From The Imaginative Conservative
By Joseph Pearce
The rise of populist movements across Europe is seen most potently in the success of the Hungarian Civic Alliance, which, under the tenacious leadership of Viktor Orbán, has been the ruling party in Hungary since 2010. A recent speech by Mr. Orbán, given on September 21 in Rome, will be music to the ears of those hoping for the resurrection of Christian Europe.
One of the first things that one notes about Mr. Orbán is the absence of any arrogance or bombast, or any of the chauvinism that is all too common in the rhetoric of the proponents of a certain kind of nationalism. Take, for instance, the humble and self-deprecating way in which he, the Prime Minister of Hungary, began his speech, thanking his Italian hosts:
The interest you show is both flattering and touching. You are Italians and I am Hungarian. The population of Italy is six times that of Hungary, and its area is three and a half times that of our country. The size of your GDP belongs in another category. You have a huge army, and Hungary’s can’t be mentioned in the same breath as it. Italian is spoken around the world, while Hungarian is spoken only by us. In such circumstances your interest is truly an honour.
Mr. Orbán then explained that Hungary’s refusal to bow before its European masters, defending its national sovereignty, had raised the ire of powerful forces on both sides of the Atlantic. Hungary, he said, “was immediately attacked in Brussels, by the European Left, and also by the American Left through networks allied to George Soros.” This had made Hungary “a black sheep” but it had also made it an inspiration to many people around the world. To put Mr. Orbán’s words in the proverbial nutshell, Hungary has taken centre stage, in spite of its smallness, because of its heroic resistance to the European Union’s efforts to erode its national freedom.
Mr. Orbán then reminded his audience of his political track record as a champion of democracy in the face of communist tyranny. Between 1984 and 1990 he had organised anti-communist student resistant movements. Having given his credentials, he highlighted the hypocrisy of those who condemn him for being a tyrant: “Of course the fact that we took part in the anti-communist resistance and fought for democracy is disregarded by many people in Brussels when they try to lecture us on democracy: something which they received as a gift, but which we had to work hard for.”
Mr. Orbán has been a Member of Parliament in Hungary since the fall of communism and the first free election in 1990. Since then he has formed a government on four different occasions, the first of which was when he was only 35 years old. Since 2010, he and his party have won three consecutive elections, each with a two-thirds majority.
As always, Mr. Orbán was forthright in his opposition to the rising tide of Islamic immigration:
So the first issue which arouses interest is migration. As I see it, in 2015 an invasion set out for Europe. From the very beginning one could see that nine out of ten migrants were not refugees, but economic migrants. Whoever claims that this couldn’t be known is not telling the truth: it was possible to see this clearly, and every European leader knew it. In 2015 I saw that there were leaders in Europe who were going to ruin the European way of life, European culture, and through this the European economy. I always knew that the Left has an intellectual conception which uses migration in its service and in its interest. The Left’s intellectual conception is that Europe should move beyond the age of nations and Christianity, and that the continent should step into a post-national, post-Christian age. And in the conception of the Left, the mission of Brussels and the European Union is to assist this transition. In opposition to this, and confronting this conception, the Right speaks about an alliance of nations.
Mr. Orbán insisted that immigration was supported by the Left because “it serves its ideological goals.” Furthermore, the fact that the immigrants are Muslims means that they will “never support policies which are based on Christian foundations.”
In spite of these justifiable fears, the Hungarian Prime Minister does not advocate a policy of indifference to those who are struggling and suffering in what he calls “crisis regions in the world,” insisting that “the right approach is for us to take help over there, and not bring the problems here.” Practising what he preaches, he has helped forge a loose alliance of nations and regions seeking to offer aid to those in the “crisis regions.”
One of the most exciting aspects of Mr. Orbán’s political philosophy is his unabashed reference to its Christianity. Furthermore, what he calls Hungary’s “Christian democratic economic model” is proving very successful. In 2010 unemployment in Hungary stood at 12 per cent; in 2019 it’s only 3.5 per cent. State debt was 85 per cent of GDP in 2010; now it’s under 70 per cent and falling. The budget deficit was always above 3 per cent but now it’s between 1 and 2 per cent. Economic growth in Hungary is between 4 and 5 per cent, and wages are rising at a rate of 8 to 10 per cent. “Poverty is falling dramatically,” Mr. Orbán stated, “and the middle class is continuously expanding.” With this array of economic successes to his name, it is little surprise that Mr. Orbán and his government have the support of the Hungarian people, as shown in the past three election results.
Mr. Orbán explained that the model for his country’s success was the foundation of a new Christian constitution, which was adopted in 2011. “We used our two-thirds parliamentary majority to write a new Christian constitution with two-thirds majority support,” he explained. “And in order for everyone to understand its essence we adopted this constitution at Easter.” He then proceeded to read selected passages from the new constitution, commencing with the following declaration of Hungary’s Christian heritage and its place within Christian Europe: We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian state on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago. We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country. We are proud that our nation has over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles, and enriched Europe’s common values with its talent and diligence. We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.
Having pledged its adherence to its Christian roots, the Constitution also declares that the protection of the constitutional identity and Christian culture of Hungary shall be an obligation of every organ of the state.
And it continues, Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation. Family ties shall be based on marriage or the relationship between parents and children. Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.
“Such things are written into the Hungarian constitution,” Mr. Orbán said, “and . . . this constitution provides the foundation for our politics.”
Having enunciated the principles of the new Christian constitution as the very foundation of his government’s policies, he then spoke of the “three pillars which support our system.” The first is the family, “which must be defended and which clearly can only be the union of one man and one woman,” and which is seen and valued from the perspective of children. In accordance with this child-friendly and pro-life approach to marriage and the family, Mr. Orbán’s government has instituted a family support system, including tax allowances. Women who have had four children, regardless of whether the children are now adults, are exempt from income tax for the rest of their lives. As if this were not a radical enough measure, Mr. Orbán stated that he is now working to extend the tax exemption to women who have had three children. “We provide loans for people starting a family, and if children are born these loans do not have to be paid back.” School textbooks, crèches, kindergartens, and school meals are free. “Despite this,” Mr. Orbán says, “I cannot say that things are as they should be. I can’t say that. Despite this, things are not as they should be in Hungary, because it’s still the case that far fewer children are being born than are needed. And I dare not tell you that we shall definitely be successful in reversing this negative trend; but I can definitely say that if we don’t act with that aim in mind, it will never be reversed. And I’m not willing to support a policy which seeks to correct the shortfall in children being born by bringing in migrants. The best migrant is one’s own child.”
If the family is the first pillar of Mr. Orbán’s “Christian democratic political system,” the second pillar is the nation itself:
In our way of thinking the nation is sovereign, therefore it shall not be forced to subject itself to the laws of any form of global governance. It is the product of culture and history and is an irreplaceable treasure, and therefore it must be protected. And only we may say who can and who cannot settle on the territory of our state, together with our nation. Only we have the right to say that.
The third pillar of the Hungarian political conception of the state is what Mr. Orbán calls “Christian freedom”:
Christian freedom means that we have the right to defend our own Christian way of life; we have the right to defend everything that – derived from Christianity over the course of two thousand years, from the accumulated lives of successive generations – has created a Christian culture. We are free to defend it. This is the political meaning of Christian freedom.
At the conclusion of his inspiring speech, Mr. Orbán stated that although “we are in a minority among the European political elite, we are in the majority among peoples and citizens.” The opponents of Christian democratic principles were “large, wealthy, strong and well-organised,” forcing Christians to fight a battle which is unjustly difficult. “We are fighting for a good cause in unfairly difficult circumstances.” Telling his audience that the fight will remain difficult, he warned of the dangers of both complacency and self-pity.
As for Mr. Orbán’s final words, they are sufficiently inspiring to serve as the final words of this writer’s small act of homage in reporting them. Nothing else need be said because this courageous man’s final words say it all:
We must do what our forebears taught us, when they said: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry.” That’s what we must do. And it’s worth reminding ourselves . . . that Europe was made great and was given its mission in the world by the fact that we created a way of life in which the work that each one of us did – the labour of every working European – simultaneously served one’s own interest, the good of one’s country, and the glory of God. In Europe we must find the modern form of this. And if we succeed in this, Europe will be great again.
The featured image is a photograph of Viktor Orbán, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Taken from the EU2017EE Estonian Presidency Flickr account, this photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.