Posted on April 4, 2022

Viktor Viktorious

Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, April 4, 2022

The Fidesz faithful usually gather on Election Night at a Budapest convention center called Balna — The Whale. In the belly of the Whale early last evening, the mood was cheerful but tense. They all knew the pre-election polls showed Fidesz, the political party co-founded by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, out ahead of the opposition by a few percentage points, but nobody wanted to be over-confident. “Polls have misled us before,” one Fidesz leader told me.

Mostly, though, the reticence came because they all knew they weren’t supposed to be on the verge of a fourth Orban victory. When I left Budapest late last summer, my Fidesz friends were not hopeful. It wasn’t anything in particular, but mostly the fact that in a democracy, people over time grow weary of leadership by one party. Fidesz has been in power since 2010. The general feeling was that 2022 would be the opposition’s year. Last fall, the opposition parties closed ranks and, in a primary vote, selected Peter Marki-Zay, a Catholic mayor of a small city, to be the united opposition’s standard-bearer.

When I returned in early February, the Fidesz mood was very different. On the campaign trail, Marki-Zay — or “MZP” as they call him here, a country where last names are stated first — had proven to be a disaster. Last night at the Whale, I listened as Hungarians regaled foreigners with stories of MZP’s haplessness. There was the time he bragged about opposition unity, saying “we’ve got everybody from Communists to Fascists in our coalition” — something that was true, but not something to boast of. On another public occasion, a journalist called out a question to him, and he rushed over to the reporter and had a massive freakout on camera. He seemed to be trying to capture some of the Trump energy from making the media the enemy, but he just looked deranged.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine, upending everything. Viktor Orban is well known to have been the closest to Vladimir Putin of any European leader. Would this bring him down now that Putin had launched a war on neighboring Ukraine? The Western media seemed to think it would.

Orban’s handling of the political challenges of the Ukraine war is a master class in political strategy. According to polls, nearly all Hungarians side with Ukraine against Russia, but a strong majority of them do not want Hungary to get involved in the war. Over and over for the last two months, I had conversations with Hungarians who talk about how terrible the 20th century wars were for Hungary, and how they don’t want their country dragged into another conflagration that will get a lot of them killed, and the country’s infrastructure destroyed.

One man in the Rudas baths, an Ottoman-era thermal bath at the base of the Buda hills, told me and a visiting Englishman who had been talking about the beauty of the capital city, “You should know that this is something that only happened in the last ten or fifteen years. Before then, things were a mess, and we didn’t have the money to fix them up.” Buda had been badly damaged in some of the worst fighting of the Second World War, as the Red Army fought house to house to dislodge the besieged Germans. Forty years of Communism left the state too poor to repair much of the damage.


Aside from war, there is the matter of the Hungarian energy supply. The country gets 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The Hungarians prefer not to freeze in the dark next winter for the sake of Ukraine — a country with which they had sometimes-difficult relations before the war broke out, owing to what they regard as the Kyiv government’s mistreatment of the Hungarian ethnic minority in far-west Ukraine.

So, Orban withheld Hungary’s veto from European Union joint action against Russia, opened the borders to Ukrainian refugees, and sent humanitarian aid. He also criticized Russia’s invasion. But he would not allow NATO weapons to transit Hungary on their way to Ukraine, saying that he did not want to give Russia a casus belli for extending its war into Hungary. Though the Western media then, and this morning, are smearing Orban as “pro-Putin,” this was exactly the position that most Hungarian people supported. As usual, the liberal journalists mistake the opinions of their own class for the vox populi (a poll last month showed that the only demographic in Hungary favoring a more aggressive stance against Putin was — surprise! — educated professionals).

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, a darling of the West, has been calling out PM Orban for not doing enough to stand with Ukraine. It is understandable that Zelensky would want maximal commitment from the West, but he really overplayed his hand, earlier accusing Orban of the equivalent of complicity in the Holocaust. Zelensky kept up the smears even on election day yesterday:

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking early Sunday in his capital, Kyiv, described Mr. Orban as “virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin.”

Asked about Mr. Zelensky’s assessment after casting his vote in Budapest on Sunday morning, Mr. Orban said curtly: “Mr. Zelensky is not voting today. Thank you. Are there any other questions?”

A perfect answer! With that, the prime minister telegraphed that he will not be morally blackmailed by Zelensky, and that his responsibilities are first and foremost to represent the will and interests of the Hungarian people. As I said, today the Western media are reporting on the victory of “pro-Putin Viktor Orban,” which is the same kind of biased b.s. that has kept Western journalists from understanding what’s really happening here in Hungary. Orban was not voted back in yesterday because he is pro-Putin; he was returned to office because he is pro-Hungarian.

It is not often that the head of a right-wing party gets to run for re-election as a peace candidate, but that’s what Orban did, and it paid off. {snip}

And then there was the LGBT media law referendum. Last summer, the Fidesz-controlled Parliament passed a law prohibiting certain expressions of pro-LGBT information aimed at minors. It caused a huge uproar among European leaders, who called it rank bigotry. Orban decided to put the questions to voters in a referendum yesterday. Hungarians were asked to approve or disapprove of the following questions:

  1. Do you support the promotion of gender reassignment treatments for minor children?”
  2. Do you support the display of media content showing gender reassignment to minors?
  3. Do you support the unrestricted depiction of sexual-themed media content to minors that affect their development?
  4. Do you support holding sessions on sexual orientation for minor children in public education institutions without parental consent?

It was a smart political move, because it meant that those who agree with the government would be more likely to turn out to vote. The opposition, knowing that they would lose the referendum, called on its voters to spoil their ballots, knowing that the referendum would be non-binding if fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

In one sense, the opposition strategy paid off. Though 90 percent of those who voted in the referendum sided with the government, just under half voted for the referendum, making its result invalid. Practically speaking, it doesn’t matter, because the law remains in effect. Now, though, European leaders know that the government’s policy has strong popular support. And, for an opposition that loves to claim that Orban undermines democracy, urging people to void a national referendum via spoiled ballots was not a good look.

Well, as you will have heard by now, Fidesz won a massive victory, by even greater margins than predicted. Marki-Zay, who lost his own voting constituency to a Fidesz candidate, whined that it’s impossible to beat Orban, on the grounds that the prime minister gamed the election. This is the Left’s version of the Democrats blaming “Russian collusion” and other trickery for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump. I expect this will be the line that American commentators take in the days to come — anything to avoid the fact that the Hungarian opposition ran a lousy campaign, and that Viktor Orban’s policies, however unpopular they might be in the Brussels, Washington, and among the media, really do represent the views of most Hungarians. {snip}


What does this mean for American conservatism? You have to be careful not to overdraw the lessons. Hungary is a small, ethnically homogeneous country, with a particular history that sets the boundaries on politics here. {snip}

Nevertheless, there are some lessons to be drawn. The first one is already underway in the US. Orban does not shy away from fighting the culture war. In Hungary, gay couples have the legal right to form civil partnerships, and there is broad tolerance of gays and lesbians. But most people here reject transgenderism, and they especially reject the gender ideology propaganda liberal elites and their supporters in schools and media direct towards children. In my six months here in Budapest over the past year, whenever I talk to Hungarians about what has become routine in the United States regarding media, educational, and woke-capitalist indoctrination aimed at kids regarding transgenderism, they visibly struggle to believe that what I’m saying is true. But of course it is true. As we know from Christopher Rufo’s publication of videos from an internal Walt Disney Company session, Disney has been inserting pro-LGBT messaging into its children’s programming for years, and plans to double down on it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s new law forbidding propagandizing children aged nine and under in schools with this stuff is a pale shadow of Hungary’s law, but it’s similar — and it is very popular nationally, even among Biden voters. {snip}

Orban has shown now that going against elites in the media, corporations, and foreign governments to protect children is a big winner. It is time for Republicans to be more faithful to the people they claim to represent than to the donor class on this issue.

Plus, Orban shows that national-populism is not dead. The liberal internationalist class has been hoping that Putin’s quagmire in Ukraine, and the apparent resurgence in Western alliance and resolve, would once and for all put an end to Trumpist populism. Hungarian voters showed them otherwise. {snip}

I have been saying for the past year that US conservatives should come to Hungary to learn from Orban and Fidesz. Orban is not a small-government Anglo-Saxon conservative. He believes in using the power of the state to strengthen families, the basis of any health society. But the most important thing US conservatives can learn is how to use political power to fight the culture war — and not in the most obvious ways, such as with the referendum. Orban is a country boy who knows very well how the Left dominates culture here in Hungary, especially cultural institutions. And he understands, in ways that elude American conservative politicians, how the soft power wielded by the Left in those institutions changes society in progressive ways. This is why for all the political victories the GOP has racked up over the past few decades, the broader society and culture has continued its accelerating drift leftward.


The call now among some Republican commentators for the state to take action against Disney, to revoke its special privileges on copyright to retaliate for its indoctrination of American children, is a pure Orban move. We need to see more of it. Republicans have been so prostrate before Big Business that they have sat there like idiots while Woke Capitalism organizes to turn conservative values of faith and the traditional family into pariahs among the young. Either we on the Right will learn from Viktor Orban how to use politics to fight this, or we will be defeated.