Hungarian autocrat Orban hailed by conservatives at CPAC in Texas

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s autocratic leader, on Thursday urged enthusiastic American conservatives to ‘take back the institutions’, stick to tough stances on gay rights and immigration and fight for the next US presidential election as a pivotal moment for their beliefs.

The standing ovations at the Conservative Political Action Conference for the prime minister, who has been criticized for undermining his own country’s democratic institutions, demonstrated the growing closeness between American Republicans and the far-right Hungarian leader.

Orban mocked the media in this country and in Europe. And in the speech he titled “How We Fight,” he told the crowd gathered in a Dallas convention ballroom to focus now on the 2024 election, saying they were “two years to prepare”, although he did not endorse any candidate or party.

“Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance,” he said during one of the keynote speeches for the three-day CPAC event. “We have to take over the institutions in Washington and Brussels. We must find friends and allies in each other.

Referring to liberals, he said, “They hate and slander me and my country just as they hate and slander you for the America you represent.”

His entrance drew a bigger welcome than Texas Governor, Republican Greg Abbott, received moments earlier on the same stage. From there, the cheers continued as Orban weaved his way through attacks on LGBTQ rights, bragged about reducing abortions in Hungary and celebrated tough immigration measures at home.

Other speakers at the conference include former President Trump, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Republican candidates fresh off Tuesday’s GOP primary election victories.

Orban’s visit to the United States came amid backlash in Europe following a speech in which he railed against Europe become a “mixed” society. One of his closest aides compared his remarks to Nazi rhetoric and resigned in protest. Orban told the crowd in Texas that the media would portray him as a strongman, and he called “idiots” those who would call his government racist.

Under Orban, Hungary implemented intransigent policies and is governed by a one-party system. The Prime Minister is considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union.

President Biden does not intend to speak with Orban while in the United States, White House National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby said Thursday. When asked if the administration had any concerns about CPAC inviting such a leader to speak at the high-level conference, Kirby hesitated.

“He’s coming by private invitation,” Kirby said. “Mr. Orban and the CPAC, they can talk about his visit.

Trump congratulated Orban after their meeting earlier this week. “Few people know so much about what is happening in the world today,” the former president said in a statement.

Some conference attendees considered Orban a model leader.

They praised him for border security measures and for providing financial grants to Hungarian women, which Orban called an effort to counter Hungary’s declining population. Lilla Vessey, who moved to Dallas from Hungary with her husband, Ede, in the 1980s, said what she heard in Hungary was that Orban was not undemocratic.

“I don’t know how it happened that the Tories somehow found out about it,” said Ede Vessey, 73. “He supports traditional values. He supports family.

Scott Huber, who met Orban with other CPAC attendees at a private event hours before the speech, said the prime minister had expressed hope that the United States would “moderate the influences of extreme left” in the November midterm elections. The 67-year-old Pennsylvanian said he wouldn’t disagree with descriptions of Orban as autocratic and upending Democratic standards, but said he thinks that will change over time.

As to why Orban is winning over so many conservatives, Huber pointed to Orban’s attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian American billionaire and philanthropist who is a vocal critic of the Hungarian government and supporter of liberal causes. Soros is a favorite target of American conservatives.

“That’s why I was so interested in seeing it,” Huber said.

The AP and other international news outlets were banned from covering a CPAC conference held in Budapest in May, the group’s first conference in Europe. During the rally, Orban called Hungary “a bastion of conservative Christian values ​​in Europe” and urged American conservatives to overcome “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life.”

He presented himself as a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy”.

Orban served as Hungary’s prime minister between 1998 and 2002, but it’s his record since taking office in 2010 that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about Hungary’s slide into authoritarian rule.

Orban presented himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.

Last year, his right-wing Fidesz party banned the depiction of homosexuality or gender reassignment in media targeting those under 18, a move critics have called an attack on LGBTQ people. Information on homosexuality is also prohibited in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements accessible to minors.

Orban has consolidated his power over the country’s judiciary and media, and his party has drawn legislative constituencies in a way that makes it very difficult for opposition parties to win seats – much like partisan efforts at gerrymandering for state legislative and congressional seats in the United States. This process currently favors the Republicans because they have more control over the state legislatures that create these borders.

Such moves have led international political observers to label Orban the face of a new wave of authoritarianism.

The European Union has launched numerous lawsuits against Hungary for breaking EU rules and is withholding billions in recovery and credit funds for breaching rule of law standards and insufficient anti-corruption safeguards .

Laura T. Thrasher