Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Last Word On Orban & ‘Mixed Race’

Hungary PM says he's emphatically against racism. Why his 'mixed-race' comment doesn't necessarily connote bigotry
Last Word On Orban & ‘Mixed Race’

In response to the controversy over his words criticizing a "mixed race" society, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier today released this statement:

In Hungary my government has a zero tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and racism. According to my understanding, God created all people in his own image. Therefore, in the case of people like me, racism is excluded ab ovo.


I had to look up "ab ovo"; it means "from the beginning." A Hungarian friend texted me to say that the Hungarian word for "race" can also mean "nationality." This would support the reading I have of the way PM Orban used the term: to say that he doesn't want Hungary to be a place where people of radically different, unassimilable nationalities try to dwell in the same space. Looking at the rest of Europe, this is a recipe for civil strife. My sense is that he is not talking about "brown and black people"; he is talking about Muslims. Interestingly, some Hungarians consider themselves to be a Turkic people (see "Turanism"), and the Orban government has good relations with the Islamist government of Turkey. But he is certainly right that in Europe, mixing Christians (or at least those whose background is Christian) and Jews with Islamic immigrants has been a bad deal for continental Europe, in a way that it simply has not been for Americans.

Plus, as I've said here before, the Hungarians are a culturally distinct people, with a unique language. There are more people living in New York City than in the entire country of Hungary, which is partly why the Hungarians are so anxious about being assimilated out of existence. Is it wrong for Hungarians to want to strictly limit immigration into their country for the purpose of preserving their cultural distinctiveness? I think not, any more than it's racist for Israel to limit migration to preserve its Jewish character, or for Japan to limit migration to preserve its Japanese character. How can a Hungarian express this without coming across as racist to Americans and to European liberals? I don't know if it's possible. If you're going to trash Viktor Orban for his view, what do you have to say to the Israelis and the Japanese (to name just two liberal democratic peoples who nevertheless believe in defending the cultural and ethnic distinctiveness of their nations).

This is something very, very hard for Americans to understand. We find it much easier to move across racial lines, in part because we have a shared generic culture, and a shared language that is in no danger of going extinct. In the case of my own kids, I don't care about the race of the person they marry, as long as the person they marry is a serious Christian. We really are living in a time when the Christian faith is in decline, and its preservation matters greatly to me, not only because I want my children and grandchildren to believe that Christ is their Savior, but also because I want Christian faith and culture to be strong. Let me put it like this: I would a thousand times rather my white children marry a believing Christian of a non-white race than marry a white person who has no faith, or a non-Christian faith. Faith, not race, is what is important to me. My niece married a dark-skinned Latino from South America, which delighted me because they met at church, and he is a believing Christian.

I completely understand why many Jews feel strongly about their children marrying only Jews, why Muslims feel that their children should only marry Muslims, Hindus feel that, etc. In the case of Jews in particular, I greatly empathize, because through intermarriage, they are being assimilated away in the United States. Yet if we are going to give Jews a pass for wanting to marry only within their religion and ethnicity, how can we begrudge it to others, even if we don't share their views? My first heartbreak was pining away in high school for a girl who was the daughter of Indian immigrants. Man, I was desperately in love, for a couple of years, with this girl -- and I never could tell if she liked me or not, or if she was just afraid to go against the will of her father, whom she adored, and who insisted that she only date Indians. (She eventually married a Jewish guy.) I met her dad, a doctor, and liked and respected him, but thought of him as kind of a bigot back then. Now, I totally understand where he was coming from. I don't think he was a religious Hindu, but I completely understand why it was important for him, as one of a small minority living in a non-Hindu, non-Indian country, that his children hold on to the old ways, including their racial heritage. The racial part doesn't matter to me, but I might feel differently if I lived in a country where I was part of a tiny minority in danger of being assimilated out of existence. In any case, I might not agree with that way of thinking, but I don't think it's crazy on its face either.

Meanwhile, this blog's longtime reader and commenter Hector St_Clare, the pseudonym of a North American academic of South Asian origin, sends in this comment:

[A reader says:] "I can certainly appreciate the difficulty of explaining that Orban actually means "religion and culture" when he says "race".  Applying Occam's razor, a much simpler (if unflattering) explanation is that Orban is a racist and just means what he says."

[Hector remarks: ] This is insane. Orban isn't saying that one ethno-racial group is "superior" or "inferior". He's saying that they are distinct​, that our differences are valuable and interesting, that they need to be preserved, and the way to preserve them is by limiting migration and mixing. And you know, he's dead right about that.

I'm interested in the survival and thriving of my own ethnic group (and no, I don't just mean in terms of "values" or "traditions" either: I mean in terms of language, genetic descent, physical appearance and self identity). I don't think we are superior or inferior to any other group, but I think we're different​ and I want us to preserve our distinct identity. We're the genetic descendants of a people who were quite distinct from the other major racial groups of the world, we speak a language with a distinct "sound", we look a certain way and we have a particular historical narrative, and I value all of those things. I don't want us to be swallowed up into some formless cosmopolitan tapioca pudding, whether the pudding is called "Indians", "Americans" or "citizens of the world". That doesn't mean I think migration or interracial/inter-ethnic marriage and mixing are "bad" in principle, any more than they're "good" in principle. It would be pretty silly if I did, considering that I'm the children of immigrants and that I almost exclusively date interracially. Like most things, their net effect depends on how common they are. A handful of Indians moving to Hungary or a handful of Hungarians dating/marrying Indian people wouldn't threaten the future existence of the Hungarian ethnic group: if millions of people like me were to move to Hungary and marry into their group, it would absolutely change the demographic makeup of the country, and Hungarians would be right to object.

Americans seem perennially incapable of getting this, because they interpret the concept of ethnic separatism in terms of Jim Crow segregation, and they interpret opposition to intermarriage in terms of concepts a "superior" and "inferior" race. As usual, they get this completely wrong, because they're exporting their own historical and cultural pathologies to other parts of the world. This isn't about superior or inferior, it's about "difference" and "distinctiveness". As a smart guy said once, segregation​ is a social order imposed by a more powerful on a weaker group. Separatism is a solution that two peoples come to mutually, to preserve the best interests of both.

Europe is a continent at peace today largely because, over the course of the twentieth century, they managed to achieve the goal of the 19th century nationalists: separate states for separate ethno-national groups. This goal was won through some horrendous costs in blood and treasure, and European nations paid a heavy price for it. The goal wasn't fully achieved until the tail end of the 20th century (and in parts of the Soviet Union it was never fully achieved, which is why we see frozen conflicts in places like Georgia where the national question was never settled). But, in most of Eastern Europe it was achieved finally, and that's one reason countries no longer fight each other on the battlefield: there aren't large national minorities, or lines of ethnic division to fight about. Western progressives now want to throw that achievement -- one of the really great achievements of the last century -- into the trash heap, and by so doing they are going to revive all the ancient ghosts and zombies of ethnic and racial conflict that we thought we had put to rest. Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe are resisting that, as they should, by any means necessary.

[Another reader comments:] nationalism, not in the West but against the West, is a post colonial trend that emerged far from the West, in its outposts, and has slowly been creeping closer to the West itself.  This is how we have the irony now in what we view as fundamentally Western, European, white etc countries becoming nationalistic, but nationalistic specifically against the broader trend and masters of their own Western civilization, wanting to separate from them, just like the colonies did.  It is emerging first on the fringes of the West - Russia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America.  There is a line from Gandhi straight to Orban.

[Hector responds:] I'd quibble with some things here- nationalism in both India and Eastern Europe long predates Gandhi, Gandhi wasn't himself a nationalist in any meaningful sense, Eastern Europe and Russia aren't 'western' and never have been, though South Africa might be-but on the whole I think your reader is onto something here. Eastern European countries are in a sense more analogous to the colonized Africans and Asians seeking to throw off imposed Western values, than they are to the racist bogeymen of Western history that American progressives often seem to want to compare them to.

Here, by the way, is Viktor Orban's entire speech from last week, subtitled in English:


Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here
When Europeans say "race" (or the equivalent word in their own language) they mean "ethnicity" and not what "race" means to us Americans. From the parochialism of Americans deliver us O Lord.
(Greetings to Hector, although I disagree somewhat about Russia-- it too is part and parcel of the civilization once known as Christendom)
schedule 3 weeks ago