Fresh from furore over ‘Nazi’ speech, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban welcomed by American conservatives

Far-right authoritarian leader received a standing ovation at the gathering of American conservatives in Dallas

Richard Hall
Thursday 04 August 2022 21:56 BST
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP)

A little over a week ago, Hungary’s prime minister delivered a speech about immigration in which he declared that Europeans “do not want to become peoples of mixed-race.”

The comments by Viktor Orban, the 59-year-old far-right leader, prompted outrage in his own country and across Europe for their explicit racism, and led to the resignation of his close adviser of 20 years, who described the speech as “pure Nazi text.”

But Mr Orban’s use of white supremacist rhetoric did little to dampen the enthusiasm of American conservatives for his visit to the United States this week.

The prime minister was pictured smiling alongside Donald Trump at his Bedminster golf resort on Tuesday. After the meeting, the former president released a statement in which he described Mr Orban as a “friend,” adding: "few people know as much about what is going on in the world today.”

And on Thursday, Mr Orban drew rapturous applause as he delivered a keynote speech in front of a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Converence (CPAC) in Dallas.

In a 30-minute speech, Mr Orban told the annual gathering of American conservatives that he was “the leader of a country that is under the siege of progressive liberals, day-by-day”.

“Now the West is at war with itself. We have seen what kind of a future the globalist ruling class has to offer. We have a different kind of future in mind. The globalists can all go to hell, I have come to Texas," he said, before calling for children to be protected from “gender ideology”.

Mr Orban’s appearance at the annual gathering of American conservatives, and his continued embrace by the Republican Party, will likely give rise to concerns that both of those movements are increasingly accepting of openly white supremacist rhetoric.

Mr Orban served as prime minister of Hungary between 1998 and 2002, and was elected again in 2010. Under the rule of his Fidesz party, Hungary has become increasingly authoritarian, as Mr Orban has waged war on opposition parties, LGBT rights and immigration.

Since coming to power in 2010, Mr Orban’s Fidesz party has “pushed through constitutional and legal changes that have allowed it to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions, including the judiciary”, according to Freedom House, a non-profit that monitors democracy and political freedom.

His government has “​passed antimigrant and anti-LGBT+ policies, as well as laws that hamper the operations of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are critical of the ruling party or whose perspectives Fidesz otherwise finds unfavorable,” Freedom House added in its country report.

But Mr Orban’s authoritarian turn has won him legions of fans among American conservatives and supporters of Donald Trump. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson features Mr Orban frequently on his show, and described Hungary as a “small country with a lot of lessons for the rest of us”. In May, CPAC held its conference in Hungary’s capital, Budapest — an event at which Mr Orban also spoke.

Mr Orban’s comments on race-mixing prompted harsh criticism at home and across Europe, but little to no comment among conservatives in the United States.

“The speech you delivered is a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels," wrote Zsuzsa Hegedus, Mr Orban’s adviser, in her resignation letter, according to the Hungarian news website.

The International Auschwitz Committee of Holocaust survivors called the speech "ignorant and dangerous”, and Romania’s foreign minister, Bogdan Aurescu, slammed Orbán’s statements as “unacceptable”.

Ahead of Mr Orban’s visit, Deborah E. Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, wrote on Twitter that his language “clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology”.

“Nearly 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is inexcusable for a leader to make light of Nazi mass murder, especially one who claims zero tolerance of antisemitism,” Ms Lipstadt added.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organises CPAC, defended Mr Orban’s invitation, however.

“Let’s listen to the man speak,” Mr Schlapp told Bloomberg News. “We’ll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”

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