Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Who Is Viktor Orban, Really?

Not who you think, if you trust the Western media's portrayal of him and of Hungary
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It is no secret that my time this late spring and summer in Hungary has made me a fan of the country. Whenever I’m online, or traveling abroad (as I have done a bit this summer, promoting my book), and I hear someone bashing the country or its government, I ask them what they know about Hungary, and how they know it. Inevitably it’s based entirely on what they’ve heard in their media.

So I invite them to come to Hungary with an open mind to see for themselves (when Covid is over, I mean; you still can’t travel here as a tourist). There is plenty for liberals to criticize about the Orban government, but I’ve found that much of the criticism from both liberals and conservatives is based on a seriously distorted idea of what this country is like, and what its government does. This is very much on my mind after a couple of conversations I had last week in Spain with people who are conservative, and upon finding out that I live temporarily in Hungary, came out with the usual complaints about how oppressive the country is. When I challenged them, it turned out that they were only parroting what they had been told by the media.

I’ve mentioned several times in this space the conversation I had with the local university prof and government critic who is critical of the Orban government for its stance on gay rights, but who is himself not an advocate of trans rights. He said later in our conversation that he can stand in his classroom and say whatever he wants, and nobody from the government will do a thing about it. I pointed out to him that if he said the same thing in a US college classroom — that he favors gay rights, but not so much on trans — the government wouldn’t do anything to him either, but his students would raise hell and demand his firing — and the university would probably agree to it, and he would never work in academia again.

That doesn’t mean that the Orban government is correct on its gay rights stance, but it does put things in perspective when considering the relative freedoms in each country. All I’m saying is that the situation is much more complex than you ever hear about in the US and European media.

Over the weekend, I had coffee with a Hungarian friend who spent a lot of time in America as a kid and teenager, because his father is an academic. He has a critical view of the US system because of its tolerance for economic precarity for so many. He supports the Orban government, and agrees with me about how totally biased and distorting the news media are, based on the kinds of things that middle and upper middle class reporters care about. For example, said my friend, in the long wake of the 2008 global economic crash, Viktor Orban’s government passed a law forbidding banks from expelling people who had defaulted on their mortgages from their homes. “Barack Obama didn’t do that,” said my friend. And then we talked about how with the US left, as long as you fly the rainbow flag and say “Black Lives Matter,” you can do whatever you want with the economy, and you won’t hear a word of protest from the supposed champions of the little guy versus Capital.

Again, none of this makes Orban right on this or that policy … but it does make the situation far more complicated than many outside this country understand. I was in a bookstore in Budapest on Saturday afternoon talking to a man who has complaints about this government, but says he plans to vote for it because the opposition “has no program,” and he expects that if they get in, they will rubber-stamp whatever Brussels tells them to do. If you agree with the progressive Eurocratic view of the world, and think that George Soros is a great-souled man, then you’ve got no problem with that. But if not, you have no alternative but to vote for Fidesz. Take a look at this English-language translation of Prime Minister’s Orban speech about the European Union given the other day. He offered a strong, substantive critique of the undemocratic ways of the EU bureaucracy, and a defense of the relative sovereignty of EU member states. Whatever else it is, it’s not the speech of a thuggish autocrat, which is how he is portrayed in the Western media.

Over the weekend, a French newspaper reported that a group of top corporate leaders in France have come together to advocate migration to France as good for business. This is what the European political and cultural establishment believe. It’s what George Soros believes. It is not what Viktor Orban and his party believe, because they hold a nation to be something more than an undifferentiated collection of individual economic actors. If you agree, then Orban is your champion. If not, then you are on Team Brussels.

Anyway, I want you to read this piece by my Danube Institute colleague Tamas Orban (no relation to the PM), explaining what the new law restricting LGBT media and educational content to minors is, and is not. You may have read in the Western media that Hungary has banned pro-LGBT speech across the board, or banned movies that feature positive portrayals of gay characters. Well, read what Tamas Orban says. Excerpts:

Let’s start with the media representation argument. The law specifically says that it refers to commercials, films and shows that promote gender transition and homosexuality, not everything that has minor gay or bisexual characters in it. And let’s be honest, the shows and movies that portray sexuality and sexual acts as important parts of the narrative are already made for adult audience. The shows that are explicitly made for children and teenagers rarely portray any of the things that would fall under this law, one or two LGBT characters do not count if the whole thing is not about their sexual identity. To be frank, why would any kind of film intended for children include sexuality, be it homo or straight? Let kids be kids, for God’s sake.

The most frequently heard argument in most critical articles is that TV channels will not be able to air Harry Potter or Friends anymore in prime time. It took me ten minutes to check if these two are really in the great danger every leftist media tries to convince me. There are only two LGBT characters in the whole Potter-verse for instance, and the whole issue only appears in one film—which is not even part of the original eight, but in one of the prequels—and not even directly, but merely implied during the ending sequence. As for Friends, it does have a small number of LGBT episode-characters, but are generally rare and unimportant. One of the main characters is implied to be bisexual (despite having exclusively straight relationships), but there is no episode with her sexuality in the focus. Therefore, I think both Harry Potter and Friends are pretty safe in these regards and will not be banished from television anytime soon. And, by the way, there is also a minor issue that everybody has seemingly missed, namely that kids and teenagers do not watch TV anymore. Everything is accessible on the Internet, and this generation already watches most (if not all) of their media online, so virtually, this law will change almost nothing. But thank you for your concerns.

The sex education issue is different, of course. These classes are important parts of students’ curriculum as it is quite important for teenagers to know about safe sex, birth-control methods and STDs. No one is denying that. But the question whether different sexualities and the process of gender transition belong in the sex ed. classes is entirely a different matter. Discrimination against homosexuals or people with genuine gender dysphoria would never be okay, but entirely discarding the issues of sexuality and gender in the curriculum is not discriminatory in any way, as it does not promote straightness or cisgender identity either. Schools should not promote any kind of sexual or gender identities for that matter — and there are very good reasons for that.


Neither sexual nor gender identity of kids is something that adults should try to influence. Most teenagers are generally in the process of figuring out who they are, building up their—sexual and other kinds of—identities bit by bit and constantly developing their views of the world and themselves. To question everything, especially themselves and their own identity is a very normal and healthy thing at that age, but it also makes them quite vulnerable to outside influences. If peers and teachers try to sway them into taking different paths, even with good intentions, they can easily adopt views and positions about themselves that might not be true and only feel so in that moment.

An adventurous and playful teenage girl would have been called a perfectly fine tomboy just a decade ago, but now many teachers, psychologists and sex educators are eager to tell such a girl that “he” is suffering from gender dysphoria and the path to happiness starts with hormone therapy and mastectomy. In other words, dangerous and irreversible changes that lead many into deep regret in just a few years. Think about it. If people are not considered mature enough to drink or drive until they are 18, why should they be old enough to consent to life-altering decisions before? No, no one should be encouraged to take on a path that could ultimately turn out to be just a phase they will find themselves unable to grow out from.

By leaving sexuality out of school, we remove only one of these factors of influence, but a big one nevertheless, and let kids decide for themselves—fortunately when they can assess the full weight of the situation. But how much could the school’s and—in general—society’s irresponsible acceptance effect gender transition actually? A 2018 study found, for example, that just between 2016 and 2017, the number of gender surgeries for biological females has quadruples in the US, while the rates of gender dysphoria among British girls have gone up 4,400 per cent over one decade.

The Hungarian government is just using common sense in trying to prevent the kind of madness that has overtaken the UK and the US from conquering the minds of Hungarian youth. One more excerpt:

So, the bottom line is that no, the Hungarian government does not link pedophilia to issues of sexuality and gender because it wants to criminalize LGBT people in the eyes of the public, but rather because protecting children does not end with stopping sex offenders, but should also include the protection from potentially harmful influences as well until children are old enough to make the best decisions for themselves.

Read the whole thing. 

Does that sound like the law as described in Western media reports?

Just now, a Hungarian friend sent me the text of an interview Orban gave to a Croatian Catholic newspaper recently. If you read it in Google Chrome, it will translate it into English. Excerpts below are translated by Google:

The Eucharist is at the center of the visit of the Pope to Hungary. Although Calvinists and Catholics do not treat the Eucharist in the same way, they share many Christian values. In your opinion, what are the key values ​​that can be strengthened after the September meeting with the Pope?

We Calvinists also have worship, we share bread and wine, but our liturgy is primarily remembrance. However, I live and understand the beauty of the Eucharist because a Catholic woman is my wife. In our culture, when spouses belong to different denominations, children follow their parents, namely according to their gender. Thus

I have four Catholic daughters – which means I live with five Catholic women under one roof – and a Calvinist son. This is how Catholics and Calvinists live together in us, in a community of love.

In addition, one of my daughters married the son of a Greek Catholic priest. Here, Catholics say, “The problem is that the mantle of our Lord Jesus Christ has been torn to pieces.” There are many of us who desire the realization of Christian unity. Of course, I am thinking not only of West Latin Christianity, but of the whole, which includes Orthodoxy.

We will send a message to the Holy Father that in Hungary Christianity is not a matter of choice, but of pre-determinedness. It does not require any reasoning, it is so, it has been ordered. The world around us is hostile to all of us, to you Catholics, and to me, the Calvinist. There is currently a cultural, even civilizational struggle going on; the struggle for the soul and future of Europe is here, it is happening here. It is often said that belief disputes are rarely held in trenches as we are all attacked. That is why we need prayer for full Christian unity, including the Orthodox, because without cooperation we cannot keep Christianity in Europe. Allow me an example close to me. When we won the election, I was still working in the Parliament, where my office was. I was preparing for the oath and my first speech, I walked out the door, and a priest from Medjugorje met me, who said: “I came to bless you before the oath.” Listen: a Croatian priest from Medjugorje came to a Calvinist Hungarian prime minister to bless him! We prayed together, then I took my oath. So in the Christian world, such things happen if we let them happen.

You mentioned the soul of Europe, the spiritual struggle. Would current politics actually be a materialization of the intellectual struggle going on in the background?

Politics takes place on three levels at the same time. The first level is practical: it is about power issues, adopting the budget, appointing people, maintaining order. I would call the second level a vision because every national community needs a vision. What about the Hungarians, not tomorrow morning, but in five to ten or twenty years? However, there is also a broader dimension behind everything, the world of transcendence. We also live in this dimension, it is also a part of life. In Hungarian political thinking, this is called the problem of majority and truth. We could put it this way: if someone has a majority but is not seeking the truth, why does the majority have it at all? This is just profanation. And if someone represents the truth but is unable to mobilize the majority, how can you act in the name of truth? This is a key challenge for Christian politics that emerges under democratic conditions. To put it more simply, we no longer have sacred, God-anointed kings, so in a democracy we must coexist with majority and truth. This is difficult, but possible. Christian Democratic politics also has a mandate in relation to Christian culture.

Christianity first created the free man. That is why we must first and foremost protect human dignity. Then Christianity created the Christian family. We need to defend the concept of the Christian family.

Hold on right there. In America, we have Disney this month queering Kermit the Frog to make an LGBT Pride special for kids, and Sesame Street featuring a pair of gay dads as new residents on the block. In the UK, a leading LGBT activist is calling on the government to criminalize “gentle, non-coercive prayer” that offends LGBTs. In Hungary, things are very different. Think about this, American conservatives.

More from Orban:

In addition, Christianity has created nations in this part of the world. If we Hungarians had not followed Christianity for a thousand years, we would have disappeared, so we must protect the nation as well. But we must also protect religious communities, the Church. In summary: our task is not to defend creeds, it is the mission of the Church, but the great achievements of Christian civilization.

And when I defend these, I struggle not only with swords, not only with power, but also with arguments. The most beautiful thing about the political profession is that there is no job description. I also have my own definition. I believe that politics is a matter of power, and power is the ability to act together. Political power creates joint action as political action. For example, through elections, the constitution, and other means. However, we must not forget about divine power, because joint action can be realized not only by political means, but also in a spiritual way. This is, in fact, the task of the Church and the servants of the Church: the Church implements joint action by spiritual guidance, and we implement it by political means. When these two sides come into contact, great results are achieved. For this reason, we will never accept the separation of church and state as interpreted in the West. The Hungarian Basic Law states that the state and the church operate separately, which also enables cooperation.

However, how can we explain why the world is loud, the Hungarian state policy, which is so eager to promote Christian values, stops migrants at the border with a wire fence?

In fact, if the Croats want to understand us, recall the thoughts and actions of Miklós Zrínyi [17th century Hungarian-Croatian nobleman best known for fighting the Ottomans — RD]; if they want to place us in their own worldview, they have to think of Hungarians in the context of Miklós Zrínyi. But let’s get back to the issue of migration. Our philosophical view is that migration is an ontologically bad thing. It is bad if we cannot stay and live in our own country, if we cannot find our personal happiness, our vocation, and if we have to leave this area for any reason, especially if it is done under duress. Sometimes someone has to leave their homeland because otherwise they would be killed or enslaved, imprisoned, or starved to death. These reasons are very possible. But even in such a case, if someone left their homeland, the goal is to return home later. Therefore if we want to help someone, we don’t need to encourage them to stay away from their homeland for as long as possible, but we need to help them get back there as quickly as possible.

I take this position personally, and I also recommend it to the European Union: European military action, economic involvement, stabilization and the creation of normal living conditions in these areas. I believe that this position can also be defended in a Christian sense. He mentioned the wire fence. When tens of thousands, mostly young men, appear on the Hungarian border, trampling across the state border in excellent physical condition, and if we want to stop them, they are trampling on us as well, we can no longer talk about migration, but a violation of state sovereignty. This must be stopped. No one can come to your country if you have not allowed this in advance, but if you do, you will have to be pushed out of there, so we will use the fence. We must also say that we are convinced that migration does not happen spontaneously, but in an organized way. This is considered a conspiracy theory in the West, but it is all done in an organized way, along political and business considerations, and the consequence will be that large Muslim masses will end up on the European continent. I believe that those who do not defend themselves will not recognize their country in twenty years. The change is due to an external effect imposed on them.


If it happened that the countries of Central Europe in this region would choose to exploit, as you said: their community of destiny, would it win the support of the whole of Europe and its central institutions?

No, they would be strongly opposed to that. For two reasons that we should not confuse. The first reason is ideological: Westerners have decided they want to live in a post-national and post-Christian world, and we respect that. But they want more than that. They want us to live that way. For this reason, if a spirit of regional cooperation emerges that includes the protection of national, Christian cultures, ideological attacks will come immediately. It is a balliberal attack that starts in Brussels and is linked to American liberal political and economic forces. They want us to be as free as they want to be. For this reason, they oppose Central European co-operation and describe it negatively, such as Polish-Hungarian co-operation.

The other reason is of a power nature. The European Union is organized in such a way that it is made up of Member States that are formally all equal, but of course size matters, facts matter, the two big countries [France and Germany — RD] form an axis and, above all, enforce their own will. This sometimes coincides, other times it is against the interests of Central Europe, sometimes it is good for us, other times it is unfavorable. …If I want to take what has been said so far to a higher level, I would say that we Central Europeans stand up for the nation-states that we want to keep, because we believe that democracy can only take place within a national framework. Western Europe prefers a Brussels-based empire. This is, in fact, at the heart of our disagreements over Europe.


Aren’t you afraid of fear when you keep at it? Not afraid?

Anyone who is afraid of political struggle is better off choosing a different path. But I am afraid the way Christians are afraid. I don’t want to condemn you. There are temptations and mistakes, but we need to strengthen ourselves every day so we don’t get lost. Hungarians used to say: I fear God. Once we all have to stand before God and give an account; no one can avoid that.

Read it all. I quoted him at length because nobody in the Western media ever does. They just villainize him, and his country.

One more time, let me be as clear as I can be here: Viktor Orban is not a saint, but a statesman and a politician. He is not a liberal secular globalist, but a conservative Christian nationalist. It is perfectly fine to criticize him, his political beliefs, and his performance (e.g., his controversial opening towards China, building a university campus here that will almost certainly be a Beijing espionage center). The point is, you should know what you’re criticizing, and don’t simply assume that the US and Western European media have informed you fairly and accurately about what’s really happening in Hungary.

I know you regular readers must be tired of me writing in defense of Orban and Hungary, but dammit, I have grown fond of this country, and I feel compelled to stand up for it when it is slandered.