Viktor Orbán Among The Christians
by Rod Dreher
I arrived in Budapest on Friday to deliver a speech at a conference for Christian communicators from around the world. At the last minute, conference organizers alerted some of us that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would like to meet with us privately at the end of the event. We boarded a bus and headed to Buda Castle, where he received us in a salon. I assumed it would be a quick meet-and-greet. Hardly! He spoke with us for about 90 minutes, and answered our questions frankly. Here’s a shot of the group, whose number included John O’Sullivan and Philip Blond, two names familiar to Anglo-American conservatives:
Mind you, I think I John O’Sullivan and I were the only professional journalists in the room, so this was not a press conference. I did not know that we would be offered to opportunity to speak to the PM beyond saying hello, much less that we would be able to ask questions. Therefore, I didn’t prepare for an interview, and in any case I only had the chance to put a single question.
I tell you this so you readers don’t ask me why I didn’t challenge Orbán on this or that policy of his government. I am perfectly aware that he is a controversial figure who has done things and pursued policy goals that are highly controversial for a number of reasons. However, this was a completely unexpected opportunity to be in the presence of one of the most extraordinary world leaders of our time, and to get a sense of his mind.
If the only thing you know about Viktor Orbán is from Western media accounts, you would think that he was nothing but some kind of mafia thug. The Viktor Orbán you encounter in person is very, very different from the Viktor Orbán shown to Americans by our media. In Orbán — who speaks good English — was energetic, fiercely intelligent, funny, self-deprecating, realistic, and at times almost pugilistic in talking about defending Hungary and her interests. Orbán is what Trump’s biggest fans wish he was (but isn’t), and what Trump’s enemies think him to be (but isn’t). If Donald Trump had the smarts and skills of Viktor Orbán, the political situation in the US would be much, much different — for better or for worse, depending on your point of view.
Orbán begin our session with extended remarks about Hungarian and European politics, and the role of his Fidesz Party in them. He said that when he was elected in 2010, he had one mission: to save Hungary from economic ruin. By the time Orbán’s 2014 re-election bid rolled around, the economy was stable, and he described the mission of his second terms as “to say what I think.”
“I realized in 2014 that I was the only free man among the prime ministers of Europe,” he said, explaining that by “free,” he meant that he had a strong, united parliamentary majority behind him. He added, “In Western political life now, you can’t say what you think.”
When the migration crisis hit Europe in 2015, Orbán famously shut Hungary’s borders to Middle Easterners. Orbán said that Hungary’s was the only government in Europe to respond to the crisis in its own interests, and in the interests of Christianity in Europe. With a population of only 10 million, and as a country where Christianity, as elsewhere on the continent, is fragile, the Hungarians concluded that allowing large numbers of Muslims to take up residence here would mean the death knell of Christianity in time.
This scandalized the European political class. Orbán doesn’t care. He told our group that he understands that he is dealing with elites who believe that being a post-Christian, post-national civilization is a great and glorious thing. Orbán rejects this. He said the main political question in the West today is how fractious pluralities can live together peaceably. He said, “Here the most important question is how not to have the same questions as them.”