BUDAPEST — No European head of government talks remotely like Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban. For example, he recently spoke of building in Hungary a “constitutional order based on national and Christian foundations,” thereby avoiding a future in which “the whole of Europe has submitted to Islam.”
That, in brief, is the disruption caused by Mr. Orban, 55, and his Fidesz party. He outlines explicitly conservative (or in his terminology, “illiberal”) goals that defends “the ways of life springing from Christian culture” and rejects Muslim influence. By doing so, Mr. Orban has undermined a continent-wide consensus and encouraged voters in Poland, Austria, Italy and Germany to resist further uncontrolled migration.
Of course, Western media respond to this presumption with relentless criticism. Some is deserved, such as the government’s take over of nearly all media, its pressure on hostile NGOs, its encroachments on judicial independence, its corruption and its pro-Putin policies. One interlocutor during my recent visit to Hungary alarmingly compared Fidesz’ deep reach into society with that of the Communist party during the Soviet era (1944-89).
But other criticisms against the government are exaggerated or unfair. Yes, local Jews complain of increased hostility, but anti-Semitic incidents have declined and Hungary is the safest place in Europe in public for observant Jews. Mr. Orban sensibly argues that allowing in large numbers of anti-Semitic Muslim migrants is the real threat to Jews. His intense attacks on George Soros, an anti-Zionist and questionable Jew, are no more anti-Semitic than those of, say, David Horowitz or Black Cube. Hungary has Europe’s best relations with Israel.
In a striking reversal from the usual Western pattern, Jewish institutions in Budapest operate in the open while Amnesty International is “hidden behind an overbearing, protective metal door.”
Nor is the government anti-Muslim. Yes, Mr. Orban has blasted illegal migrants as “not refugees but a Muslim invasion force” and opined that “large numbers of Muslims inevitably creates parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim communities will never unite.” Muslims who follow the rules, however, are welcome.
Muslim tourists visit Hungary in substantial numbers, as a stroll along the Danube River in Budapest quickly makes evident. Longer visas are also available. For four years, 2013-17, the Fidesz government offered “Settlement Bonds” for sale for about 350,000 euros (or about $398,840), in return for which anyone, including many Muslims, received Hungarian passports. A scholarship program called Stipendium Hungaricum has welcomed some 20,000 students, especially Muslims from Turkey, Lebanon, the Emirates and Indonesia.
Muslim immigrants have visible roles in varied economic activities: Medicine, engineering, real estate, money changing, restaurants and bakeries. A Turkish artist, Can Togay, conceived Budapest’s haunting Holocaust memorial, “Shoes on the Danube Bank.”
In an October 2016 referendum, 98.4 percent of Hungarians voted against accepting migrants allotted to their country by the European Union. Admittedly, a government campaign for a no-vote along with an opposition boycott artificially inflated this number; but it does point to a majority rejecting unvetted migrants. As one prominent Orban ally told me, “We like Muslims, but over there, not here.”
In discussions in Budapest focused on why Hungarians (and their neighbors) respond so negatively to uncontrolled migration, multiple factors came up:
• Negative memories of Ottoman aggression and the occupation of Hungarian territories lasting over 150 years.
• Insecurity about sovereignty, having regained it from the Soviet Union only 29 years ago.
• “Ideology from Brussels is as little attractive as it was from Moscow,” David Szabo of the Szazadveg Foundation told me, explaining why Hungarians turned toward a traditional, Christian-oriented culture.
• Awareness of problems associated with Muslim migration to Western Europe, including polygamy, honor killings, rape gangs, partial no-go zones, sharia courts and parallel societies.
• Lack of a Western European confidence, inspired by American attitudes, that any migrant can be assimilated.
• Preference for population decline (due to low birth rates and high emigration) over bringing in people from an alien civilization; as one Hungarian told me, “Better empty villages than Somali villages.”
• Optimism that Hungary’s population, which is declining by about 30,000 persons a year, can be boosted without Muslim migration through pro-natalist policies, granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary, and attracting European Union immigrants.
“Although Orban governs a small country, the movement he represents is of global importance,” notes Bulgarian analyst Ivan Krastev. A survey of countries may rank its power just #73 out of 80 but Hungary is gaining an unprecedented centrality in Europe, with Mr. Orban becoming the continent’s most important leader.
• Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.