Entrenched leftists within the U.S. State Department are supporting the effort to demote Viktor Orban from prime minister of Hungary, if a report in Financial Times is correct. The Biden administration also left Hungary off its invitation list for a forthcoming international virtual Democracy Summit on Dec. 9 and 10 to which some 100 countries were invited.
“Trump and his enablers and those who invaded and attacked our Capitol, they don’t like the world we’re living in and they have that in common with autocratic leaders from Russia to Turkey, from Hungary to Brazil, and so many other places,” Hillary Clinton explained to MSNBC.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó retorted that Clinton’s remarks about the Democracy Summit proved that “the event has a domestic political character, with invitations withheld from countries whose leaders had good ties with former President Donald Trump . . . We need nobody to judge the state of Hungarian democracy as if in a school exam.”
A superficial reading of this would conclude it’s the big bad Central Euro authoritarians complaining about another American-backed regime change, but there’s more to it and this is just the latest connection to a broader ideological war unfolding across the Euro-Atlantic.
The European Culture War
Hungary has been an important point of discussion among U.S. conservatives. Orban’s party, Fidesz, leads a family-friendly conservative government, where women are tax free if they have more than three kids. Orban’s government has also crushed gender studies and other disciplines, defunded universities, closed Hungarian borders to illegal mass migration, stopped LGBT programs targeted towards children as propaganda, and cut down on abortion.
Alongside Poland, Hungary has formed a semi-alliance of Christian conservative central European powers, and has been an example of sorts for Western conservatives. Hungary offers what Sweden does to leftists: an functioning example of what a social-conservative government might look like in practice.
This is drawing attention from liberals and conservatives alike. Rod Dreher of the American Conservative lived in Hungary on a fellowship often writing about it, and Tucker Carlson of Fox News shot a whole documentary for a week from Budapest.
It’s also invited transnational opposition. Germany’s new center-left coalition of red and green parties insisted they will start a full-on culture war with Poland and Hungary while making the European Union a stronger transnational government.
“Countries which do not live up to the EU’s standards should not expect to receive EU money—a clear message to Poland and Hungary. This general approach applies to the United Kingdom as well,” a recent analysis stated, adding that the German coalition wants to make it legal for “trans people to self-identify.”
Meanwhile, Belgium and Netherlands are planning to fund abortion across Poland and Hungary, which limit the practice. “The Dutch parliament adopted a resolution approving the use of state funds to help Polish women obtain abortions, reports Deutsche Welle… The decision follows a similar move in September by Belgium, whose government agreed to provide funding for women in Poland to obtain terminations abroad, as a growing number have done since the near-total abortion ban was introduced,” according to a report.
Just to take one example, consider the implications of Germany allowing self-identification of transgenders, a process that fundamentally goes against biological reality. Given the Schengen borderless mandates within the EU, German transgender individuals could travel everywhere and use their EU special protections to undermine individual national policies about transgenderism, as well as the religious traditions of Hungary and Poland, which are stricter (and, one can say, more democratic) about such rules.
That likely sequence further indicates these countries are not “liberal democracies” (the key word here being liberal), opening them up for further charges of growing authoritarianism, and further clashes in EU courts, the rulings of which are increasingly considered superior to national democracies and lawmaking. In the past that has resulted in the EU clashing with Poland over fossil fuels and with Hungary over LGBT legal preferences and national courts.
Intellectual Compatibility Across Borders
The Polish conservative government, as well as Orban, bear similarities to the socially conservative section within the Republican Party, which consolidated under Donald Trump with increasing exchanges of intellectuals and conferences. The left’s reaction to that ascendence of social conservatives across the globe was therefore somewhat expected, given the new Biden administration staffed with Hillary-era culture warriors.
The culture war is transnational and the battle lines being drawn are naturally ideological as well. On one hand, there’s evangelical internationalist liberalism, which is imperial in nature and is therefore clashing with localist reactions from Virginia schools to villages in Hungary.
“Hungarian-American relations were at their peak during the Trump presidency,” Szijjarto of Hungary also noted when the FT reporter asked why Hungary was the only EU country left out of the planned Democracy summit by Joe Biden. “We have a great deal of respect for the former president, a respect that is mutual. We give the same respect to every elected U.S. president — regardless of what we get in return — but it is clear that those who were on friendly terms with Donald Trump were not invited.”
Hungary was the only country in the EU to be snubbed even when the U.S. State Department coyly added that that was not the case. “As an important part of our bilateral agenda, we continue to press our Hungarian counterparts when we have concerns about developments that erode space for independent media and civil society, curtailed LGBTQI+ rights, and undermined judicial independence,” the State dept said, according to FT. Within hours of its report, someone leaked an old speech of one of Orban’s closest allies that heightened political tensions in the nation.
One of Viktor Orbán's closest allies secretly gave a speech to the national security services. He told them that the opposition is the biggest threat and asked them to focus on it.
We obtained a recording of the speech and here's our story in English:https://t.co/umj4zaZjIC
— direkt36 (@direkt36) November 27, 2021
Democracy Isn’t the Issue; Sexual Chaos Is
Ultimately, however, there are two emerging questions to ponder. One, the complete hypocrisy of the Biden administration is visible. New Zealand, which is growing rapidly authoritarian with vaccine passports, second-grade citizenships, and lockdowns, is invited, but not Hungary, where people can move freely. The undertone of this decision is not lost on conservatives across Europe and possibly the United States: it is not about democracy at all, but about liberalism and sexual rights.
Are Republicans astute enough to see through this, and understand the potential long-term damage the left’s culture war is causing to America’s reputation as the ruling Democratic Party turns increasingly woke, revolutionary, and ideological? Democrats are actively building ideological solidarity and fellowship with other leftist parties across the world, but there’s no such equivalent among conservatives. If it is coming down to a battle of ideas across national boundaries, perhaps cultivating that is something to think about.
The second, and far more crucial, question is: what next for Poland and Hungary and how long can they survive within an openly hostile EU? The combined GDP and manpower of the four conservative central V4-Euro powers led by Poland and Hungary can compete with Germany and France. But at translating that into power, hard and soft, there’s no visible effort of unity.
France and Greece, for example, recently made a bilateral treaty that consolidated their foreign policy into one. There’s no such treaty between Poland and Hungary, or one alongside the UK, for example. Nor is there any visible effort of promoting a socially conservative order across Europe even when the situation is ripe with right-wing voters opposed to a leftist social revolution feeling increasingly voiceless, especially across Northern Europe.
Glimpses of that ideological movement building were once seen in an Orban speech asking Christian refugees from Europe to head to Hungary: “Of course we can give shelter to the real refugees: Germans, Dutch, French, Italians; scared politicians and journalists; Christians who had to flee their own country; those people who want to find here the Europe that they lost at their home,” he said.
If Orban wins re-election this time, against the odds, will we see the consolidation of a conservative bloc right at the heart of Europe? Because the days of hedging might soon be over. When the world turns binary, fence-sitting is usually no longer an option.