The Orban Model: Far-Right Axis Under Construction

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State – Public Domain

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity.”

— Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” 1968

The United States, leading a coalition of its allies, is fighting a proxy war with Russia over its invasion of beleaguered Ukraine battling for its survival as a democracy. Thousands have died.

Yet extremists of the Republican Party, or what’s left of a onetime respected political institution (it should change its name to something more accurate) invited a virtual dictator to deliver the keynote address at its popular right-wing get-together, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

In some of his more belligerent remarks at the conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas last week, the creeping authoritarian focused on a theme of uniting Hungary and the United States by coordinating their militaries and by Americans electing conservatives in the midterm elections in November and Europeans doing the same in the European Union election in 2024.

Beware: It seems as if the Hungarian leader is anxious to save conservatives from a hostile liberal world. With all of the restrictions far-right politicians impose on everyday people, maybe it’s the conservatives who need to be monitored.

“We must take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels . . . we must coordinate the movements of our troops because we face the same challenges” against liberals among Democrats and in the media, he said in his speech in heavily accented English.

“These two locations will define the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization. Today, we hold neither of them. Yet we need both,” Orbán said.

I didn’t know Washington and Budapest share an axis.

Unite American and Hungarian armed forces? Orbán must be dreaming aloud. It’ll never happen so long as a Democrat is in the White House, if he or she can keep it. Putting Donald Trump or his clone would be something else again.

Trump referred to the prime minister as his “friend” when they were together at the former president’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., before the CPAC conference. He also endorsed Orbán for his fourth consecutive term, which he won in April.

“The globalists (read liberals) can go to hell,” the Hungarian strongman blasted. “I have come to Texas.” He tagged Hungary “the Lone Star State of Europe,” obviously meaning his country is different from others on the continent. Just about.

Texas is home to a far-right governor, Greg Abbott, and a senator with similar political views, Rick Scott, a former governor. It has some of the toughest restrictions against abortion and voting rights in the country.

“They hate me and slander me and my country as they hate you and slander you,” Orbán said of liberals’ views of right-wing conservatives.  That’s probably true, not hyperbole.

Orbán is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has been criticized for Hungary being one of the few countries among its neighbors that doesn’t support Ukraine, with which it shares an 85-mile border along a river. It is among the 30 NATO members. Hungary’s population is 9.6 million.

The European Union has had problems with Orbán’s curtailing of democracy in Hungary and has withheld money until it abides by the rules of the 27-member group. Hungary has been a parliamentary republic since 1989. But the Economist Intelligence Unit, an analysis and research division of The Economist magazine, labeled it a “flawed democracy” in 2020.

Hungary was part of the Soviet bloc and its Warsaw Pact military alliance to counter NATO before Moscow’s empire collapsed in 1991. It sided with Nazi Germany during World War II, when 565,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Orbán is perhaps best known for blocking refugees from Hungary as they fled to Europe seeking asylum from their war-ravaged homelands in Syria and Afghanistan during the 2015 migrant crisis. He erected fences to keep them out, even if their intent merely was to pass through Hungary to reach other countries. He rejected 16 pleas for asylum, according to The Guardian.

He recently warned European countries against “race mixing,” a racist slur targeting people of color. He sounds like American white supremacists and nationalists who could fit right in. It did not deter CPAC from inviting Orbán. But Hungary accepted “with open arms” more than 180,000 Ukrainian war refugees, Human Rights Watch reported. Ukrainians are white.

The prime minister and his allies also have suppressed the media, campaigned against gay and transgender rights, Jewish Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros and emphasized law and order. Trump often has been compared to Orbán.

Right-wingers, including Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson, more than once has pointed to Orbán as a model leader for America, an image Jennifer Dresden, a policy advocate for democracy, finds “concerning.”

“The academic and think tank research has been really clear: Hungary has been on this incremental path (toward authoritarianism) for over a decade at this point, and Orbán has followed the playbook very, very closely in ways that everybody should be worried about,” CNN business analyst David Zurawik quoted her as saying.

And this is what right-wingers see as their model for running a government? Are they Americans?

Maybe Orbán is merely the conservative flavor of the year, harmless. CPAC, Carlson and other right-wing admirers of Orbán would be wise to look long and hard at the Hungarian leader before continuing to woo him as a far-flung panacea for solving their own problems.

Otherwise, they may be stepping into political quicksand without an exit strategy, like what our military experienced in getting out of Afghanistan. We have enough problems on our crowded plate, Trump and his die-hard allies to start with.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.