Hungary's distance from the West is widening
Viktor Orbán’s ideological isolation from the rest of the West is deepening. This weekend, it was reported that documents leaked from US security services include the claim that Hungary views America as “one of its most significant geopolitical adversaries”. Highlighting the seriousness of Hungary’s rift with Western allies, the revelation came just hours after France and Germany finally joined an EU lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against Budapest’s conservative stance on LGBT issues.
Paris and Berlin only just made the deadline for joining the European Commission’s case against Hungary’s “Child Protection Act”. On Saturday, the German Foreign Ministry wrote that the decision was taken because Hungary’s “anti-queer” law violates “the common values of the EU” that are “the DNA of our free and open society.”
Fifteen countries — more than half of the bloc, mostly consisting of its wealthy northern and western states — eventually joined Brussels’s legal case. Along with France and Germany the late additions included Finland, which, humiliatingly for Budapest, joined the case immediately after Hungary finally rubber-stamped its NATO membership application. Hungary had made a point of playing hardball over Finnish NATO membership in order to highlight the country’s alleged disrespect for Hungarian policies. On Sunday night, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament declared that the Finns had stabbed Hungary in the back by joining the lawsuit.
Progressives and LGBT lobby groups are already feeling triumphant — they’re desperate for Orbán to be left with egg on his face because Hungary’s “Child Protection Act” repudiates the prevailing Western ideological climate on LGBT freedoms. It prohibits the portrayal of LGBT themes in materials accessible to children and, similarly to Ron DeSantis’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, imposes stringent controls on sex education.
The key question is whether the European Commission and EU member states joining the lawsuit think Orbán is bluffing and will back down in the face of legal pressure, or whether they actually want a potentially irrevocable ideological split with Hungary. Orbán has doubled down in recent months, making resistance to “gender ideology” his key pledge to voters along with refusal to be “dragged into” the war in Ukraine.
Hungarians have already been primed for a huge ideological rift with the rest of the EU. Orbán asserted in a recent radio interview that “there is such a gap between our two positions that I do not see how it can be bridged. And as we are not going to give in, Brussels will eventually have to give in.”
Responding to the German and French decisions to join the EU lawsuit on Friday, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga rammed this uncompromising message home. She reiterated Budapest’s argument that member states have the right to decide their own educational policies at the national level and promised “new measures” supplementing the Child Protection Act that will give Hungary “the strictest child protection regulation in Europe.”
Perhaps Hungary will buckle under EU pressure and these will turn out to have been empty words. But Orbán’s opponents at home and abroad tend to underestimate the ideological — and intellectual — nature of his conservative project. They often assume that his Fidesz party’s conservative values are a mere smokescreen for gaining money and power; a political cloak that will be cast aside as soon as it becomes convenient to do so.
But there’s a major flaw in this interpretation. With Hungary already missing out on EU funds and heading for even more EU punishment, it’s clear that the convenient time for toning down its LGBT stance passed long ago. Instead, Orbán appears happy to make this an all-or-nothing moral issue. If neither side is willing to compromise, questions will become louder about whether Hungary really belongs in a union of nations that find its values abhorrent.