Baltimore Sun

Orban a hero in some GOP circles

Experts fear party might mimic tactics of Hungary’s leader

- By Nicholas Riccardi and Justin Spike

When heads of state visit the U.S., the top item on their itinerary is usually a White House visit. For Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban next month, it will be addressing conservati­ve activists in Dallas.

Orban’s appearance at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference, where he’ll be joined by former President Donald Trump and right-wing icons such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is the most dramatic indication yet of how a leader criticized for pushing anti-democratic principles has become a hero to segments of the Republican Party.

Orban has curbed immigratio­n and stymied those who envision a more middle-of-the-road European democracy for their country. He’s done so by seizing control of Hungary’s judiciary and media, leading analysts to label him as the face of a new wave of authoritar­ianism.

He also is accused of enabling widespread corruption and nepotism, using state resources to enrich a tight circle of political allies.

The U.S. conservati­ve movement’s embrace of Orban comes as it echoes Trump’s lies that he did not lose the 2020 presidenti­al election, punishes Republican­s who tried to hold him accountabl­e for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and embrace new voting restrictio­ns. Many experts on Hungarian politics fear the GOP might aspire to Orban’s tactics.

“The Trumpist side of the Republican Party is coming for the rhetoric, but staying

for the autocracy,” said Kim Schepple, a sociologis­t at Princeton University who has studied Orban. “I’m worried the attraction to Orban is only superficia­lly the culture war stuff and more deeply about how to prevent power from ever rotating out of their hands.”

Conservati­ves dismiss that notion — or even the charge that Orban is an authoritar­ian.

“What we like about him is that he’s actually standing up for the freedom of his people against the tyranny of the EU,” said Matt Schlapp, head of CPAC, which meets in Dallas starting Aug. 4. “He’s captured the attention of a lot of people, including a lot of people in America who are worried about the decline of the family.”

Orban served as prime

minister of Hungary between 1998 and 2002, but it’s his record since taking office again in 2010 that has drawn controvers­y. A self-styled champion of what he describes as “illiberal democracy,” Orban has depicted himself as a defender of European Christendo­m against Muslim migrants, progressiv­es and the “LGBTQ lobby.”

While Orban’s party has backed technocrat­ic initiative­s that have captured the imaginatio­n of the U.S. right — Schlapp cited a tax cut Hungarian women receive for every child as a way to counter a declining population — he’s best known for his aggressive stance on hot-button cultural issues.

Orban’s government erected a razor-wire fence along Hungary’s southern

border in 2015 in response to an influx of refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Iraq, Syria, Afghanista­n and elsewhere.

Last year, Orban’s rightwing Fidesz party banned the depiction of homosexual­ity or sex reassignme­nt in media targeting people under 18, a move critics said was an attack on LGBTQ people. Informatio­n on homosexual­ity also was forbidden in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisem­ents accessible to minors.

Those policies have put him on a collision course with the European Union, which has sought to reign in some of his more antidemocr­atic tendencies. The bloc has launched numerous legal proceeding­s against Hungary for breaking EU rules, and is withholdin­g

billions in recovery funds and credit over violations of rule-of-law standards and insufficie­nt anti-corruption safeguards.

Those conflicts started early in Orban’s tenure. In 2011, the Fidesz party used the two-thirds constituti­onal majority it gained after a landslide election the previous year to unilateral­ly rewrite Hungary’s constituti­on. Soon after, it began underminin­g the country’s institutio­ns and took steps to consolidat­e power.

Orban’s party implemente­d judicial reforms through constituti­onal amendment, enabling it to change the compositio­n of the judiciary. It also passed a new law that created and appointed a nine-member council to oversee the media.

Reporters Without

Borders declared Orban a “press freedom predator” last year. It said his Fidesz party had “seized de facto control of 80% of the country’s media through political-economic maneuvers and the purchase of news organizati­ons by friendly oligarchs.”

The Associated Press and other internatio­nal news organizati­ons were barred from covering the CPAC conference in May, during which Orban called Hungary “the bastion of conservati­ve Christian values in Europe.” He also urged conservati­ves in the U.S. to defeat “the dominance of progressiv­e liberals in public life.”

The AP requested an interview with Orban when he visits Dallas next month, but was rebuffed citing his “extremely busy” schedule.

 ?? ATTILA KISBENEDEK/GETTY-AFP ?? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, seen in May in Budapest, is set to address conservati­ve activists next week in Dallas.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/GETTY-AFP Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, seen in May in Budapest, is set to address conservati­ve activists next week in Dallas.

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