Conservatism in the United States today is defined by such slogans as America First and Make America Great Again. But the maga club is not exclusive to America. One man is taking the maga world by storm. This unlikely America First superstar isn’t running for office in the U.S. He isn’t even American.
So why is this man in Budapest an icon in the American heartland? Is Make Hungary Great Again a natural ally to Make America Great Again? What principles does he stand for, and what is he building?
Viktor Orbán was born in a small village in 1963, when Hungary was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. His father was a Communist Party member, but after performing military service, young Viktor became alienated from the regime. In the mid-1980s, he studied at a newly opened law school, the Bibó István Special College, where he helped found an anti-Communist youth league, the Alliance of Young Democrats (better known under its Hungarian acronym, Fidesz). Fidesz became one of the vanguard opposition groups as the Soviet empire crumbled in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orbán became president of the group in 1993 and turned it into arguably Hungary’s most successful political party ever.
Orbán became prime minister at age 35, winning Hungary’s 1998 elections. He lost power in 2002 but returned in 2010 and has been Hungary’s leader since. In his years in office, Orbán has led Hungarians down a path markedly different from much of Europe.
When Europe became inundated with Middle Eastern migrants in 2015, many European countries followed the lead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously stated, “We can do this,” and accepted millions of Syrian refugees into her country. Hungary refused, built a border fence, and kept migrants out. Today, the Italians, French and others struggle with migrant problems that the Hungarians have largely avoided.
Orbán’s rhetoric is famously politically incorrect. His speeches regularly reference God, Christianity and family, and strongly criticize homosexuality. He encourages large families through tax incentives and other measures. In a continent where leaders typically embrace “gender inclusivity” and advocate multiculturalism, he is openly, unapologetically conservative and disruptively patriotic.
European leaders and like-minded American media liberals have branded Orbán as fascist, racist, homophobic and all the other usual epithets. Despite the bad publicity, Hungary’s experiment in conservatism keeps chugging forward with his hand on the tiller.
Many Americans are exasperated with the anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-traditional agenda of their elites. Orbán’s Hungary, in that sense, is everything they want America to be. It’s striving to be what every First World nation was presumed to be not long ago: a conservative state with secure borders, Christian influence and respect for the family.
Thanks to some favorable press, people who otherwise probably wouldn’t even know about Orbán are now big fans. Tucker Carlson has published three interviews with Orbán, hailing him as one of the last defenders against a globalist takeover. Other top U.S. conservative leaders also praise him. Donald Trump has endorsed him in video messages. Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s press secretary told reporters that his Florida state government administration considers Orbán’s Hungary a model. U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake said, “I believe if every American had an opportunity to come to Hungary and walk the streets here and see what’s going on, they would want the same type of policies in their city.”
Orbán was an opening day speaker during the 2022 Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Dallas, and received a standing ovation. The previous May, he hosted cpac’s first-ever European conference. cpac Budapest 2022 featured Carlson, Candace Owens, Dennis Prager, Rick Santorum and other American conservative icons, and a video endorsement from President Trump. Orbán hosted cpac Hungary 2023 in May, featuring “No Woke Zone” speeches, another video from Trump, speeches from participants like Kari Lake, Ken Paxton, Steve Bannon and conservative European leaders. He stated in his keynote address, “The antidote to the woke virus is in Hungary.”
But some of Orbán’s cpac Hungary speakers promote a markedly different conservatism than what many in the English-speaking world are used to.
Hans-Georg Maassen, who spoke in May, belongs to Germany’s largest conservative political party and led its domestic intelligence agency until 2018, when he was forced out for helping cover up a neo-Nazi riot.
Herbert Kickl spoke at both conventions. He leads Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded in 1956 by a former Austrian Nazi SS officer. The Freedom Party still promotes its fascist past, in part with an ad last year featuring Austrian youth looking up to the famous Hofburg Palace balcony, where Adolf Hitler spoke from, with the narrator saying, “We want a future.”
Orbán’s guests in May 2023 included Santiago Abascal, Jordan Bardella, Janez Janša, Andrej Babiš and other icons of European far-right and strongman politics.
Orbán has also gone well beyond just associating himself with controversial people.
Over his 14-year tenure, he has presided over the forced closure of one media outlet after another that he has deemed too critical of his government, withdrawing their state subsidies, blacklisting them from advertisers, and launching smear campaigns against them. In 2016, he shut down Liberty of the People, the country’s largest leftist newspaper, and in 2018, he shut down Hungarian Nation, the largest conservative paper. Klubrádió, the last major radio station independent of government influence, lost its broadcasting license in 2021 after the government had already stripped it of most of its frequencies. Analysts estimate Fidesz now controls roughly 80 percent of Hungarian media, either directly or through Orbán’s oligarchs.
Political advertising on television is banned in Hungary, unless it is a government-sponsored public service announcement, which only the ruling party can issue. In the 2022 election, the main opposition candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, received only one opportunity to speak on Hungary’s biggest public television station less than three weeks before the vote. Meanwhile, Balázs Bende, an editor of the state broadcaster mtva, was caught telling reporters that the broadcaster doesn’t support opposition candidates: He told those who objected to resign immediately.
It’s not just political advertising that’s under Orbán’s thumb but also the elections. Orbán has been in power for so long largely because he can egregiously bias Hungary’s electoral system in his favor. He has legalized voter tourism, allowing a person to vote in a district outside his or her residence. His government has rewritten election rules so that now, despite winning less than half of the vote in the 2014 and 2016 elections, Fidesz still achieved a two-thirds supermajority of parliamentary seats, enough to change the Constitution.
This acceptance of dictatorship is also evident in Orbán’s foreign policy. He is arguably China’s best friend in Europe. Hungary became the first European country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2015. China’s Fudan University is opening a satellite campus in Budapest, the first Chinese university in the European Union. Hungary also hosts the largest supply center of telecommunications giant Huawei outside of China. It’s not strange for a country to do business with the world’s second-largest economy. But Orbán’s trailblazing suggests he is going out of his way to connect with a country many regard as the West’s most serious foe. And for a man who claims to fight for Christian values, China (one of the world’s largest persecutors of Christians) is a curious choice for a partner.
Orbán promotes religion in his rhetoric more than other European leaders, but what is religious life like in Hungary? The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship is a Methodist organization that helped bring down communism and its Soviet puppet regime in 1989, thereafter forming a massive system of schools, homeless shelters, elderly-care homes and other facilities for people in need. These institutions are normally eligible for government subsidies. But in 2011, after leaders of the group opposed Orbán’s policies, the government blocked it from receiving any further subsidies, and its charity work is nearing bankruptcy. Such punishment is literally religious persecution.
The Orbán variant of conservatism is best summed up in what he said in a 2014 speech: “The new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organization, but instead includes a different, special, national approach.”
Orbán’s rhetoric on “taking back our civilization” is refreshing to many, but that does not mean he champions individual rights, religious freedom or rule of law. He is a self-serving autocrat skilled at manipulating media to transform himself into an angel of light.
Elevating radicals, blocking free speech, using propaganda regime media, altering elections, one-party dominance, persecuting religious groups, deepening connections with China—these are exactly the actions that American conservatives are opposing in their own radical-leftist “deep state,” and rightly so. But when a strongman takes these same actions in Europe, conservatives look the other way for as long as necessary and continue to paint him as an example to follow in America’s culture wars. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accidentally stood with a Nazi, the conservative press tore at him. When Viktor Orbán does the same thing, “It’s all left-wing propaganda.”
Orban’s dictatorial maneuvers are well documented and easy to find. Yet most conservative reporters and commentators conspicuously avoid these subjects. In his interviews of Orbán, Carlson glossed over charges of muzzling the press and manipulating elections, accepting Orbán’s denial of the charges at face value. Carlson told his viewers Orbán “won in a fair election” without ever asking him about voter tourism, opposition blacklisting or any other electoral controversy.
This whitewashing may reflect some naivety. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic talk about fighting together for “Judeo-Christian values.” But whether they realize it or not, these values have different definitions in Europe than in North America. To many Americans, they mean the ideals of the American Revolution: individual rights, religious freedom and the Bible’s place in society. But much of Europe’s “Judeo-Christian tradition” is inquisitions, crusades, pogroms and genocides.
Hungary was once ruled by the Habsburg dynasty and closely associated with the Holy Roman Empire. This empire represents ideals contrary to the American Revolution: absolute monarchy, limits on individual freedom, execution of heretics, and world conquest. The Habsburg legacy inspired later tyrants like Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. Hungary during World War ii was ruled by dictator Miklós Horthy, who claimed continuity with the Habsburgs as he allied with Hitler and persecuted Jews.
When resurrecting Hungary’s heritage, Orbán is also resurrecting this heritage. He has constructed monuments glorifying the Horthy regime. His ambassador to the Vatican is Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, a descendant of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. Orbán has made Hungary-Vatican relations one of his top foreign-policy priorities, even suggesting he would invite Pope Francis as a guest of honor for cpac Hungary 2024.
Orbán, in this sense, sees himself as heir to Hungary’s emperors and autocrats. It’s easy to think of countries like Hungary as little more than a tourist destination of Danube cruises and luxury wines. Without Hungary’s historical background in view, one can see its politics as a mirror image of maga. Such a shallow understanding of Europe’s heritage, and future, is dangerous.
“About the only thing Americans can seem to think of when it comes to Europe is someone yodeling in the Alps,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in Daniel Unlocks Revelation. “They have no idea what the Holy Roman Empire is about—or what that crown is about. They don’t know anything about this deadly beast! You can travel all over central Europe and still see some of the opulence of the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs were the sword of the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages. They did their killing while supporting artists like Mozart, Bach and Schubert—they were very sophisticated as they slaughtered people.”
Budapest’s clean streets and famous mix of baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture portrays sophistication. Orbán’s rhetoric about God and family sounds like a much-needed voice of sanity. But this is a facade. Scratch the surface, and Hungary reveals itself as a regressive regime reviving a bloody historical legacy.
The Bible has much to say about the Holy Roman Empire. Revelation 17 is a prophecy of a “beast” (verse 3), a biblical symbol for an empire (see Daniel 7). This empire is represented as drunken with blood (Revelation 17:6). It is a great war-making power that relishes in persecuting innocents. It is brazen enough to challenge God Himself (verse 14). Connecting Revelation 17 with other prophecies shows this empire to be the Roman Empire. But unlike the Rome of antiquity, this beast is ridden by a “woman,” symbolizing a church (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Ephesians 5:22-32). This is speaking of its medieval reincarnation, the Holy Roman Empire.
The beast is depicted with seven heads, revealed as seven specific resurrections of this empire (Revelation 17:9-10), all of which are led by a church. History records six of these resurrections, led by conquerors like Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler, having come and gone. The seventh—a yet-developing resurrection—is to be made up of 10 “kings” or European strongmen pooling their resources into one superstate (verses 12-13). This seventh will “ascend out of the bottomless pit,” rising from an indiscernible state to manifest itself out in the open.
When European leaders like Viktor Orbán start talking about reviving their culture and place in the world, they are talking about resurrecting the Holy Roman Empire. And they have already come a long way in doing so.
The evidence is now more visible than ever. But conservative commentators do not understand this history or Bible prophecy and so are inadvertently serving as a smokescreen for the rise of a new superpower that will shock the world, including Americans. By painting men like Orbán as freedom fighters with American values, giving them platforms to market their image, and branding criticisms of them as left-wing propaganda, Tucker Carlson and cpac are actually aiding Europe’s fundamental reversion to a Catholic-dominated empire. In this sense, they are helping to build the Holy Roman Empire!
Bible prophecy shows that American support for this “restoration of that ancient Roman empire,” as late theologian Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in 1955, is “building the Frankenstein monster that is destined to destroy us!”
People need not remain ignorant of what is going on. The Bible reveals not only where Europe’s current trajectory is leading, but also God’s promise to protect those who believe Him and submit to Him. As a new Europe rises from the abyss, and as the English-speaking world ignores or even cheers it, this is the perspective most needed.