Hungary – After last year’s first European instalment, a second meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was organized in Budapest on May 4–5, 2023. It is no coincidence that the Hungarian capital has again been chosen to host the only occurrence of this great meeting of conservatives (in the style of the US Republicans) on this side of the Atlantic. With an arm-wrestle going on with Washington over the war in Ukraine, as well as over wokeism and the entire progressive ideology, and only a year before the next European parliamentary elections, Viktor Orbán is flexing his relations with the American Right wing, showing both the world and his voters that he is not isolated on the international scene.
“No migration, no gender, no war”
In front of a full house at the Bálna, a former warehouse that has been transformed into a shopping mall and convention centre on the banks of the Danube, Orbán unleashed a rant against Western liberal progressivism. “We are all under attack – in Europe as well as in America. (…) the attack is not economic in nature: we are dealing with a biological weapon. A virus attack has been launched against us. The virus was developed in progressive liberal laboratories. (…) It is a nation-devouring virus”, said the Hungarian PM, in an allusion directed at an audience where opponents of Covid restrictions were present in large numbers, including Kari Lake, Rob Roos, Virginie Joron, and Eva Vlaardingerbroek, to name but a few. “People without a homeland can never be free: they can only be wanderers, to be transplanted here or there, playthings of the global elite.”
A true paean to the concepts of the nation and the nation-state, Viktor Orbán’s speech focused on the collapse of the West and its relative decline compared to the rest of the world, both demographically and economically. According to Orbán, the West has lost its place as a leader in all areas except in the military field, and this is a cause for worry: “If we have lost all our other advantages and only our military force remains competitive, this will push events in the direction of military conflicts. This is what is happening today.” In Orbán’s eyes, there seems to be no doubt that Westerners have only themselves to blame for this state of affairs.
Again using the image of a virus to refer to the radical woke and progressive ideology, Viktor Orbán then continued: “This virus has not simply escaped: it has been bred, it is being propagated and spread all over the world. Migration, gender, and woke: these are all just variants – variants of the same virus.” According to Orbán, the drive for mass immigration and the woke ideology proceed from the same desire to destroy nations, atomize societies, and deconstruct identities.
The head of the Hungarian government then attacked the “progressive foreign policy”, which he said is imperialist in nature and has destroyed countries in the name of exporting democracy. Hungary’s Prime Minister further called for the return of Donald Trump to power in the United States, expressing the belief that if he were still president, there would currently be no war in Ukraine. “Progressives always pursue imperialist policy. What they are doing is textbook imperialism. First of all they put diplomatic pressure on nations, expecting them to commit themselves, to declare whether or not they support migration, gender propaganda, the relativization of families, and the sexualization of children. Those who refuse to do so are the enemy, and a liberal fatwa is pronounced on them.”
He then concluded: “The latest imperial foreign policy goal of the progressives is to deprive the Member States of the European Union of the right to conduct their own foreign policy.”
Addressing his American guests directly, Viktor Orbán showed some optimism, with a smile on his face. “The good news, Dear American Friends, is that here in Europe the “Reconquista” has begun,” he said, citing conservative victories in Italy and Israel as examples, and expressing optimism about Spain and Poland, where elections will be held this year. The 2024 European Parliament elections will be the next objective.
Concluding his speech, Viktor Orbán then used his viral metaphor yet again: “The good news for everyone is that we need look no further for a serum for the progressive virus: It is here, in Hungary. It is available to everyone. You can take it freely, it just needs a little local adaptation, and it will work anywhere. (…) It protects against all variants of the progressive forces and has no side effects. (…) All that is needed, before the election, is to write in huge, prominent letters on your flag: “No migration! No gender! No war!”
For the Hungarian leader, the progressives’ weak point remains democracy: “There are two ways to occupy a city. This is something that was already known in ancient Rome. Either you take the city’s walls, or you take the city’s sanctuaries. I suggest we start with the sanctuaries, and then take the walls. In recent years we have taken some great European sanctuaries: Budapest, Warsaw, Rome and Jerusalem – and the situation in Vienna is not hopeless either. But the truth is that the two main sanctuaries of modern democracy – Washington and Brussels – are still in the hands of the liberals. Let us make sure they do not stay that way!”
A motley crew of conservatives, united against progressivism
The event’s somewhat chaotic organization did not prevent thousands of conservatives from gathering in the heart of the Hungarian capital for two days. Politicians, journalists, influencers, entrepreneurs, academics, and die-hard supporters were able to network, conduct interviews, and exchange thoughts under the flags of Hungary, the United States, and of… NATO, something which amused French MEP Thierry Mariani of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, who was present at the event.
Some journalists were not welcome, ensuring that the event was a true conservative safe space. Journalists from The Guardian, Le Point, and Radio Free Europe were either escorted out by security – some of them had gained admission using false identities – or simply prevented from entering. Our fellow journalists from the Courrier d’Europe Centrale were not accredited, either.
The event is a real Tower of Babel where people from the United States, France, Spain, Portugal, Georgia, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Serbia, Sweden, and other countries come together. More interestingly, the diversity of opinions on extremely divisive issues such as the war in Ukraine or Covid-19 shows the willingness of the various forces represented at CPAC to cooperate intensively, as well as Orbán’s need to widen his circle of supporters and allies.
But while Viktor Orbán clearly stated his vision of the progressive agenda, differences remained among the guests. “It’s funny that Orbán, who put in place the same restrictive and absurd Covid rules as elsewhere, is playing footsie with those who opposed Covid restrictions here and across the Atlantic. But it is true that the wind is changing on this subject”, I was told by a European official who wished to remain anonymous. When it came to the war in Ukraine, the Poles, few of whom attended this year, dodged the subject diplomatically and preferred to concentrate on their common fight against wokeism, cancel culture, the deconstruction of the traditional family, and the sexualization of children. Some of the messages recorded for the occasion and broadcast on the Bálna came from such important figures as Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The presence of many MEPs, as well as the rising star Kari Lake, who is said to be a potential vice-presidential running mate for the Republican nominee in the 2024 election; Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili; the former Czech President Vacláv Klaus and the former Czech and Slovenian prime ministers Andrej Babiš and Janez Janša made the two-day congress a major event for conservatism at the European level.
This was indeed Viktor Orbán’s objective, given that he is more isolated than ever within the European Union only a year before the European elections. Besides the message sent to his voters, reassuring them that their government has made the right geopolitical choices, the CPAC held in Budapest can be seen as a prelude to the conservatives’ intended counter-offensive in the European Parliament. Orbán received the event’s major figures, treating them with the highest regards in the Karmelita, the former Carmelite monastery which overlooks the city from the Castle District, and which is now the Prime Minister of Hungary’s office. This was also an opportunity for the large French delegation to exchange a few words with an ally who has made himself indispensable, and who needs France more and more – whether it is Macron or the conservative opposition forces – to secure Hungary’s civil nuclear energy program in the face of Berlin’s resistance.
These included representatives from both sides of the divided French Right: Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Éric Zemmour’s Reconquest. National Rally’s chairman, Jordan Bardella, was one of the conference’s last speakers, while Zemmour ally Marion Maréchal was the only speaker at the very exclusive gala which was held on Friday evening. Just as in the autumn of 2021, when the Hungarian prime minister received Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen within a few weeks of each other, Orbán is trying to show his interest in both parties without offending them or closing either door. Orbán is certainly being very diplomatic, as his position on the war in Ukraine has isolated him more than ever within the EU, which for the most part toes the same line as the US Democrats.
It is a position which risks making it impossible for Viktor Orbán’s party to join the European Parliament’s ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) group. Unless it creates its own group, or joins Identity & Democracy (of which National Rally is a member), Fidesz MEPs could remain among the non-aligned members.