This is a speech that was delivered at the Future of Central Europe International Conference in Prague, Czech Republic, October 13-15, 2023, organized by Patrimonium Sancti Adalberti.
It is a special honour for me to be here today with you in Prague at the St. Adalbert Conference, which concerns a very timely topic: the future of Central Europe. I am always happy to be with Central European friends with whom we Hungarians are linked in so many ways: not only do we inhabit and share an important region in the heart of Europe, but we are also interlinked in our history, culture, and values, not to mention our vital economic and security interests.
It is my deep conviction that Central European countries can only be successful if they are united, if they think together about current and future challenges, and work together to facilitate the adoption of decisions on a global scale that correspond to Central European strategic interests. This conference is a perfect opportunity to think together on timely issues in an era where many challenges are knocking at our door. War in our immediate neighbourhood, shift in the global balance of power, migration, economic transformation—just to name a few of these challenges.
The current state of the European Union also poses common challenges for us Central Europeans. In the past years, we have seen intensifying centralisation efforts from Brussels, and the newest ideas on reforming the European Union at the detriment of smaller member states are also worrying. I believe that we have to pose the fundamental question to ourselves: is this still the same European Union we joined with so much joy and with high expectations after the collapse of the socialist regimes?
In my presentation, however, I will be concentrating on another crucial challenge: one that is less talked about while being probably the most pressing one in the long term. This is the issue of demography. Europe, including Central Europe, is faced with a tendency toward an ageing society and a demographic decline: fewer children are being born while an increasing proportion of society is entering old age. This tendency does not only threaten our welfare system but puts the future of our entire civilization at risk.
The Western European progressive elites are convinced that, notwithstanding the cultural and societal risks, the answer to demographic decline is migration. They seem to have given up on the idea to encourage and support families to have more children. As a Member of the European Parliament, I see this slow but all the more overwhelming reality of civilizational self-surrender on a daily basis.
On the contrary, I come from a country, Hungary, where we believe that pro-family and pro-natal policies can help in reversing the demographic trends and thus guarantee the preservation of our nations in the long term. We also believe that having children is the basis of economic growth and well-being. However, despite the more practical considerations, there is a lot more to this: it is our deepest belief that family is the natural environment of human existence, and having children gives a special meaning to life. Our National Avowal in our Fundamental Law sets out: “We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence and that our fundamental cohesive values are loyalty, faith, and love.”
In fact, the whole spirit of our Fundamental Law reflects a child- and family-protection value system that is, very importantly, based on the traditional Christian worldview. Importantly, our constitution also declares the moral principle that young people have a duty to take care of the elderly, pointing out the circularity of life.
In line with the values of our constitution, the Christian democratic, conservative government of Hungary has introduced several family protection and support schemes since 2010: tax benefits, a specific “baby-expecting” loan, and a home-building program, just to mention a few of them. The results are notable: the number of marriages and the desire to have children have increased. The fertility rate has risen from 1.23 to over 1.5 in a decade.
These are undoubtedly great results, and these schemes could provide inspiration for our Central European counterparts. But let’s be honest and clear: there is still a lot of work to be done, and the hardest part is yet to come. As the Hungarian prime minister put it only very recently at a Demographic Summit in Hungary, the question of demography is ultimately “a question of the heart.” Family support schemes can help so that having children is not a financial burden, so that all desired children can be born. However, no regulation or government support scheme is able to induce the intention of young people to have children and to bear the accompanying responsibility.
One of the main reasons for low fertility rates is the alteration of public opinion about having children. The dominant progressive-liberal discourse not only altered the understanding of a human being’s freedom but also made young people believe that having children is a heavy burden and a limitation of individual freedom. Yes, indeed, having children is a responsibility; it takes sacrifices, but it is also the greatest gift and the highest level of human fulfilment.
The task is not easy. We all know the saying, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.” I believe that this phrase somewhat captures the essence of the problem. There is a generation that grew up in peace and prosperity, that had no experience of hardships or burdens, and to which the progressive-liberal elites have been teaching for decades that “you can be whoever you want to be,” and that you only have rights to claim, but no obligations to fulfil.
The magnitude of the problem cannot be overemphasized. The whole world surrounding us is dominated by this progressive-liberal narrative. Our language is captured by political correctness and has become a tool in the hands of liberals. They captured the media completely, which uses almost exclusively a progressive-liberal interpretation framework when sharing information with the public. They are also capturing our culture: movies, songs, and art convey a view of life where humans live solely for their momentary desires and completely throw away the possibility of a meaningful life. The academic sphere is not on our side either.
These progressive liberals have also waged a war against the most sacred concepts that stem from our Christian values and traditions. The concepts of family and marriage are under heavy attack. They also want to interfere in how we educate and bring up our children. I see in Brussels and in the European institutions that these attacks intensify day by day. This is exactly why we, in Hungary, put it in our constitution that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man,” and this is exactly why we adopted a Child Protection Act that secures the right of parents to educate their children. These actions show that we have gotten to a point where we are forced to explain and defend even the most natural truths.
Unfortunately, I also experience how Christian Democratic political forces have been unable to stop and restrain these tendencies for the time being. I find that the main reason for this is fear.
The liberals have made us believe that if we speak up against violent attacks against our fundamental Christian values or natural laws, then we are bad people; then we are intolerant and exclusionary; then we are extremists. But the opposite of this couldn’t be more true: it is they who want us silenced, excluded, and sidelined for the sole reason that we want to protect our traditional, Christian way of life and our national identity.
The lesson learnt from this is the following: we must not allow liberal progressives to define who we are and what we stand for, and we must resist using their words, their expressions, and their frameworks of thought. Instead of being one step behind them, we must always be two steps ahead of them. We have to create our own framework of interpretation about world affairs and the most pressing challenges. We have to address young people in our own language, showing that the alternative we offer is closer to the essence of human nature and the absolute good.
What is so striking is that these changes have happened so incredibly quickly. In a few years’ time, we have gotten to a point where even our most natural foundations are being questioned, where common sense and traditional values seem to have been lost, and we find ourselves in no man’s land. It is not only political life that is poisoned by these narratives, but people in their everyday lives are under pressure to stand in line with the latest absurdities.
Luckily, this is not yet a lost cause in our countries in Central Europe. We are still in a better position. Just as we are not suffering from the societal and security consequences of illegal migration, our minds are still less contaminated by progressive-liberal ideas. However, the same threats are already in our backyards.
This is why we must cooperate: we must win back territory in the discourse that is more and more intensively dominated by progressive liberals. We must show young people that traditional values such as the nation and the family are not outdated ideas that should be overcome and left in the past. We must show them that a meaningful life comes with obligations and concessions, and for true freedom, a human being also needs limits.
This is the task ahead of us. It will not be an easy one, but together, Central European countries can lead the way in returning public opinion to its original course. We need to work together to win back not only political dominance, both on national and European level, but to win back media, culture, and academia. Ultimately, these are the spheres that most influence the way of thinking. We cannot leave them in the hands of the liberal progressives if we are determined to win this fight.
We must protect the Christian understanding of freedom. We must protect the Christian way of life. This will be the key in reversing demographic trends and altering the public discourse on having children.