He was delivering what was essentially the keynote address for the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas – the preeminent organization of the American right-wing movement. The conference that Orban helped launch will end in part with a speech by former President Donald Trump. And the message sent by the Hungarian leader was one that combined Republican anger at “liberal hegemony” with his own tale of illiberal triumph.
In his remarks, Orban laid out the clearest platform yet for what some analysts have dubbed “far-right international”, a fictitious alliance between far-right and ultra-nationalist parties on both sides of the Atlantic. He has trumpeted his tough stances against immigration, his staunch Christian nationalism, his opposition to ‘gender ideology’ and his indifference to those who see his quasi-autocratic rule as a threat to democracy in the heart of Europe. .
Orban made no secret of his contempt for American Democrats and the so-called liberal media. “They hate me and slander me and my country like they hate and slander you,” Orban told CPAC of the Democrats. “We must join forces.”
“We need to take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels…we need to coordinate our troop movements because we face the same challenges,” Orban added, nodding to the upcoming US midterm and presidential elections and European parliamentary elections. in 2024. “These two places will define the two fronts in the battle for Western civilization. Today, we hold neither. Yet we need both.
Orban chose to ignore the outcry that followed an important speech he did last month. Just across the border in neighboring Romania, in a picturesque town with a large ethnic Hungarian population where Orban gives an annual speech, he warned, among other things, that Europeans must not “become mestizo peoples “.
From his perch in Transylvania, Orban summoned the spectral menace of racist ideologies that have long haunted Europe. A longtime Orban adviser, Zsuzsa Hegedus, tendered her resignation with a letter describing Orban’s speech as “a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels” and the “racist” culmination of an “increasing turn more illiberal”. (She then backed off, seeming echo the defenders of Orban that his words were misinterpreted. You can read an English translation of his speech here.)
Orban’s supporters say he was talking mainly about simply limiting migration and preserving European “civilization”. Even then, he used hopelessly bad historical analogies to make his case, portraying Hungary as a modern-day bulwark against Muslim encroachment, as it was to supposedly drive the Ottoman Empire back to the gates of Vienna in 1683. In truth, the Ottoman army had a myriad of Christians in its camp, including thousands of Hungarian peasants rounded up by the Hungarian Protestant noble Imre Thokoly.
Either way, Orban’s rhetoric is now a sign of an increasingly unbridled ideologue on the world stage. “It’s one thing for Orban to drop words like ‘replacement’ into his speeches – dog whistle to white supremacists and their ‘great replacement theory’, but seemingly harmless to others,” writes Andreas Kluth for Bloomberg Opinion. “It’s quite another to give speeches that sound like passages from the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws.”
Was it “an accidental slip?” Kluth reflects. “Or a sign of growing confidence, signaling a clearer line in the future?”
Florida shadows Hungary’s war on LGBTQ rights
Regardless of Hungary’s geopolitical weakness per se, Orban and his allies see themselves as the standard-bearers of an illiberal future. “We hope you can learn from us the political mindset to succeed as a conservative, as we also learned from you and Ronald Reagan,” said Miklos Szantho, director of the Center for Fundamental Rights, a Hungarian think tank. supposedly funded by Orban’s government, said at a CPAC rally in Budapest in May. “As he said so many years ago, ‘We win, they lose.’ This is what the Hungarian right did.
Big elections are approaching – from the United States to Italy, where a party whose origins are directly rooted in Italy’s fascist past could soon lead a new governing coalition, to Brazil, where the president of Far-right Jair Bolsonaro is already echoing Trump’s lies. facing the threat of a stolen election.
In February, Bolsonaro visited Orban in Hungary and celebrated the “affinities” they shared and “the values we represent, which can be summed up in four words: God, homeland, family and freedom”. This currency, noted the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Pauloechoed the slogans of the Italian fascists of the 1920s and 1930s, which were imported by their Brazilian counterparts and also voiced by the right-wing Portuguese dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.
None of these observations or criticisms seem to verify Orban and his ilk. On Thursday, he returned the favor, presenting Western “liberal progressives” as the successors to totalitarian communism. “We have seen what kind of future the globalist ruling class has offered,” he said. “But we have a different future to offer.”
What is this future? I explored this in a three-part series earlier this year on Orban’s political impact on American Republicans, many of whom admire his dismantling of the Hungarian media establishment, his war on LGBT rights and his aggressive attempts to increase his country’s birth rate. They are more muted about – although perhaps still supportive – his bending of the country’s judicial system and the erosion of European democratic standards.
“It is the desire to build an ‘illiberal international’: a world shaped by the kind of politics that eschews the rules-based international order, liberal democratic norms and transparency; institutions and norms that currently allow the European Commission to sanction Orban’s government and the West to sanction Putin’s Russia,” writes Andras Toth-CzifraHungarian expert at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“By attaching themselves to someone who presented himself as a post-liberal intellectual, I think American conservatives are starting to give themselves permission to reject liberal standards,” said Lauren Stokes, a historian at Northwestern University. . told the New Yorker for a long article on Orban’s American appeal published in June.
“When a Hungarian court does something that Orban doesn’t like – something that’s too pro-queer, too pro-immigrant – he can just say, ‘This court is an enemy of the people, I don’t have to. ‘Listen’.’ she added. “I think Republicans manage to adopt a similar logic: if the system gives me an outcome that I don’t like, I don’t have to comply with it.”
“To win, it’s not enough to know what you’re fighting for,” Orban told the CPAC crowd on Thursday. “You also have to know how you have to fight: my answer is to play by your own rules.” It’s a message Republicans seem to be hearing loud and clear.