Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here )
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, made international headlines in recent weeks with two speeches, the first in Tusványos, Transylvania and the second at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. These speeches are instructive in terms of three things: how Mr. Orbán wants to be seen in Hungary, how he wants to be seen internationally, and lastly in terms of the issues he didn’t address, which relates to how ordinary Hungarians see him. I also think that, since Mr. Orbán has become a hero to many on both the mainstream and Dissident Right, it is important to say a few words about the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of the situation in Hungary.
Orbán’s speech in Transylvania, the English translation of which was published here at Counter-Currents , was delivered at the annual Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp, where it is a longstanding tradition for the Prime Minister to give speeches each year assessing the past and laying out his grand vision for the future. He has often made some of his most controversial statements there, and he didn’t disappoint this time around, either. Also, since culture in Hungary still operates at a higher intellectual level than anything possible in the United States’ mainstream these days, Orbán can engage in much deeper and more interesting rhetoric than what we as Americans are accustomed to. I’ll summarize some of the more interesting points he made while contributing my own commentary.
After some well-earned crowing about the results of the recent Hungarian election , Orbán began by describing the sense in Europe that our civilization is in decline, making reference to Oswald Spengler and his Decline of the West. There certainly aren’t many European politicians who would dare to drop Spengler’s name today (if they had ever even heard it in the first place), given that, although he was no National Socialist, he certainly comes from that “problematic” period in German history — and even fewer who have even heard his name.
While conceding that Europe’s outlook is bleak, Orbán went on to explain that the process is an inevitable consequence of the fact that much of the non-European world has now caught up with the West by adopting its scientific and technological methods, which is leading to the creation of a multipolar world — something Vladimir Putin is fond of pointing out as well. Orbán also pointed out that the non-Western world hasn’t been as eager to adopt Western values as its technology, but explained that this is something Hungarians can sympathize with since Western Europe and the United States are attempting to impose their own liberal, woke values onto Eastern Europe, too. To drive his point home, Orbán related a story from the time of the Obama administration, when an unnamed American official presented the Hungarian Foreign Minister with a list of changes to the Hungarian Constitution that would have to be made for the restoration of friendly relations between the two countries. Orbán was again, consciously or not, drawing on the legacy of the “radical” Right, given that the idea that there is no such thing as “universal values” or a universal political system is one of the pillars of the European New Right.
Orbán further accused the United States of exploiting the current conflict in Ukraine to pressure Europe into buying gas from American sources. He then went on to criticize German policy, one of his favorite targets given that Germany, which dominates the European Union, has been the source of some of the strongest pressure for Hungary to adopt so-called “European values,” which just so happen to coincide with liberal values.
Orbán then criticized a recent German suggestion that EU states that have an excess of natural gas should be compelled to give it to those states which won’t have enough in the coming months, when sanctions against Russia are expected to have a devastating impact on Europe’s energy resources. He stated that he is uncertain how the Germans even expect to enforce such measures, and added that “as I understand it, the past shows us German know-how on that.” Some mainstream media outlets claimed that this was a Holocaust joke, Orbán allegedly alluding to the gas chambers. Within the context of what came before it, however, I think he was rather making a reference to German aggression in the World Wars and suggesting — probably not entirely seriously — that Germany might resort to force of arms to redistribute Europe’s gas resources. Orbán and his party have always been staunchly philo-Semitic, and have positive relationships with Israel and numerous Jewish groups, so I find it unlikely that he would ever use the Holocaust in a humorous context. Not that Orbán is above toying with ambiguity on this issue. In the past he has made statements which could be interpreted as veiled references to Jewish global power — something that is probably done deliberately, given that Orbán is well aware that most Hungarians are anti-Semitic to one degree or another. I don’t believe this to be an instance of that, however.
After a brief allusion to the need to increase both Europe and Hungary’s birthrate — something which is especially crucial for a nation of only ten million — Orbán made his second literary reference of the day, this time to Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints. Even more than Spengler, this is a name no other mainstream politician would dare to mention. Moreover, he didn’t just refer to it, he praised it, stating that he “recommend[s] it to anyone who wants to understand the spiritual developments underlying the West’s inability to defend itself.” Can we imagine a British politician today referring positively to Enoch Powell, or an American politician praising Jared Taylor?
Orbán went on to outline his concept of what he calls the “post-West”: the idea that Western Europe — and by implication the US as well, although he doesn’t name it — no longer represents Western civilization in any true sense, and that the authentic Western spirit “has moved to Central Europe.” Although this is a theory that has long been circulating in Dissident Right circles, it’s unusual to encounter it in the rhetoric of a sitting politician. While this is a bold claim to make, and not entirely untrue, anyone who has spent time in the nations of the former Eastern bloc in recent years can attest that the same degeneracy that is destroying the US and Western Europe is very active there as well, even if it’s not as far along in the process yet.
Orbán acknowledges this problem, however, in one of the most interesting parts of his speech. He references the fact that Hungary has taken the lead in defending Europe’s borders amidst the “migrant crisis” of recent years, despite the protests of many Western European politicians: “This is why Poitiers has been replayed; now the incursion’s origins are not in the East, but in the South, from where they are occupying and flooding the West.” To this he adds:
This might not yet be a very important task for us, but it will be for our children, who will need to defend themselves not only from the South, but also from the West. The time will come when we have to somehow accept Christians coming to us from there and integrate them into our lives. This has happened before, and those whom we do not want to let in will have to be stopped at our western borders — Schengen or no Schengen.
This is quite a bold statement, since Orbán is suggesting that the situation with migrants in the West may eventually grow so bad that Hungary will be forced to abrogate its participation in the European Union’s Schengen Zone, an agreement which allows visa-free travel between some Member States, in order to keep them from entering Hungary. He also floats the possibility of accepting “Christian” — by which he presumably means white conservative — refugees from the West, although he has floated this idea before.
But Orbán then follows this up with a very disappointing conclusion: “But this is not the task of the moment, and not a task for our lifetime.” He is essentially kicking the can down the road for future generations to have to deal with. But Orbán is in power now, and how long does Hungary have? As those who live in Budapest can attest, the number of non-whites, while still nowhere near what is common in Western European cities, has grown noticeably in recent years — and this is a result of legal migration. More and more halal butcher shops and restaurants are appearing all the time. Orbán is refusing to take up this fight, however, since he knows very well that restricting migrants based on race or religion would very quickly lead to Hungary’s expulsion from the bloc — something admittedly it can’t afford given its current economic realities. Here we see one of the lines that Orbán is not willing to cross, despite knowing the gravity of the situation. Although it must be admitted that most Hungarian voters would be unwilling to keep Orbán in office if he sacrificed Hungary’s economic well-being in the name of protecting Hungary from migrants.
It is at this point in the speech that Orbán made his most controversial statement, which is worth repeating in full and in context given that the mainstream media mostly only quoted one sentence of it:
The internationalist Left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim — their claim — that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: We are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favorable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race. This is why we fought at Nándorfehérvár [Belgrade], this is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna, and — if I am not mistaken — this is why, in still older times, the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers.
Orbán’s statement was not as overly simplistic as the media claimed, where they only quoted the line in which he said “we do not want to become peoples of mixed race.” Anyone who knows Hungarian history understands that Hungarians are indeed quite mixed. The ancient Magyars originally came to Europe from Central Asia in the ninth century, although over time they adapted to become good Europeans. Moreover, like all Central European peoples, the Hungarians of today are heavily mixed with blood from other peoples — but peoples from other parts of Europe, for the most part, and this was Orbán’s main point, and certainly not one unfamiliar to advocates of a non-chauvinistic approach to European or white identity.
Nevertheless, it was amusing seeing those American conservatives who have depicted Orbán as a civic nationalist hero in recent years desperately trying to explain why he didn’t mean what he actually said, over the days that followed. Yes, he did actually say “mixed race.” This means he was denying the civic nationalist claim that an African or Asian Christian can be just as Hungarian as those who were born there.
Some on the Dissident Right were disappointed in Orbán when he seemed to roll back his incendiary rhetoric during a state visit to Austria a few days after his speech. After being criticized by Austrian politicians, Orbán did indeed claim that “it happens sometimes that I speak in a way that can be misunderstood,” saying that “the position that I represent is a cultural, civilizational standpoint.” He also reiterated that Hungary opposes racism.
I note, however, that Orbán never actually retracted his “mixed race” statement; he only tried to clarify it. The way I interpret it, he is saying that an ethnic identity is comprised of cultural as well as racial elements. But he never said that race isn’t an inherent part of that identity. And as for racism, being in favor of preserving racial differences isn’t the same as advocating for the supremacy of one race over others — something which those on the Dissident Right should readily agree with.
Orbán then briefly discussed his government’s recent legislation against LGBTQ propaganda, saying that “in this corner of the world there will never be a majority in favor of the Western lunacy . . . that is being played out over there.” Again, he wasn’t pulling any punches.
Then he addressed the current conflict in Ukraine — an interesting topic for him, since Orbán’s government is the only one among the EU Member States that has walked a line of strict neutrality from the outset. Orbán offered a very sober analysis of the situation, refusing to apologize for his position even though, as he pointed out, it has put Hungary at loggerheads with Poland, which in recent years has been Orbán’s closest ally. Orbán rejected the claim of some that Russia poses a threat to any NATO country, which he dismissed as “understandable” Ukrainian propaganda, and placed the blame for the conflict squarely on the Western powers (he at one point specifies “the Anglo-Saxons”), whom he rightfully points out refused to negotiate on any of Russia’s security demands. Nor did NATO compel the Ukrainian government to abide by the Minsk Protocol of 2014, which Kiev agreed to but then refused to follow, despite the fact that this would have resolved the situation without all the death and destruction that has followed. Orbán blamed the failure of Minsk on the fact that it was signed with the participation of France and Germany rather than with the United States — countries which lacked the power that America has to compel the Ukrainians to follow it.
Orbán went on to say that the sanctions against Russia won’t work and that they are in fact doing more harm to Europe, and moreover that it is impossible for Ukraine to prevail against Russia due to the latter’s “asymmetric superiority.” He also offered the aside that the war never would have happened if Donald Trump and Angela Merkel were still in office — impossible to prove, but certainly likely, given Trump’s unpredictability. He also singled America out for framing the conflict in Ukraine as being one between good and evil:
Historically the Americans have had the ability to pick out what they identify as an evil empire and to call on the world to stand on the right side of history — a phrase which bothers us a little, as this is what the Communists always said. This ability that the Americans used to have of getting everyone on the right side of the world and of history, and then the world obeying them, is something which has now disappeared. Most of the world is demonstrably not on that side: not the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, South Africa, the Arab world, nor Africa. A large part of the world simply refuses to take part in this war, not because they believe that the West is on the wrong side, but because for them there is more to the world than this war, and they have their own problems that they are wrestling with and want to solve. It may well be that this war will be the one that demonstrably puts an end to that form of Western ascendancy which has been able to employ various means to create world unity against certain actors on a particular chosen issue. That era is coming to an end and, as they say in the bombastic language of politics, a multipolar world order is now knocking on our door.
Again, Orbán presents his country’s interests as being aligned with the emerging poles of a new, multipolar world dissenting from Anglo-Saxon hegemony rather than merely being pawns of the West.
Orbán continued by heaping yet more criticism upon the European Union and then addressing the economic problems that Hungary is currently facing. Like everywhere in Europe, gas and electricity prices have been rising sharply and the economy is in recession, but the problem has been even more severe in Hungary given that the forint has collapsed in value this year, reaching historic lows against both the euro and the US dollar. Orbán, like national leaders all over the West, blamed the problem on the conflict in Ukraine, but all of them are engaging in a collective act of obfuscation, since energy prices and inflation were already rising prior to Russia’s military operation, and the reason for this is simple: All of the massive debt that governments accrued during two years of COVID lockdowns are coming due. Russia merely gives them a convenient scapegoat in order to hide their own short-sightedness.
As for the forint, the reasons for its decline are complex and unclear. Although he didn’t address it in this speech, elsewhere the Hungarian government has blamed the devaluation on the European Union’s refusal to disburse funds that are owed to it over the vague “rule of law” violations that it has been accusing the country of for many years now, chiefly having to do with alleged lack of independence in the judiciary and the media, Hungary’s refusal to accept migrants, and its LGBTQ legislation. There is doubtless some truth in that, although it’s likely not the whole story, but that falls beyond the scope of this article.
Orbán also predicted that the chaotic times ahead will necessitate negotiating new agreements with all the “great powers” with which it is engaged, naming Russia, China, the European Union, and the United States, and noting in relation to the latter that doing so will be easier with the Republicans than the Democrats. Interestingly, he also claimed that he expects “a very serious crisis in the United States” and throughout the Western world around the year 2030, and that since Hungary, as well as the entire Central European region, is expected to emerge as a net contributor rather than a net debtor to the European Union by that time, he thinks the country will be in a strong position to redefine its relationship with the West, and that it must avoid a situation where it becomes merely an outpost on the periphery between warring Eastern and Western power blocs. Only time will tell if his optimism will be born out or if Hungary will be swept up in the chaos along with everyone else.
This latter part of his speech is in keeping with the Hungarian tradition of international relations. Hungary has always been a small and poor country stuck between several great powers; moreover, it has been under occupation almost continuously for the past 500 years: first by the Ottomans, then by Austria, briefly by Germany, then the Soviets, and today, arguably, it is occupied by the EU and NATO, even if it is an occupation that has been willingly accepted. (Certainly, Orbán in his rhetoric elsewhere has tried to cast the EU as the new occupier akin to the Soviet Union.) As a result, the Hungarians have learned that it is best to try to get along with all of the great powers of the day simultaneously. When that fails and they find themselves again under occupation, they find a way to pretend to go along with the new system while finding a way to preserve their identity in the nooks and crannies that they can carve out for themselves within its shadows. This is how Hungarians have managed to survive as Hungarians despite having been defeated in every major war they’ve been in for five centuries.
Orbán’s speech aroused disgust and indignation in liberal circles, as usual (in Europe “Orbán Derangement Syndrome” could be seen as being almost as much of a thing as “Trump Derangement Syndrome” in the US), and was praised by both the populist Right and the “radical” Right. Notably, Orbán’s speech was hailed by Vladimir Solovyov, a popular presenter on the Russia-1 television network, as well as by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, who has been one of Putin’s closest and most outspoken allies in the Ukraine conflict — he shared a clip from the speech on his Telegram channel.
While we can praise Orbán’s speech, the question arises as to why he gave it in the way that he did. He has been a major figure in Hungarian politics for more than 30 years; he was Prime Minister for 16 of those years, and has made himself a major figure of international Rightist politics since he turned sharply further to the right beginning in 2015. Thus, it is impossible that he was unaware of the furor that would follow some of his remarks, the race-mixing one in particular. So what was he up to?
I can only speculate, but certainly I think part of the reason was that it was a sort of self-promotion for his CPAC speech, which he gave less than two weeks later. Orbán enjoys being the darling of Western conservatives and is most certainly seeking to further cultivate that role; more on that later.
I also believe that the speech was notable for what Orbán didn’t talk about. Earlier in July, Fidesz passed legislation that made changes to Hungary’s laws governing itemized taxes for small businesses, known by the acronym KATA. I won’t go into the specifics here, but in short, these changes will force hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who are self-employed to pay taxes at a significantly higher rate than they currently are. The government claimed that this was being done because the current law was being abused, but many Hungarians weren’t having it, and a string of the largest protests seen in Hungary in many years were held in Budapest over the course of several weeks after the law was changed, in some cases shutting down traffic on major thoroughfares. These protests weren’t limited to the Left, either, as the “radical” Right-wing party Mi Hazánk  also participated.
Another issue that was firing up the protesters is the fact that during his recent election campaign, Orbán maintained that government-subsidized caps on natural gas and electricity charges which have been in place since he returned to power in 2010 would be kept. Indeed they are being kept, but not in the way that the voters imagined. After the election, it was announced that the government had calculated the average rate at which a Hungarian household consumes electricity and gas per month; up to that level, the caps will remain in place, but anything above that amount will be charged at a new, much higher rate. This could end up being quite significant for many consumers, since some forecasts have predicted that natural gas in particular could rise by as much as 400% in the coming months — and winter is coming. Many voters felt that Orbán had lied to them about these changes as part of his reelection scheme.
While these protests won’t in themselves lead to any significant challenge to Orbán’s authority — Fidesz’s lock on political power is secure — it is indicative of the fact that there is growing discontent with his administration which could become a problem down the road. Orbán came to power after the previous Leftist government discredited itself by bankrupting the country and then lying about it. Due to the pressures of the pandemic, the EU’s withholding of funds, and now the Ukraine conflict, Orbán has likewise resorted to going into massive debt to keep the Hungarian economy afloat, in particular before the last election in order to hide some of the country’s economic problems (large subsidies were issued to Hungary’s gasoline stations, for example), and is now in a situation not dissimilar to the one his erstwhile opponents were in 12 years ago. The question is if he will manage to find a solution before the next elections, or if the situation will blow up in his face like it did for the socialists in the 2000s.
I believe that most Westerners imagine that Hungarians support Orbán because of his stance on issues such as immigration and opposition to the LGBTQ ideology. While this is partially true, at least among his base, the fact is that there are many other issues of concern to the average Hungarian which have nothing to do with the Right’s ideological causes. Most Hungarians are more worried about the financial well-being of themselves and their families than they are about migrants or transsexuals. Many of them vote for Orbán simply because he’s regarded as being more professional, and thus better able to run the country, than the liberal opposition, which repeatedly shows how incompetent it is. Additionally, many younger Hungarians, conditioned by the Western and opposition media, and who are too young to remember what things were like before 2010 and thus blame Orbán for everything that’s wrong with the country, despise him – which is not to say that they don’t have some legitimate criticisms of his governance. Thus, the clock is ticking on how long Orbán’s current agenda will remain persuasive to enough voters to keep him, or his Fidesz successors, in power; the only question is how effectively Fidesz will adapt over time.
So while we can say that Orbán is a rare example of a Western national leader who can maintain an illiberal (to some extent) line in the twenty-first century, the fact remains that there are a host of other issues upon which his success depends that have nothing to do with ideology. There is an important lesson in this for the Dissident Right, I believe. If we are to develop a political vision that is compelling to large numbers of ordinary people, we must address all of their concerns and not only the more abstract, ideological ones that are of concern to us. Man does not live by ideology alone.
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