Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán warmly welcomed at CPAC event in Dallas

DALLAS (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was expected to receive a big welcome in the United States Thursday from conservative admirers just a week after the backlash at home and in Europe over anti-migrant remarks one of his closest associates compared to the Nazis. rhetoric.

Orbán’s headliner at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, one of the nation’s largest gatherings of conservative activists, has raised concerns that Republicans are embracing an autocrat who has been criticized for undermining democratic institutions and consolidating power in his own country.

Extract from the archives (May 2022): ‘Orbanization’? CPAC meets in Budapest as US right-wing embrace of Hungarian autocrat Orbán’s model of ‘illiberal democracy’ tightens

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

Orbán’s invitation to CPAC reflects growing conservative support for the far-right Hungarian leader whose country has implemented tough policies against immigration and LGBTQ rights, and is governed by one-party rule. . Orbán is also considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union.

Extract from the archives (February 2022): Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have alienated Putin’s few friends among Western allies

His visit to Texas comes after fresh outrage erupted at home following a speech in which Orbán railed against Europe becoming a “mestizo” society. One of his closest aides said the comments were worthy of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and resigned in protest.

Fox News personality Sean Hannity was also among the CPAC speakers Thursday in Dallas.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Orbán dismissed the criticism, saying his government has zero tolerance for racism. He was not criticized by conservatives in the United States, and for some early arrivals from the three-day conference in Texas, he was a model leader who resonated because of his politics and personality.

They praised Orbán for his border security measures and for providing financial grants to Hungarian women, which Orbán described as an effort to counter Hungary’s demographic decline. Lilla Vessey, who moved to Dallas from Hungary with her husband, Ede, in the 1980s, said what she heard in Hungary was that Orbán 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 Orbán 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 Orbán as autocratic and upending Democratic standards, but said he thinks that will change over time.

Extract from the archives (December 2021): ‘The data we see points largely in the wrong direction’: Biden sounds alarm as he convenes world summit of democracies

Also (July 2021): Press watchdog puts Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán on its list of ‘predators’

As to why Orbán is winning over so many conservatives, Huber pointed to Orbán’s attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire, philanthropist and democracy advocate who is a vocal critic of the Hungarian government and supporter of liberal causes. “That’s why I was so interested in seeing it,” Huber said.

Even before Orbán took the stage in Texas – the second most populous state in America and politically controlled by Republicans – Trump had already welcomed him to the United States by hosting him earlier this week at the golf club of Trump in New Jersey.

“Few people know as much about what is happening in the world today,” Trump said in a statement after the meeting.

President Joe Biden is not expected to meet with Orbán during his trip to the United States, according to a White House official.

Orbán’s timeslot title is “How We Fight”. Through his communications office, Orbán declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

The AP and other international news agencies were also banned from covering a CPAC conference held in Budapest in May, the group’s first conference in Europe. During the rally, Orbán 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”.

Orbán served as Hungary’s prime minister between 1998 and 2002, but it’s his controversial record since taking over the post in 2010 that has raised concerns about Hungary’s descent into authoritarian rule. Orbán 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.

Orbán 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 gerrymandering efforts for legislative and congressional seats in the United States. The 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 cast Orbán, easily re-elected in April in what previously appeared to be closer competition than the official result indicated, as 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 .

Republican Governor Greg Abbott preceded Orbán on stage in Texas.

Michigan’s Tudor Dixon, who won the GOP gubernatorial nomination in his battleground state on Tuesday, is also scheduled to speak at the conference, which ends Saturday.

MarketWatch contributed.

Laura T. Thrasher