On August 1, 2021, Viktor Orban the long-serving Prime Minister of Hungary posted a photo on Viktor Orban/Facebook with Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson chatting amicably at the Prime Minister’s official residence situated in the Buda Castle’s historical Carmelite Monastery. To clarify the situation, Tucker Carlson tweeted: “We’re in Budapest all this week for Tucker CarlsonTonight and a documentary for Tucker Carlson Originals. Don’t miss our first show here starting tonight at 8 pm ET on #Fox News.”
Tucker Carlson’s interest primarily in Viktor Orban personally and secondarily in Hungary harks back to early 2019, when he rightly praised Viktor Orban’s opposition to Angela Merkel’s lax immigration policies. Yet, Viktor Orban’s resolute opposition to Angela Merkel’s and the European Union’s permissive immigration drive would have been more credible if he would not have granted either the equivalent of green cards or even citizenship to countless well-paying individuals as well as their families from Asia. His “humanitarian” largesses that mostly favored rich Chinese and Russian citizens have been performed in total secrecy, raising all kinds of rumors about his, his families’ and his close collaborators’ private dealings with tens of thousands of those individuals with overwhelmingly questionable background.
Artificially linking Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration stand to Europe’s declining birth rate in general and Hungary’s abysmal record of steady population decline, he extolled the prime minister thus: “Hungary’s Leaders actually care about making sure their own people thrive. Instead of promising the nation’s wealth to every illegal immigrant from the Third World, they’re using tax dollars to uplift their own people, imagine that.” Again, Tucker Carlson grossly embellished the Hungarian demographic situation. According to the Central Statistical Office (Hungarian acronyms: KSH), just in the first two months of 2021, the rate of population decline increased by a steep five percent. In the same period, the death rate increased by a whopping six-and-a-half percent. Meanwhile, the number of marriages decreased to 6,877 in the same period. These trends are nothing new in Hungary. Since Viktor Orban’s allegedly pro-Hungarian and pro-family policies, close to one million Hungarians left the country either permanently or temporarily. To add insult to injury, young people declare in unison all over the social media that they do not see their future secured in Hungary and leaving the country permanently.
Furthermore, in the same vein, Tucker Carlson opined: “Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has a different idea. Instead of abandoning Hungary’s young people to the hard-edge libertarianism of Soros and the Clinton Foundation, Orban has decided to affirmatively help Hungarian families grow.” In this manner, in addition to not reflecting reality, his praise of Viktor Orban’s stand on illegal immigration spookily mirrored Hungarian government propaganda. As a follow-up to his flattering comments, he invited in February 2019, the Orban-puppet political non-entity Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto to reinforce this narrative on his show.
To crown his sojourn to Hungary, Tucker Carlson sat down on August 5, 2021, for an interview with Viktor Orban and on August 7, 2021, addressed as the featured speaker the Mathias Corvinus Collegium Symposium, held between August 5th and 7th in the town of Esztergom at the bend of the Danube river. According to the Director-General of the Collegium, “the biggest name at the Mathias Corvinus Fest will undoubtedly be Tucker Carlson.” Both his interview and his speech were unmitigated disasters and made him permanently a laughing stock in Hungary. Except for their utter idiocy, neither highlight of his stay deserves detailed analysis. However, his senseless and unjustified denigration of the United States of America abroad merits a more comprehensive scrutiny.
The Collegium itself has been under the auspices of the Maecenas Universitatis Corvini Foundation, as does the University too, that was established under Law No. XXX of 2019. The Foundation has been endowed by Law No. XXVI of 2020, with many billions of Hungarian Forints (HUF), such as 82 million shares from the government-owned oil company (Hungarian acronyms: MOL), each share worth almost 2000 HUF, 19 million shares of the government-owned pharmaceutical company Richter, at about 7000 HUF each, and a variety of other government-controlled foundations as well as institutions that indirectly channeled government-endowed largesses in the tens of billions to the university. This Foundation is run by a Board of Directors (Kuratorium in Hungarian) selected exclusively by Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party with the absolute monopoly of power in Hungary. Nominally, the Collegium’s mission has been “talent development” of gifted Hungarian youth from all over the Carpathian Basin, meaning mainly ethnic Hungarian youth from the Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia.
For those who are not familiar with Hungarian history and geography, King Mathias, adoringly called Corvinus, ruled the Hungarian Kingdom from 1458 to 1490, and was dubbed the Renaissance King on the account of his progressive reforms and his marriage to an Anjou princess by the name Beatrice from Naples. The town of Esztergom has been the seat of the only Hungarian Catholic Cardinal, starting with Bishop Domonkos the First in 1001. For final historical accuracy, the Corvinus University of Budapest was named under the Communists the Marx Karoly (Karl Marx) Economics Scientific University.
To add intellectual cover to Tucker Carlson’s adventure to Hungary, Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor at the American Conservative, authored on August 4, 2021, a long article in the same publication under the title “Tucker To Hungary, Nixon To China.” Claiming “a personal intellectual investment in the Hungary story” and trying to justify his grandiose title as a conservative breakthrough toward a more sane and effective Republican policy against both the Democrat as well as Republican Establishments and their misguided supporters, he suggests that “Tucker to Hungary is a kind of Nixon to China for conservative American intellectuals and thought leaders.” Then follows an equally idiotic and confusingly discombobulated, grossly superficial and totally useless snippet of quotations from various writers, in which Rod Dreher attempts to show the difference between the allegedly uberliberal and unfree United States of America and the ideally much freer conservative Hungary.
With due respect for Rod Dreher’s “personal intellectual investment,” whatever it is, I would like to present my objective intellectual analysis as well as my learned opinion to his and to Tucker Carlson’s unprofessional as well as extremely irresponsible flirtation with Viktor Orban and his equally unserious creed.
For starters, some personal background. I was born and mostly educated in Hungary. After I took the Hungarian Bar for Judges and Prosecutors with distinction and oversaw all kinds of crimes in Hungary’s Communist society, I escaped to the Federal Republic of Germany. Following a stint with Radio Free Europe, I worked in Academia in Germany. Subsequently, I got an invitation from the United States Congress to join one of its research departments. When Ronald Reagan was elected, I was on loan first to the Supreme Court, then to Senator Orin Hatch’s office and later to the White House. I ended my government career as Congressman Christopher (Chris) Cox’s foreign affairs adviser. I published hundreds of articles as well as opinion pieces and authored several books. Already in 2005, I wrote an article about the real Viktor Orban under the title “Viktor Orban the Hungarian Chavez.” Very recently, I published three major analyses on the current situation in Hungary at www.ff.org. My aim with presenting my professional background is not to boast but to establish my credentials as knowing the United States of America and Hungary too, as opposed to the Monday Morning Quarterbacks of international relations like Rod Dreher and Tucker Carlson. So-called intellectuals should not lecture others for being ignorant of the world when they are guilty of the same offense.
Moreover, throughout my professional career, I have been a staunch conservative and a Republican. I wrote articles against George Soros and those who supported him either intellectually or politically. Until his commentaries about Hungary, I mostly have agreed with Tucker Carlson’s opinions, especially with regard to the overall situation in the United States of America. However, his lying about Hungary has turned him into an idiot. As a result, his reporting about Viktor Orban and the Hungarian situation has only shown glaring ignorance and shameful fakery. More dangerously, Tucker Carlson has positioned himself outside the intellectually objective and honest political debate in the United States of America, thus embarking on a zigzag course seeking to mix order and reform. Seeing himself as becoming the media-equivalent of the “Reagan conservative,” he is running into political as well as intellectual headwinds, because of his deficient intellect and compensatory arrogance.
Both of these qualities have been in full display during his short stay in Hungary. Limiting Viktor Orban’s policies to his justifiably firm response to illegal immigration and his “illiberal” responses to Brussels’ liberal value system are short-sighted and misleading. It would be more helpful to put the Viktor Orban phenomenon in the context of the post-Communist developments in the formerly Soviet Union-occupied region’s general and specific situations. Generally, all the countries that constituted the so-called Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe have been in difficult transitions since 1990 from their original ubiquitously abnormal state to a more normal Western political, economic, cultural and ethical system. In this quest, some have been more successful than others. The Czech Republic and Slovenia have made the most progress. Behind these two states are Slovakia and Croatia. Romania and Bulgaria have been struggling to overcome corruption, poverty and political instability. Poland and Hungary have been the most complex and contradictory examples of the post-Communist parochial as well as global challenges. As far as Hungary is concerned, Balint Magyar published a thought-provoking article in Magyar Hirlap on February 22, 2001, in which he opined: “With the appointment of Lajos Simicska (a former close friend of Viktor Orban’s) as the head of APEH(acronyms for the Hungarian IRS) a new chapter begins. What has happened since means the introduction of the state employing mafia methods within the democratic institutional framework to systematically build up an “organized uberworld” [in Hungarian felvilag as opposed to alvilag that means underworld]. Later, the same author with the assistance of Balint Mladovics published a book titled The Anatomy of Post- Communist Regimes, in which they argue that the so-called linear transition theory cannot be applied for those regimes, because of their “moral inhibition” to consequently adopt liberal democracy. In conclusion, the authors coined the term “hibridology,” according to which those regimes are an inconsistent mixture of liberal and illiberal constructs.
Although I tend to agree in general with Balint Magyar, I think that the term “Mafia state” for Hungary is erroneous. In a Mafia state the government is transformed because the Mafia that develops parallel to the state gradually overtakes the local and central positions of political, economic and financial organizations. What has happened in Hungary since 1990 is exactly the opposite. First, politicians gained absolute political power through using and then abusing the democratic processes. After that, they turned the government into the instrument of their extreme lust for power and money. Therefore, I would rather use the term “Kleptocratic Absolutism” to describe the political regime of today’s Hungary.
The post-Communist so-called “Democratic Politicians” were either members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (Hungarian acronyms: MSZMP) or non-party persons who elected to stay in the country and conform superficially to the norms as well as the abnormal values of the Communist dictatorship. The latter led a schizophrenic existence that made them hover between collusion with the regime or merger with the political and economic power holders. Clearly, neither the former members of the Communist elite nor the passive sympathizers espoused democracy or free market capitalism.
To add insult to injury, both groups unconditionally believed in the redeeming value of government institutions and their bureaucracies. Thus, instead of changing society by promoting new ideas, they tried to modify, but not reform, the existing government organizations, in order to transpose society and its mentality to their own bureaucratic image. Predictably, the results were devastating. The first democratically elected Antall government in 1990 was on a futile search for a new Hungarian business elite that would, in turn, finance the new-old bureaucracy forever. No wonder that corruption on the scale unimaginable even under the Communists has taken roots in the society. This government of supreme amateurs only lasted a single term. In 1994, the former Communists, their party rechristened to the “Hungarian Socialist Party” (Hungarian acronyms: MSZP) returned to power with an absolute parliamentary majority. Yet, to avoid being reminded of their one-party dictatorship, they allied themselves with the Free Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: SZDSZ) in an absolutely unworkable political alliance. In 1998, came Viktor Orban and his Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ) in alliance with the Smallholder Party (Hungarian acronyms: KGNP). First, Viktor Orban destroyed his coalition partners and then started to take over the political as well as business heights of powers. The first signs of Viktor Orban’s corrupt dictatorial mentality and his lust for money emerged. Suspicion of corruption and conspiracy theories were abound across Hungary. In 2002, his government was sent packing into opposition by the voters for eight long years. The former Communists were back in the saddle with their unloved Free Democrats.
In opposition, Viktor Orban behaved in a most undemocratic and disgusting manner. In addition to barely showing his face in the Parliament, he tirelessly incited his loyal Antifa-like mob to disrupt, threaten and destroy everything in their way. As a result, the years between 2002 and 2010 were the eight lost years for Hungary. Tired of the former Communists and the politically impotent Liberals, the Hungarian voters, in their desperate stupidity, gave Viktor Orban and his party an absolute parliamentary majority.
Viktor Orban’s second chance at absolute powers from 2010 would enter the annals of Hungarian political history as the rapid return to the one-party rule combined with the resurrected self-defeating “Magyar” (Hungarian) semi-Feudal mentality. Domestically, Viktor Orban has been convinced that he is the Messiah the Hungarians have waited for since the humiliating Trianon peace treaty in 1920. Better still, he has believed that he is infallible and possesses God-like qualities to decide by himself what is good for the nation and what is not. For these reasons, he has zero tolerance for any other opinion that happens not to be his. Therefore, he is convinced that he has every right to tyrannize the entire nation whose citizens he looks upon as his subjects.
To this end, his and his party’s first major political/legal act was in 2011 to pass a new constitution, which with its nine amendments thus far, has become a highly politicized instrument for political, economic and moral corruption. Naturally, more laws, decrees, regulations and an avalanche of government decisions have followed that have perpetuated his hold on the media, prescribed the limitations of free speech, the conduct of elections, the financing of political parties, and the obtrusive acquisition as well as shameless expropriation of the national wealth to his family and his chosen elementary, high school and university buddies.
To complete the creation of his absolutism, Viktor Orban and his pliant Parliament appointed a bunch of Yes-men to key and lesser important central and local government positions. In this manner, Janos Ader, the President of Hungary, has become the “signing automat” of every law having been passed by the Parliament without any regard to its constitutionality; Laszlo Kover, the Speaker of the Parliament, who rules with iron hand over the opposition and metes out insane amounts of fines exclusively against their members; Peter Polt, the Prosecutor General of Hungary, who sees his role to protect the Prime Minister and his close associates from domestic and foreign criminal prosecution; Sandor Pinter, the Minister of Interior, who does the same on the police investigation level; and Judit Varga, the Minister of Justice, who tries to explain why the frequent violations of the rule of law are more democratic than any legislation passed by the European Union, etc.
Thus, it beggars belief to hear Tucker Carlson claim incessantly that in Viktor Orban’s Hungary the people enjoy more freedom than in the United States of America and that in Hungary people fear less of the government than in the United States of America. As opposed to Tucker Carlson’s tendentious and misleading narrative, Hungary under Viktor Orban’s absolutism has turned into a closed stock company for the exploitation of the national wealth with profits shared exclusively among members of the government, parliamentarians and their privileged adherents, called in Hungarian slang the “Knights of the NER.” Most of them, including Viktor Orban, have entered government poor as Job, but in politics they have been elevated to millionaires and even billionaires. The Orban absolutism functions like a private business, in which each shareholder thinks of public affairs only insofar as he or she could turn his or her position into private profit. Money reigns supreme for a small minority, while the overwhelming majority of the population either lives in poverty or struggles to make ends meet on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, the building of soccer stadiums, organizing international sport events, exhibitions, politically motivated financing of ethnic Hungarians across the neighboring countries, etc. have been in full swing for a decade. Unnecessary mega projects, such as the Budapest Belgrade railroad, the extension of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, the construction of hotels that would never be filled with tourists, and the elevation of Viktor Orban’s birth place in Felcsut have been objects of nationwide derigion. On the other side of the coin, the once excellent Hungarian education system and the health industry have been run to the ground.
In this economically insane situation, a set of scandals has tarnished the so-called elite. Without going into the well-publicized details of those scandals, it should be sufficient to mention the fact that between 2015 and 2019, Hungary has headed the European Union’s anti-fraud investigation list. During this four year period, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) concluded forty three probes into misuse of funds where it found irregularities and recommended to the European Union Commission to recover some four percent of payments made to Hungary under the organization’s structural and independent funds and agriculture funds. In comparison, in all other member states the recommended rate of recovery of European Union money was below one percent. At the same period, the European Union average was 0.36 percent. Hypocritically, the Hungarian government defended itself by claiming that all the irregularities took place under the previous government. Just a humble note: Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party has enjoyed absolute power since 2010.
The most recent chaotic controversy again touches upon the suspicion of corruption in Hungary. At the center of this new scandal is the Norwegian government’s financial contribution to the NGOs operating in Hungary. The sum was 77 billion HUF, the equivalent of about 217.5 million Euros. The saga of the Norway project has had its origin in an agreement concluded in December 2020. Accordingly, the above quoted sum was designed to be distributed by an organization totally independent of the Hungarian government. The latter had seven months to designate such an organization. The Hungarian government missed the deadline and still demanded that the Norwegian Fund wire the money to Hungary. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry informed the Hungarian government in early August 2021, that it considers the agreement null and void, because of the Hungarian government’s breach of the agreement. Demonstrating that the word chutzpah has entered the vocabulary of the Hungarian government too, it first criticized Norway claiming that “Norway owes us this money,” since Oslo has benefited from its participation in the common market, despite not being a European Union member state. To show the seriousness, better defined as irrational greed, of the Hungarian government, Gergely Gulyas, the government’s spokesman, stated that Hungary is looking into the legal possibilities to obtain the Norwegian money. To support such a claim, the Hungarian government passed on August 6, 2021, Decision (in Hungarian: Kormany hatarozat) 1564/2021, in which the government instructs the competent ministries to launch a complaint against the “Nowegian Kingdom” concerning the latter’s failure to provide the said amount of money to Hungary.
In this single episode the entire mentality of the Viktor Orban-led regime is present. For Viktor Orban and his clique, politics, including international affairs, is not the art of settling controversies but of trying to intimidate and to shut up those who disagree with them. No wonder that the Viktor Orban regime is losing credibility at home as well as abroad.
With respect to the Viktor Orban-led regime’s international shenanigans, the most important facts have been its anti-American, anti-European and pro-Chinese, pro-Russian and to a lesser extent pro-Turkish policies. The gulf among the former and the close coordination among the latter are alarming, because the feeling of alienation on the one side and the hostile elation on the other are mutual. Increasingly, Viktor Orban is asking what NATO and the European Union would do for Hungary. Clearly, he is trying to use his allies to blackmail them into accepting his “illiberal democracy,” while offering Russia and China access to NATO and the European Union for personal favors. In this dangerous game, in which he could easily be eliminated as prime minister, Viktor Orban has turned Hungary into a state of lies, fear, intimidation and vicious rumors.
As this analysis demonstrates, occasionally small countries must struggle with great challenges too. Clearly, Hungary is at a crossroads. The upcoming national elections next spring will be crucial for the future of the country. Either Hungary will sink further into the swamp of Viktor Orban’s “Kleptocratic Absolutism,” or it will have a chance to rejoin as a democratic nation to the European Union and NATO. The opposition parties have forged a united front, but barely. Currently, their programs lack maturity. In order to succeed, they will have to come up with a more homogeneous set of political and economic messages. Yet, another election victory for Viktor Orban and his party would be unacceptable for Hungary and the West, including the United States of America, regardless of whether the Democrat or the Republican party controls the White House and Congress. For this reason alone, objective information about the situation in Hungary would have been in America’s national interest. Regrettably, Tucker Carlson’s week-long visit to the country did not serve this purpose.
Most importantly, Tucker Carlson appears to be in denial of Viktor Orban’s burgeoning authoritarian tendencies and endemic corruption both at home and abroad. He says nothing or very little about strengthening the ruthless manifestations of glaringly anti-democratic values, such as censorship and other restrictive measures that have become daily occurrences in Hungary. Even more alarmingly, Tucker Carlson is totally silent about the illegal spying on citizens, mainly opposition politicians and journalists. Finally, it is never a positive professional sign about the strength of one’s case when a journalist compares Viktor Orban’s dictatorial regime favorably to the current state of affairs in the United States of America. Thus, instead of presenting an explanation for his fallacious reporting, Tucker Carlson simply suppresses all the unpleasant and negative issues. To a real and knowledgeable journalist, the difference between fraudulent government propaganda and the reality must be self-evident. But not for Tucker Carlson who appears to be on a phony ideological mission. Recommending Viktor Orban’s Hungary worthy to be followed by the United States of America is inexcusably idiotic. In the end, Viktor Orban’s war on the Hungarian people and the West is not about politics. It is about culture and mentality. And in the long run, Western civilization carries far more weight than Viktor Orban’s and Tucker Carlson’s corrupt as well as bastard illiberal democracy.