Viktor Orbán, Demography And Hungarian Identity
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has introduced his latest measure designed to boost Hungary’s sluggish fertility rate. Since 1 February Hungarian couples have been able to obtain free IVF treatment from the country’s fertility clinics that the Fidesz government took into state ownership last December after announcing that the sector was of “strategic importance” to the Central European state. Budapest wants to raise the fertility rate from the current 1.5 births per woman to the replacement level, which is considered to be 2.1.
‘Threatened With Extinction’
In an interview with the Hungarian daily newspaper Napi Gazdasag in 2015 Orbán expressed his concern that Hungarians were “threatened with extinction” because of their low fertility rate. The country’s population has fallen from around 10.7 million in 1980 to around 9.7 million today. The decline is not only due to fewer children being born but also to large-scale emigration by working age Hungarians. According to UN data the country’s population may fall to approximately 8.5 million by 2050.
Orbán’s 2019 Family Protection Action Plan
Orbán’s move follows his announcement in February 2019 of the Family Protection Action Plan that includes a preferential loan offered to every woman under the age of 40 when they first get married; a loan program to support home purchases; a subsidy for purchase of a car for large families; a loan payment of up to 1 million Hungarian forints ($3,235 USD / €2,955) for mortgage loans taken out by families with two or more children; lifetime exemption from personal income tax for women who have raised at least four children; thousands of new nursery places in the next three years; and subsidized parental leave for grandparents. The speaker of the parliament, Kövér, commented: “Good Hungarians not only speak Hungarian but have 3 to 4 children and 9 to 16 grandchildren who speak Hungarian.”
The Fidesz government introduced its first family friendly measures immediately after coming to power in 2010 when Hungary’s fertility rate stood at an all-time low of around 1.3. According to Minister of Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák in a recent interview with the US National Catholic Register, Hungary’s abortion rate dropped by 33.5% between 2010 and 2018, marriage increased by 43%, and divorce fell by 22.5% between 2010 and 2017. Policymakers will be observing whether Orban’s measures prove effective. Trump officials reportedly attended a “Make Families Great Again” conference organized by the Hungarian government in Washington D.C. in March of 2019.
Hungary’s demographic problems are of course hardly unique and some European countries are faring even worse. Italy, Portugal and Greece, for example, are currently languishing at around 1.3 in terms of their birthrate. What marks Hungary out, then, is not population decline in itself but its response to the phenomenon. For decades Western Europe has touted immigration—including mass immigration from non-European cultures—as a solution, but in contrast to the liberal establishment Orbán has steadfastly ruled out such an option and, in particular, he has ruled out mass immigration from Muslim nations.
Hungary’s Moments In The Global Spotlight
As historian Norman Stone pointed out, Hungary has hit the world’s headlines on three occasions since the Second World War. In 1956 when the country unsuccessfully attempted to throw off the Soviet yoke and in 1989 when it opened up its borders, heralding the end of the Cold War. The third moment came in 2015 when, faced with hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees and economic migrants trying to reach northern Europe, Orbán ordered the deployment of the military and the erection of a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia and Croatia. This move turned him into the standard-bearer of the populist-nationalist movement across Europe and a hated bête noire of the left. In a controversial interview with the German newspaper Bild in 2018 Orbán claimed that Hungary did not want “Muslim invaders” on its territory, adding that migration threatened the “culture and sovereignty” of Hungary. In a fiery speech in Rome a year later he reiterated his rejection of mandatory EU migrant quotas but said he would accept deportation quotas “with pleasure.”
Hungary’s New Constitution
The new Hungarian constitution passed by the National Assembly in April, 2011 heralded Orbán’s rejection of globalism and post-modernism. Its adoption demonstrates that the post-modern model of society is not irresistible. The preamble states, inter alia, that: “we Hungarians are proud that one thousand years ago our King, Saint Stephen, based the Hungarian state on solid foundations, and made the country a part of Christian Europe”;
“We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country”;
“We are proud that our people have over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles…”;
Article L (1) states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman…” and, according to Article L (2): “Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children”.
These last two provisions in particular constitute a radical break from the Western liberal orthodoxy of recent decades.
Orbán has of course raised the ire of the liberal media and globalist politicians. His landslide victory in the 2018 election triggered a veritable hate fest. German public broadcaster ARD lambasted Hungary’s electoral system as unfair and argued that Hungary’s government had fed voters with disinformation. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Hungarian voters had simply been “brainwashed”. Readers will note similarities with the attacks on the “stupid” UK electorate after the 2016 Brexit referendum. And of course Adolf Hitler had to come into it sooner or later: in 2019 Swedish minister Annika Strandhall compared Orbán’s pro-family policies to the Third Reich. The demonization of Orbán and Hungary looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.
Traditional Magyar Saying: ‘A Cowardly People Has No Homeland’
In an article in the Swiss weekly magazine Weltwoche in 2015, journalist Boris Kálnoky outlined the historical origins of Hungary’s intense preoccupation with its identity and survival as a nation. The Magyars’ self-image, he argued, is marked by an eternal struggle for survival. Kálnoky is surely right. The Hungarians gained control of the Carpathian basin in the 9th and 10th century and had established a Christian kingdom by around 1000, retaining their non-Indo-European language in the process. They lost many times: against the Mongols in 1241, the Turks in 1526 and the Russians in 1849. The Ausgleich of 1867 finally accorded them parity with the Austrians but in 1920 they lost two-thirds of their territory in the Treaty of Trianon and in 1956 their attempt to expel the Soviets ended in disaster but somehow they survived.
Speaking at an event to mark the 170th anniversary of Kossuth’s rebellion against the Austrians in 1848 Orbán warned: ” […] there are those who want to take our country from us. Not with the stroke of a pen, as happened one hundred years ago at Trianon; now they want us to voluntarily hand our country over to others, over a period of a few decades. They want us to hand it over to foreigners coming from other continents, who do not speak our language, and who do not respect our culture, our laws or our way of life: people who want to replace what is ours with what is theirs. What they want is that henceforth it will increasingly not be us and our descendants who live here, but others. […] Day by day we see the great European countries and nations losing their countries: little by little, from district to district and from city to city. The situation is that those who do not halt immigration at their borders are lost: slowly but surely they are consumed. External forces and international powers want to force all this upon us”.