Politics

Far-Right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán Sets Anti-Migrant Tone at CPAC Dallas

The crowd applauded the Hungarian leader as he decried the supposed "invasion" of migrants in his country.
The crowd applauded the Hungarian leader as he decried the supposed "invasion" of migrants in his country. Patrick Strickland
If you were to only read parts of the transcript of the speech Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, delivered in Dallas Thursday afternoon, you might mistake him for a middle school coach.

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after Gov. Greg Abbott spoke on a panel, Orbán told attendees that the American right ought to “play by [its] own rules” and “play to win.” He went on, adding that “yesterday’s homeruns don’t’ win today’s games.”

Then, he shared the “secret” behind the Hungarian hard right' s success: “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.” He even quoted Clint Eastwood and expressed his hope for “more Chuck Norrises” in the world.

Orbán spoke to the crowd on the opening day of CPAC Dallas, a three-day series of speeches and panels that has brought hundreds of Republicans to town. It's the second consecutive year that CPAC has held a Dallas event. Earlier this year, the right-wing advocacy group held events in Israel, Hungary and Florida.

But between the cliches, Orbán railed against migration, progressives, communism and George Soros, the Hungarian American billionaire, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor.

When Orbán first mentioned Soros, whom he called “Uncle Georgy,” the audience broke out in booing. “I know George Soros very well,” he said. “He is my opponent.” (Orbán failed to mention that the Soros Foundation helped fund his own education with a scholarship to study at Oxford in the late 1980s.)

Orbán first served as prime minister between 1998 and 2002. Now, he’s held the office since 2010. In recent years, he’s led a European charge against refugees, civil society groups and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member state.

Although he defended Hungary against accusations of democratic backsliding, Freedom House’s 2022 report concluded that the country was only “partly free.” Freedom House citied a worrisome lack of media diversity, widespread institutional discrimination against minorities and refugees, and a 2021 law barring the discussion of gender identity and sexual diversity in schools, the media and advertising.

“Hungary is an old, proud but David-sized nation standing alone against the woke globalist Goliath,” he said Thursday, expressing gratitude for the “solidarity of the American conservatives.”

When it came to migration, Orbán elicited raucous applause from the ballroom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we were the first ones in Europe who said no to illegal migration and stopped the invasion of illegal migrants,” he said. (Sound familiar, Texas?)

In 2015, Hungary built a barrier along much of its borders with Croatia and Serbia. Much of that fence is adorned with concertina wire. “We stopped illegal migration,” he said. “We have actually built that wall, and it stopped illegal migration.”

(I first visited the Hungarian-Serbian border in 2015, not long after Orbán’s government erected the barrier, and no, it had not stopped people from crossing into the country. It had, however, left refugees and migrants stranded in squalid conditions or forced to take dangerous paths across the border. At the time, a local mayor in eastern Hungary had deputized locals who, armed with carbines, carried out vigilante patrols and hunted for refugees and migrants in the borderlands. The similarities are really piling up, huh?)

"The globalists can all go to hell. I have come to Texas." - Viktor Orbán, Hungarian prime minister

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Throughout the rest of his speech, Orbán ticked off a list of American conservative talking points. The family is sacrosanct, he said. Police need more, not less, funding. Taxes are bad.

Last month, the Hungarian leader made international headlines when he said in a speech that migration would turn Hungarians into a "mixed-race." He said, "We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race. Migration has split Europe in two — or I could say that it has split the West in two."

Closing his speech in Dallas, Orbán called on conservatives in the U.S. and Europe to “take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels,” where the European Parliament is based.

He said the U.S. midterm vote this November, as well as U.S. presidential elections and European Parliament elections in 2024, will “define the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization.”

“Today we hold neither of them, yet we need both,” he added.

“The globalists can all go to hell,” he said. “I have come to Texas.” (You've got to hand it to his speechwriters.)

Earlier in the day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had described the uptick in migration on the U.S.-Mexico border as an “invasion.”

During a panel with CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, he called on Republican lawmakers to “impeach” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over President Joe Biden’s border policies.

Abbott defended his own border stunts, which include the controversial Operation Lone Star crackdown on migrants crossing into Texas and busing asylum seekers to Washington.

“Donald Trump was the model for how to do it,” he said of his border clampdown. Later, he added, “Texas is the only state to build our own border wall to secure our state and to secure our sovereignty.” (But like Orbán, Abbott had a couple omissions here and there — among them, the fact that Texas had built a whopping 900 feet of border wall as of December. By April, the new Texas wall spanned about 1.7 miles, the BBC reported at the time.)

Among those scheduled to speak at CPAC Dallas are U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, former President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser recently found guilty of contempt in a case related to the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.