The European Union has launched infringement proceedings against Hungary for the non-respect of fundamental rights by Viktor Orbán’s government. Each year, Orbán, figurehead of Europe’s ultra-conservative right, sketches out his politics at a summer school in Băile Tuşnad, Romania. Analysing his speech helps us to better understand – without condoning – his vision of the world, of Europe and of democracy.
Far from officialdom, at the annual “Hungarian nation” gathering at the summer school in Bálványos (Băile Tuşnad, in Transylvania), Viktor Orbán delivers a speech in which he sets out his view of the situation facing his country, Hungarians in general and Europe. Below, we’ve selected the passages from the official translation which best illustrate the thinking and vision for Europe put forward by this figurehead of “illiberal democracy”.
With next May’s European elections approaching, and the Hungarian Prime Minister seemingly intent on presenting himself as the leader of Europe’s populist and nationalist right, as opposed to the technocratic and pro-European centre embodied by French president Emmanuel Macron, we believe – without wanting to justify it in the slightest – that this text is of major interest to those wanting to understand what Viktor Orbán wants for his country and for Europe.
Among other topics, Orbán speaks in favour of the illiberalism he had earlier theorised at Bálványos in 2014; he announces the European ambitions of Budapest, and the manner in which he intends to make his mark on the European elections next spring. He reiterates his ambitions for the long-term (2030 to be precise) and his intention to fully exploit the divisions between the European Commission and the Visegrád group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia).
After discussing the “Carpathian Basin”, the cross-border region thought to regroup all the Hungarians of central Europe, Orbán describes his main objectives, with 2030 as the horizon, for the “Hungarian nation”:
When we have completed the building up of the Carpathian Basin – or perhaps in parallel with it – we will also be faced with the task of building up Central Europe, which is wider and more extensive than the Carpathian Basin. We now have the opportunity to, in the coming years, build up Europe’s large, strong and secure political and economic region: Central Europe. Let us declare that, in addition to its economic growth and all its specificities, Central Europe is a region which also has a special culture. It is different from Western Europe. Let us build it up, and gain recognition for it. In order that Central Europe can occupy the place in Europe that it deserves, it is worth clarifying a few tenets. I have formulated five tenets for the project of building up Central Europe.
The first is that every European country has the right to defend its Christian culture, and the right to reject the ideology of multiculturalism. Our second tenet is that every country has the right to defend the traditional family model, and is entitled to assert that every child has the right to a mother and a father. The third Central European tenet is that every Central European country has the right to defend the nationally strategic economic sectors and markets which are of crucial importance to it. The fourth tenet is that every country has the right to defend its borders, and it has the right to reject immigration. And the fifth tenet is that every European country has the right to insist on the principle of one nation, one vote on the most important issues, and that this right must not be denied in the European Union. In other words, we Central Europeans claim that there is life beyond globalism, which is not the only path. Central Europe’s path is the path of an alliance of free nations. This is the task, the mission extending beyond the Carpathian Basin which lies ahead of us.
Now comes perhaps the most interesting passage of Viktor Orbán’s speech: that on Europe. It’s here that he expresses most clearly his interpretation of the role of the EU and the “elites” who govern it, starting with the Commission and the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, his nemesis. He also addresses topics close to his heart – the purported threats to “Christian Europe”, the supposed hostility of the European Commission towards Hungary, the limits of liberal democracy and the threat posed by immigration. Orbán intends to place the latter subject at the centre of the 2019 European elections. He also warns that this is the “roughest” stretch in his speech, “so please fasten your seatbelts”:
If we take a look at Europe, we can see that it was once a great civilisation. Europe was once a power centre that shaped the world. This was so because it dared to think, it dared to act, it was brave, and it embarked upon great endeavours. If we look at one civilisation or another from a spiritual perspective – and there is a branch of literature devoted to this – we can conclude that civilisations are comprised of four things. Civilisations are entities of a spiritual nature. They are formed from the spirit of religion, the spirit of creative arts, the spirit of research and the spirit of business enterprise. These are the spirits that can form a civilisation. If now we look at our Europe, in terms of the spirit of religion we see that it has rejected its Christian foundations. In terms of the spirit of creative arts we see that there is censorship, and political correctness is forced upon us. In terms of the spirit of research, we can say that the US has overtaken our Europe, and soon China will also have done so. And as regards the spirit of business in Europe, we can say that instead of the spirit of business, today Brussels and economic regulations are ruled by the spirit of bureaucracy. These processes, Ladies and Gentlemen, started long ago, but they only became sharply defined against the background of the 2008 crisis.
The gravity of the situation – the gravity of the situation of European civilisation – has been revealed by the migrant crisis. Let me take a complex thought and simplify it: we must face up to the fact that Europe’s leaders are inadequate, and that they’ve been unable to defend Europe against immigration. The European elite has failed, and the European Commission is the symbol of that failure. This is the bad news. The good news is that the European Commission’s days are numbered. And I have counted them: it has some three hundred days left before its mandate expires. The Commission is an important body in the European Union, and its decisions have serious consequences for the Member States – including Hungary. The fact is that, according to the founding treaties, the Commission is the guardian of the treaties: the treaties establishing the European Union. It must therefore be impartial and unbiased, and it must guarantee the four freedoms. Instead of this, today the European Commission is partisan, because it sides with the liberals. It is biased, because it is working against Central Europe. And is not a friend of freedom, because, instead of freedoms, it is working towards building a European socialism. We should be happy that its days are numbered. Now we should ask ourselves why the European elite – which today is exclusively a liberal elite – has failed.
The answer to this question – or at least this is where I look for the answer – is that first of all it has rejected its roots, and instead of a Europe resting on Christian foundations, it is building a Europe of “the open society”. In Christian Europe there was honour in work, man had dignity, men and women were equal, the family was the basis of the nation, the nation was the basis of Europe, and states guaranteed security. In today’s open-society Europe there are no borders; European people can be readily replaced with immigrants; the family has been transformed into an optional, fluid form of cohabitation; the nation, national identity and national pride are seen as negative and obsolete notions; and the state no longer guarantees security in Europe. In fact, in liberal Europe being European means nothing at all: it has no direction, and it is simply form devoid of content. Furthermore, Ladies and Gentlemen, liberal democracy has undergone a transformation. I will now respond to the provocative demand from László Tőkés for me to say something about illiberalism: furthermore, liberal democracy has been transformed into liberal non-democracy. The situation in the West is that there is liberalism, but there is no democracy.
The argument we can provide to support our assertion that there is an absence of democracy is that in Western Europe censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech have become general phenomena. Working together, political leaders and technology giants filter news items that are uncomfortable for the liberal elite. If you don’t believe this, just visit these websites, visit social media sites, and you’ll see the ingenious and cunning means by which they restrict access to negative news reports on migrants, immigrants and related topics, and how they prevent European citizens from facing reality. The liberal concept of freedom of opinion has gone so far that liberals see diversity of opinion as important up until the point that they realise, to their shock, that there are opinions which are different from theirs. Liberals’ vision of press freedom reminds us of the old Soviet joke: “However I try to assemble parts from the bicycle factory, I end up with a machine gun.” However I try to assemble the parts of this liberal press freedom, the result is censorship and political correctness.
The 2019 European Parliament elections
This is the diagnosis I can offer you. Let’s look at what we can hope for now, what we have to do, and what we can do. I suggest to all of us, Dear Friends, that we concentrate all our efforts on the 2019 European Parliament elections. No doubt many of you here remember that the European elections held every five years are generally dismissed with a wave of the hand. We don’t really appreciate that they have any decisive significance. Here I should also mention that European elites regularly complain that it is a shame that every European Parliament election is in reality focused on individual nations’ affairs, and that there isn’t a single Europe-wide issue which European citizens can decide on together. I can say that this is no longer true: there is indeed a Europe-wide issue on which there has been no consultation anywhere – with the exception of Hungary. We had a referendum on immigration.
The time has indeed come for the European elections to be about a great, important, common European issue: the issue of immigration, and the future related to it. Therefore I suggest that in the coming year we concentrate all our strength on these important and decisive elections. If Europe decides on immigration, it will naturally also decide on whether or not what we call “the European elite” has handled immigration well. The European elite is visibly nervous. It is nervous because a result in the upcoming European elections which is to our liking could derail the plan for the comprehensive transformation of Europe: the Soros Plan. In the European Parliament election, the great goal of transforming Europe and moving it towards a post-Christian and post-national era could be blocked, Ladies and Gentlemen. And it is in our fundamental interest to block it.”
Viktor Orbán concludes with his vision of Christian democracy, one of the pillars of European political currents since the 20th century. This movement is presented as an “illiberal” alternative to liberal democracy, the real enemy of European civilisation, according to Orbán:
Our opponents are very close to succeeding – we don’t even sense how close they are. And neither do we appreciate the significance of this fact. Without lengthy explanation, I’d merely like to provide you with a brief overview. If you think back over the past one hundred years or so of European democracy, you can detect a pattern in which matters in Europe have effectively been decided by competition between two camps: on one side, communities based on the continuing foundations of Christian tradition – let us call them Christian democratic parties; and, on the other side, the organisations of communities which question and reject tradition – let us call them left-wing liberal parties. Europe moved forward with these two forces competing with each other; sometimes one was dominant, while sometimes the other was.
This competition even had beneficial effects: it released energy and intellectual power. In fact this competition guaranteed Europe’s development, being both political and spiritual in nature. Up until now this has been Europe, this has been European politics, and this is how the allocation of power in Europe has been decided. But, Dear Friends, a situation can arise in one country or another whereby ten per cent or more of the total population is Muslim. We can be sure that they will never vote for a Christian party. And when we add to this Muslim population those of European origin who are abandoning their Christian traditions, then it will no longer be possible to win elections on the basis of Christian foundations. Those groups preserving Christian traditions will be forced out of politics, and decisions about the future of Europe will be made without them. This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the situation, this is the goal, and this is how close we are to seeing it happen.
The upcoming elections are therefore of the utmost importance. In these elections we must demonstrate that there is an alternative to liberal democracy: it is called Christian democracy. And we must show that the liberal elite can be replaced with a Christian democratic elite. Of course in Central Europe there are many misconceptions related to Christianity and politics, and so here I must make an incidental observation. Christian democracy is not about defending religious articles of faith – in this case Christian religious articles of faith. Neither states nor governments have competence on questions of damnation or salvation. Christian democratic politics means that the ways of life springing from Christian culture must be protected. Our duty is not to defend the articles of faith, but the forms of being that have grown from them. These include human dignity, the family and the nation – because Christianity does not seek to attain universality through the abolition of nations, but through the preservation of nations. Other forms which must be protected and strengthened include our faith communities. This – and not the protection of religious articles of faith – is the duty of Christian democracy.
Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal. Liberal democracy is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues – say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favour of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.
If the elite of ’68 leaves the field, there is only one question to be answered: who will arrive to replace them? And the modest answer we must give to this is that we are on our way. Calmly, and with restraint and composure, we must say that the generation of the ’90s is arriving to replace the generation of ’68. In European politics it is the turn of the anti-communist generation, which has Christian convictions and commitment to the nation. Thirty years ago we thought that Europe was our future. Today we believe that we are Europe’s future. Go for it!
Factual or translation error? Tell us.