On Thursday morning in Budapest, the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to be held in Europe began with a flourish. 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 a tribute to CPAC itself, he also called for building institutions that can pass on conservative principles and crafting alliances with other right-wing actors around the world.
For the past several years, Hungary has increasingly taken on the dimension of a right-wing utopia among American conservatives, particularly as a number of movement intellectuals and media figures have made pilgrimage to Budapest on academic and think tank fellowships or thanks to 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 rejected the press credentials of numerous major U.S. media outlets that had sent reporters in person to cover the conference, including VICE, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vox and others.
That rejection was in keeping with another point in Orbán's plan for "Christian conservative success": that conservatives must "have your [own] media."
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"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 be preceded by a historic rebuke of not just the soulless Marxist elites of the left, but also the greedy, bloodthirsty neoconservatives and neoliberals of the right. They will be exposed, demonized and crushed beneath the waves of a rising tide of populism."
According to Ernst Roets of AfriForum, "there's apartheid happening in South Africa" right now, but this time around, white Afrikaners are the victims of oppression.
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."
But perhaps the overarching theme of Day One was the call to build a unified international right, that would find strength enough in its common antipathy against the left to overcome whatever differences in doctrine or ideology it may have.
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. This is why we want to build alliances to attract the like-minded and to strengthen voices that fear for their nation and homeland. … 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. We have to coordinate the movement of our troops because we are facing a big battle. 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."
Read more from Kathryn Joyce on the global far right: