On the 4th of May near Trafalgar Square in London, a distinguished crowd of people interested in the political and security landscape of Hungary gathered at the Hungarian House. The audience of the conference titled “What’s next for Hungary” was especially curious to hear about the aftermath and consequences of the general election and of the war in Ukraine, raging in the immediate neighbourhood of Hungary. The event was organized by the Danube Institute, Hungarian Conservative and the Mathias Corvinus Collegium – MCC in cooperation with the Embassy of Hungary in London, and gave the floor to distinguished experts such as Balázs Orbán, political director of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Ferenc Kumin, Hungarian Ambassador to the UK and John O’Sullivan, President of the Budapest based think-thank Danube Institute.
In the final panel of the conference Peter Whittle, founder and director of the New Culture Forum, asked Balázs Orbán (not related to the PM) to share his views on conservatism in the 21st century and the uniqueness of Hungarian conservatism.
Mr. Orbán provided historical insights on how and why Hungarian conservatism differs from the Anglo-Saxon type of conservatism, to help the audience understand why Hungary often takes a distinct policy stance
As a start, Mr. Orbán provided historical insights on how and why Hungarian conservatism differs from the Anglo-Saxon type of conservatism, to help the audience understand why Hungary often takes a distinct policy stance on such matters as migration and energy sanctions, and why the country’s government upholds such values as nation states or the traditional family. He emphasized that fighting for the country’ sovereignty has been an everyday reality for Hungarians since at least the 19th century, which has determined the mindset of Hungarian conservativism. This conservatism is based not on ideology, and the respect of values, traditions and liberty, but on clear-cut pragmatism to place national interests above all else. Quoting Sir Roger Scruton, Mr. Orbán added that conservatism in Hungary is more an instinct than an idea, an instinct of patriotism and love of the homeland.
‘I’m a conservative not because I believe in conservative values, but because I do believe that conservative values in a government serve the interests of my nation,’ he highlighted, adding that it is what national conservatism should be about in the 21st century. If every country had a government which is capable of identifying, representing and defending its national interests, the world would be a more peaceful place and nations would show more tolerance towards each other, he opined.
Answering a question, Balázs Orbán noted that Hungarian conservatism as a whole cannot be exported to other countries, and it does not require states attracted to this kind of conservatism to act as the Hungarians. As an example, Mr. Orbán cited the fact that right now, the British conservative position is entirely different from that of Hungary regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war. And yet, that is not a problem at all from the point of view of a Hungarian conservative, because Hungarians understand that the British are taking a position which serves their national interest the best, just like the Hungarians, Mr. Orbán argued.
Giving another example, Mr. Orbán said that the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and for their sovereignty, and are representing their own national interest in a very determined way. When President Zelensky tries to convince national leaders to send more weapons or troops to Ukraine, Hungarians understand that he does so because that is the Ukrainian national interest. However, President Zelensky is criticizing Hungarians for doing the same – for putting their interests in the fore when it comes to sending weapons to Ukraine or voting on energy related sanction. Nevertheless, Hungary remains very respectful of the position, as both countries’ positions and acts can be understood if observed through the lens of national interests.
Andrew Tettenborn of The Critic magazine was also present at the conference, putting ‘his head in the mouth of the Hungarian dragon’ as he jokingly wrote in an article published about the event, in which he attempted to explain why is there a growing gulf of incomprehension between Eastern and Western Europe.
Hungary has also developed its own set of values, making it the target of plenty of criticism from the West
While following individual patterns based on its own national interest, Hungary has also developed its own set of values, making it the target of plenty of criticism from the West, Mr. Tettenborn says in the article. He argues that contrary to the West, in Central Europe, including Hungary, the idea of a nation promoting moral values is taken for granted. In Hungary it is natural that the state takes sides when it comes to the traditional family or the non-sexualisation of little children, and promotes a morality which fosters social cohesion. But unfortunately, for Europhiles and Western progressives, a government which promotes any values other than the “obligatory and sufficient” – namely the respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality or the rule of law – inevitably harms its people by “imposing” a moral or ethical direction. Such governments are not just unacceptably illiberal according to the progressive worldview, but they also facilitate national differences by promoting different and specific values. And from a Western liberal’s point of view, national differences can only lead to events like the ones that happened between 1939 and 1945, Mr. Tettenborn remarks in his article.
While progressives try to universalize their own values often by political force, countries such as Hungary have never tried to impose their own morals on others. In fact, Andrew Tettenborn remarks, conferences like the one organized at the Hungarian House demonstrate that countries like Hungary think it is important to promote free thought and open debates, rather than presume ‘their view of the world includes those who do not want it.’
The gist of what the audience probably took away from the conference was that Hungarian conservatism promotes the idea that every country should accept the social, cultural, and political differences of other nations, respect their particular values and acknowledge that the actions of any given nation are based on their particular interests.