Hungary is a controversial country for American conservatives. On the one hand, it has received attention as prominent conservative figures such as Tucker Carlson, Rod Dreher, among others have set it as an example of what America should do. On the other, the EU bureaucrats and mainstream media consider it a rogue nation within the Union for its so-called anti-immigration and anti-LGBT policies.
Where does reality lie? As usual, the reality is not black-and-white. Hungary is not a perfect country but is also not a homophobic and racist dystopia, as some outlets might want you to believe. Plus, it is one of the few European countries that has been able to stop the demographic depression the continent’s been suffering in the last few decades. How? With solid and generous policies to support people starting their families.
Moreover, for the more European-minded conservatives in America, which are less afraid to wield the power of the state to meet their political goals and are more concerned with sustaining conservative values than tax breaks (think of Carlson himself, Sohrab Ahmari, Senatorial hopeful J.D. Vance, and Sen. Josh Hawley), Hungary is an interesting example of what a post-liberal political system and policies might look like.
To dispel some of the myths surrounding Hungary and talk in-depth about Hungary’s relationship with the EU, we spoke with Péter Heltai, a young conservative journalist and writer who has worked in the Orbán administration. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Thank you Péter for accepting this interview. First, tell me a little about yourself and what you do.
I am the strategic communication manager of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, one of the most important educational institutes in Hungary, where I’m editor-in-chief of the official journal, Corvinak.hu, and I am also the host of several podcasts.
In recent months, I had the privilege to assist the PR work of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest. Previously I served as an ambassador for the Hungary Helps program, which offers help to persecuted Christians, and I also worked in the cabinet of Katalin Novák, Minister of Family.
Could you explain a bit more about the pro-family policies promoted by the Orbán government?
The collection of policies called ‘Action Plan for the Protection of the Family’ can be imagined as a way in which the state from the beginning accompanies those who need support to start or maintain a family life with as many children as they wish to have.
For newlyweds, the banks offer a loan of 33,000 dollars covered by the government, which after the birth of the first child is frozen for two years, with the second child half of the loan payment is waived, and after the birth of the third child the entire debt is paid off. What a difference it makes for a family expecting their first child!
The program also helps families who would like to buy a house or a new car. Likewise, the work of women who have dedicated themselves to their children is appreciated: after having four or more children they will never have to pay income tax. It has already been announced that they are working on extending it to women with three children. At the end of the day, the goal is to create a family-friendly environment that no one feels any obstacle or discrimination (at least from the State) if they dream of a large family.
The reforms to the family protection law, of the child protection law, among other laws, have caused controversy. What is Hungary’s goal with these reforms, what do they say and what effects do they really have? Is it a direct attack on LGBT people and does it discriminate against them, as some media have said?
The answer is in your question. Yes, the new law on the protection of minors has caused controversy, and yes, some media claim that it is discriminatory. One claim leads to another. But a lie does not become true just because it is repeated a thousand times. Despite the hysteria, the law is not “against” anyone, but seeks to protect minors and their parents.
First, it aims to protect children from all kinds of activism (especially those trying to influence the deepest levels of their identity, e.g., sexual identity) that simply has no place at schools. Second, it is about ensuring parental autonomy; namely, that only parents have the right to decide what and how they talk about these issues with their children.
If we fail to understand that the family is the first place where children are taught and guided about such profound issues in their lives, we are misunderstanding the role of public education. But the hysteria comes not from there, but from the nature of progressive activism that wants to invade all levels of society to impose its worldview.
Wouldn’t this contravene sex education in schools?
Progressive activism has nothing to do with sex education. Hungarian schools have always talked about sex freely. I’m not that old! I still personally remember that this is the case.
However, if we are honest, the challenge is not about how to pass this information to students, but the opposite: how to take care of them in our oversexualized era? How not overwhelm them with too much information and bad or confusing examples that at their age they cannot handle? Does anyone still believe that this generation does not know enough (and much more) about sexuality at 12-13 years old? The problems are called pornography, cyber-addiction and family crisis. Not that a 12-13-year-old doesn’t know how many “genders” there are according to a political ideology.
What is the status of protection from discrimination against LGBT people in Hungary?
In Hungary equality is protected by the Constitution (Article 15) and guarantees equal opportunities regardless of race, religion, political opinion, social status, or sexual identity. Anyone can live according to his or her identity, can march in the Budapest Pride every year, or simply participate in one of the gay rights associations that operate without any problem.
During the communist era, homosexuality was totally criminalized and we don’t want to go back to that time. Now, another thing is that equality does not mean uniformity.
What do I mean by that? The “fighters” of the sexual revolution always talk about a struggle for equality. The problem is that they are always the ones who define when they will be “equal.” Surprisingly, this line expands its political territory step by step. Yesterday, perhaps, equality meant gay marriage, tomorrow it is already adoption or who knows what.
In Central Europe, we lived through communism and we recognize this neo-Marxist logic faster. They will never reach the endpoint; what they want is to behave and lead as a strong majority while remaining an aggressive minority.
What do you think of the criticism against the so-called “anti-LGBT laws” among progressives in the U.S. Do you think it will affect U.S.-Hungary relations?
Diplomatic relations have been thriving for decades. We are full members of NATO, and have been very active in American military missions, including in Afghanistan where Hungarian soldiers tried to help in these catastrophically chaotic weeks.
The United States has the second-largest amount of investments in the country and academically there are also several cooperations. Unfortunately, when there is a Democratic government in Washington, successful and mutual collaboration is not the focus, but pursuing a radical political agenda. I do not work for the government, but I think that although these issues do not affect the alliance deeply, they can cause friction because Hungarians are very sensitive and after 45 years of communism they do not welcome any attempt by those who want to “teach” them how to see the world.
Some EU countries and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have called for direct action against Hungary for these reforms. Do you see this pressure as a way of trying to expel Hungary from the EU?
No. Hungary is a full and equal member like any other and has contributed a lot to the development of the Union. It opened its borders, its market to European investments, as well as joined the European labor market at the risk of many Hungarians emigrating and working in other countries because of the existing economic differences.
Other members benefit a lot from that and know how fast the Visegrad Region is growing, becoming one of the engines of the future of the Union.
The political forces seek to transform the Union are another matter. I cannot understand that the Commission, which should be “the guardian of the Treaties”, promotes and pushes the political agenda of the neo-Marxist left. The solution for Hungary is not to give up this battle, but to fight for the real ideals of the Christian founders of an EU that respects a strong alliance of sovereign nations.
Don’t you think that this Christian legacy of the Union is already far behind us? In fact, in the Lisbon Treaty, the mention of Christianity as the inspiration of the Union was removed. Wouldn’t Hungary, Poland, among other states, be marginalized if the Union continues to embrace progressive values as core values?
I say it again: if your family has gone in a bad direction, your immediate response cannot be abandoned. I have already listed several economic and political reasons as to why leaving is not the solution. The Union has to change and return to its Christian legacy. Hungarians have to work on this with groups (there are many) with the same goal.
Are these reforms popular within Hungary, or have they met with resistance?
I can’t imagine a couple who, even if they support the opposition, would refuse to receive the $33K interest-free loan, to be paid off once they have three children. The other policies of the program do not depend on someone’s ideological preferences either. Who would want to resist subsidies given to their families?
Of course, since we live in a democracy, there are a number of people who don’t like anything that comes from the government and will always look only for mistakes. Of course, there has to be room for criticism as well. Although I think the best way to measure the public opinion is to have elections – and this government has been winning them for more than 10 years in a row. In 2022, we’ll see to what extent the hysteria of the press is backed by the Hungarian people.
What will come next for Hungary’s pro-family policies, will there be more reforms? Do you think other European countries will follow Hungary’s example?
I don’t know the government’s plans but one thing is for sure: they’ll keep promoting a pro-family agenda. Almost a year ago, Katalin Novák who had served as State Secretary for Families now is a minister in the government.
On September 23-24, the “4th Budapest Demographic Summit” will be held with participants such as Mike Pence, the prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Serbia, and many experts and representatives of pro-family organizations.
This will be an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences. However, one thing cannot be ignored: family policy never depends largely on politicians or governments. These policies can only encourage people or remove obstacles so that those open to live in larger families, could do so without counting the pennies at the end of every month.