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Stephen Daisley

Viktor Orbán won’t save conservatism

The Hungarian PM is sinister, not shrewd

Viktor Orbán won't save conservatism
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It’s always the ones you most expect. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, nationalist strongman and post-liberal poster-boy gave a speech over the weekend on the evils of race-mixing. He was speaking on Saturday to attendees at Tusványos summer university in Băile Tușnad, Transylvania, previously an annual forum for Hungarian-Romanian dialogue but now an intellectual pep rally for the ultranationalist Fidesz party. According to the Budapest Times, he told his co-ideologues the West was ‘split in two’ between European nations and those in which Europeans and non-Europeans lived together. He declared: ‘Those countries are no longer nations.’ This is also how the Daily News Hungary and Hungary Today characterised Orbán’s remarks.

Orbán contended that, while western Europe was busy trying to impose its liberal values on Hungary, ‘in a spiritual sense, the West has moved to central Europe’. He claimed the West, Brussels and Hungarian-born financier George Soros had ‘troops’ who are trying to ‘force migrants on us’. These were ‘post-western people’ and ‘all we ask,’ Orbán said, ‘is that they do not try to force onto us the fate which we see as a nation’s doom’.

Orbán went on to challenge a ‘claim by the internationalist left’ that Europe had a history of being home to mixed-raced peoples. He insisted there was no comparison between Europe’s ‘mixed-race world’ of incomers from outside the continent and mixing between Europeans. He argued:

We in the Carpathian Basin, for example, aren’t mixed-race people, but simply a mix of the peoples living in their European homeland. Hungarians don’t want to become mixed-race people.

Orbán told the gathering of nationalists that demography was still one of Hungary’s biggest problems, with deaths continuing to exceed births every year. ‘Our situation has improved but there is still no turnaround, and without a turnaround Hungary and the Carpathian Basin will sooner or later be “repopulated” away from us,’ he said. The prime minister also envisioned a future in which Hungarians would have to halt Muslim immigration not just from the south but from the west and raised the possibility of Hungary granting asylum to Christians escaping decadence.

This is hardly the first time Orbán has invoked grisly language. In a speech last September, he blamed a ‘Muslim flood’ for the West’s inability to face up to its historical mission, while remarks later that month saw him opine: ‘Hungarians can only survive as Christians’. The following month, he accused George Soros and the parliamentary opposition of trying to ‘take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels’.  In a 2017 speech, Orbán asserted that ‘preserving ethnic homogeneity’ was essential for economic growth because ‘life has proven that too much mixing causes trouble’. The year before, he branded migration ‘a poison’ and pronounced that ‘every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk’. 

Orbán has long targeted the left-leaning philanthropist Soros for his funding of pro-globalisation and pro-democracy NGOs in Hungary. He has alleged that a ‘Soros network’ enjoys ‘an extensive sphere of influence within the European parliament and other EU bodies’ and is using it ‘to build a Europe of mixed population’. A government poster campaign depicted Soros as a puppet-master pulling the strings of opposition politicians. Orbán’s government even orchestrated a national consultation on a conspiracy between Soros and the EU to introduce one million additional refugees to Europe every year.

His talk of race-mixing is not a sudden escalation in Orbán’s ethnic nationalism, it is merely more pungent rhetoric than we are used to hearing. The pretences have been dropped but they were always pretences. The question is whether this latest expression of blood-and-soil nationalism will inspire any introspection on the part of those American and European right-wingers who have peddled the myth of Orbán the civic populist, besmirched by Brussels and the liberal media for believing in borders and national sovereignty. While Brussels nor the progressive media are all that keen on those concepts, it’s also true that there are perfectly respectable, legitimate arguments for tightly controlling migration and jealously guarding a nation’s sovereignty. Orbán belongs to no such respectable tradition, or at least not anymore. He is a nativist demagogue.

Again, he has not become one overnight. Those conservatives who have done spin for him in their columns and in their TV appearances were well aware who they were dealing with. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were only commentators gushing over the man, but not so long ago the British government was buddying up to him. In 2018 almost all Tory MEPs voted against initiating Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, which could have led to the member-state being sanctioned for its growing authoritarianism. This was under St Theresa of the Political Norms, who now basks in progressive approval for scolding her successor’s disregard for process. As I argued at the time, it was another indicator of the creeping annexation of conservatism by national populism. Now their new mate is showing his true colours, will western conservatives at last realise the damage they have done to their philosophy by embracing him?