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At CPAC, Viktor Orbán paints bleak picture of ‘war’ between progressives, Western culture

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 8/6/2022 Michael Williams, The Dallas Morning News
Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. © Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Frequently employing war-like rhetoric, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Thursday told a crowd of conservatives in Dallas that the future of “Western civilization” is in peril — attacking progressives while imploring right-wing Americans and Hungarians to “know how to fight.”

“The West is at war with itself,” Orbán said on Thursday, opening the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference. “We have seen what kind of future the globalist voting bloc has to offer. But we have a different future in mind. The globalists can all go to hell, I have come to Texas.”

Orbán’s speech came weeks after he drew heavy criticism from civil-rights groups, Holocaust survivors and even members of his own inner circle after denouncing race-mixing and making light of the systemic killing of Jews and other groups deemed “undesirable” by Nazi Germany during World War II.

During his speech Thursday, Orbán was unrepentant: “A Christian politician cannot be racist,” he said.

Making frequent attacks on progressives, communists and the “leftist media,” Orbán said the horrors of World War II were the result of European countries abandoning Christian values.

“And today’s progressives are planning to do the same,” he said. “They want to give up on Western values and create a new world — a post-Western world. Who is going to stop them if we don’t?”

Authoritarian actions

Orbán, serving his fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister, has been described as increasingly autocratic and authoritarian by democracy groups. He’s taken control of Hungary’s media and courts system and painted himself as a defender of Christian values against migration from majority Muslim countries. He has also frequently demonized the LGBTQ community.

While the cavernous exhibit hall was only about half-full, Orbán received a raucous welcome to the conference. “Welcome to Texas!” one woman shouted as Orbán took the stage.

Some of the heaviest applause from the crowd came after Orbán mentioned a clause in the Hungarian constitution that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“To sum up, the mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our teens alone,” he said. “We decided we don’t need more genders. … Less drag queens, and more Chuck Norris. We believe there is no freedom without order. If there is no order, you get killed.”

While Orbán has become increasingly embraced by American conservatives — he has been a guest of Tucker Carlson on Fox News and visited former President Donald Trump in New Jersey before coming to Texas — some CPAC attendees tried distancing themselves and the American conservative movement from the strongman’s rhetoric.

“He’s not really a draw for us so much,” said James Tolles, 66, who is attending the conference with wife, Maggie, who is Filipina. “We’re a mixed race marriage, so a lot depends on how far he goes with that rhetoric.”

But Tolles added that he has “a lot of respect” for Orbán because he is trying to preserve European civilization “against the hordes trying to come in.”

Rhonda Hurst, 48, said on one hand, she thought Orbán’s statement on race-mixing was a “stupid, bull----, racist comment.”

“But on the other hand,” she said, “I think he’s trying to make a point” and should be given the space to make that point, Hurst said.

Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, first met Orbán in Budapest in the early 1990s, before Orbán’s first term as prime minister. Back then, Baker said, Orbán led “what we all thought was an open and promising new party.”

But since beginning his second stint as prime minister, Orbán has undergone “quite a transformation,” Baker said.

“Unfortunately, he saw his political fortunes not in maintaining that early model of his party, but really quite the opposite — to play on society’s fear of immigration, to promote a nationalist view of Hungary or even an emphasis on its Hungarian Christian roots that made many of us uneasy,” Baker said Thursday in a phone interview from Washington. “But it gave him success, and we see what that has meant.”

Baker said Orbán avoids explicit antisemitism, but “he’s often flirted with traditional antisemitic tropes.”

“We’ve certainly seen in campaigns the way he’s used George Soros as sort of an individual figure to hold up for special attack,” Baker said, referencing the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire who frequently donates to progressive causes. “It makes many people uneasy to see an international financier shoulder the blame for all the ills society might face.”

Orbán repeated some of those tropes at CPAC on Thursday.

“Let’s be honest, the most heinous things in modern history were carried out by people who hated Christianity,” he said. “Don’t be afraid calling your enemies by their name. Consider for example George Soros … He believes in none of the things that we do, and he has an army at his service.

“He uses his army to force his will on opponents like us. He thinks that what is dear to all of us led to the horrors of the 20th Century. But the case is exactly the opposite. Our values save us from repeating history’s mistakes,” Orbán said.

After Orbán’s speech, about a half-dozen people held a small protest in the hotel’s atrium, holding signs calling for Republicans, Democrats and Independents to “stand against” Orbán’s concept of racial purity.

“I think there are actually a lot of conservatives who don’t believe in things like racial purity and antisemitism,” said Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk, one of the protesters. “And they need to be made aware that this is bringing someone with those belief systems to Dallas.”

Thompson-Frenk added that it’s “really important for those of us who are progressive to also take the time to say we’re not going to assume bigotry in our conservative brothers and sisters.”

Another activist, the Rev. Peter Johnson, said the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history.

“And this man being that speaker is evidence of that,” he said.

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