Conservatives descend on Hungary for hawkish US group’s first European summit

Addressing CPAC, Orban urges coordination of right-wing ‘troops’ to take back Washington from progressive liberals; conferences in Israel and elsewhere planned for future

The chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), Matt Schlapp, delivers the welcome speech at the CPAC conference in Budapest, Hungary, May 19, 2022. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)
The chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), Matt Schlapp, delivers the welcome speech at the CPAC conference in Budapest, Hungary, May 19, 2022. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Dozens of prominent conservatives from Europe, the United States and elsewhere gathered Thursday in Hungary as the American Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, was held in Europe for the first time.

The two-day conference reflects a deepening of ties between the American right-wing and the autocratic government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The burgeoning alliance with Orban has led some US commentators to warn of American conservatives allegedly embracing anti-democratic tactics.

During his 12 years in power, Orban has generated controversy in the European Union for rolling back democratic institutions under what he calls an “illiberal democracy,” but garnered the admiration of some segments of the American right for his tough stance on immigration and LGBTQ issues and his rejection of liberal pluralism.

Delivering the opening address of the two-day conference on Thursday, Orban called Hungary “the bastion of conservative Christian values in Europe,” and urged US conservatives to defeat “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life” as he said he had done in Hungary.

“We have to take the institutions back in Washington and Brussels,” Orban said. “We must find allies in one another and coordinate the movements of our troops.”

The Associated Press and other international news organizations were not granted accreditation to cover the CPAC meeting in Hungary despite making multiple requests over several months.

The Center for Fundamental Rights, an Orban-aligned think tank that organized the conference, hung up during several phone calls with an AP reporter seeking about the event.

Also appearing at the conference in Budapest are several members of Orban’s government and figures from the American right associated with the branch of the Republican party aligned with former US president Donald Trump.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledges cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, on April 3, 2022. (Petr David Josek/AP)

The conference is the American political right’s latest embrace of Orban, whom Trump has lavished with praise. Trump — described by aides as being particularly enamored with dictators and authoritarian leaders during his time in office — endorsed Orban’s bid for reelection and urged Hungarian voters to give him another term.

Orban’s party won Hungary’s general election in April, and the prime minister retained his office.

The European Union and human rights organizations have expressed concern over recent Hungarian policies seen as limiting the rights of LGBTQ people, something Orban described Thursday as “gender madness.”

Hungary also faces financial penalties from the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations, including rolling back judicial independence and media freedom, and failing to adequately tackle corruption.

As the American conservative movement increasingly embraces populist, anti-immigrant policies and language, many have looked to Orban’s style of governing and interventionism in the areas of culture, education and the media as a guidepost.

During speeches live-streamed from the CPAC conference Thursday, many speakers enumerated their grievances over what they described as the dominance of liberal culture in the United States and praised Hungary as a stronghold of traditionalism and on the leading edge of a culture war.

The conference website refers to Hungary as “one of the engines of Conservative resistance to the woke revolution” which aims to “face down the onslaught of the Left.”

One American proponent of this vision of Hungary is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who broadcast from Hungary’s capital, Budapest, for a week in 2021, interviewing Orban and praising the country’s policies on immigration and LGBTQ issues as a model for the US.

After Carlson delivered a video message to CPAC attendees, Orban praised the television host as the only figure in American media willing to stand up against “the rule of the liberal media.”

American television host and conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson is seen on screen delivering a speech at the CPAC conference in Budapest, Hungary, May 19, 2022. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

After taking his oath of office Monday for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister, Orban also echoed contentious theories espoused by Carlson. He described a “suicide attempt” by more liberal European governments to implement a “population replacement program” that seeks to “replace the missing European Christian children with migrants.”

CPAC in recent years has expanded its footprint beyond its annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians in the US, with events in Australia, Brazil, Japan and South Korea. It plans to hold conferences in Brazil, Israel, Japan and Mexico later this year.

Speaking in Budapest on Thursday, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said, “There’s no greater time for this CPAC movement of freedom and individual rights to flourish, and I look forward to that happening in the great country of Hungary.”

American conservative media personalities Candace Owens and Ben Ferguson, as well as members of right-wing European parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and the Spanish Vox party, are scheduled to speak at the Hungary event.

Mark Meadows, the chief of staff for the administration of former US president Donald Trump, also is set to speak at the conference by video link, along with Republican lawmakers from Florida and Maryland.

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