Orban uses CPAC to bolster role in growing 'anti-globalist' coalition

Orban uses CPAC to bolster role in growing 'anti-globalist' coalition
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used CPAC Hungary last week to bolster his international stature as a leader against globalisation and to try to forge deeper cooperation among radical right parties. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest April 29, 2024

Under fire at home over a paedophile scandal, Hungary's illiberal leader Viktor Orban used CPAC Hungary last week to bolster his international stature as a leader against globalisation and to try to forge deeper cooperation among radical right parties ahead of the European Parliamentary and US elections later this year.

"The goal of CPAC Hungary is nothing less than to organise a global coalition of anti-globalist forces," said Miklos Szantho, head of the state-funded Centre for Fundamental Rights, ahead of the conference, which Budapest is hosting for the third consecutive year. "We need to drain the swamp in Brussels in June and in Washington in November," he told reporters, reciting the imported campaign slogan of Donald Trump, Orbán’s ally in the fight against  progressive elites.

Following the conference, the Orban loyalist cadre called the jamboree the most successful ever in the history of CPAC Hungary, saying it had created a coalition of pro-peace, anti-globalist forces, bringing together the international right from Europe to America in preparation for the elections.

The conference was attended by more than 3,000 people and 500 foreign guests from six continents and 80 speakers, including two sitting prime ministers, Orban and his Georgian counterpart Irakli Kobakhidze, as well as three former heads of government, Tony Abbott of Australia, Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland and Janez Jansa of Slovenia.

Seven ministers addressed the crowd, five from the Orban government and two from Israel. Ten party leaders – including Santiago Abascal, Geert Wilders and Tom Van Grieken – three US Congressmen – Andy Harris, Paul Gosar and Keith Self - and seven senior Polish political leaders held speeches or took part in panel discussions.

The main themes of the third CPAC included sovereignty, border protection against illegal immigration, gender equality, and elections in Europe and US, and a separate block was dedicated to cultural issues such as the fight against 'woke' ideology.

Budapest played a great host to the gathering, according to the recounts of participants, and the government spared no expense in organising the two-day conference. Investigative news site Atlatszo.hu put the price tag of the conference at HUF1bn (€2.55mn).

The meeting came a week after authorities in Brussels shut down the National Conservatism Conference in Brussels organised partially by MCC, a lavishly funded government institution, which operates educational institutions in Hungary and has units in several  EU capitals to spread Orban’s illiberal policies.

The radical-right-wing jamboree resumed the following day after the local court overturned the ruling, which also sparked a political storm, as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, a Flemish liberal, condemned the banning of the event.

As expected, the Hungarian premier and several speakers at CPAC Hungary denounced the police shutdown as a violation of freedom of speech. They failed to add that the conference was allowed to continue.

In a contrasting move, organisers barred independent journalists from attending the CPAC conference, including representatives of major news agencies. 

Their accreditation was denied under the pretext that the event was a "no woke zone", with a sample letter sent to journalists stating that coverage would only be possible at future events if their organization became less "woke".

Wall Street Journal journalist Kristian Petersen was also refused entry. In his article titled "MAGA on the Danube: Inside the Love Affair Between U.S. Conservatives and Hungary," Petersen delves into the strong bond between Republicans and Orban.

Orban is admired by representatives of the Trumpist right-wing for his tough immigration policies and advocacy for families and Christian conservatism. The article quotes Dalibor Rohac, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who suggests that the Hungarian leader is heavily investing in the populist wing by establishing a network of brain trusts, foundations, and universities funded by millions of dollars, which aids in spreading his ideology globally. Additionally, Orban has offered scholarships to American conservative scholars, many of whom receive funding from the MCC.

CPAC Hungary is a disturbing window into a potential second Trump term, said MSNBC, recalling Orban’s speech on Thursday in which Hungary’s illiberal leader spoke of the end of the "liberal-progressive era" and the dawn of a "sovereign world order" in which "every independent nation acts in its national interest."

Just as a year ago, the second day of the conference commenced with a video message from the former US president. "I am looking forward to working closely with Prime Minister Orbán, once again, when I take office as the 47th President of the United States," said Trump in a video message. "We have tackled illegal immigration, protected our borders, created jobs, and defended our traditions and Judeo-Christian values," he said.

Orban has been one of Trump's closest allies in Europe. After meeting at his Florida estate in March, the Hungarian premier claimed that only Trump's return to the White House can bring peace to Ukraine.

Chair of CPAC Hungary, and head of the American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp, who has agreed to a hefty settlement to end a sexual abuse case brought by a male assistant, said the Budapest conference would serve to counter "lies that we hear about Viktor Orban and what’s going on here in Hungary".

In his speech, he lauded Hungary as an inspiration to the Americans. 

Former Republican senator Rick Santorum said there was an "existential battle" going on in Europe between "sovereign countries like Hungary" and "neo-Marxists", adding that the United States was facing similar problems. "Authoritarians, if left unchecked, will topple Western civilisation," he warned, adding that social media, large corporations, and even certain churches were working to turn societies into masses.

Other Republican speakers lashed out at the Biden administration for its open immigration policies and infiltration of woke ideology into everyday life.

One of the most anticipated speeches scheduled for Friday came from Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). The controversial Dutch politician also held a closed meeting with the Hungarian leader in his office, where Orban told him that one of the main topics of Hungary’s rotating presidency from July 1 will be protecting the EU’s borders.

Wilders is a frequent guest in Hungary, as he married a Hungarian woman. In his speech, he called Orban a brave leader and praised his efforts for standing up against illegal immigration.
The PPV leader said the key to his party's success at the November election was to speak out against the policy of open borders and wokeism. He highlighted the demographic challenge posed by the migration "crisis", citing it as an external threat as many European nations struggle with illegal immigration.

Expanding on this narrative, Dutch right-wing pundit and activist Eva Vlaardingerbroek spoke of the great replacement theory, claiming that white Europeans are being replaced in their own countries at an ever-accelerating rate by "illegal" migrants.

Former Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed the EU is looking more and more like the declining ancient Roman Empire. After 2015, the liberal forces on the left are now once again are trying to disrupt the EU's peace and stability with huge migratory flows, and the recently adopted EU migration pact moves in that direction.

Later after their closed door meeting, Morawiecki said Poland and Hungary will continue to stand for their values "that leftists want to eliminate", and resist everything they want to force on them.

The Hungarian government is hoping for a conservative turn in Europe and the US, head of the Prime Minister's Office Gergely Gulyas said, summing up what the stakes are at the upcoming elections. 

The conference provided little clue as to the future of the Fidesz faction in the European Parliament. Since leaving the EPP  three years ago, the Hungarian conservatives have been in no man’s land, working without a faction in Strasbourg.

The ruling nationalist party could possibly opt between two parliamentary groups, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), which unite on anti-immigration rhetoric but face internal strains, especially concerning their positions on the war in Ukraine. 

Previous accounts hinted at Orban's role as a catalyst in fostering collaboration between the two blocs, potentially elevating it to become the second or third-largest faction in the EP. Following a discussion with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni during the EU summit in February,  Orban announced that the Fidesz party could align with the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), led by Meloni, post the June election.

The Italian leader was one of the EU leaders to convince Orban to give up his veto on the €50bn financial aid to Ukraine.

Morawiecki also declared earlier this year his openness to Fidesz joining the ECR. Despite extensive coverage by pro-government media of CPAC Hungary, the future of the Fidesz faction was not discussed in the reports.