Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

An American’s Letter from the Hungarian Gulag

Thank you, Professor Michael Beschloss, for denouncing ‘the Viktator.’


“Donald Trump has now had Viktor Orban, the brutal dictator of Hungary, to be his house guest.… Take this seriously, if you love democracy.” —Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, March 9.

Dear Professor Beschloss,


I pray this letter reaches you. I write you as an American in fear and trembling from the heart of darkness—namely, downtown Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which suffers, as you have said, under the brutal dictatorship of Viktor Orban. 

It was heartening to see your denunciation of the Viktator, as we call him. How fortunate you Americans are to live in a country in which no media ever have a good or even balanced word to say about Hungary and its Dear Leader. It is important to make sure that Americans are not tempted by lies, which, as we both know, are anything that contradicts what the American ruling class wishes people to believe.

Here in Hungary, we see more and more Americans coming to see conditions here for themselves, and leaving confused. Is this the miserable land our media and leaders have told us about? they ask. It seems so…normal.

What they are reacting to is the fact that Hungarians seem to be a lot like them. Hungarians can say whatever they think, after all, and denunciations of the Viktator are vigorously aired in the Magyar media. The people here retain the right to vote in free elections, and there is a notable absence of fear in this country. Where is the brutality? Where is the dictatorship?

Fortunately you, Prof. Beschloss, know better. You understand that Hungarians live under what the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” As Marcuse wrote, “What is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.”


That is precisely the state of affairs under the Viktatorship, as you have discerned. In your YouTube cri de coeur, you pointed out that “strongmen” like Orban rarely leave office, and warned that Donald Trump will model himself after Orban. I’m guessing that you know Orban has been elected four times in a row, the last time—in 2022—with a majority so large it surprised even the leadership of his Fidesz party. International election observers routinely verify that voting here is free. 

Yet as we know, when a people makes a democratic choice on election day that contradicts what liberal elites know is better for them, they have surely been strong-armed into voting against their own interests. In the 2022 election, the opposition coalition’s leader, Peter Marki-Zay, was a disaster on the campaign trail. I appreciate how hard the Western media worked to obscure this fact from the American people, but it is unfortunately true. Many were the Magyar voters to whom I spoke who said they would love to vote against Orban, but the left-wing coalition’s candidates were hopelessly bad. 

A big part of Orban’s win in 2022 was his opposition to Hungary entering into the NATO proxy war against Russia. The anti-Orban opposition favored doing as Washington and Brussels wished, but unfortunately, too many ordinary Hungarians failed to recognize their duty to risk nuclear war to uphold a Ukrainian political order they view as corrupt and oppressive of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine’s far west. Sadly, we in Hungary have to endure a media environment in which there is actual critical discussion and debate about such matters, unlike you Americans, who are free from such confusion. 

Plus, the ignorant voters here—perhaps driven by the same “white rural rage” that a recent book argues fuels the anti-democratic Trump movement—failed to perceive the benefits of diversity upheld by the Marki-Zay campaign. You might not know that the opposition coalition included Jobbik, a far-right anti-Orban party. Marki-Zay bragged on the campaign trail that his coalition is truly diverse, for it includes both communists and fascists.

It was true—but bizarrely, that did not endear the opposition to voters. False consciousness everywhere!

Here under the brutal Orban dictatorship, we are denied the gifts of diversity enjoyed by Americans and many in western Europe. Our public squares are not occupied every weekend by rabid pro-Hamas demonstrators. Indeed, Jews and Zionists are free to walk the streets without fear of assault. Can you believe it? 

Worse, the Viktatorship’s immigration policies steal from Hungarians the vibrancy that we see in many other Western capitals. An English friend visiting New York last week sent me a photo of a large group of African men congregating outside the refugee residence where they are housed and urinating on the streets. The smell of sour migrant piss on the sidewalk is the incense of democracy! Oh, how we long for that here in Budapest. 

Similarly, taking the subway in Budapest is quite dull. Everyone is well behaved and orderly. Nobody shoves anybody else onto the tracks, urinates on their seats, or starts fights with strangers. I would like to blame that on the kind of heavy police presence one expects to see in a dictatorship, but I am afraid you see far fewer cops on the streets in this country than in other western lands more blessed by diversity. One can only guess that everyone is so terrified of the merciless dictator that they behave themselves without being reminded. Such are the depths of brutality here in Orbanistan, where the regime prioritizes the interests of the actual people who live here, versus those from foreign cultures who believe they have a right to do so, whatever the law says. 

Today I stopped by a drugstore to buy toiletries, and was once again reminded of what the Orban dictatorship has taken from us. One can go into shops and select goods directly from the shelves, without having to ask a clerk to open up the hard plastic Pro-Diversity Protection Walls that retailers throughout the United States have installed to stop shoplifting since the Summer Of Floyd. I guess the sheep-like masses will endure the crypto-fascism of whiteness for the convenience of not having to shop for everyday goods stored behind locked cabinets.

Along those lines, our cruel fate under the Viktatorship is to walk around the capital city assaulted visually by statues of Hungarian national heroes from ages past. The Hungarian people are so badly beaten down that they do not yet realize that they ought to be ashamed of their country’s history and leaders. They can’t understand that these long-dead men must be judged by Year Zero standards, and banished from the eyes of the public, as is happening in the U.S. and the UK. 

The forces of white supremacy are strong here in the land of the Magyars. Do you know they don’t even have Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bureaucracies in their companies? How do they even do business? Yes, yes, the Hungarians never enslaved anybody or colonized Africa, or practiced apartheid segregation. But they are white Europeans, and therefore collectively guilty of—something. I hope at least some of the millions the U.S. government has committed for “pro-democracy” activism in Hungary will go towards helping the Magyars come to hate themselves and their ancestors. Liberal democracy demands nothing less. 

Though one often sees same-sex couples walking hand in hand throughout the city, Budapest suffers from a chronic lack of LGBT drapery. (At least the U.S. Embassy hangs its rainbow flag during the high holy month of June.) How agonizing it is to travel to nearby Vienna during June, and see rainbow buntings everywhere. Happily, the gay American ambassador to Hungary rarely misses an opportunity to remind the Magyars how backwards they are in this respect. We can only hope that they will be shamed into repentance. 

In 2021, the wicked Viktatorship closed off an avenue of changing the minds of the young when it outlawed LGBT information aimed at children and minors. Now if young Hungarians wish to learn about anal sex, fisting, opportunities to amputate their breasts, sever their penises, and enjoy other blessings of liberty, they have to consult foreign social media. An American schoolchild, on the other hand, only needs to watch children’s television, visit his school library, or talk to his teacher—who will have been coached by the school district on the best ways to lie to parents about such matters.

Worse, Hungary is a country where, unlike in the United States, people do not accept that the state has the right to remove a gender-dysphoric child from his parents’ house if they will not support his or her transition. The brutal dictatorship of Mom and Dad is naturally supported by the brutal dictatorship of Viktor Orban.

And don’t get me started on the Christian nationalism over here! The dictatorship believes that Christianity has something to do with Hungarian identity—this, on the spurious grounds that the nation was founded by its first Christian king, St. Istvan, a thousand years ago. On the royal saint’s feast day, a national holiday, the brutal dictator orders drones to form an illuminated cross over the Danube, to remind the nation of its roots. True, few Hungarians these days go to church, and there is no compulsion to do so, and the Orban government doesn’t even try to reform abortion laws because there is no constituency for it. Nevertheless, one can only tremble in frightened anticipation of the Handmaid’s Tale future that Christian nationalists like Viktor Orban will surely impose on this country when they finally pounce. 

As a distinguished historian, you must have read the controversial 2014 speech in which Prime Minister Orban declared that he was trying to build an illiberal democracy in Hungary. This talk has been widely quoted in the West (or at least two words of it have been), but not much read. In it, Orban explained that what counts as “liberalism” is the exaltation of the individual, even at the expense of the greater community. Under liberal democracy, he said, we have seen that the traditional structures of communal life—especially families—have been suppressed, and the powers of corporations and other entities have grown. He argued that the experience of Hungary after the fall of communism was such that “liberal democracy” meant that foreigners and foreign entities bought up Hungarian assets, and exercised their power to make Hungary a vassal state controlled by outsiders.

In that speech, Orban said:

Consequently, what is happening today in Hungary can be interpreted as an attempt of the respective political leadership to harmonize relationship between the interests and achievement of individuals – that needs to be acknowledged – with interests and achievements of the community, and the nation. Meaning, that Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not deny foundational values of liberalism, as freedom, etc. But it does not make this ideology a central element of state organization, but applies a specific, national, particular approach in its stead.

Can you imagine it? This crude barbarian actually believes his country ought to be able to govern itself as its people see fit, instead of how the transatlantic elite class prefers. It’s Dark Ages stuff.  

How grateful I am that dear old George Soros, a man of enlightenment, did what he could to undermine the Viktator and educate the Hungarian people about what’s really good for them (open borders and so forth), but I guess the brutality of Orban’s methods overcame the progressive oligarch’s billions. These days, I look at all the great things that Soros-sponsored district attorneys in liberal American jurisdictions have brought about, in terms of increasing freedom for the imprisoned, and building vibrancy all over, and grieve that we in Hungary can’t have the same things. 

One can only be grateful for the unwavering and uncomplicated sympathy your kind of American has shown to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. The Hungarians under Orban have been skeptical of NATO’s role in this conflict from the beginning, not out of sympathy for Russia, but because the brutal dictator Orban believes that the war is a lot more complicated than the official narrative had it, and because he did not see how this war was in Hungary’s interests. It is true that two years on, Orban’s vision is being vindicated by events. Nevertheless, good for you for not being afraid of invidious comparisons to the famous Gulag Archipelago anecdote about forced applause, instead reminding Americans that anyone who doesn’t applaud leaders favored by the regime must be held accountable for their lack of enthusiasm:

Precisely! If freedom and democracy mean anything, they mean that people must be compelled to applaud a politician, whether they want to or not. You wouldn’t see that sort of thing in Hungary, I’m afraid, alas for the poor, oppressed Magyars. 

You, sir, are a beacon of prophetic wisdom for warning of the dangers that Viktor Orban and Donald Trump pose to Our Democracy. There’s one bright spot: Things look good from Great Britain, where, thanks to the Tories’ betrayal of their voters, no matter who wins the next election, the borders will stay open and police will continue to go after the real villains—Britons who voice objection to militant Islamist mobs and Britons who say women with penises are actually men. But here on the Continent (meaning no disrespect to the beloved Hungarian snack), a Chimney Cake Curtain is falling over Europe. In the march up to the June European parliamentary elections, there is a rising tide of far-right sentiment from Europeans who long for such vile things as hard borders, the restoration of public order and reduction of migrant crime and migrant numbers, and more national sovereignty in the face of Brussels’ heavy hand. 

In Germany, for example, we face the shocking fact that there are actual Germans—Nazis to the fingertips, no doubt—who do not appreciate the gifts of diversity that mass migration has brought to them (including providing more work for police to do, lest they grow idle), and who resent the fact that their country is fast de-industrializing in service to Washington’s foreign policy goals. 

The fight to save Our Democracy from Trump and Orban is not only a matter for the U.S. and Europe. You should call attention to the tragedy of El Salvador under the brutal dictatorship of Nayib Bukele, who has turned his country from the murder capital of the world into a decent place to live by jailing en masse the gang members who held the Salvadoran people hostage. One’s heart breaks to see the retreat from liberal democracy in El Salvador under Bukele. If Americans and Europeans fail to see that having strong leaders like Bukele and Orban—meaning men who understand that preserving civilized life is not always consonant with the principles of liberalism, and who are willing to act on their convictions—leads to terrible outcomes like crime-free streets, hard borders, and unqueered children, then surely these Americans and Europeans will not vote these monsters into office. 

As a Washingtonian of many years, living inside the Inner Ring of power, you surely have your pulse on the reality of life in America. The United States is lucky to have a class of public intellectuals like you to sound the alarm about the rise of fascism. Admittedly, this sometimes requires having the courage to lie to the people; I’m thinking about the statement, near the eve of the 2020 election, issued by 51 former U.S. intelligence officials denouncing the Hunter Biden laptop story as “Russian disinformation.” It wasn’t true, as we now know, but thank God those officials said what they did, when they did. They might have saved the election for Joe Biden—which is to say, saved democracy. In this fallen world, there are times when the people must be deceived in their own best interests. America is fortunate to have elites willing to lie for the sake of the common good.

Your YouTube denunciation of Orban and Trump is in the same spirit of liberal journalist Kara Swisher’s advice to Biden, on how to handle his Republican opponent: Call him “rapist, racist, fascist” every day, from now till the election. That will surely wake up the slumbering masses, and make them forget about the six million illegal aliens—sorry, undocumented workers bearing gifts of diversity—who crossed the U.S. border under Biden’s term, to say nothing of inflation, crime, and America’s deteriorating position in the world. Staying focused on Trump’s flaws, as you see them, is a sure-fire way to avoid wasting your time and everybody else’s on introspection about the failures of liberal democracy, in its current form, to serve the welfare and the interests of the people who live under it. 

One day, sir, the people of Hungary will be able to breathe free at their very own Drag Queen Story Hours (if, that is, Islamic migrants don’t beat up the participants). When that sweet and fabulous day of deliverance dawns, I look forward to meeting you here in Budapest to share in that particular blessing of liberty. Please wear your most fetching wig! 

Yours in solidarity,

Rod Dreher