In May this year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) came to Budapest, attracted by the persona of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. “Have your own media,” he said pushed the participants to take action against “the madness of the progressive left”. This time it’s Orbán coming to a CPAC in Dallas, Texas. A loud greeting is guaranteed.
But do US conservatives know what they are getting into when they embrace Hungary’s strongman? Orban on July 23 delivered a speech in Băile Tușnad, Romania, where he reiterated the infamous “Great Replacement” theory, railed against the “flooding” of Europe with migrants of non-European descent, and warned against becoming “mixed-race peoples”.
The Usual Suspects Try “contextualize” and downplay Orbán’s words. Apparently, they argued that he was not talking about race – his concerns were purely cultural and therefore perfectly legitimate. But Zsuzsa Hegedüs, his longtime advisor and conservative scientist for social mobility and inclusion, did not have this impression. In her scathing resignation letter, she called the “worthy of Goebbels” speech that prompted Orbán to do so reply with his own letter in which he reaffirmed his “zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism and racism”.
While the public clash is notable by the standards of the closed and disciplined one-party system that Orbán has built, it is unlikely to have any major political implications. His Fidesz party is too entrenched and centralized around him for internal dissent or discussion. Not that CPAC participants would mind, but the episode illustrates the distance Orbán has come since the time a semi-plausible conservative case could be made for him as the leading voice of a new form of conservatism.
The fact that Orbán-led Hungary is the welfare queen of the European Union (EU) shouldn’t bother Dallas audiences either in more EU funds in terms of GDP than essentially any other Member State. Will they take care of Orbán transform Hungary into a “pillar” (to use his words) of China’s Belt and Road Initiative? What about his adamant rejection of EU efforts to hold China down? responsibleas in 2016 on the South China Sea, in 2017 on the torture of imprisoned Chinese lawyers and about the abuses in Hong Kong?
And what about Orbán’s policy towards Ukraine? In the same speech by Băile Tuşnad he said labeled sanctions against Russia failed and called for “a good peace proposal” rather than “winning the war”. For much of the conflict—actually by the end of July— Hungary did not even allow Western military aid to Ukraine to transit through its territory. At a time when other European countries are seriously reconsidering their dependence on Russian energy, the Hungarian government is scrambling to increase Russian natural gas supplies in the coming months by sending Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on a trip to Moscow.
The same foreign minister receive the Order of Friendship of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December 2021, at a time when preparations for the invasion of Ukraine were already underway. At that time it was also Russia and Belarus were orchestrated a refugee crisis on the borders with Lithuania and Poland, by flying in potential asylum seekers from the Middle East and then urging them (often under threat of violence) to enter the EU illegally.
Just a few weeks before Szijjártó accepted his award, Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs received had been hacked by the Russian secret services FSB and GRU, which were given full access to all of the ministry’s systems and databases – including how secure, SCIF-like Facilities in Hungarian embassies worldwide. There was no protest from the Hungarian side. Instead, the government sought to cover up and downplay the situation, which threatened not only Hungary’s national security, but also that of Hungary’s partners and allies in the EU and NATO — including the United States.
Much has been written about the intellectual path that the conservative movement in America is on. It’s hard to imagine anything that better illustrates its current state than the embrace of a sizable segment of self-proclaimed conservatives and influential Republicans of a regime increasingly steeped in paranoia and racism that couldn’t be shown to care less about America’s nationality. A movement increasingly defined not by tangible political principles but by hatred of the other side (no matter how corrupt or flawed) will eventually fail. Our only hope is that America and its standing in the world won’t suffer too much in the process.
Dalibor Rohac is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.