Viktor Orbán’s latest address, delivered yesterday at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce’s annual gathering, has already become notorious. The lengthy speech was intended to give an overview of the Hungarian economy, which the Hungarian prime minister described as “not good but promising.” As usual, he said nothing noteworthy on that front. He did, however, give the Chamber a lecture on genetics, ethnicity, and culture which without exaggeration can be described as unadulterated racism.
The portion of the speech devoted to “cultural and ethnic homogeneity” is relatively short but damning nonetheless. One commentator, András Hont of HVG, who used to be a friend of Orbán back in the early 1990s, recorded the changes of his feelings about the prime minister. First, he felt admiration, later disappointment and suspicion, but after reading this speech he “feels only revulsion.” Strong words but not undeserved.
Let’s turn to the text that elicited such a strong reaction not just in Hungary but abroad as well. Orbán probably realized the risk involved in entering into a discussion of such a “delicate” subject. Thus he began this part of his speech by paying homage to the resurgence of politically incorrect speech in Hungary: “By now one can say such things. A few years ago one could be executed for such sentences, but today one can say it because life confirmed that too much mixing brings trouble.” What’s too much mixing and what’s not? I think it is pretty clear from the text that mixing within the European community is acceptable as far as Orbán is concerned, but any mixing with people coming from “different cultures” is not. He admits—he can’t do otherwise—that today’s Hungarians are ethnically extremely varied, but he looks upon the Hungarian nation as ethnically homogeneous because it is made up of European stock.
Naturally, when a Hungarian speaks of ethnic diversity, sooner or later we will hear the advice of Hungary’s first king to his son about the wisdom of inviting foreigners into the country “because a kingdom where only one language is spoken and only one custom is followed is weak and fragile.” And indeed Orbán made a fleeting reference to St. Stephen’s wisdom, but he added that “one mustn’t endanger the country’s basic ethnic character.” The presence of an alien stock wouldn’t improve the value of the country; on the contrary, “it would devalue it and thrust it into chaos.” He is all for “cultural diversity within [the European] context, but the existence of parallel societies that are incapable of assimilation” must be avoided at all costs. Orbán is convinced that if “we manage to uphold the [country’s] ethnic homogeneity and its cultural uniformity, then Hungary will be upgraded as a place. Hungary will be the kind of place that will be able to show other, more developed countries what they lost.”
A few weeks ago we were laughing over Orbán’s remarks about the West European refugees who will be coming to Hungary. We thought he was joking. Well, he is not joking. He truly believes that Hungary will be a European paradise which white Europeans will envy and perhaps move to.
The same theme cropped up again in a later part of the speech, when Orbán said that he doesn’t want the importation of “guest workers,” although it is becoming painfully clear that there is a serious labor shortage in Hungary. He wants a country where all jobs are filled by Hungarians, from the cleaning lady to the president of the Hungarian National Academy. In Western European countries immigrants do the menial jobs. But not in Hungary, where ethnic purity will enhance the value of the country. It will be a country that is being run from top to bottom by Hungarians.
The Chamber also received a lecture about the “idea of greatness.” Hungary might be small, but Hungarians understand the “meaning of greatness.” Hungarians “cannot relinquish the idea of greatness in culture, greatness in sports, greatness in science.” He continued: “We are not simply a nation in the Carpathian Basin but we are a great nation, quite independently from the fact that at the moment we are shrunken and demographically declining. However, that doesn’t change the thousand-year-old fact that we are a great nation. People who live in this country think of themselves as such.” This attitude, to Orbán’s way of thinking, is also a plus in the eyes of others, which I very much doubt. Perhaps megalomania would be a better description of Orbán’s ideas on the greatness of his nation.
Most commentators misunderstood the message. Some people got stuck on the ethnic diversity of Hungarians and brought up examples to prove that Orbán doesn’t know what he is talking about. For example, 24.hu gave the ethnic backgrounds of the thirteen generals who were executed after the 1848-49 revolution and war of independence and triumphantly announced that only four of them were ethnically Hungarians. But this is not what Orbán was talking about. He has nothing against white Europeans. He was talking about people whose skin is darker and who are not Christians. This was a speech with a racist message, pure and simple. Normally, Orbán couches his less than acceptable ideas in coded phrases that can easily be explained away if necessary. But he seems to be emboldened as a result of the political changes in the United States, and he no longer even pretends when it comes to the subject of race relations.
The Jewish weekly Szombat published an opinion piece which analyzed the text more deeply. The author discovered a sentence that stood apart from the passage on ethnic homogeneity. Here Orbán called “Hungary’s ethnic relations complicated.” He was undoubtedly referring to the large Roma population in the country. Thus, the commentator translated Orbán’s thinking on the subject: “We have enough problems with our own ethnic relations. We don’t need an immigrant ethnic group.” What really bothered the author, however, was the “ethnic homogeneity” phrase, which can be understood as “ethnic purity.” With this, he wrote, “we are back to the word usage of the Central European dictatorships of the 1930s.” I’m afraid I have to agree with him. This time it is impossible to explain away Viktor Orbán’s message.