Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Will Orban Be Remembered as a Liberal?

As Europe faces cataclysms that will redraw the face of the old continent forever, the U.S. cannot hope to escape the changes either.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a press

The war in Ukraine continues to draw our attention away from one of the biggest global news stories of our time: illegal migration.

Europe is on the front lines of this mass migration into the West, but the changes will be so enormous that they will affect the United States as well. The old continent is facing catastrophic change of the sort that might open the door to leaders who will make Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, seem liberal in comparison. János Batsányi, a Hungarian poet famous in his own homeland, once wrote: “Cast your watchful eyes on Paris!” When it comes to Europe, American readers do well to pay attention not only to the news from Ukraine but to the borderlands of Europe as well.

Of course, migration and immigration have always been present to some extent in the Western world and always will be. The question is not whether there will be immigration, but where migrants come from, whether they are young men only, and what cultural beliefs they will bring with them.

Even mere discussion of the social changes brought about by migration triggers the liberal media in both the U.S. and Europe. They see its mention as potential incitement to hatred, leading to horrific events such as the 2019 Christchurch massacre. Though all decent observers should be careful not to incite hatred, we would be fools to ignore the facts, which exist independently of how we feel about them.

The inconvenient facts of Europe’s migration crisis are these: First, the population of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region will see drastic growth in the coming decades. Second, the MENA region is set to lose much of its drinking water and food sources. Third, advances in electric vehicles and renewable energy sources could soon rob the region of much of its GDP. All of this will prompt millions of people from this region to leave for Europe.

The confluence of these factors will dramatically affect Europe’s cultural and political milieu, and will do so in a way that legitimizes hardline European politicians of the right. Put another way, if you don’t like Viktor Orbán’s style of right-wing politics, wait till you see who comes after him.

Before we have a look at the influences behind the mass relocation of people today, let’s try and imagine how such a huge wave of migration would take place. Although the last such event in Europe happened in 2015, for Southern Europe it started a little earlier, in 2014. By that time, one million Syrians had left their war-torn country and more than 600,000 had applied for asylum in the E.U. The Syrian civil war began in 2011, so realistically, three to four years after a more serious cataclysm, a migration crisis could develop in Europe. The immediate reaction of some highly conservative, nationalist countries, such as Hungary, was to close the borders in 2015. However, countries with liberal or moderate conservative leadership immediately responded according to a doctrinal inclusive attitude and invited the masses to Europe. We can remember the slogan of the then conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “we will solve it!” It seems unlikely that the elite controlled by Brussels would react differently in the event of another crisis.

Contrary to Merkel’s slogan, the E.U. has not even solved the integration of one million people. Today we can safely say that Merkel’s immigration policy has been a complete failure. While in 2022 “only” 12.6 percent of foreigners in Germany were unemployed (that’s more than a million people), 65 percent of Syrians were unable to make a living in Germany and were therefore weighing down the social system. Crime statistics do not show any better data either. In 2019, non-German citizens committed 35 percent of crimes in Germany. It is worth highlighting again the role of the Syrians: In the same year, Syrians were responsible for 12.2 percent of violent crimes. And although refugees make up only 1 to 2 percent of the German population, in 2018, for example, 12 percent of all sexual crimes were committed by refugees.

Negative social changes like this do not go unnoticed by the European masses. Immigration is fundamentally viewed negatively by people around the world, and especially in Europe. In countries where the negative effects of migration can be openly discussed, such as Hungary, Poland, or the Czech Republic, a significant proportion of the population rejects migration. A recent survey looked at the question of whether, according to the population of different E.U. member states, 70 million migrants could be successfully integrated into Europe in the coming years. The responses were staggering: It was not only Eastern European countries who found this scenario completely unrealistic, but even the more liberal German, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Flemish societies. Yet the number of 70 million is still a relatively low estimate. Incidentally, according to Eurobarometer, in 2018-2019, the European population was concerned about migration above all else.

It is not difficult to imagine that European elections in the future will be more and more about the topic of migration. The migration crisis of 2015 shook the continent, eliminating parties in the long run (think of the German CDU) and elevating parties (think of the further strengthening of Fidesz in Hungary after 2015). We have not even talked about the rise of terrorism. As is well known, several perpetrators of the attack on the Bataclan and other cafés in Paris on November 13, 2015, entered Europe during the wave of migration with false documents. The true identity of some perpetrators is still unknown.

Although many people do not remember this because of the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020 another migration crisis unfolded on the Turkish-Greek border. The Turkish side accused the Greek border guards of using live ammunition, which Greece denied. But let us be honest, by 2050, they will certainly be using live ammunition. And mass migration will not only be a burden upon Southern Europe. Last November, the Polish border guards fought off masses of Arab migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons. Muslim masses last attempted to occupy these areas in the 17th century.

Europe’s borders are slowly becoming a zone besieged by illegal immigrants from all directions. How long will European politicians be able to hold back the far right? By “far right,” I do not mean people who want to defend their homeland and their borders, but people who want to shoot with live ammunition people who look different, and whose coming to power can only bring suffering to all the people of Europe, both Christians and Muslims. They will not be the far right of the Budapest kind, but of the Christchurch kind.


What are the main factors causing mass migration? The most obvious one is overpopulation. Drastic population growth in the countries of the MENA region is no new phenomenon. According to U.N. data, which was analyzed in English by historian Tamás Dezső, director of the Budapest-based Migration Research Institute, the region’s population grew from 193 million in 1955 to 879 million in 2018. In 2018, Europe’s population was 746 million; the increase was therefore almost equal to Europe’s total population in just over 60 years. Iran, for example, had a population of 19 million in 1955, yet it has a population of 84 million today, and in 2011, 61 percent of its population was under the age of 34.

What can we expect in the future? According to conservative U.N. projections, the region’s population could grow to one billion between 2020 and 2050, an increase of 400 million over the next 30 years. Let us not forget that with this calculation we have not even mentioned all the other countries in the world that do not belong to the MENA region, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, South America and Central and East Asia.

One of the most dramatic effects of climate change will undoubtedly be a shortage of drinking water. According to the U.N. definition, “when a territory withdraws 25 per cent or more of its renewable freshwater resources it is said to be ‘water-stressed’.” According to a March 2022 study by Statista, the water stress level will be highest in the region we are discussing by 2040 (above 80 percent). But we may not have to wait that long. According to recent research by Pew, “the world’s…dry areas are getting drier much more quickly than previously thought.” For example, in Iran, “per capita water availability is set to fall by 50 percent by 2050.”

Why is the issue of water so important? The New Security Beat blog, maintained by the Wilson Center, explains: “Decreased water availability can be the principal cause of civil unrest and localized violence…. Water stress can be exploited by non-state actors, violent extremist organizations, insurgents, and other belligerents…. There will be more and widespread occasions of civil unrest and localized violence, with a greater sense of urgency to change perceived governmental inadequacies.” The increase in war and terrorism will inevitably increase the willingness to migrate, as we saw in 2015 for Syria.

Those who pay attention not only to the daily news of the Russo-Ukrainian war, but also to the broader studies, may not be surprised to hear this: the war has already shaken the world’s food supply, and we are still at the beginning of the process. All this will be cumulatively true for the MENA region. According to Niels Graham and Inbar Pe’er of the GeoEconomics Center: “Together, Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat exports. However, following Russia’s attack on its neighbor, both vital supply chains have been crippled. The war will impact global grain markets now acutely in the MENA region, with possibly devastating economic and political ripple effects.”

What does this mean in practice? For example, Iran is one of the largest consumers of grain in the world. The country was already struggling with grain shortages due to the drought in 2021, so a huge number of imports were expected for the 2021/2022 marketing year. The country is projected to need 5 million tons of grain this year, making it the fifth largest grain importer in the world, just behind Egypt. However, the huge demand will certainly remain unmet. Ukraine and Russia account for more than a quarter of global wheat exports and nearly a fifth of corn. One of the main buyers of wheat will therefore remain bereft of sources.

According to Tamás Dezső, the phenomenon of the spread of electric cars cannot be ignored either when considering the future of the MENA region. While we can’t fully predict changes in oil production, both Bloomberg and J. P. Morgan’s predictions suggest that electric cars could account for half or more of the global car fleet by 2050. It is therefore logical to conclude that the crude oil-producing countries in the region in question, whose GDP largely relies on hydrocarbon production, will face declining market demand. This could lead to a massive loss of income and unemployment. In 2018, for example, according to the World Bank, oil rents accounted for 20 percent of Iran’s GDP, 43 percent in Libya, 39 percent in Iraq, and 21 percent in Syria.

According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 24 percent of the population in the MENA region wanted to emigrate in 2017. The numbers have only grown since then. According to an article in December 2021, the tendency to emigrate in Iran is 33 percent, but this was typical of the entire Arab world: two out of five young Arabs want to leave their homeland, and in some countries such as Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq even two-thirds of young men.

In what direction will these masses leave the MENA region? They cannot go to Southern Africa precisely because of climate change, destabilization, and war. In the Sub-Saharan region, according to a Gallup survey just quoted, 33 percent of the locals were inclined to emigrate, and that was five years ago. Russia, India, and China will not let these masses in, as these countries are not very famous for their liberal immigration policies anyway, and India and China are overpopulated even today. It makes sense that these masses will head for Europe, if only because the liberal elite in Brussels has not learned from the 2015 crisis and continues to make inviting, inclusive statements, which are regularly covered by the Arabic-language media. From this, the masses draw the simple conclusion: come here, there will be peace, water, food, and work, here we welcome you!


So let us summarize all that has come before. The population of the Muslim world, which is already suffering from a lack of resources, is projected to grow, according to organizations that cannot be accused of spreading far-right propaganda, by a population equal to that of the E.U. by 2050. Meanwhile, there are negative social phenomena, cataclysms and upheavals hovering above this region, even one of which would be able to move the masses. Yet we have just listed at least five factors—in overpopulation, climate change, water scarcity, violence, unemployment, food shortages—even one of which could trigger a new, more powerful wave of migration than ever before, and all of which have already begun.

Why are the liberal Brusselites interested in fostering mass migration to Europe? How can they not see the social unrest and dangerous developments their actions ferment? The answer is most likely that they can see it, but they do not care. The European liberal elite has decided that the merits of turning the Old Continent into “Terra Nova”, the New Land for the New Europeans outweighs the downsides. Most of all they want to stay in power, a feat that is becoming increasingly difficult for left-wing and liberal parties in Western Europe, at least without the Muslim vote.

As the European right turns its attention more and more to the woes of the classical working class, so does the left concentrate more and more on the social situation and rights of the migrant masses. And the migrant masses do know how to say thank you. In the United Kingdom, 85 percent of Muslims voted on the Labour Party at the 2017 parliamentary elections, and the same trend could be detected between 2005 and 2015 as well. The British “Vote Smart” movement, supported by Muslim news portals and the Muslim Council of Britain, has focused on calculating the maximum number of council mandates attainable based on the Muslim population and encouraging strategic voting. Among British Muslim councilors, left-wingers were strongly overrepresented during the last two local elections. The European left is becoming more Muslim while the Muslims of Europe are becoming more left-wing.

Surveys in two other Western European countries with a large immigrant community show similar results. In the 2004 Belgian regional elections, 45.7 percent of the Muslims eligible for voting supported the Socialists, 13.3 percent the Liberals, and only 7.1 percent the Christian Democrats. During the 2007 parliamentary elections, 42.3 percent of Muslims voted for the Socialists, 16.7 percent for Christian Democrats, 14.7 percent for Liberals, and 12.2 percent for the Greens.

In France, during the 2007 French presidential elections, in the first round, 64 percent of Muslim voters voted for socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, 19 percent for center-right candidate François Bayrou, and 1 percent for right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. In the second round, 95 percent of Muslim voters supported Royal’s camp. Just a few days before writing, a similar result occurred. Some 69 percent of the French Muslim population voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the 2022 French presidential election. Behind him, second was Liberal Emmanuel Macron with 14 percent, and third with Marine Le Pen on the right with 7 percent of the Muslim vote. Mélenchon performed best in Muslim-populated neighborhoods, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Muslim leaders in France called for supporting Macron before the second round.

The growing Muslim population in Europe will, of course, demand a voice in politics over time, as we can already see in the case of the British Labor Party or the immigrant party DENK in the Netherlands and in the case of the United States (think of Ilhan Omar). The script described by Michel Houellebecq in his book Submission does not seem so detached from reality: One day, Western or Northern European countries may be led at least in part, if not entirely, by individuals with an immigrant background. In today’s globalized world, America cannot escape the same troubles.

T.S. Eliot rightly pointed out that the main problem with liberalism is that it contributes to the dismantling of the very liberties that had helped bring it about in the first place. Brussels is making the same mistake today: It is persecuting the Hungarian right and its migration policy by referring to it as “far right,” and not seeing the reality that if Europe does not catch up with Hungary’s position soon by 2050 the continent will face a real far right. The day will come when we will think of Viktor Orbán as a moderate, liberal politician, and perhaps even in Brussels they will feel nostalgic for the good old days when all they had to do was write angry communiqués against Hungary.

László Bernát Veszprémy is a Hungarian historian and the editor-in-chief of Corvinák, the popular science journal of Mathias Corvinus Collegium.