On Wednesday evening, economist and Oxford professor Péter Róna appeared on HírTV’s prime-time talk-show Egyenesen with host Olga Kálmán. Róna said that Hungary’s founder St. Stephen took it upon himself to transform the Kingdom of Hungary into “an important member of the Western Christian world” one thousand years ago. Orbánism, he reasoned, is an outright rejection of St. Stephen’s dream for Hungary and is therefore a denial of Hungary’s national identity. With one foot already outside of Europe, Hungarians must decide in the next election if they want to be part of a Christian Europe or be cohorts of Turkey’s Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin, he said.
“Many things have happened over the past one thousand years that have prevented this from happening,” Róna (pictured) told Kálmán. “Then, 1989 arrived. Events unfolded and world history produced a situation in which we were afforded the opportunity to see [St. Stephen’s dream] realized. Instead, we got a number of successive governments that performed their job horribly, in an amateur, dilettante and poor manner. Then came Viktor Orbán, who recognized that the failures and lack of success of these earlier governments contributed to a deep sense of discontent in society. Seeing this, [Orbán] declared Orbánism — which is the outright rejection of St. Stephen’s vision.”
Orbánism, an outright rejection of St. Stephen’s vision
According to Róna, Hungary’s very future is at stake in the spring 2018 election. Should Hungary decide to stay with Prime Minister Orbán, the decision would be an outright rejection of its national identity, the professor said.
“Hungarian society must now make a very simple choice next spring: either St. Stephen’s type of integration into Christian Western Europe, or choosing Viktor Orbán, Erdoğan, Putin, and their types. It’s that simple.
“We stand in front of an enormous historical turning-point,” he said. “Significant changes are under way in world affairs. America is stepping out of Europe, its commitment to NATO has become uncertain. The United Kingdom is leaving Europe. But, all the while, a very strong process for European integration is taking place.”
This process for stronger European integration, Róna said, is not unlike that seen in the postwar period.
Orbánism, a rejection of Europe
Citing European Union founding fathers Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle and Alcide De Gasperi, Róna made the case for a unified Europe — one that Orbán is all too eager to undermine.
“Viktor Orbán has no desire to see Hungary take part in shaping the shared European future. [Orbán] rejects this and says that national sovereignty is the most important thing in the world. He says he will not share in the fate of Europe,” Róna said.
“But Europe will not follow Orbán,” he continued. “[Orbán] declared with optimism that 2017 would be the year of rebellion. Not only was there no rebellion, it was the likes of Orbán that suffered historical defeats in France, Austria, Holland… That is the situation. The process for European integration has gained significant traction, and an effort for a shared European fate has once again emerged as the first item on the continent’s agenda.”
According to Róna, there is a potential scenario in which Hungary is no longer part of Europe, a scenario in which “the Hungarian identity exists outside of Europe” and in partnership with the likes of Putin and Erdoğan.
“Hungarian society has the opportunity to decide: it’s either this or that. You mustn’t pin this on others, pass the responsibility on elsewhere, squander this opportunity, or try to play tactics with it. We have one foot already outside the European Union.”
On Hungary’s response to the refugee crisis, spitting in the face of Europe, and the rejection of Christian love
“Nobody is denying the fact that a country has the right to supervise its borders,” Róna said. “Nobody is denying the fact that a country should have the right to decide who can or cannot enter the country.
“European solidarity would have expected us to allow into our homeland less than 2,000 unfortunate refugees…We responded by saying ‘No’, which was a spit in the face to Europe. Make no mistake, we spit in Europe’s face! To this day, the Italians, at great cost, are still going out into the sea to pull those unfortunate people out of the water so they don’t drown. Meanwhile, Hungary files a lawsuit against the European Union so that 1,200 or so refugees will never find a home in Hungary. Is this what a Christian country does? Is this what a Christian’s love of his neighbor looks like? Is it? I’d like to make it clear to Viktor Orbán and his followers: Europe wants none of this,” Róna warned.
Why Róna brought up St. Stephen’s vision of Hungary being a member of the Western Christian world
When Orbán spoke at Fidesz’s annual Tusványos jamboree last weekend, he addressed what he called the “de-Christianization” of Europe.
“Christian democratic parties in Europe have become un-Christian,” Orbán said, before adding that the “de-Christianization” of Europe is part of a much broader effort by European leaders to “hand [European] territory over to a new mixed, Islamized Europe”.
“We are observing the conscious step-by-step implementation of this policy,” Orbán said. “In order for this to happen, for the territory to be ready to be handed over, it is necessary to continue the de-Christianization of Europe – and we can see these attempts. Priority must be given to group identities rather than national identities, and political governance must be replaced with the rule of bureaucracy.”
Róna’s statements on HírTV shine light on a very important (and dangerous) trend in Hungarian political and religious affairs. By conflating national identity and Christianity – with national identity serving as the more important element – Orbán has created a political situation in which just about anything can be justified if done in the name of preserving national identity, even if such actions are incompatible with Christian teaching.
Coincidentally, the loudest criticism in Hungary of Pope Francis’ calls for solidarity with refugees came from pro-government publicists, Fidesz ally the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), and Hungarian church leaders — all groups eager to remain in Orbán’s good graces.
This contrast was so stark that it made national news when a local priest in the town of Körmend opened up his parish to asylum-seekers so they would not have to sleep outside in tents in winter.
Kübekháza mayor Róbert Molnár recently told the Beacon that Hungarian churches no longer stand their ground against the state.
According to Molnár, “the church today must strive to represent social justice, morality — all that to which God would say ‘Amen’. If that means that the church must clash with the state, then so be it. The God of the Christian Church isn’t the government, it’s God. The Church should work to please God, not the prime minister. Today, the Hungarian government could not get away with all that it is doing if the Church would stand its ground and represent the divine truth.”
As Princeton Professor of Politics Jan-Werner Müller, author of What Is Populism?, explained to the Beacon in 2016, politicians such as Viktor Orbán are trying to pass themselves off as the real Christian democrats, whereas, in reality, the Western European Christian democrat tradition has historically sought to weaken the nation-state in favor of European integration.
Müller writes: “Christian democrats never abridged the rights of minorities. They never clamped down on media freedom. They, themselves, as Catholics in 19th century Europe, had experienced what majoritarianism in certain countries could mean. They were very often the oppressed minority. They understood that state sovereignty is not good in itself, in the way that now Orbán says nation-state sovereignty is a supreme value.
“Christian democrats thought exactly the opposite. That’s why they were among the main architects of European integration in the 1950s and 1960s. They wanted to weaken the nation-state, not strengthen it. I think it’s an egregious misinterpretation and manipulation of history, for certain types of actors nowadays to say, ‘We are the real Christian democrats’. They are absolutely not. They are trying to steal this tradition. They are trying to appropriate the mantle of people like Helmut Kohl, Adenauer and others, who everybody considers to be great statesmen of sorts, and it’s a very misleading picture. And I think that’s the kind of use of language where I think one can definitely say, as a historian, that this is just wrong and Christian democrats across Europe shouldn’t fall for it.”