‘Orbanization’? CPAC meets in Budapest as US right-wing embrace of Hungarian autocrat Orbán’s model of ‘illiberal democracy’ tightens

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Dozens of prominent conservatives from Europe, the United States and beyond gathered in Hungary Thursday as the American Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, convened in Europe to the first time.

The two-day conference reflects a deepening of ties between the American right and the autocratic government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The budding alliance with Orbán led some American commentators to warn against American conservatives allegedly adopting undemocratic tactics. “Orbánization” is what is called.

In his 12 years in power, Orbán has drawn controversy in the European Union for rolling back democratic institutions under what he calls “illiberal democracy,” but has won admiration from some segments of the right. American for her strong stance on immigration and LGBTQ issues and her rejection of liberal pluralism.

Extract from the archives (July 2021): Press watchdog puts Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán on its list of ‘predators’

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Delivering the keynote address for the two-day conference on Thursday, 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”, as he said he did it in Hungary.

“We have to take over the institutions in Washington and Brussels,” Orbán said. “We have to find allies in each other and coordinate our troop movements.”

The Associated Press and other international news outlets were not accredited to cover the CPAC meeting in Hungary despite multiple requests over several months.

The Center for Fundamental Rights, an Orbán-aligned think tank, which organized the conference, hung up on several phone calls with an AP reporter seeking information about the event.

Also appearing at the Budapest conference are several members of Orbán’s government and figures from the American right-wing associated with segments of the Republican Party aligned with former President Donald Trump.

The conference is the latest embrace from the American political right for Orbán, whom Trump has showered with praise. Trump – described by his aides as particularly fond of dictators and authoritarian leaders during his tenure – endorsed Orbán’s re-election bid and urged Hungarian voters to give him another term.

Orbán’s party, Fidesz, won Hungary’s general elections in April, and the prime minister retained his post, despite allegations of irregularities, including the alleged destruction of postal ballots.

The European Union and human rights organizations have expressed concern over recent Hungarian policies seen as limiting the rights of LGBTQ people, which Orbán on Thursday called “gender madness”.

Hungary also faces financial sanctions from the EU for alleged breaches of the rule of law, including the rollback of judicial independence and media freedom, and failure to fight adequate against corruption.

Extract from the archives (December 2021): Right-wing populist Orbán says Hungary will challenge European Court ruling on asylum policy

As the American conservative movement increasingly adopts populist and anti-immigrant policies and language, many have considered Orbán’s style of government and interventionism in the areas of culture, education and media as a landmark.

In speeches broadcast live from the CPAC conference on Thursday, many speakers listed their grievances over what they described as the dominance of liberal culture in the United States and hailed Hungary as a bastion of traditionalism and the tip of a culture war.

The conference website refers to Hungary as “one of the engines of conservative resistance to the awakened revolution” which aims to “confront the onslaught from the left”.

One of the American proponents of this vision of Hungary is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who broadcast from the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for a week in 2021, interviewing Orbán and praising the country’s policies on violence. immigration and LGBTQ issues as a model for the United States.

After Carlson delivered a video message to CPAC attendees, Orbán hailed the TV host as the only American media figure willing to oppose “liberal media rule.”

Extract from the archives (November 2021): Two renowned conservative commentators quit Fox News for Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 film

After being sworn in Monday for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister, Orbán also echoed the controversial theories embraced by Carlson. He described a “suicide attempt” by more liberal European governments to implement a “population replacement program” which aims to “replace missing European Christian children with migrants”.

In recent years, CPAC has expanded its footprint beyond its annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians in the United States with events in Australia, Brazil, Japan and South Korea. He plans to hold conferences in Brazil, Israel, Japan and Mexico later this year.

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Speaking in Budapest on Thursday, American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp said, “There is no better time for this CPAC movement of freedom and individual rights to flourish, and I can’t wait for this to happen in the great country of Hungary.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson appears on the video screen to deliver a speech to the CPAC audience in Budapest on Thursday.

Szilard Koszticsak/MTI/AP

Conservative American media personalities Candace Owens and Ben Ferguson, as well as members of right-wing European parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Spain’s Vox party, are expected to speak at the Hungarian event.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s fourth and final chief of staff during his unique four-year tenure in the White House, is also expected to speak at the conference via video link, alongside Republican lawmakers from Florida and Maryland.

MarketWatch contributed.

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Laura T. Thrasher