Yesterday the Hungarian media got wind of an international conference on The Future of Europe, to be held between January 23 and 25, 2018 in Budapest’s Castle Garden Bazaar. The conference is heralded as “an outstanding cultural and scientific event of the V4 Hungarian Presidency” and is being funded by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Századvég, the Fidesz think tank, and V4 Connects, the fancy name for the Hungarian presidency of the Visegrád Four, are “partners,” while the organizer of the affair is a foundation created during the first Orbán government under the watchful eye of Mária Schmidt, who still serves on its five-member board.
According to the conference’s webpage, it “represents an extraordinary opportunity to analyze the full array of political and cultural processes as well as to put our identity-creating cultural values in the limelight.” The conference is advertised as a gathering of leading politicians, renowned professors and well-known public figures [who] will share their views with each other and with the audience of visitors.”
There will be panel discussions on topics like the “cultural war for body and soul” of Europe, or, to put it another way, “shall we, out of cultural guilt or simple calculation, sacrifice Christianity, freedom and our way of life?” As for geopolitical challenges, the invited guests will discuss such issues as the nature of a European army. The question is whether this army “should consist of soldiers or machines and algorithms.” They will touch upon digitalization, which tomorrow “may radically transform humanity’s own identity or even our physical existence.” Finally, emphasis will be placed on the Visegrád Four as “the engine of Europe’s economy” and what opportunities the emerging giants of the world economy–China, India, Indonesia–offer the Visegrád nations. “Will our region be able to jump several stairs at once and make Europe become a leading force in the future world economy?”
When it comes to “the gathering of leading politicians, renowned professors and well-known public figures,” the keynote speaker on the opening day of the conference will be Milo Yiannopoulos, described as a political commentator, publisher, blogger, journalist, and the author of Challenges of the Western World. The next day Frank Füredi, author, commentator, and sociologist, will deliver a lecture on “Populism and the European Culture Wars.” In the afternoon, Götz Kubitschek, described as a publisher, publicist, and philosopher from Germany, will conduct a panel discussion on “migration, resettlement and the future of Europe.” The closing presentation, still untitled, will be given by Pascal Bruckner, a French philosopher and author of a book on France and Islam. The last day will be given over to such luminaries as Péter Szijjártó, who will deliver a speech, most likely on Europe’s geopolitical challenges, and Tamás Deutsch, who will inquire whether “artificial intelligence is our future.” Closing remarks will be delivered by Sándor Csányi, the president of OTP, Hungary’s largest bank, and the richest man in the country.
Who are these people? Let’s start with the lesser-known characters. Götz Kubitschek is a right-wing activist who espouses ethnocentric positions and is one of the most important protagonists of the Neue Rechte. Apparently, he was instrumental in the consolidation of the German branch of the Identitarian movement, commonly viewed as far right. He has been a frequent speaker at PEGIDA rallies in Saxony. He is also close to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Frank Füredi, as his name indicates, is of Hungarian origin. With his parents he arrived in Canada as a refugee after the Hungarian revolution of 1956. He has been living in the United Kingdom since 1969. In the 1970s he became involved in left-wing politics and was the founder and leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Nowadays, however, he shows quite a bit of sympathy for populist ideas. I suspect that he was invited to this conference because only a few months ago he published a new book titled Populism and the European Culture Wars, which “argues that the current outburst of anti-populist anxiety is symptomatic of a loss of faith in democracy and in the ability of the demos to assume the role of responsible citizens.” Even more importantly, the book focuses “on the conflict between the European Union’s Commission and the Government of Hungary” and “explores contrasting attitudes towards national sovereignty, popular sovereignty and the question of tradition and the past as the main drivers of the culture wars in Europe.”
Pascal Bruckner was most likely chosen because of his ideas on Islam and the white race, about which he wrote in La Tyrannie de la pénitence. His general criticism of Islam kindled an international debate about ten years ago when he wrote a polemical article titled “Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?” In it he talked about an “enlightened elite who deny the benefits of democratic rights to the rest of humanity.” This is an idea that fits in very nicely with the Fidesz ideologues’ hatred of the liberal elite.
Of course, the most controversial character among the invitees is Milo Yiannopoulos, a former senior editor of Breitbart News. He is a critic of feminism, Islam, social justice, and political correctness. He is often described as a member of the alt-right movement, a label he rejects. But in October 2017 leaked emails revealed that he had repeatedly solicited neo-Nazi and white supremacist characters for feedback and story ideas for his work at Breitbart. The same emails also revealed that some of his Breitbart articles were ghost written. His book, which was supposed be published by Simon & Schuster and for which he received $255,000, was eventually rejected and the contract broken. A few days ago an article was devoted to the editor’s notes on Yiannopoulos’s rejected book, which reveal the man’s total inability to write something publishable. One of the funnier remarks by the editor was that the author needed “a stronger argument against feminism than saying that they are ugly and sexless and have cats.” A recent article compares him to Donald Trump in the sense that he “grew out of a grotesque convergence of politics and the internet, and thrived by turning hate speech into show business.”
Well, this is not how the Fidesz far-right looks upon him. Yesterday Pesti Srácok published an article in which Balázs Dezse, the author, talked about Yiannopoulos’s visit to Budapest as a “historic moment” which “for many people is a dream come true.” Dezse is obviously is one of them. According to the admiring author, Yiannopoulos played a key role in the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The argument is that it is hard to label this man as a Nazi because, after all, he is openly gay, he prefers African-American partners, and he is partly Jewish. As for his firing from Breitbart for his controversial remarks about pedophilia, this was an attempt by liberals to silence him. He had been molested by his own father, and his remarks about the case were simply twisted by his enemies. Dezse, in an earlier article, also published in Pesti Srácok, describes Yiannopoulos as “the most exciting and most controversial figure of the alternative right.” With great enthusiasm he covers every step that Yiannopoulos has ever taken, showing a deep familiarity with the man’s career and the foreign-language sources that have covered his activities. The article is titled “A brilliant and dangerous fagot, evil doer of the internet alt-right.” (Yiannopoulos called himself a “dangerous faggot.”)
The more mainstream Fidesz papers, like Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap, have so far remained quiet about the conference. Mária Schmidt’s Figyelő couldn’t quite ignore it since, after all, Schmidt was involved in the organization of the event. So, an article attacked the liberal media’s criticism of inviting people like Milo Yiannopoulos to an international conference organized by the Hungarian government. The author rejects the label of “extreme right,” which is an arbitrary designation that is given by the so-called independent media and a few liberal politicians. These people complain that “Yiannopoulos as a newspaperman considers his chief mission to be the criticism of feminists, left-wingers, and human-rights activists. This is 100% correct and that’s why we love him.”
Zsolt Jeszenszky, who described himself as a political hobbyist and who has a Bannon 2020 banner on his Facebook page, called the criticisms mere hysteria by the “Hungarian alter egos of Guy Verhofstadt.” In his opinion, “the fellow is extremely well educated, well informed” and often makes fools of his opponents. He is “the greatest enemy of the liberal establishment.” Jeszenszky in this article intimates that conservative Republicans were behind Yiannopoulos’s downfall at Breitbart, taking advantage of his comments on his pedophilic experience.
As time goes by, Viktor Orbán is becoming increasingly open about his far-right ideology and orientation. Looking over the participants of this conference, I find it hard to imagine a group further to the right, unless Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz will decide to invite white supremacists and neo-Nazis to their next international conference on the future of Europe.