BUDAPEST – No European head of government talks remotely like Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. For example, he recently spoke of building in Hungary a "constitutional order based on national and Christian foundations," thereby avoiding a future in which "the whole of Europe has ... submitted to Islam."
That, in brief, is the disruption caused by Orbán, 55, and his Fidesz party. He outlines explicitly conservative (or in his terminology, "illiberal") goals that defend "the ways of life springing from Christian culture" and reject Muslim influence. By doing so, Orbán has undermined a continent-wide consensus and encouraged voters in Poland, Austria, Italy, and Germany to resist further uncontrolled migration.
Fidesz reaches deep into Hungarian society.
Of course, Western media respond to this presumption with relentless criticism. Some is deserved, such as the government's take-over of nearly all media, its pressure on hostile NGOs, its encroachments on judicial independence, its corruption, and its pro-Putin policies. One interlocutor during my recent visit to Hungary alarmingly compared Fidesz' deep reach into society with that of the Communist party during the Soviet era (1944-89).
But other criticisms against the government are exaggerated or unfair. Yes, local Jews complain of increased hostility, but antisemitic incidents have declined and Hungary is the safest place in Europein public for observant Jews. Orbán sensibly argues that allowing in large numbers of antisemitic Muslim migrants is the real threat to Jews. His intense attacks on George Soros, an anti-Zionist and questionable Jew, are no more antisemitic than those of, say, David Horowitz or Black Cube. Hungary has Europe's best relations with Israel.
In a striking reversal from the usual Western pattern, Jewish institutions in Budapest operate in the open while Amnesty International is "hidden behind an overbearing, protective metal door."
Plenty of Muslim women frequent the Danube River in Budapest.
Nor is the government anti-Muslim. Yes, Orbán has blasted illegal migrants as "not refugees but a Muslim invasion force" and opined that "large numbers of Muslims inevitably create parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim communities will never unite." Muslims who follow the rules, however, are welcome.
Muslim tourists visit Hungary in substantial numbers, as a stroll along the Danube River in Budapest quickly makes evident. Longer visas are also available. For four years, 2013-17, the Fidesz government offered "Settlement Bonds"for sale for about €350,000 ($400,000), in return for which anyone, including many Muslims, received Hungarian passports. A scholarship program called Stipendium Hungaricum has welcomed some 20,000 students, especially Muslims from Turkey, Lebanon, the Emirates, and Indonesia.
Muslim immigrants have visible roles in varied economic activities: medicine, engineering, real estate, money changing, restaurants, and bakeries. A Turkish artist, Can Togay, conceived Budapest's haunting Holocaust memorial, "Shoes on the Danube Bank."
The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial.
In an October 2016 referendum, 98.4 percent of Hungarians voted against accepting migrants allotted to their country by the European Union. Admittedly, a government campaign for a no-vote along with an opposition boycott artificially inflated this number; but it does point to a majority rejecting unvetted migrants. As one prominent Orbán ally told me, "We like Muslims, but over there, not here."
In discussions in Budapest focused on why Hungarians (and their neighbors) respond so negatively to uncontrolled migration, multiple factors came up:
- Negative memories of Ottoman aggression and the occupation of Hungarian territories lasting over 150 years.
- Insecurity about sovereignty, having regained it from the Soviet Union only 29 years ago.
- "Ideology from Brussels is as little attractive as it was from Moscow," Dávid Szabó of the Századvég Foundation told me, explaining why Hungarians turned toward a traditional, Christian-oriented culture.
- Awareness of problems associated with Muslim migration to western Europe, including polygamy, honor killings, rape gangs, partial no-go zones, Sharia courts, and parallel societies.
- Lack of a western European confidence, inspired by American attitudes, that any migrant can be assimilated.
- Preference for population decline (due to low birth rates and high emigration) over bringing in people from an alien civilization; as one Hungarian told me, "Better empty villages than Somali villages."
- Optimism that Hungary's population, which is declining by about 30,000 persons a year, can be boosted without Muslim migration through pro-natalist policies, granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary, and attracting European Union immigrants.
"Although Orbán governs a small country, the movement he represents is of global importance," notes the Bulgarian analyst Ivan Krastev. A survey of countries may rank its power just #73 out of 80 but Hungary is gaining an unprecedented centrality in Europe, with Orbán becoming the continent's most important leader.
August 14, 2018 addenda:
(1) I refer in the article to "negative memories of Ottoman threats and an occupation of Hungarian territories," but there is also a more positive side, as symbolized by the extraordinary career of the Hungarian convert to Islam, Ibrahim Müteferrika (1674–1745) and the three national heroes who took refuge in the Ottoman Empire: Imre Thököly (1657-1705), Ferenc Rákóczi (1676-1735), and Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894).
Some of the Middle Eastern-style businesses in downtown Pest.
(2) Orbán sees Muslims as a political threat to his vision of a traditional Christian culture. As he explains:
a situation can arise in one country or another whereby 10 percent 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.
(3) By "Christian foundations," Orbán means a "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."
(4) John O'Sullivan (who lives in Budapest) calls Hungary's government national conservative and sees it
groping its way towards a new political spectrum — one in which a broad-based national conservative party, Fidesz, dominates the center ground of politics with a middle-class progressive party to its left and a working-class populist party to its right. It's possible to see similar (though not exactly the same) patterns emerging in other recent European elections — notably, the Italian, Polish, Czech, Spanish, and German elections, where populisms emerged at very different points along the conventional left-right spectrum.
(5) Details on the three reasons I gave in the above article for demographic optimism: (1) A massive pro-natalist policy of encouraging marriage, providing house subventions, subsidizing children, offering tax breaks for children, building a childcare infrastructure, and encouraging flex-hours. This combination has increased the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) from 1.25 to 1.48 – significant but hardly adequate (sustaining a population requires a 2.1 TFR). (2) Budapest has granted citizenship to over one million ethnic Hungarians in the diaspora, most of them living in neighboring countries; 170,000 of them have moved to Hungary. (3) Hungary plans to welcome those fleeing the expected Muslim-Christian in western Europe: pensioners, conservatives, Jews, practicing Christians, corporate leaders, and young families with children. Already, for example, some three thousand Dutch have moved to Hungary, at least partly out of "fear of refugees and terror attacks." That the cost of living is about two-thirds that of Germany's and taxes are low helps. Unlike other former Soviet bloc countries, Hungary was neither industrialized nor polluted. A mild climate without hurricanes and no earthquakes also make the country attractive. A CBS News report finds Budapest the 8thmost attractive place in the world for expatriates to live.
Hungary needs more children.
(6) Hungary's situation brings Japan to mind, as both countries have a unique language and distinct culture, and both find population decline preferable to immigration. Hungary, however, has two advantages: a much more substantial diaspora to draw upon (50 percent of the homeland population versus 3 percent) and a willingness to assimilate almost anyone (such as the Vietnamese country doctors) who learns Hungarian.
(7) Hungarian ties with Poland, both historically and at present, are positive. In the memorable saying of Hungarian intellectuals, "I understand everything in Krakow except the language." Expect the two governments to work in tandem on many issues, including migration.
(8) Éric Fournier, the ambassador of France to Hungary had the temerity to praise Hungary's migration policy, calling it a "model that managed to anticipate the problemsthat arose with illegal migratory movements." So great is 6Ps' apprehension that no less a personage than President Emmanuel Macron publicly rebuked him.
(9) In the obscure but important "Rabat Process," only Hungary's government rejects encouraging massive African immigration to Europe. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó noted that a May 2018 Rabat Process statement deemed migration to be "a positive process that must be encouraged, and accordingly new migration channels must be opened and migrants cannot be differentiated based on their legal status." Accordingly, "Hungary was alone in refusing to support" the statement. The other governments and the mainstream media ignored this topic. For more details, see Judith Bergman, "EU: How to Stop Mass-migration from Africa? Bring Everyone to Europe."
(10) Orbán takes an intense interest in the Middle East, declaring that "today, the security of Hungary ... and of the whole of Europe depends on whether Turkey, Israel and Egypt are stable enough to curb and halt the Muslim influx coming into Europe from that region."
(11) Further on the matter of antisemitism: The government promotes Jewish culture, for example, the award-winning film, Son of Saul. it celebrates Hungarians who saved Jews from the Nazis, and Budapest will host the European Maccabi Games in 2019.
(12) Admirers and critics alike agree that Orbán has a long-term vision; a friendly analyst compares him to a chess grandmaster who can see 25 moves in advance while Boris Kálnoky of Die Welt says Orbán thinks twenty years ahead. In contrast, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel considers him a "dangerous man."
Angela Merkel (R) and Viktor Orbán, not the best of friends.
Daniel Pipes is the President of the Middle East Forum. He has taught at Chicago, Harvard, Pepperdine, and the U.S. Naval War College; currently he is an affiliate professor at the University of Haifa.