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Controversial Hungarian Leader is Supported by US Conservatives

The top activity on the agenda for foreign heads of state is typically a trip to the White House. It will be speaking to a gathering of conservative activists in Dallas the following month for the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban.

Orban’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he will be joined by former president Donald Trump and right-wing icons like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is the most dramatic example yet of how a leader who was criticized for pushing anti-democratic principles has transformed into a hero to some Republicans.

Orban has restricted immigration and thwarted those who want to see a more moderate European democracy emerge in their nation. By seizing control of Hungary’s judiciary and media, he has achieved this, prompting many international analysts to describe him as the leader of a new authoritarian movement. He is also charged with facilitating widespread corruption and nepotism by utilizing public funds to benefit a small group of his political allies.

The U.S. conservative movement’s embrace of Orban coincides with its reiteration of Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 presidential election, as well as its retaliation against Republicans who attempted to hold him responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and its embrace of new voting restrictions. Many political analysts who study Hungary are concerned that the GOP may adopt Orban’s strategies.

Kim L. Schepple, a Princeton University sociologist who has studied Orban, stated that the “Trumpist side of the Republican Party is coming for the rhetoric, but staying for the autocracy.” “I’m concerned that the attraction to Orban is more deeply about how to prevent power from ever rotating out of their hands rather than just the surface-level culture war issues.”

That idea, as well as the accusation that Orban is an authoritarian, is rejected by conservatives.

The leader of CPAC, which will convene in Dallas beginning on August 4, said, “What we like about him is that he’s actually standing up for the freedom of his people against the tyranny of the EU.” He has the attention of a large number of people, including many Americans who are concerned about the decline of the family.

For the conservative movement, CPAC events are somewhat akin to a cross between Davos and Woodstock; they serve as a gathering place for leaders and activists to strategize, be inspired by, and build relationships. CPAC chose Hungary as the location for its inaugural meeting this year. Schlapp extended an invitation to Orban to address the Texas gathering while he was there. Star of Fox News Tucker Carlson’s show was broadcast from Budapest the previous year.

Between 1998 and 2002, Orban was the prime minister of Hungary, but it is his performance in that role since re-election in 2010 that has generated controversy. Orban, a self-described defender of “illiberal democracy,” has portrayed himself as a bulwark of European Christendom against Muslim immigrants, progressives, and the “LGBTQ lobby.”


Schlapp specifically mentioned a tax break Hungarian women receive for every child as a way to combat a declining population. Orban is best known for his aggressive stance on contentious cultural issues. His party has supported technocratic initiatives that have captured the imagination of the U.S. right.

In response to an influx of refugees escaping violence and poverty in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other places, Orban’s government built a razor-wire fence along Hungary’s southern border in 2015. Carlson praised the border fence as a role model for the United States during his visit.

Critics argued that Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party’s ban on depicting homosexuality or sex reassignment in media aimed at audiences under 18 was an attack on LGBTQ people. Additionally, information about homosexuality was not permitted in sex education classes at schools, as well as in movies and advertisements targeted at children.

Because of those policies, he is at odds with the European Union, which has worked to curb some of his more antidemocratic tendencies. Hungary has been subject to numerous legal actions by the bloc for violating EU regulations, and as a result, billions in recovery funds and credit are being withheld due to a lack of anti-corruption safeguards and rule-of-law standards violations.

These disputes began before Orban had even taken office. After winning a resounding victory in the 2010 elections, the Fidesz party used its two-thirds constitutional majority to unilaterally rewrite Hungary’s constitution in 2011. Soon after, it started to undermine the nation’s institutions and started taking action to consolidate power.

Constitutional amendments allowed Orban’s party to alter the judiciary’s makeup and implement judicial reforms. It also approved a new law that established a nine-person council to regulate the media and appointed people to fill each of the positions.

Orban was branded a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters Without Borders last year. According to the report, his Fidesz party “seized de facto control of 80 percent of the country’s media through political-economic maneuvers and the acquisition of news organizations by friendly oligarchs.”

At the CPAC conference in May, where Orban referred to Hungary as “the bastion of conservative Christian values in Europe,” the Associated Press and other foreign news agencies were prohibited from attending. He also exhorted Americans who identify as conservatives to challenge “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life.”

When Orban visits Dallas next month, the AP requested an interview, but they were denied. His communications department cited the prime minister’s allegedly “extremely busy” schedule.

Analysts point out that Hungary lacks the customary characteristics of autocracies. There are no tanks in the streets and no political prisoners being held captive. Even though the boundaries of their legislative districts were changed to make it very difficult for them to be defeated, Fidesz has continued to win elections. That’s comparable to the political gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts in the United States, a practice that currently benefits Republicans because they hold a majority in the state legislatures responsible for drawing those boundaries.

However, experts claim that because of his nearly total control over his nation, Orban is a trailblazer for a novel method of authoritarian rule.

As co-author of the book “How Democracies Die” and a Harvard political scientist, Steven Levitsky said, “I’ve never seen an autocrat consolidate authoritarian rule without spilling a drop of blood or locking someone up.” Because Orban uses the government to control societal institutions, he and other academics claim that Orban fits the definition of an authoritarian.

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Orban’s anti-democratic tendencies won’t be a major problem in his efforts to form an alliance with American conservatives, according to Peter Kreko, a Budapest-based analyst for the Center for European Policy Analysis. Kreko contended that his ties to China and Russia will be much more complicated.

According to Kreko, the Orban government is becoming more and more isolated diplomatically but hasn’t even tried to connect with the Biden administration in the hopes that Trump or his allies will soon take back power.

Since there aren’t many allies left for him, this is his main hope for returning to the international scene, according to Kreko. When Orban’s reputation has significantly deteriorated in Europe, it is a remarkable achievement of Hungarian soft power that he has gained such popularity among American conservatives.

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