The first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which was held in Europe, began in Budapest on Thursday morning. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered the opening keynote address, laying out a 12-point “open source” plan for right-wing advocates around the world to replicate the “Christian conservative success” of his nation. Hungary, said Orbán, “is the laboratory where we have come up with the antidote to progressive dominance.”
One key ingredient of this “antidote,” Orbán said, was that conservatives must decide to “play by our own rules.” He also advocated the values of “national conservatism” (a central theme on the right these days —more on that tomorrow); a foreign policy based on national interests — a clear reference to the criticism Hungary has received for its tepid and uncertain condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine; and preemptively “expos[ing] the intent of your enemy,” a defense of Hungary’s “don’t say gay” law barring minors from accessing LGBTQ books or other content. In tribute to CPAC, he called for the establishment of institutions that can transmit conservative principles and create alliances with other right-wing actors all over the world.
In the last few years, Hungary has taken on the right-wing utopia dimension among conservative Americans, especially as a number movement intellectuals have made pilgrimage there on academic and think tank fellowships, or because of speaking invitations. (In a recent “Salon Talks” conversation, Jordan Klepper of the “Daily Show” discussed his own visit to Hungary.) And while Orbán’s government has faced growing tensions with its European neighbors — in recent months, the EU has moved to sanction both Hungary and Poland for their illiberal policies on academic and press freedom, LGBTQ equality and women’s rights and judicial independence — it has basked in the admiration of U.S. conservatives and Republican leaders.
That admiration didn’t seem to waver on Thursday as CPAC’s co-organizer for the event, the Hungarian Center for Fundamental Rights, apparently rejectedThe credentials of several major U.S. media outlets, including those that sent reporters to cover the conference, were available. VICE, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, VoxOther.
That rejection was in keeping with another point in Orbán’s plan for “Christian conservative success”: that conservatives must “have your [own] media.”
“You can only present the stupidity of leftist progressives if you have the media to do it,” he said. Politics and media should, in theory, be separate, he admitted, but “the Democrats are not playing by these rules.” Given that, he said, the right needs more and more shows like that of “my friend Tucker Carlson” that could air “day and night, 24/7, as you say over there.”
Orbán wasn’t the only speaker to vilify the media. In one particularly fiery speech, Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republicans’ Club, declared that America First conservatives “demand nothing short of an American Orbánism,” under which they “will establish a form of conservatism that sees the media as the enemy and actually conserves that we hold near and dear. Our national renewal will begin with a historic rebuke not only of the soulless Marxist leaders of the left but also of the greedy and bloodthirsty right-leaning neoliberals. They will be exposed, demonized and crushed beneath the waves of a rising tide of populism.”
While many of the first day’s speakers, predictably, targeted “wokeism” in general, one presenter took the theme to an audacious new level. Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of AfriForum, a right-wing South African organization primarily dedicated to spreading the claim that white South African farmers are the victims of an ongoing “white genocide,” argued, “There’s apartheid happening in South Africa” now, but this time around, it’s white Afrikaners who are victimized at the hands of Black citizens. In an offense-begging appropriation of terminology, he argued, “When the left implements apartheid, it’s not a crime against humanity; it’s a noble cause. And if you criticize their apartheid” — meaning the alleged oppression of white South Africans — “that somehow that makes you the racist… We’ve gotten to the point where if you’re against government overreach, that makes you a Nazi or if you do not want your heritage to be destroyed, that somehow somehow makes you authoritarian.”
Perhaps Day One’s overarching theme was the call for a united international right that would be strong enough in its antipathy against the left in order to overcome any differences in doctrine or ideology.
István Kovács, the strategic director of Hungary’s Center for Fundamental Rights, which co-sponsored the event, declared, “Alone, Hungary is not sufficient. Alone, we’re doomed to failure against the opponents we’re talking about. We have to join forces and then we can win,” with everyone working together “in a coordinated manner.” He later added, “The cooperation of right-wing institutions, right-wing think tanks is one of the nightmares of the liberal elite.”
Judit Varga, Hungary’s minister of Justice who, at a right-wing conference in Brussels this February, defended her government’s near-total ban on Muslim immigration and its restrictions of LGBTQ rights, also called for a united front. “However brave we are,” she said, Hungary’s 10 million people alone “are not sufficient. We want to create alliances to attract like-minded people and strengthen voices who fear for their homeland and nation. … This is why we’re grateful you came to Budapest to give us further spiritual ammunition and so that you can also have takeaways when you go home to strengthen your own mission. Dear friends, the future is ours.”
Orbán himself said, “We have to stand up for this fight, and in this fight we can only be successful together.” He went on, “We need to have allies in one another. Because we are in a major battle, it is important to coordinate the movement and movements of our troops. 2024, he said” — with both a U.S. presidential election and European Parliament elections — “is going to be an all-important year.”
“The left has been warning about the vast right-wing conspiracy for years,” added Alvino-Mario Fantini, editor in chief of the quarterly magazine European Conservative. “Well, let’s give it to them.”