On May 19, 2022 Hungary’s new Prime Minister Viktor Orban was a headline speaker at the GOP’s America’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which was held in Budapest Hungary. Before the conference, two days before the conference Orban stated “the great European population exchange as a suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilizations – migrants”. This came just days after a shooting targeting African Americans occurred in Buffalo, New York where the perpetrator exposed similar ideas to Orban calling it “The Great Replacement”, which is the alleged liberal agenda, the purposeful attempt to destroy Western civilization through the eyes of neo-fascists and racists.
The Prime Minister’s political director, who is also speaking at the conference, declared that “American conservatives are very supportive of us because they can see that we have huge domestic support and because they see Hungary as a conservative safe space”. In the last couple years CPAC has become more extreme in rhetoric and symbolism. CPAC in America last year brandished a stage design in the shape of a ‘nordic odal-rune’ a pre-german symbol which was later adopted by the nazis to represent heritage and branded by many SS officials. CPAC denied this having any relation to one another, however the intricate shape is very specific and the meaning of the symbol is exactly what conservatives are so focused on heritage. These symbols are interpreted by some as silent dogwhistles to extremist on the right, validating their behavior
On Thursday May 19, as the conference began, Journalists from VICE News, Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker were all turned away from entering the conference “despite repeated assurances from the American Conservative Union that access would be provided”. Additionally journalists from the Guardian and Associated Press tweeted that they also were denied. This is largely a result of Viktor Orban’s war against independent media, spending much of his 12 years in office dedicated to doing so in order to cultivate the unblemeshable strong man persona he so desires. This was confirmed by the executive director of the American Conservative Union, the org that runs CPAC, said in an outside interview, he was only a “co-host” saying: “We do these CPACs around the world and we always have partners on the ground who take the lead, and those partners are the ones who make the decisions, so those are the decisions of the Center for Fundamental Rights.”[The Center for Fundamental Rights is a right-wing think tank funded by the Hungarian government.]
Matt Schalpp the chairman of the American Conservatives Union clarified his position stating: “I know you think there should be a certain protocol to how the media is always handled. Our view at our CPAC events is that we always try to include as much media as possible. Every CPAC in their own county has their own policies and they will follow them.” Both the executive director and Chairman seemed to be on damage control as they had already informed the media they would be let in beforehand. They told the media that they could watch the event on a live stream but recognized that it is not ideal and “there’s a real advantage to having immediate access to the attendees and asking questions”.
On the inside of the event something more sinister was occurring, Orban began outlining his “12-point plan” for how US conservatives can establish dominance in the states. Point number four directly relates to why journalists were barred from entry: “Number four, my dear friends, have your media. You can only present the stupidity of the leftist progressives if you have the media to do it. Leftist opinion can only seem to be a majority because the media helps them to increase their voice.” Oraban’s limits to the freedom of the press directly harms vertical accountability, that is the ability for “non-state actors (citizens, civil associations, the media) (Lust, Ellen and David Waldner. 2015.)“ to hold accountable state actors. Orban not only reduced the transparency of the event by barring the media from entering, but also called for the replication of his censorship policies abroad.
In coming to power, and while in power, Orban employed populist strategies to gain political power. Orban has identified so-called enemies of his nation and western culture as a whole as progressive liberals. By doing so he has embraced the culture war in order to use existing social tensions to solidify support. He has targeted supranational organizations such as the EU and has placed blame on them for economic and social issues. This ties into his overall strategy of rejecting countability horizontally or vertically. All this is done while deploying rhetoric that advancers racial nationalism. The continued rhetoric of Obran and his allies at home and here in the States, and their silence on extremism and endorsement of replacement ideology only encourages the continued politcal extremism and violence.