What Comes Next For Hungary?
Fidesz just won its biggest majority ever, but what does the party plan to do with it? I sat down with Balázs Orbán to find out.
Two days after the Hungarian people delivered Fidesz yet another two-thirds majority in parliament on April 3, I sat down with Balázs Orbán, one of the top advisors to Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister now entering his fourth consecutive term, to discuss the significance of another overwhelming electoral victory.
Orbán (of no relation to Viktor) wears many different hats. Not only is he one of the prime minister’s top advisors, he also serves as the chairman of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium’s board of trustees, sits on the board of Hungary’s National University of Public Service, and is an author and columnist. He has a law degree and a masters of laws in public administration. From time to time, he can be found grabbing a quick meal or meeting with students and faculty at MCC’s Scruton Cafe—named after the late English conservative philosopher.
It was a fitting place for the two of us—me, not all that far removed from my time as an undergrad, and Orbán, out of convenience for his busy schedule—to sit down, take a breath, and parse out what had just happened. A large, sage-green bookshelf packed with books in Hungarian and English from conservative thinkers and politicians, some better than others, separates the cafe from the rest of the commons. Where there were no books, the shelves were scattered with plaster busts of the cafe’s namesake. Opposite the bookshelf, a stage for various speaking events, and at the back, a bar to order food and drink. Orange, blue, and green accents—though I’m unsure if Scruton himself would like them—give the place a pop of color.
Despite Western media’s claims that 2022 could be the year the opposition could take Fidesz and Prime Minister Orbán out of power, the Hungarian people handed Fidesz the largest governing mandate it has ever had, holding 135 of the 199 seats in parliament, outperforming even the rosiest of expectations.
Orbán told me he was pleasantly surprised with the results. “My bet was 129,” he said with a slight grin. “The Fidesz majority is bigger than in 2010, 2014, or 2018,” he added. I can see him fighting to hold back an even bigger smile.
“So, what is Fidesz going to do with this even bigger majority?” I ask.
His initial answer was short: “We’re going to try and continue our policies.”
Orbán went on to add, “It’s a huge majority, a constitutional majority, but that itself is not the goal.”
“It’s just a tool to reach your goals because it’s not about power, it’s about serving the interests of the people in a quite risky international environment,” he elaborated. “And if you can bring a constitutional majority behind your ideas, if you can secure your way of understanding of the constitution, it makes things easier because the state and the country is not so divided as in some of the other western societies. The problem with some of these other western societies is that it is almost impossible to change the constitution and those in charge of interpreting the constitution have huge amounts of power.”
However, Orbán said that doesn’t necessarily mean more constitutional reforms are coming down the pike for Hungarians. Rather, Orbán said parliament, with its new Fidesz members, will continue playing “a very important role in deciding the constitutional direction of the country.”
“The constitutional majority is important, but what is more important is the huge legitimacy. It’s not a legal issue, it’s a political issue. This legitimacy shows that the people are proud Hungarians. They don’t want a European superstate. They are satisfied with the family policies. They don’t want mass migration from different civilizations. Meanwhile, they have no problem with hosting refugees from war zones.”
Sometimes, apparently, politics really is just as simple as doing what you promised.
One of Fidesz’s primary goals, Orbán told me, is to continue to build upon the economic success Hungary has experienced under a Fidesz-controlled government, which has brought the country back from almost utter calamity caused by years of liberal mismanagement and the 2008 financial crisis.
“For the economy,” Orbán said, “Hungarians understand the importance of free markets, but they want to have a strong state that helps them, even through some socialistic measures if it’s necessary.”
But while Orbán hopes that economic success continues, unlike some of America’s “conservative” leaders, he understands that Fidesz’s landslide electoral victory is much more than an approval of the party’s stance on income taxes. “Hungarians want to preserve Christian civilization’s way of life, even if it causes problems and conflicts with the international audience,” he told me.
I brought up what Prime Minister Orbán said in his April 3 victory speech: “The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest that Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics, and patriotic politics have won. We are telling Europe that this is not the past; this is the future.”
“What is this ‘Christian democratic politics,’ and what does it mean in practice?” I asked.
“During Reagan and Thatcher in the ’80s, the conservatives could sit down and make an agreement with the liberals that the state is neutral, that these policies should not be pushed through the state from the conservative side, and that they have a common enemy—Marxism, socialism, or whatever,” Balázs Orbán explained. “But since then, the situation has changed, and what is happening everywhere is that the Green, liberal, Social-Democrat, Marxists, progressives—whatever you call these political forces—they understand that if they win elections, their policies are supported by the people, so they are not afraid of using power to push the society in the direction they want.”
Meanwhile, the conservatives are in defense, so if they are in power they don’t do anything because they think the state should remain neutral. And that’s a position where you cannot win. People will not support you if you want to remain neutral. They support you because they think that what you are saying—clear-cut, conservative, Christian democratic positions—are something they support for the country. So you have to provide results after you are elected. And that’s what it means, that we use our resources and government power in favor of Christian democracy. Without that, you will just lose.
Christian democratic politics, Orbán added, are more than just rhetorical overtures to the importance of Christianity. “It’s not always about personal faith. In Poland, many more people go to church on Sunday. In Hungary, the number is way lower than in the United States, for example. Only 15 percent of [Hungarian] society is going to church every Sunday,” he claimed.
But it’s not just about personal belief. It’s about national identity and Christianity, as it is, the churches, the signs, the symbols, the traditions, the moral background that comes through Christian theology, is part of our national culture. One thousand years ago, when King Saint Stephen modernized the country, and created Hungary as a nation state back at that time, it was combined with bringing in Christianity. This nation building process went directly through churches and religion. In the Hungarian way of thinking, we are the country of St. Mary. She is the one who is protecting us, personally as the Hungarians. We try to put a lot of energy into supporting that idea. We want to have the churches play a more important role in our society, in education, healthcare, even in social security sector, and we give them a lot of institutions so both the church and state play a part in everyday life in Hungarian society.
This embrace of an overt Christian national identity has garnered Hungary its fair share of enemies in Western media, the European Union, and other institutions that would like nothing more than to impose leftist progressivism on the whole of Hungarian society. Nevertheless, TAC’s Rod Dreher and American Affairs‘ Gladden Pappin—both currently in the midst of fellowships at MCC in Budapest—told me that everyday Hungarians have yet to fully grasp the future the left wants for Hungary. I asked Orbán if he also thinks this is the case, and he agreed with Dreher and Pappin’s assessment.
“It’s almost impossible to explain it to them, because they don’t believe it’s going to come. It’s just ridiculous for them. They don’t understand. ‘What do you mean?’ Or, ‘What are you saying?’ they ask when you tell these stories,” Orbán said in reference to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. “But I think a good way of explaining it is to build an analogy with the migration issue. Because before 2015 and 2016, migration wasn’t an issue in Hungary. No one understood that the world around us was going crazy. Meanwhile, one day, 400,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East countries arrived at our borders, and they wanted to just march through the country without any permission or cooperation. Hungarians immediately realized that the migrants were here, and that there was an issue. So we had to deal with that, immediately build a fence, and secure the borders to restore a normal way of life,” Orbán said. “And I think that’s the same situation happening now. Many people think that probably it will not come, but that’s the cultural trend, when you look at what’s going on in the states. When you show them more and more examples, they will believe you. So we have to be proactive.”
“Progressives will eventually make you choose. You cannot have two flags. They force you to choose your national flag or the rainbow flag—and you have to choose the rainbow flag. Because if you choose the national flag, you are a bad person.” When they do, Orbán said, “we will get 80 percent of the vote.”