One of the main reasons why Hungary has become an intellectual home for social conservatives is that it is actually creating a political project with specific policies that go beyond mere words to counteract the progressive establishment in Europe. Probably the two main areas that have stirred equal parts of controversy and interest are gender issues and immigration. Hungary has taken a strong stance in the protection of children against LGBT indoctrination and enacted a pro-family policy that has increased its fertility rate. Similarly, the country has a strong border protection policy to protect its citizens from illegal immigration from the Middle East and Africa.
One author that has studied these topics in depth is Gergely Szilvay, a journalist at Mandiner, the largest conservative magazine in Hungary. Mr. Szilvay is the author of the books A Gender Theory Critique (2021) and On Gay Marriage (2016) and kindly spoke with us in Budapest. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Viktor Orbán achieved a landslide victory, way bigger than expected. What do you think was the key to his success?
It’s an astonishing victory that nobody expected. More than 3 million votes have been cast for the Fidesz-KDNP party alliance, which is a historical record. And the difference between Fidesz-KDNP and the united opposition is more than one million votes. It means that Viktor Orbán and his governing supermajority have been able to reach much more people than self-conscious conservatives.
His government reduced the historically high financial debt of 2010, reduced taxes, replaced the welfare state with a “workfare” state, helped to create almost one million new workplaces, and halved the number of people under the line of poverty from 1.6 million to 800,000. His flagship family policy knows no class borders, so it boosted the economy with the so-called “Orbanomics,” a combination of capitalism, social help, and a strong, active state. He even attracted many ex-socialist voters and the Roma population. Besides that, he returned the self-respect of the nation and has a clear vision. Meanwhile, the formally united opposition is fragmented, incompetent, and has no vision except that “no Orbán”.
Many Western outlets have been quick to claim that this victory is the result of Viktor Orbán’s control of the media. You are a journalist at Mandiner; what is the reality of the media in Hungary?
This is one of the fake excuses of the Hungarian and international left. The Hungarian right won elections in 1990 and in 1998 without media support, under a depressingly leftist media dominance, and Fidesz won its first two-thirds majority in 2010 from the opposition, with a small media support. State media has always been under government control, even before Fidesz came to power.
Today, the media landscape is fairly balanced. The biggest TV channel (RTL Klub) is leftist, the most-read news portals and political print media are also leftist. Leftists say that in rural areas where Fidesz is most popular people have access only to state media, but this is not true. People in the rural areas also have internet and people can choose between various options everywhere. Also, statistics say that most Hungarians follow media outlets with different political positions, and almost nobody follows only state media.
Anybody can criticize Viktor Orbán and Fidesz freely, even vehemently if he wants. There are leftist covers to prove it week by week. However, indeed, the leftist dominance is over—thank God—and the government actively helped to create the recent balance.
So, what the left calls a “government takeover” of the media is basically the possibility of choosing between different outlets with different opinions; what we used to call “freedom of the press” in the old days.
Yes, let’s say it that way. Many leftist journalists criticize the prime minister and make jokes about him many times in a childish way. They are eternal teenagers. While conservative media outlets are honest about their political and ideological position, leftist media calls itself “independent and objective”. They mean “independent from the government”. But they cannot be independent of their political position, their owner, their readers, and, actually, they are not independent from NGOs and leftist parties.
“The press of our own side, which is called “independent” in quotation marks” — said recently Ágnes Kunhalmi, a politician of the Hungarian Socialist Party, part of the United Opposition, regarding the leftist press. Soros-related NGO leaders admitted that they influence leftist journalists with whom they work together to give a bad image of Poland and Hungary. This is their so-called “independence”. Anyway, you can openly criticize not only the prime minister in Hungary, but NGOs, the LGBTQ movement, gender ideology, and mass migration too. So, in Hungary you can have honest conversations about things you cannot speak of in the rest of Europe, not to mention Canada.
In addition to the elections, a referendum was held on the Child Protection Law. Western liberal media have spoken of Orbán’s defeat, but the support has been massive. How do you assess the referendum?
It was, in fact, very similar to the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act. Four questions were asked about LGBTQ propaganda in schools, in media, and sex change processes of children. Formally, the referendum wasn’t valid because the law says that referendums are only valid if 50% of the population validly cast a vote, and the opposition called to cast invalid votes.
1.7 million people cast invalid ballots, but 3.9 million voted validly, and the vast majority of them (3.6 million) voted no, which is 600,000 people more than those who voted for Orbán in the election. Thus, much more people agree on that with the government and the Hungarian child protection law, so there seems to be a national consensus. Thus, in practice, it is still a strong authorization for the government and a sign for the EU that Hungarians do not want LGBTQ propaganda for their children.
You published a book last year, A Critique of Gender Theory, in which you analyze and refute progressive arguments regarding gender. It seems that most Hungarians share your rejection of gender ideology.
I hope so! I wrote that book because conservative elites said some years ago that gender ideology will not cross the ocean and its absurdity is self-evident, so we shouldn’t really deal with it, only ridicule it. I found that quite unsatisfactory and, indeed, it came across the ocean.
So I made some research — continuing my Ph.D. research — and organized data and arguments from a conservative position, addressing the most important questions regarding gender ideology, feminism, gender mainstreaming, the “born this way” myth, transgender issues, answering if all family models are equal, polyamory, etc. And I do it from an Augustinian-Thomistic point of view, saying that human beings function in a specific way and that their existence is meaningful, and you can try to bypass it, but it will backlash. Also, I pointed out what are numbers in reality and what science says about those things instead of LGBT reasoning.
Is supporting the traditional family, as is being done in Hungary, the best way to fight gender ideology?
At least it is a part of the right method. We have to answer the intellectual challenge, which is what I intended with my book because that gives us the spiritual strength to carry on. We cannot be unconfident, that’s why it is important. But it is not enough. There has to be a fight on the political field: the left marched toward the institutions, and they dominate committees, international bodies, and corporations.
There has to be a counter-march, which is really hard. And also you have to do something even more positive: helping families in everyday life, not just because you oppose gender ideology, but because that’s the right thing and you can fight demographic decline this way. So, there has to be intellectual work, political maneuvering, and good family policy. Unfortunately, this war is going to be a long and tiring guerilla war and bushfighting.
You claim that gender ideology will cause many mental problems. In Spain, we are seeing it—besides the enormous business behind this ideology—but some believe that this madness will self-destruct before it causes irreparable damage to society. Do you share that opinion?
Not really. We are seeing that in the U.S. it has not self-destructed fast. And even if this self-destruction happens at all, it will drag many down with itself and cause a lot of damage. The societal damage is reparable, but many individuals have irreversible damage now, for example, de-transitioners. And it is a very aggressive force, for example, in corporations, so it’s not enough to sit and wait. We have to actively be counter-revolutionaries.
I believe that your book is going to be translated into English, which ensures a much wider diffusion. In addition to other aspects, such as the family policy or the defense of borders, is Hungary the best example of how to fight the cultural battle?
I do not know. At least we try it. We are a small country with a specific history, and maybe because of communism, we are more resistant. We saw what happened in Western Europe and in America because of liberal policies on migration and gender, and we just don’t want such a future.
So we were somehow lucky to be able to check out liberal policies before implementing them–western countries did not have this advance. Now we have a bigger influence than our size, but we desperately need great allies in the western world. It is not a big secret that Viktor Orbán (also Donald Trump) can cross psychological boundaries which were built by liberals. Liberals say: “you cannot do that”, and he still does it, he wins, and the world — and Hungary — is still standing. That’s why liberal elites really hate him — because he and Hungary are a living example that you do not have to follow progressive politics to flourish. It is unacceptable for liberal elites.
There is a strong liberal-globalist cultural elite in Hungary, but conservatives do not live in catacombs, as in many countries all over Europe. The other thing you can learn from Orbán is that you simply have to be a little bit more aggressive and take on confrontations to achieve your conservative goals. I hope we hold on because I do not want to implement western policies of self-hate – what is now called a “western path,” is a western path only nominally, but the substance of it is self-destruction. I hope we in Central Europe are able to remain a small corner of an older western way of life.
Alvaro Peñas is a political analyst specializing in Eastern European countries. He writes for El Correo de España and several European digital newspapers. He is deputy director of two programs on Decisión Radio and a regular contributor to the television channel 7NN.