Viktor Orbán, the autocratic leader of Hungary, has urged Christian nationalists in Europe and the US to “unite our forces” during a speech to American conservatives in Texas.
The prime minister met the former US president Donald Trump in New Jersey earlier this week and, on Thursday, delivered the opening address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas.
Orbán was given a rapturous welcome despite controversy last month when he railed against Europe becoming a “mixed-race” society, comments that one of his closest aides compared to the Nazis before resigning in protest.
In his CPAC address, he sought to portray western civilization as under siege from progressives and offer a rallying cry for fighting back. He took aim at familiar targets such as illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, “leftist media” and philanthropist George Soros while quoting the Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Clint Eastwood. There were frequent cheers and applause from those present.
“We are not the favorites of the American Democrats,” Orbán said. “They did not want me to be here and they made every effort to drive a wedge between us. They hate me and slander me and my country as they hate you and slander you and America you stand for.
“We all know how this works. Progressive liberals didn’t want me to be here because they knew what I would tell you – because I’m here to tell you that we should unite our forces because we Hungarians know how to defeat the enemies of freedom on the political battlefield.”
Orbán’s invitation to CPAC reflects conservatives’ growing embrace of the Hungarian far-right leader whose country has implemented hardline policies against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights, and is governed by single-party rule. He addressed a special edition of CPAC in Budapest earlier this year.
In another sign of how Orbán’s nativist white grievance politics have infused the American right, CPAC’s speakers include the far-right political provocateur Steve Bannon, Republican extremists Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, entrepreneur and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, political commentator Jack Posobeic and, in Saturday’s closing address, Trump himself.
On a stage stage branded “Fire Pelosi” – a reference to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi – and “Save America”, the Hungarian entered to enthusiastic applause in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie reminiscent of Trump. He buttoned his jacket and he stepped up the lectern and flattered his hosts in Texas, known as the Lone Star state.
“If I am correct, Lone Star state means that independence, freedom and sovereignty are the dearest values in this part of America,” he said. “My country, Hungary, is the Lone Star state of Europe.”
Orbán described himself as “an old-fashioned freedom fighter”, “the only anti-migration political leader of our continent” and “the leader of a country that is under the siege of progressive liberals day by day”.
He mocked “the leftist media” for criticizing his visit and said those who accuse his government of racism and antisemitism were “simply idiots”, adding to loud applause: “They are the industrial fake news corporation.”
Orbán urged his audience to have courage to address sensitive questions around migration, gender and “clash of civilizations”, assuring them: “A Christian politician cannot be racist.” He accused progressives of trying to separate western civilization from its Christian roots.
“If you separate western civilization from its Judaeo-Christian heritage, the worst things in history happen. Let’s be honest, the most evil things in modern history were carried out by people who hated Christianity. Don’t be afraid to call your enemies by their name. You can’t play safe but they will never show mercy.”
When the prime minister then named Soros, a Hungarian-born billionaire and philanthropist who has been targeted by antisemitic conspiracy theorists, there were boos from the audience. Orbán claimed that Soros had “an army” at his disposal – money, non-government organizations, universities and European bureaucrats in Brussels.
He warned darkly: “The horrors of Nazis and communists happened because some western states in continental Europe abandoned that Christian values and today’s progressives are planning to do the same. They want to give up on western values and create a new world, a post-western world. Who is going to stop them if we don’t?”
The authoritarian leader characterized Hungary as a “David-sized nation standing against the globalist Goliath” earned shouts of support when he claimed that he had fought back by making Hungary the first country in Europe to stop an “invasion” of illegal immigrants.
“We actually built that wall and it stopped illegal migration. Tucker Carlson said, when he visited us, it’s not a hi-tech wall but guarded by people who love their country, and the border protection system works.”
Orbán also contended that the family was under attack from progressives and said children must be protected from the “toxic stuff” of “gender ideology”. He added that a referendum in Hungary “rejected sexual orientation programs in schools without parental consent” and said the constitution protects traditional marriage. “To sum up: the mother is a woman, the father is a man. Leave our kids alone. Full stop. End of discussion!”
This triggered a prolonged standing ovation and whoops of enthusiasm from the CPAC crowd.
Orbán struck another popular note when, in closing his remarks, he said: “We have seen what kind of future the globalist ruling class has to offer. But we have a different future in mind. The globalists can all go to hell. I have come to Texas.”
Democracy watchdogs have raised alarm over Orbán’s consolidation of power over the country’s judiciary and media. His party has drawn legislative districts in a way that makes it very difficult for opposition parties to win seats – not unlike partisan gerrymandering efforts for state legislative and congressional seats in the US.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, said he was concerned first about Orbán’s meeting with Trump, “considering what we all know about President Trump’s tone, posture, position, his policies, his politics, as well as we now know his direct engagements as relates to January 6 and what that means. As an American citizen, I question the motives and what the agenda is.
“Secondly, when I think about the CPAC crowd, I think about a group of people who are interested in coddling and playing footsie with the extreme Maga election-denying wing of the Republican party and that’s become a growing majority. If you combine those two things for me and my political digestive system, you just have to couch that as concerned.”