"Democracy is also Christian-conservative"
17 januari 2023 | Forum for Democracy Intl
Marco van den Boomgaard is a FVD city council member and an expert, by personal experience, on Hungary. He gave a lecture to the Renaissance Institute on Hungarian politics on Friday 6 January
Where does your affinity for Hungary stem from?
My affinity with Hungary is multifold. My wife is a Hungarian from Romania. Before the First World War, Hungary was of course larger and until the Treaty of Versailles it included large parts of what is now Romania and Ukraine. This includes Transylvania, where my wife is from.
Furthermore, my affinity with Hungary stems from the fact that I grew up in a quite conservative and Christian family. Many of these values I see reflected in Hungary and the surrounding countries. Precisely because the Hungarians have a history of oppression, their Hungarian pride is very important to them. Their folklore, folk dances and their own language are so important that even Hungarian minorities abroad hold on to them closely. Through my wife, I have experienced this pride and I gained a lot of respect for that. It is fantastic to see it, to experience it and to be able to represent a piece of it.
I also find the historical and religious connections between Hungary and the Netherlands interesting. Hungary is, contrary to what people may think, largely Calvinist - just like the Netherlands. Prime Minister Orbán himself is a member of the Hungarian Reformed Church and his wife is Catholic. Michiel de Ruyter once freed 28 Reformed Hungarian ministers in Spain. Hungarians are still grateful for this. This is beautifully symbolized by the fact that every year the Hungarian ambassador lays a wreath at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, where Michiel de Ruyter is buried.
There is a lot going on right now in the media about the conflict between Hungary and the EU on the meaning of the democratic process. What is your view on this debate?
I look at it more from the Hungarian point of view. The attitude of the EU in this conflict is sour. Ursula von der Leyen said at one point that Europe had the "tools in its hands", by which she meant freezing EU assets for Hungary. Because the EU initially thought that the progressive-liberal alliance would win the 2022 elections, it remained only a threat. When Orban won, the EU still wanted to punish Hungary. Why? Because of the illiberalism of the progressives in the West. They only accept the left-liberal agenda - nothing more. That's quite a limitation of democracy, isn't it? A Christian-conservative democracy is no less democratic than a liberal one but the EU is less and less willing to acknowledge that. For as long as this view continues to exist, democracy will be eroded more and more.
So the interpretation of democracy is used as an ideological weapon by the EU to eliminate its opponents?
Yes, and then the EU turns it around by saying that Orbán is an autocrat. This of course is pertinently untrue. It is a piece of projection, which fits perfectly into the EU's agenda.
For example, it sells the story that there would only be limited academic freedom in Hungary, because the Hungarian government closed the Central European University that was founded by well-known businessman, George Soros. The reason for that closure had nothing to do with the nature of that university. But all that Hungary asked of that university was that they have a headquarters in the country in which they operate. In the Netherlands we have similar legislation. This Soros-university did not want to cooperate with that. After not complying, the university was closed down. Of course, that was grist for the mill of progressive-liberal Europe, when it was in fact just the normal course of events. Everything is being twisted. The bottom line is that Hungary is an obstacle to progressive-liberal plans, because Hungary proves that as a country you can flourish enormously as a conservative democracy. In fact before the COVID-situation, it was the fastest-growing economy in Europe. Of course, Hungary is part of the European Union and wants to remain so.
So how do they view the EU's attacks on their democracy and culture? Isn't it a bone of contention?
It certainly is. On one hand, Hungary benefits economically from the EU; on the other hand, Hungary does not want to be dominated by larger foreign players. This is of course because of the country's history. They have been occupied by the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. After the First World War, the country was drastically reduced in size and thirty years later the Soviet Union dominated the country again. This is why so many Hungarians have developed a great aversion to foreign powers. At the same time Hungarians also realize that they are in the middle of Europe and cannot escape cooperation with other countries. This complexity underlies the stalemate they find themselves in with the EU. They are in favor of the original membership. As a nation-state you should be able to cooperate within Europe, but what the EU is doing now is, among other things, imposing an ideology that does not fit their nature. Hungary never signed up for that.
Does the progressive-liberal influence you're talking about come mainly from the EU or are there other actors that try to influence Hungary as well?
There are plenty of outside influences on Hungarian democracy. A good example is the elections last April '22. There was mainly a struggle between two major blocs. On one side Fidesz, Orbán's party, and on the other side the large alliance of almost all other parties. That included the right-wing party Jobbik, the left-liberal Democratic Coalition, and the Hungarian Socialist Party. After the election, it was found out that millions were given to the alliance by American investors.
Legal action will be taken, because in Hungary, as in the Netherlands, foreign funding is not allowed. What FVD is often accused of in the Netherlands, that we would supposedly receive money from Putin, actually happens in Hungary with Orbán's opponents, not from Russia but from America.
How is Hungary behaving in the current conflict with Russia?
They are handling it very well in my opinion. After the First World War, a big piece of Hungary went to Ukraine and that was very difficult for the newly created Hungarian minority. You can read in the media how Hungarians were treated in Ukraine between 2010 and 2012. You have to imagine that there were news reports that people were no longer allowed to speak the Hungarian language, sing their national anthem or raise the flag. If people knew where Hungarians lived, Molotov cocktails could be thrown through their windows. There was never any real crackdown on that. One news story I remember was about a Hungarian girl who was sleeping at home when a firebomb was thrown into her house downstairs. Those are the situations played out in those years.
But when the conflict between Ukraine and Russia broke out, we saw that Hungary opened the borders and generously welcomed not only Hungarian minorities but also Ukrainians. That shows a good soul as far as I am concerned. Hungary's approach is that we should be committed to peace and not to supplying weapons and ammunition, which only escalates the conflict.