’t want to give the impression that I think Fidesz is perfect. There are crises in the public health and education systems in Hungary. And the biggest problem is the brain drain westward — a problem that afflicts all former Communist states in Europe. It’s been estimated that upwards of a million Hungarians are currently living and working outside of Hungary, mostly in Western Europe, in pursuit of higher wages, and this of course includes many of their most skilled workers. So for Hungary to be truly viable into the future, Orbán needs to figure out a way to convince many of them to come back and to keep skilled young people from leaving. It’s a difficult problem, to be sure, but one that needs to be solved, certainly if Fidesz wants to retain its popularity.
I should also say a few words about Jobbik, since I talked about them the last time I was here, and was full of praise for them back then. I didn’t — and nobody could have — anticipated that they would become essentially the opposite of what they once were. I don’t have time to go into all the details here, but in brief, Jobbik had some successes in local elections in early 2015, when its popularity hit 30 percent, and it looked like it had a chance of unseating Fidesz in the next election.
But then the migrant crisis hit, and Orbán took the lead, putting Jobbik in the unenviable position of only nodding its head in agreement. Orbán won back the momentum, so Jobbik countered by reinventing itself as basically the “anyone but Orbán” party, presenting themselves to everyone who hates Orbán as the party with the best chance of defeating him. In essence, it swapped places with Fidesz, which then became the “radical” Right party. Since 2015, Jobbik has reversed themselves on almost every position it held prior to that time, trying to reestablish itself as a centrist party. In doing this, it tried to link up the Hungarian radical Right, their original base, with the liberal Left. It won the support of at least some of the liberals, it’s true, but most of its original base abandoned it.
As a result, Jobbik did fairly well in the election, becoming the largest opposition party, but it fell far short of challenging Fidesz’s dominance, let alone of winning. Nowadays, Jobbik openly participates in demonstrations with the liberal-Left parties, attacks Orbán and Fidesz for allegedly trying to bring Hungary out of the EU (a position it once advocated), and has announced its intention of forming a single list along with some of the liberal parties to compete in the upcoming local elections in Hungary in October. Thus, Jobbik can no longer be considered a Rightist party in any true sense. Jobbik’s popularity has plummeted in the last year, and if present trends continue, I think we can expect them to vanish as a significant political force after the 2022 election.
There is a new party that was born out of the ashes of the old Jobbik, however, and that is Mi Hazánk, or Our Homeland, which was founded by Laszlo Toroczkai, the Mayor of Ásotthalom, which is a town on Hungary’s border with Serbia. He was the one who first who called for the border fence there, and with a long history of nationalist activism, he commands a lot of respect on the Right in Hungary. The party hasn’t even been going for a full year yet, and it’s still polling in the low single digits, so it’s unclear what its future will be. So far it’s been trying to distinguish itself by talking about issues Fidesz doesn’t like to address, such as gypsy crime. It’s possible it could gain enough support to enter Parliament in 2022 or thereafter. Ideally, it could provide the Right-wing critique of Fidesz that Jobbik used to provide, and help to push Fidesz further to the Right.
So what does the future hold for Mr. Orbán? His future seems bright. The opposition in Hungary remains in total disarray, and it’s only by working with Jobbik that it can hope to make any headway at all. In December of last year, in response to what the opposition dubbed the “slavery law,” which were new employment regulations enacted by Fidesz, the liberal Left groups organized protests around the country with the intention of discrediting Orbán in the eyes of the Western media. They also tried to provoke a strong reaction from the authorities by having liberal members of Parliament try to break into the public television station building, and in some instances even by attacking the police, hoping to incite violence and thus lend credence to their claim that Orbán is a dictator. The authorities didn’t take the bait, however, and the opposition was undone by its own incompetence, with opposition leaders being filmed talking about how to present the most shocking images to the media. One leader ended up being videoed, as she fell down after she tried to run through a locked door at a television station. For now, at least, the Left will remain locked out of power.
A good indication of how successful Fidesz is will come with the European parliamentary elections, which happen in just a few days. [Fidesz did very well, winning 52 percent of the vote, up from 51 percent in 2014.] Right-wing populists are expected to do very well across Europe, Fidesz included, with immigration remaining a hot issue, and Orbán is very much at the center of those developments. Fidesz has aroused some controversy within the European People’s Party, which is the largest parliamentary group in Brussels. It is allegedly a conservative party, but it recently censured Fidesz for being “anti-democratic.” Indeed, Manfred Weber is running for president of the European Commission, and he said that he would rather lose than receive Fidesz’s support. Orbán responded by saying that Fidesz will not support Weber for the presidency. Given that a lot of right-wing populist parties look to Orbán for guidance, it’s possible that Orbán has made himself something of a kingmaker within the European Parliament, as Weber may very well need Fidesz’s support to become president. Hopefully, after the election, in tandem with the other populist parties, Fidesz can take some steps toward reversing Europe’s suicidal immigration policies.
There’s plenty more I could say, but I think I’ve covered the most important points. In conclusion, I’ll just say that Viktor Orbán should serve as a beacon of hope for defenders of Western civilization everywhere, as he’s made a lot of headway against the neoliberals despite coming from such a small and comparatively weak country. Nevertheless, his enemies are on the lookout to exploit any weakness in order to undermine him. Orbán said something recently that I think many of us in this room can relate to, and I quote: “Although we’re convinced that we’re right factually and morally, and that we represent Europe’s interests, perhaps no prime minister and country has ever had a reputation in Western Europe which was as bad as mine and Hungary’s today. Someone must come along with us, because we can hold out for a while, but we cannot hold out forever.”
Mr. Orbán’s dream is the same as ours: a Europe, and a West more generally, that retains its sovereignty and its identity. And we’re all fighting as best we can, but eventually, we need more powerful forces to come to our aid. The most important power, however, is the people, and across the West today we see that our peoples are starting to wake up to what’s happening. Let’s hope that in 50 years, all of our nations will be following Hungary’s example, and refuse to submit to any invader.