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The Budapest Family Summit: A gathering of the far right

A few days ago I ended one of my posts by declaring that the present Hungarian government is a far-right formation and that it’s time for the western media to recognize this fact. Unfortunately, there are still far too many publications that keep referring to Fidesz and the Orbán government as a nationalistic, right-of-center, or conservative, party and government. I’m afraid they are wrong.

Some observers insist that the Viktor Orbán-led Fidesz has no definable ideology. The Hungarian prime minister is simply an opportunistic populist and a cynic, they claim. Maybe, but I find it striking that on April 26, when Viktor Orbán delivered his speech to the European Parliament in defense of his policies, only members of the far-right parties came to his support. All the others, including members of the European People’s Party, condemned his self-declared illiberal state and his systemic degradation of the country’s democratic institutions.

A good example of the ideological orientation of the regime is the Hungarian government’s embrace of the World Congress of Families (WCF). I already wrote about the forthcoming four-day pro-family extravaganza on May 11, but now that it is over I think we should take a second look.

I will start with some critical foreign reactions to the WCF’s holding its eleventh summit in Budapest. Right-Wing Watch called this year’s summit “part of a global struggle for achieving the group’s goals: restricting legal recognition for LGBTQ people and families, denying women legal access to abortion, and opposing sex education.” According to Right-Wing Watch, the organizers “picked Hungary as a way to show support for the government of strongman leader Viktor Orbán, whom WCF calls “the hero of pro-family and pro-life leaders.” The short article is accompanied by a long list of participants, including Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, who last year said that Hillary Clinton wanted to “usher in the Antichrist.” The Guardian quoted Lóránt Győri, a political scientist, who said that “this is not normal conservative politics.” Because of the WCF’s connection to the Russian far right, he believes that “there’s a geopolitical angle which is about Russia and the Kremlin trying to sell its message. The Kremlin uses [groups like] the WCF to assert its soft power in central European society.” And, most importantly, “by elevating this conference to a state-level event, we now can almost see that Fidesz is positioning itself as a far-right party.”

When I first discovered that members of the Hungarian government attended the Moscow Summit in 2014, I thought that perhaps Zoltán Balog and his team had not been fully aware of the ideological make-up of the WCF and its questionable connections to Russian oligarchs. Perhaps they didn’t know the unsavory reputation of this group. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Balog and his undersecretary in charge of family affairs, Katalin Novák, have had close contacts with the group for some time. No mistake here, the Hungarian government surely knew what kind of a group they had invited and sponsored.

Those who follow Hungarian news are only too aware of the reluctance of members of the Orbán government to give interviews, especially to media they consider to be unfriendly. But Balog appeared on RTL Klub’s evening news about two weeks before the opening of the Summit, denying that the WCF is a homophobic organization. As far as he was concerned, “an awful lot of stupid stories appeared about ‘who’s who’ among the participants.” Any organization the Hungarian government has contacts with is “considered to be a reliable partner.” Well, I guess that depends on whom the government considers reliable. Obviously those who share the government’s views.

It was not a long time ago that I said a few approving words about Heti Válasz’s more independent political orientation and its abandonment of the government propaganda line they had been toeing way after Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV decided to return to acceptable journalistic practices. However, one of their journalists, Szilárd Szőnyi, got into an argument with 444.hu, which had published a long article about the checkered past of the WCF with special emphasis on the fact that “the Congress supported the Russian anti-gay law.” Szőnyi admitted that it wouldn’t pass muster in the “western world.” But, he added, 90% of Russian society supports the law,” it has an overwhelming democratic mandate, so I gather there is nothing wrong with it.

A few days later Válasz reported that Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist best known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, had distanced himself from the WCF. Zimbardo delivered his lecture not to the gathering of the WCF but to the Budapest Demographic Forum, which was a serious international conference on demographics. The problem was that the World Congress of Families XI, the Budapest Demographic Forum, and the One of Us Pro-Life Conference were all held together under the rubric “The Budapest Family Summit.” Viktor Orbán opened the Budapest Demographic Forum while Zoltán Balog and Katalin Novák opened the conference of the WCF. There may have been two distinct affairs held at different venues, but the whole weekend had a distinctively far-right hue which, I’m afraid, overshadowed even the professional gathering of the Demographic Forum.

One of the participants in the WCF gathering was Beatrix von Storch, the AfD member of the European Parliament, who gave a long interview to Magyar Hírlap. Let’s keep in mind that she was one of the few far-right EP members who spoke in defense of Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies. In fact, she was the one who extended an apology in the name of the European Parliament for the way they treated the Hungarian prime minister.

During the course of the interview she complained that in Germany a conference like this one, sponsored by the government, couldn’t be held. The topics the speakers covered couldn’t be discussed in Germany. For example, “there was a discussion at the conference about the correlation between the educational attainment of children and their church attendance.” That would be a taboo topic. If she organized a conference like that, no government official would think of attending. “In addition, at least 500-1,000 policemen would be needed to defend us against aggressive far-left demonstrators.” Von Storch claimed in the interview that her car had been set on fire because she spoke up for “traditional marriages.”

As far as the opposition parties are concerned, they paid no attention to the event, with the exception of the Demokratikus Koalíció’s László Sebián-Petrovszki, who is the leader of the party’s LGBTQ working group. He labelled the concept of “family” propagated by the Family Summit hopelessly out of date. It narrows the concept of family to what the group calls “the natural family,” which means a heterosexual couple whose association serves only one purpose: biological reproduction. The demographic message of this family extravagance was utterly unrealistic, and Viktor Orbán’s speech about the government’s method for remedying the demographic shortfall was based on wishful thinking. To quote Zsuzsanna Makay, a demographer, “1980 was the last time there was a higher birth rate than death rate. To get back to a positive population growth [assuming there is neither immigration nor migration], an additional 30,000 babies [over and above the 2016 birth rate of 93,100] would have to be born every year. This is simply impossible to achieve.” The rest is just talk at far-right conferences on family values and reproduction.

May 30, 2017