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Inside the Orbán insurgency Europe's future is being written in Hungary

Orbán has a unique vision for Europe. Credit: Getty

Orbán has a unique vision for Europe. Credit: Getty


May 18, 2024   11 mins

Will Viktor Orbán really march to Brussels and, as he claims, “occupy” the heart of the European Union? The EU’s enfant terrible has clashed with the bloc for years, but he is no Nigel Farage. He doesn’t want to abandon ship; he wants to commandeer the battered vessel and course-correct. “Our plan is not to leave Brussels but to take it over,” Orbán told Hungarian media in December. And he will soon have a chance to do just that.

Come next month’s European Parliamentary elections, Orbán hopes a Right-populist wave will allow him and his ideological kin to seize top positions and institutions. With Hungary set to assume the rotating presidency of the European Council in July, its prime minister’s influence could be unmatched.

But rather than just being a question of power, there is something more ideological, philosophical even, at play within this conflict. Orbán’s many liberal detractors characterise him as a threat to fundamental “European values”, but there is a strange lack of clarity about what these “values” actually are. We can assume that people wielding the idea of “European values” mean the “religion of universal progress”: liberal democracy, free markets and, in more recent years, neoliberal identity politics. There is also a hint of secular evangelism in the term; these “European values” can seem like imperialism with a human face.

Orbán, however, also sees himself as the champion of European values, and his critics as the ones who are imperilling them. At stake in this continental insurgency, then, is the very meaning and direction of the EU’s core principles — as well as the equally opaque alternatives offered by Orbán.

At the level of rhetoric, the Orbán concept of a “Europe of nations”, with values rooted in the Christian tradition, is clearly at odds with the progressive liberal vision of a secular Europe premised on human rights and equality. But even the pathologies that Orbán’s opponents rightly ascribe to him — nationalism, clientelism, authoritarianism — are ultimately as European as Eurovision. Indeed, the fact that “EU values” are vulnerable to attack in this way at all reveals a certain vacuousness at the heart of the European project. It is, in other words, an empty vessel ripe for hijacking — and a stealth takeover has already begun.

In 2022, the European television network Euronews was purchased by an obscure Portuguese investment fund close to the Orbán government. The Hungarian sovereign wealth fund, Széchenyi Funds, which is a public body, also invested €45 million in the purchase, and a communications company owned by a close Orbán associate contributed €12.5 million more. The motivation here was not hard to glean: according to internal Széchenyi Funds documents obtained by journalists, Euronews, which was described as “the seventh most influential brand on EU politics”, had been purchased “to mitigate Left-wing bias in journalism”. It is an approach to managing media that Orbán has already perfected at home: recent estimates suggest that Orbán and his Fidesz associates now own or control up to 90% of the Hungarian media landscape.

As part of the Euronews makeover, the network recently moved its headquarters from Lyon to the heart of Brussels. There, in terms of soft power at least, it is in very good company. In 2021, the Hungarian government bought a sprawling 18th-century mansion on the same street in Brussels that officials are already calling  “Hungary House”. Other existing Hungarian government initiatives include the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (often referred to as MCC), a think tank which opened a new branch in Brussels in 2022, promoting conservative values and discussions of EU affairs in accordance with Orbánist thought. Finally, the Hungarian government also funds the European Conservative, an English-language publication that runs conservative commentary on European news. Taken together, the proliferation of these Orbán-backed institutions highlights the scale and seriousness of his Brussels ambition.

In Orbán’s view, the conflict in Europe is defined by two competing camps: his own cohort, the sovereigntists (or nationalists), and his opponents, the federalists. The federalists want to create a centralised “United States of Europe”, undermining the nation state and reducing its powers. Sovereigntists like Orbán, meanwhile, believe the EU should be reduced to a loose, mostly cultural body that unites European nation states in their shared Christianity. For their part, federalists see the sovereigntists as regressive blood-and-soil nationalists — the ideological cousins of fascists responsible for the worst horrors of the 20th century.

But while the divide between the two camps has grown wider and more acrimonious in recent years, Orbán believes that the sovereigntist-federalist tension was once integral to the EU’s functioning. In the past, he explained recently, it was thought that “if [the] sovereigntists defeat the federalists, then the cohesive force will cease, but if the federalists eliminate the sovereigntists, then what follows can only be the creation of another oppressive empire”. However, Orbán says, this constructive balance was degraded as the federalists began to change. In his view, the old federalists of yore were “Catholic universalists”; they did not call for the abolition of nation states, but rather for their protection within something like a united Christendom, an Occident, or a Res Publica Christiana. What has changed is that those federalists have mutated into “progressive liberals… [who have] become like the communists and are now a real threat to our freedom”. There is some irony in Orbán’s conflation of progressive liberal “European values” with communism. As historian Samuel Moyn and others have written, these values were often championed by post-war European politicians and institutions in an effort “to combat domestic socialism”.

Hungary has been at odds with the federalist eurocrats since Fidesz came to power in 2010. Before then, the technocratic elite of the ruling socialists generally got on well with the technocrats in Brussels. The EU played a leading role in helping Hungary avoid bankruptcy in 2008; along with the IMF and World Bank, it assembled a 25-billion-euro rescue package for the country. Punishing austerity measures were introduced, and the socialists replaced their anti-poverty programme with workfare, placing enormous strain on already struggling Hungarians. Fidesz seized on the accompanying discontent.

“Hungary has been at odds with the federalist eurocrats since Fidesz came to power in 2010.”

The party campaigned on a platform opposed to globalisation, supranational institutions and the concept of an “ever closer union”. The battle lines sharpened around the time of Brexit. The British, Orbán said in March, “always thought in terms of nation states”, and with the UK gone, the countries of Central Europe were tasked with upholding the sovereigntist position. But around the same time, something else also provoked major fissures between the so-called Visegrad Group (Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and Poland) and much of the rest of the EU: the 2015 migration crisis. That year, Hungary’s notorious border fence became a site of contestation for the meaning of “European values”. For the progressive liberals in Brussels’s federalist camp, it was a symbol of brutality and violence, a dereliction of those essential European “fundamental values”. For Orbán and others in the V4 camp, it was an expression of Hungary’s sovereignty and the Orbanist concept of “European values”, a fortress shielding Christian civilisation from the Muslim hordes. To drive the point home, Orbán invoked the Ottoman invasion during the crisis, stating “when it comes to living together with Muslim communities… we had the possibility to go through that for 150 years”.

This fundamental disagreement about the meaning and maintenance of “European values” is part of what Orbán is hoping to exploit ahead of the European Parliamentary elections. But it won’t be easy. Fidesz abandoned the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in 2021 after facing expulsion over Hungary’s multiplying democratic deficiencies and rule of law concerns, and has yet to join either of the two Right-wing nationalist political groupings in the European Parliament. The two groups are divided on a single issue: support for Ukraine. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which includes Poland’s Law and Justice party and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, strongly supports continued military aid for Kyiv. In contrast, the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, home to Alternative for Deutschland and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, is critical of arming Ukraine and wants to maintain friendly relations with Russia — a position Orbán shares. Polls suggest that both Right-wing groupings are poised to amass more power in the European Parliamentary election.

Some have speculated that, despite their differences on Ukraine, the ECR and ID could merge into a single populist-Right bloc. In mid-April, Orbán held a joint press conference with Former Polish Prime Minister and leader of Law and Justice, Mateusz Morawiecki, and former Frontex chief, Fabrice Leggeri, a candidate for France’s National Rally. The event, hosted by ECR, was attended by numerous members of ID, including MPs from the German AfD and the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang. On the potential for further cooperation, Morawiecki told Euractiv: “I can tell you that I have a very good feeling with my colleagues from Fidesz; I know that Giorgia Meloni and Viktor Orbán have a good relationship.” But the prospect of a merger is highly unlikely, as there are others who are far less enthusiastic about the prospect of welcoming the Hungarians into their ranks. Some ECR members from Czechia’s ODS and the Sweden Democrats have objected to the idea of aligning themselves with Fidesz, citing Hungary’s insistence on maintaining warm ties with Russia. Czech MEP Alexandr Vondra drove the point home in an interview earlier this month: “If someone simply parrots Putin’s propaganda, he has no business being here (in ECR). I have told Fidesz this and no negotiations with them can take place now because of this.”

And there are further contradictions within this emerging Right bloc. Though many in Brussels may have forgotten it, prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it was Hungary that pushed hardest for enlargement of the union to include its eastern “neighbourhood”. Budapest has long insisted that the EU embrace expedited membership for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This enthusiasm is based in part on Orbán’s personal rapport with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the president of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska territory, Milorad Dodik. In early April, Orbán was even awarded the Order of Republika Srpska, and referred to Dodik as “my friend Milorad” during his acceptance speech. In the UK and US, meanwhile, Dodik has been sanctioned for pushing for the secession of Serb-majority Republika Srpska, an act that would very likely trigger a new war in Bosnia.

Upon receiving the award in Banja Luka last month, Orbán also spoke of the necessity of EU enlargement: “Without the Serbs, there is no European security. Without the Serbs there is no healthy European Union… And of course… there is a lot wrong with the European Union — I fight there every day. But today there is no better framework for our nations to strengthen themselves than the European Union.” On the surface, this pro-enlargement rhetoric may seem puzzling — but upon closer inspection, it is entirely coherent: Orbán desires a larger but more fortified bloc. Extending membership to other sovereigntist Christians also has the potential to stymie the federalists’ centralising aims. As Bulcsú Hunyadi, a senior analyst at the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, explained in 2016: “The bigger the EU gets, the less integrated the union becomes”.

Orbán has always presented his Euroscepticism as part of his broader plan to remake the social fabric of Hungary itself. But such rhetoric often masks the fact that his grand visions are at odds with his meagre domestic record. In the very beginning, he wasn’t entirely without promise. Orbán came to power disavowing neoliberal orthodoxy and the “rescue package” dictated by the IMF, World Bank and EU — and his interventionist economic policies produced some initial success. Yet with time it has become clear that this supposed flaunting of orthodoxy has amounted to little more than “neoliberalism in one country”. As Hungarian sociologist Andras Bozoki has written: “Orbán skilfully attacked the banks (most of them being in foreign hands), the multinational corporations, the foreign media, and EU officials on the basis of [his own preference for] economic nationalism and sovereign independence, but he also combined this with business-friendly domestic policy, such as the introduction of a flat tax, reduced employment rights, and attacks on the homeless, unemployed and trade unions.” In December 2018, for instance, the Orbán government adopted a so-called “slave law” which permits employers to demand 400 hours of overtime per year, a dramatic increase over the 250 hours allowed before. The law also allows employers to delay payments to workers for up to three years.

Meanwhile, Orbán has transformed the state into a vehicle for his own interests, with EU-funded public procurement contracts creating a new class of convivial oligarchs. Consider Orbán’s childhood friend, Lőrinc Mészáros, who became the richest man in Hungary in 2018. Mészáros had previously worked as a pipe fitter for decades, but that year, his companies won the most taxpayer-funded public tenders in the country. These contracts were worth a staggering total of €826 million — 93% of which came from the European Union. He has also appointed allies to key positions of the state and maintained total control over the public prosecutor’s office, ensuring that he and his associates can be shielded from scrutiny.

And while Orbán claims to be the defender of Christian Europe, the number of people who identify as religious in Hungary has plummeted: more than 50% of the country say they do not practise a religion or decline to name their faith. The number of people who admit to practising a religion is at an all-time low — even lower than it was during the socialist period when religious practice was frowned upon by the state. Orbán himself reportedly does not attend Church. He has also fallen out with key religious leaders in Hungary, including some who were once his closest associates. Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, the man who officiated Orbán’s wedding and baptised two of his children, is now among his fiercest critics, enraged by Orbán’s decision to deprive more than 200 religious institutions of official state recognition, leaving many churches near bankruptcy. “Orbán’s Christianity is political Christianity,” Pastor Ivanyi has said. “It has nothing to do with Christ, with humanism or with the Bible.”

“While Orbán claims to be the defender of Christian Europe, the number of people who identify as religious in Hungary has plummeted.”

Despite his rhetorical trade in nationalism and conservatism, this speaks to an essential vacuity in the Orbán project. Like Vladimir Putin, Orbán’s cultural strategy mostly sees him tilting at windmills, making an enemy of a “wokeness” lifted from the Anglo-American culture wars that have little or no domestic resonance; predictably, his targets have included drag queens and Gender Studies departments. His fixation on “anti-wokeness” in homogenous Hungary can give the impression that he would rather shadowbox with American college students than confront his country’s punishing economic reality, where inflation peaked at over 25% in 2023 — the highest anywhere in the EU — and where food prices surged to more than 45% over the year. Beyond mere domestic distraction, however, fanning the culture war serves an additional function: it allows Orbán to position himself as a leading figure in the transnational Right, and Budapest as a beacon of “anti-wokeness” — a narrative that will serve him if he is to rally populist-Right forces across Europe ahead of next month’s EU parliamentary elections.

Orbán has his own sexual culture war to deal with too. In February, it was revealed that President Katalin Novak had pardoned a man imprisoned for covering up child sexual abuse by the director of a state-run orphanage. President Novak and then justice minister Judit Varga, two of the most prominent women in Fidesz, were subsequently forced to resign — almost certainly on Orbán’s order. But further details soon emerged. As part of the Pope’s visit to Budapest in April 2023, Novak pardoned the former deputy director of a children’s home who had blackmailed children into withdrawing testimony against the orphanage director, a prolific paedophile.

When the full story was made public, protesters filled the streets of Budapest. The inevitable charge of hypocrisy has been levelled at the government: Orbán the great defender of “the family” found protecting such debased criminality. The scandal was made more significant by the defection of Peter Magyar, Varga’s ex-husband and a former Fidesz insider, who in March published a recording of Varga detailing the extent to which members of Orbán’s elite inner circle interfered in the prosecution of a corruption case. Magyar has since styled himself as the new face of the opposition, where he hopes to reclaim the political centre.

And yet, Orbán’s authority has emerged a little dented but intact. While his credibility has taken a hit, he will survive — though whether his domestic staying power can translate into an illiberal wave that will engulf the whole of Europe remains to be seen. He has proven himself as a political survivor and a chameleon, rising first through the ranks as a young liberal dissident and then to the heights of power as an anti-liberal Svengali. This has led some of his Hungarian critics to assert that his anti-liberal turn was entirely opportunistic, and that he is devoid of any real principles or ideology. Journalist Paul Lendvai has written about then-liberal Fidesz’s crushing defeat in the 1994 election, which reduced the party to the smallest in parliament. He claims it was at this point that Fidesz began its Rightward shift, even swapping their long hair and jeans for more conservative dress: “There seemed to be no deep ideological soul-searching involved — just clear-eyed calculations about what it would require to win power.” Soon, their speeches were filled with references to tradition and the homeland. In this, perhaps Orbán is not so different from the EU with whom he has long been at odds: vacuous and politically malleable, invoking supposedly ironclad “European values” to mask an impoverished spiritual core.

None of this is to downplay the scale of his ambition. At last month’s CPAC Hungary Conference, Orbán suggested that a “sovereigntist world order” could replace the current liberal one, and that it could do so this year, with critical elections on both sides of the Atlantic. “Let the age of the sovereigntists finally come,” he said. “Make America great again, make Europe great again, go Donald Trump, go European sovereigntists!” He emphasised that the sovereigntist world order would have no ideology, and we can surmise that China, with whom Hungary enjoys warm relations, would also be included in it. Whatever the outcome of the European parliamentary elections, this post-ideological competition, which progressive liberals frame as one of autocracies versus democracies, is here to stay.

The question then remains: who and what is truly “European”, or best representative of “European values”? However widely adopted they may seem today, progressive liberal values are a relatively new phenomenon, and, some would say, somewhat deceptive. As Sartre wrote in 1961, during Algeria’s war for independence from France: “You who are so liberal, so humane, who take the love of culture to the point of affectation, you pretend to forget that you have colonies where massacres are committed in your name.” Anti-colonial icon Frantz Fanon concurred that same year, when he said that “it is in the name of the Spirit, meaning the spirit of Europe, that Europe justified its crimes and legitimised the slavery in which it held four-fifths of humanity”.

If Europe’s evangelists of “Europeanisation” were to ask people outside the West who best epitomised “European values”— themselves or Orbán — they might not like the answer. As much as it may panic the enlightened liberals of Brussels liberals, Orbán’s brand of exclusionary nationalism is integral to European history — and is sure to be a part of its future too.


Lily Lynch is a writer and journalist based in Belgrade.


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Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
2 days ago

A good article that failed to touch on one key component of Orban’s success-the utter haplessness of the opposition and the totally discredited governments that preceded Orban’s re-election in 2010. Magyar, the new pole of opposition in Hungarian politics may succeed (where others have failed) in galvanising support for Orban’s removal but I wouldn’t count on it.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago

That was a cliffhanger of an article there. I went from appreciating the journalism to getting annoyed with the subjectivism and right back to appreciating the objectivity of an obviously progressive writer.

Very talented writer.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

He hid his own leanings pretty well, which shows an amount of self-awareness rare enough in conservatives and moderates but rarely seen in progressives, who tend to assume both their own moral superiority and their eventual supremacy in equal measure. This author does eventually show his cards but he seems less convinced the progressives will prevail both in the immediate and more distant future, a sensible attitude given recent events. I hope to see more progressives embrace a more realistic outlook, because realistic, pragmatic thinking opens the door to discussion, negotiation, and compromise. A healthy political climate should not be harmonious or unified. A level of disagreement and debate is healthy. Zealotry is counterproductive irrespective of the ideals in question.

David Harris
David Harris
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

She…

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago
Reply to  David Harris

Did you ask for their pronouns?

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Lily is clearly a woman, and the pronoun used to describe her in English is “she”. In the same way that the plural of “mouse” is “mice”. Calling her “they” is no different from talking about “mices”, the stuff of cartoons.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

I’m in agreement with you here, but everyone has their own preferences, some of them well established. The word you was once a plural pronoun. In addition to the “royal we”, the “singular they” dates to at least 1375:
https://www.oed.com/discover/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/?tl=true
I’m not a proponent of pick-a-pronoun performances, nor of the hyperreactions one finds among traditionalists and grammar snobs such as I (often) do be. Sometimes it’s better to overlook an honest mistake like Steve Jolly made, or let ’em be rather than breaking out the pedagogical punishment stick and making him or her into an adversary.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  David Harris

Apologies….

Stephen Barnard
Stephen Barnard
30 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

He/His?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

A week later, I have to acknowledge the accuracy of your earlier distinction between the political makeup of the contributors and commenters here. Neither group is one-sided, but the authors seem to average center-Left*, readers well to the Right. More of the shorter or “Newsroom” pieces are decidedly conservative, less often the featured articles, such as “Weekend Essays”.
*Or perhaps the centre-Right, in a European context?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

how is she ”obviously progressive” ?

B. Libbrecht
B. Libbrecht
1 month ago

I fuly appreciate the broader insight into the Orbán phenomenon that has been offered here by Lily Lynch. Sort of “Orbán is the wrong guy in the right place at the right time”. In fact, I am more and more having the impression that Unherd is really pushing the needle back to the middle of this conflict of stupidities, wanting to save Europe and the West from falling prey to these extremes of stupidity on both the far right and the far left.

Davy Humerme
Davy Humerme
1 month ago

A very well balanced and perceptive article. The insight into Orban’s trajectory never degenerated into painting him as a one dimensional tyrant, much as the left “quality” press does. Really good background on his crony capitalism and his attacks on the labour movement. For me one of the big tests for these “nation state” Europeans is whether they are just out of time neo -liberals or want to build something more lasting which will need to involve the unions and labour movement for all their faults.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Davy Humerme

What is this “quality press” of which you speak ? But I see you don’t use the term seriously !
There’s very little quality journalism left. And almost none in newspapers or traditional media.
I’m not sure anyone who’s built a crony state around him is really going to construct something better. He may do some things better than the previous lot, but a lot will be worse. Hard to tell whether it’s a net win or loss. But not good news if the “solution” involves quite so much corruption.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Intuitively that felt balanced and insightful. Sort of Article one’s happy to pay the subscription for.
Concur with those who believe there has to be a balance between Federalist and Sovereigntists and great danger in swinging too much one way. Much as in UK a balance between Left and Right important and reflective of where the Country really is. So where Orban et al represent the Sovereigntist tendency that has value.
But as the Author outlines there is much about Orban that is malign – the concentration and ownership of media, the corruption and nepotism (a symptom probably of anyone in power for too long) and of course the sympathy for the Putin Autocracy. In some regards Orban stands as an example and warning for the Right that Populists in power tend to maintain the image but quickly become all about themselves.
The other obvious thought prompted is how much the UK’s more Sovereigntist instinct would have aided both ourself and the EU’s direction right now, and thus what folly we committed.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Please note, Hungary has a population of around 9.5 million, only by joining with other extremist groups can they dominate, and their vehicle for domination can only be the EU.
The EU is the problem, national sovereignty is the answer.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

An interesting slant RC, but not convinced. In the sweep of history EU has been a rock against extremism and why it has 27 members and a further number closely aligned. That doesn’t mean we all concur with a fully federalist model though.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Across the EU states extremism is rampant, from Germany to France to Italy to Austria to Spain, I could go on.
The EU has not been a bastion against extremism, it has facilitated it.

David L
David L
1 month ago

What extremism do you mean?

Islamofacism? Wokeism? Maoism?

Andrew Stoll
Andrew Stoll
1 month ago

Totally agree. Extreme left, extreme green, extreme islam, extreme antisemitism, extreme immigration, I could go on. Aren’t we lucky that right wing extremism isn’t a serious issue in Europe as well!

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Sorry this is twaddle. Just look round all the countries that abut the EU and you’ll see alot more extremism. Of course there are some far Right and Left groupings in Europe too, but compared to extremism elsewhere it remains, in most instances, within a liberal democratic tradition. You perhaps need to go somewhere with real extremism and experience that to see the part of the World in which we are lucky enough to live in different perspective.

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I agree about the article and, probably, about Orban’s defects, although I’ve never looked closely into his background. But I drew the opposite conclusion about Brexit and its consequences for the future of Europe.

UK rhetoric may be sovereigntist, but the people with real influence are in favour of more immigration, aggressive secularisation and “wokeness”, irrespective of what ordinary British people think. Moreover their entrenched power is outside, and in practice above, elected officials.

I was 11 years old when UK joined the common market; my father was very much in favour of joining, his argument being that it would be a bulwark of Christian Europe against extremism. I was convinced at the time, but I voted for Brexit and would do so again. The EU has a greater chance of escaping the control of the elites without the UK as a member.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

The people with ‘real’ power FL? I have some sympathy with this contention but I suspect I’ll have a v different view of who these are – the v rich who’ve got richer, fund Tufton st, own most of our media and other Right wing pressure groups, but also happy to allow a bit of divide and rule via immigration and culture wars. Also the v rich weren’t enamoured with the EU. They could see that constraining them.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

The media is a right wing pressure group? In what galaxy do you reside and tell us how many light years away that is.

j watson
j watson
30 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Didn’t quite say that, but your linkage is actually quite interesting – one could entirely see the likes of the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Sun, Times as Right wing pressure groups funded by exceptionally rich owners keen to influence public opinion on a daily basis.

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I wrote real influence rather than real power, but either way I meant the power to make something happen, not just say it ought to happen. Our current hapless government patently lacks real power, they don’t rule over Whitehall, much less the NHS, education etc.

I don’t know what motivates the elite. Some are probably like “Hodges” the ARP warden in Dads’Army, and simply enjoy being in charge. I don’t doubt that the very rich influence them, and possibly dictate terms to them, although there is a danger of falling into conspiracy theory. Not sure this can be described as right wing; is support for gender theory and identity politics right wing?

j watson
j watson
30 days ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

I don’t think the the contention Ministers have no control over Whitehall holds. It doesn’t help if Ministers are moved around too frequently of course, but all key decisions require Minister sign off. If you arrive in post with just slogans and no real plan and expect Civil servants to instinctively know what to do through osmosis then you are going to be frustrated. Brexit burnt a huge amount of Whitehall bandwidth the last 8 years, and bandwidth is limited. Thus it inevitably reduced time for other things. It’s an elected politician decision what they focus on.
On your last point – I think the Right has stoked ‘identity’ politics as much as some crack-pot Left. It wants it as a wedge issue so in order to create that it has to be build the strawman so it’s seems a bigger concern than the reality.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

He really talked about ‘extremism’?

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
1 month ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

He talked about communism and fascism; he’d lived through the rise and fall of both. I used extremism as a shortcut.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

You vastly overestimate how much influence the UK had within the EU. Certainly far less than either Germany or France. We battled for decades to try to get the obscene CAP reformed: result – absolutely nothing.
And any influence we had was diminishing year by year as the EU expanded.
You need to recognise that their are fundamental historic, business, cultural and legal differences between the UK and most EU countries and that the EU states will never adapt to the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things (even when it’s proven to yield better results). These differences simply cannot be ignored or wished away.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

The truth is that mainland Europe is a continent of nations and the attempt by the EU to change this will fail.
The European mainland is safer for us all, without the EU, which is being dominated and controlled by Germany.
Sovereign States across Europe once again will be a win for it’s people and those of us outside it’s borders

Micheal MacGabhann
Micheal MacGabhann
1 month ago

“its” not it’s. Jeez.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago

Good essay, the author points out the fundamental problem regarding the relationship between Orban and the EU. They are both claiming to be one thing to their electorates whilst being the exact opposite.

J Boyd
J Boyd
1 month ago

If history tells us anything, it is that there are no “European Values”.

Shoehorning the cultures of a whole continent into a single worldview is absurd and an example of the wishful thinking, hubris and plain stupidity of the EU project.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  J Boyd

The term could serve as a catch-all for hubristic projects of any kind. The “shoehorning” you call out is made evident by comparing the effect of competing formulations like Asian Values or North American Values. In the case of Europe, which era’s (perceived) prevailing values do you mean to uphold: Neolithic? Medieval? Industrial? Some precise window between or just after the World Wars?
Any such label has a hard time rising above gross oversimplification and cynical manipulation. We may as well speak of Human Values, such as: thrift and generosity; brain and brawn; liberty and duty, clemency and discipline, etc.–a thousand competing pairs, with selected terms that may reveal our leanings.

Aloysius
Aloysius
1 month ago
Reply to  J Boyd

I’m not sure this is true. The idea of Europe as a cultural entity with meaning beyond a simply geographic designation has a rather long history, really dating back to Latin Christendom. Some cases are more liminal than others, but whether it be music, art, architecture, religion, or history, a coherence in some shared aspects of identity are clear. Certainly the cultures of say, Spain, Britain and Austria are much closer to each other than to Morocco, despite geography. The problem with much of the EU project is that it has sought to erase the differences between national cultures, and in doing so actually erased the basis for the unity born out of those very differences. But we needn’t deny the cultural similarities either.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
30 days ago
Reply to  Aloysius

Perhaps so. Can you articulate a list of European Values which–even if they are not held by all or exclusive to Europe–are prevalent across most of the continent?
And since Britain seems to have more in common with Australia and Canada than it does with Hungary or Slovakia: How might these values differ from Western Values?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
30 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

It is probably more accurate to say that people from Canada, Australia and New Zealand have more in common with each other than they do with Britain. That said – I do think more work should be done to strengthen ties between the UK and the old English speaking colonies (including the US) because of our shared values.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Ok. But don’t all countries in the so-called Anglosphere, including England itself (isolated from the rest of the UK or not) have more in common with one another than than with Poland, Ukraine, or the European slice of Turkey?
I agree that we ought to strengthen our mutual ties in the English-speaking world. Now to get my ancestral nation of Ireland to stop resenting England and my birth country of Canada to reduce its disdain for the States, where I live. Or to get the U.S. to cooperate with anyone on an a more equal footing,

Aloysius
Aloysius
30 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I think you’re right to suggests that “values” is not the most helpful way to look at this, and I would say that the values shared in common are born out of a shared identity first and foremost. A common historical experience shapes a nation’s cultural outlook and much of what it values – for example certainly the EU and to a lesser extent the human rights and international law architecture in place since WW2 are born out of a specifically European experience of the two world wars.

Commonalities in values and identity need not be exclusive – it can be true that Britain or Spain can share much in common in terms of outlook with their former colonies while also being a part of a wider European culture. But incidentally the reason we would share much in common with say Canada is specifically because of its settlement by Europeans – the neo-Gothic cathedral in Ottawa is there because of an artistic revival in medieval France, and has rather little to do with the Algonquin. Similarly Western values, originating from Latin Western Europe and its consequent settler colonies, aren’t neatly extricable from a European context.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
30 days ago
Reply to  Aloysius

I’m in substantial agreement with this more nuanced follow up. In particular, I place great value on the idea that “commonalities and values need not be exclusive”. Yet I would attempt to extend the potential inclusion to the descendants of the Algonquin and to recent arrivals from Timbuktu or Oslo alike.
Many intelligent and openhearted Euro-descended early settlers found things to learn from some of the Native Americans. And some indigenous individuals found noble qualities in the arriving “pale f a c e s”. I think this kind of extended sense of shared identity–or “located humanity” if you will–is crucial in an American context. I’m not talking about the “bearded demigods” view some Aztecs took of the invading Spaniards nor the “noble savage’ fiction I was kind of steeped in as a California-dwelling child of former flower children.
All other things being equal, it’s certainly easier to identify with someone from your own bloodline, country, or continent of origin. But we may find little in common with a brother from the same two parents, or great commonality with a (former) stranger who bears little resemblance to us.
It was once common to view people from nearby villages with great suspicion. The mesolithic tribes of what is now America waged fierce, often cruel tribal warfare. Separated by a rather narrow channel, the French and English slaughtered each other for centuries beginning in 1066, and vilified one another until sometime last week (times are approximate).
As you suggest, commonalities can cross borders and oceans. They can extend to newly arrived neighbors and strangers too. But this requires more of an extended hand and open heart than most of us can manage at all times, me included.
We needn’t surrender our family loyalties, nor trash our respective or shared cultural heritage. There can be regional and national identity within a larger context, such as a continental or even a (gasp!) global one. Cities like London, Paris, New York, Montreal, or Sydney could be far more cohesive and well-knit than they are today. But they cannot return to the level of ethnocultural homogeneity that once was common. Just ask the ancient Romans.
On this early Sunday (PDT), I hope to begin by smiling more sincerely on more of my globally-gathered Silicon Valley neighbors, and division-united fellow Americans too. [end well-intended secular homily]

Alan B
Alan B
30 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

What could be more European than the demand to “articulate a list” of beliefs!? A catechism!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
30 days ago
Reply to  Alan B

It was a request, made in an attempt to further discussion. And I’m a Canadian-American dual citizen.
I do think that removing more of our claims from the realm of generality and abstraction (such as “Continental values” or “Western thought”) lays a better foundation for meaningful exchange. How can this be achieved in a practical, specific way? Depends; I’ll get back to you on that.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
30 days ago
Reply to  J Boyd

Well said.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago

Orban is treading a very fine line. At the end of the day, Hungary is a very small, relatively poor country that is trying not to just get swallowed up by either the EU or Russia, and just tries to make hay in the middle.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

A lot of it was already swallowed up by the USSR, aka Ukraine.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

He’s got to get along with all sides. That makes him a realist. Compare him to the Germans who bet their future on Russian oil, having gotten rid of coal, nuclear energy and hoping the wind blows and the sun shines to enough to make up the difference. Or the feeble French, led by a strutting little feller married to a trans man 28 years older. In a supranational state already crumbling like the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, Orbán represents stability and traditional values.

Cristina Bodor
Cristina Bodor
30 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

“ Hungary … tries and just tries”. Well… gets a high mark for effort and “ trying”, no? Or should Hungary be belittled and vilified for “ trying “?

Andras Baneth
Andras Baneth
1 month ago

Orban, a Russian asset and Chinese puppet, has masterfully waged a culture war to paint over his corrupt regime by directing the attention to his “saving the West” bullsh!t. Look at his challenger Peter Magyar and how it became a mortal threat to his regime in 3 months out of nowhere, and this is just the beginning.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
1 month ago

Thank you, Lily.
Once again UnHerd offers that rare treat: proper journalism.
The author has researched the topic and created a readable article accessible to those of us with limited detailed knowledge of the subject.
You (nearly) pass the test of a great journalist: that you cannot tell their opinion from the article. Such a contrast with so much mainstream tabloidism: where the purpose of the article is to push a narrative.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
1 month ago

This balance between centralisation and diversity is part of the history of the success of the European project since the fall of the Roman Empire.
“if [the] sovereigntists defeat the federalists, then the cohesive force will cease, but if the federalists eliminate the sovereigntists, then what follows can only be the creation of another oppressive empire”
Both the Roman and Chinese empires were built on centralisation and conformity.
The strength of Europe has, paradoxically, resulted from the very balance Olban points to in the quote. The fragmentation is resilient: the whole system does not collapse because, at any point in time, some corner will be up, while others are down.

Alex Cranberg
Alex Cranberg
1 month ago

The writer does a solid job questioning the consensual clarity of “EU values” and of avoiding the usual distortion and bias about Orban. She thereby actually sheds some light on the underlying substance of what he stands for, that underpins his electoral success. She misses on whether Orban is principled or merely opportunistic, and on the economic struggle between Hungary and the EU that explains both the economy’s difficulties and perhaps some of Orban’s outreach to Russia and China.

Orban’s earlier fight against the Socialists and habitual Russian influence were never liberal even as they presented themselves as a break from the past. Eventually the greater threat to Hungarian sovereignty developed from Brussels.

Its even more surprising that the author didnt point out that Brussels has used its power of the purse to blackmail Hungary over its resistance to woke modern EU values. The many billions of dollars the EU is withholding accounts in fact both for the strains in Hungary’s economy and its natural reaction to look elsewhere for funding, investment and leverage. When the EU decides to accommodate national social differences as a reasonable price to pay for enhancing overall EU cohesion and security i suspect that Orban will find far less need to find succor from outside sources. When will Brussels decide it hates Putin more than it hates Orban?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago

Human rights and equality are secular? I thought they sprang from the. deep Christian traditions, particularly Protestant ones ( eg Kant , Hegel (‘repulsive and right’). Indeed, Hegel attributed to Christianity the wave of increasing freedom. It’s hard to identify EU values, but the original EEC was composed of five countries occupied by Germany, plus remnant Germany. They valued peace, order, protection from property seizures, the rule of law, all things not prominent between 1939 and the dour peace of a continent half occupied by the USSR . The Treaties stressed solidarity, or burden sharing. Because there was no clear definition of subsidiarity, mission creep by the EC and the ECJ has enabled solidarity to mean overriding the EU’s commitment to what was clearly implied, that the demographic composition of each country was their business. The EP may be able to roll back the creeping ‘progressivism’, which is so backward in reality, but I doubt it.

james elliott
james elliott
1 month ago

I have to admit that I don’t know much about Orban – but I do know quite a bit about European history.

And the rhetoric (and actions) of the current cabal running the EU sound far, far, far more like ‘Ein Volk, Ein Reich!’ than anything Mr Orban is proposing.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago
Reply to  james elliott

“but I do know quite a bit about European history”
Maybe – but judging by the stupidity of your comment you don’t understand much of European history, do you, sport?

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 month ago

Wow, do we detect just a teensy wee bit of ideological peeve, with a good head-whack of Aussie aggro?

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 month ago

And a goodly covering of immaturity.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 month ago

This essay began so well for a few good paragraphs, then dove off a cliff. Are indeed the very real politico-culture wars merely a ‘shadow-boxing of American college students’ … ? Absolutely not. We have watched every major political controversy of the past 70 years migrate from the US to the rest of the West inexorably. Oddly, as the political foil for the Communist states, throughout this era, the US has been almost as influenced by Marxism as Soviet Russia or Communist China, as I remarked to surprised and resentful colleagues at Deloitte & Toouche in NY in the immediate pre- and post-Soviet era.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
30 days ago

Just so people know, Deloitte & Toouche is an arm of the deep state.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
15 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Yes, it is. It used to be colloquially known as “Delightful Tush.”

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

Orban threatens the current power structure, which almost no one can empirically defend. The status quo cannot defend or affirm itself and is left with no alternative but to attack the opposition.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Bravo.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

“Orbán is trying to defend the country against an immigration tide, and by resisting the strategies of George Soros, European Union bureaucrats, and European media elites.” — Rod Dreher
That defines more clearly what is at stake than Lily Lynch’s jumbled article, which reading closely is clearly in favor of the status quo dominated by a bloated and secularized Brussels bureaucracy bent on continuing the centralization of power, which is proving helpless and hapless at meeting the threat of the Islamization of the Continent.

Ian Cooper
Ian Cooper
1 month ago

Europe does have different values from those more common than Africa and Asia, there are real differences. And these values were basically liberal values at their best: fairness, freedom, respect for the individual and a desire for the common good in the context of assuming the family, the country, and a culture concerned for the good, the true and the beautiful and curious about everything- that is basically secularised Christian values. And these raised Europe That they have been betrayed in the past doesn’t mean they don’t exist and the proof of that is in the way a departure from these values is recorded and condemned far more than in other cultures,- we admit our crimes and follies. Now of course we are trashing those good liberal values and we will go down – are doing so now.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago

There is only one extreme – open borders. Anti-open borders is a normal position.
The quaint and delicate ‘values’ of the progressive will be swept away one way or the other. Either by the third world colonisation of Europe or by the anti-colonisation response.
The ‘but why does it matter that white people are a minority’ was a delusion that dullards believed in. Evil people pretended to believe in it.

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
1 month ago

Go Hungary! The EU did morph due to a grab for money, power, and inflated egos. This will be a classic battle between incompetent bureaucrats and motivated and realistic nationalists.

Susie Bell
Susie Bell
30 days ago

US envy is at the very heart of the EU project. Those old post war architects of the European states in the fifties hated Europe’s place behind our upstart prodigy across the Atlantic. They considered it was our birthright to be the World’s premier force and that could only be achieved if we coalesced into one super nation. Unfortunately the EU has begun to emulate the US in too many ways detestable to many Europeans. Our eastern neighbours have a not too distant memory of the destruction of cultural revolution. It came from Russia then, it is coming from American progressive capitalism now and is why the eastern countries of the EU have so little tolerance for it. Of course power and money are what matters to most of the control freaks who want to direct our lives all over the planet; egged on by the Davos players they are the useful idiots lining us up as little more than economic units to further enrich the few. Yes European values are being lost but they are the values that progressive liberals don’t care about; family, community life, small scale endeavours of all kinds such as farming, manufacturing, education etc…. True progressive liberals want life lived at top speed and huge scale with an elite at the top of every sector. Some of us would be living net zero lives if we were not coerced into becoming a cog in the machine of economic supremacy. I hope the anti globalists begin to make up some ground as if we don’t it is hard to imagine the ultimate collolory. Rather than a Christian future I can only see Aldous Huxley’s worst nightmare.

David Parker
David Parker
30 days ago
Steve White
Steve White
30 days ago

Orban positioning against the woke agenda is not just tilting at windmills. The agenda is being pushed across the West as a part of “democracy” , and so an alternative has to be presented. He chose a form of traditionalism where Christianity provides the universal truths that give meaning to the particular forms found in the culture.
So, Hungary is position itself as another of the civilization states along with nations like China, Russia, India, Turkey. The historic civilization state is what will survive when nation states built on ideas are collapsing as the West has reached it’s end where even humanity is being discarded for as post-modern enlightenment vomits out its final form of Western liberalization as economies and cultures alike collapse.