We are living in troubling days: global warming, mass migration, the COVID-19 pandemic, obstacles in the supply and production chains of the global economy, and now an unprecedented war hit our closest vicinity. Something happens for which—especially we Europeans—were not ready. We are just simply not used to such events anymore and now we need to step out of our comfort zone. We need to facilitate peace and strive for stability. This is the only way out of the conflict. This is what Hungary is working for as a member of NATO, EU and all the international communities who are doing their best to achieve peace as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, these terrible events highlighted the childhood illnesses of the European Union. In the last decades, Europe has been occupied with ever deepening integration, bureaucratization, and ideological crusades. Its weapons became the extension of powers by stealth, legal norms, and extensive regulations, as well as ideological oppression. Europe became an unwanted normative power instead of a desired global power. It is now getting harder and harder to live up to expectations and to represent the will of European people. What started as a brilliant economic cooperation slowly evolved into something different: an empire-like entity where the duties and competences between member states and institutions are blurred and intentionally distorted.
Political correctness and multiculturalism replaced the common sense that made Europe the most powerful continent in previous centuries. Let us admit, we became spiritless, enervated and increasingly powerless. We forgot the language of power, we forgot that national and European interests are not granted for free if not consistently and thoroughly represented and defended.
Some Member States are still facing the spill-over effects of the global economic crisis of 2008. Then the 2015 migration crisis shook the whole continent. The wind of terrorism brought fear and dissent. The history of the European Union, a success story, was interrupted. In the wake of these crises, issues of values and ideologies emerged. The global challenges are towering above us while we lost the path our ancestors tirelessly paved for us.
What made this continent and our cultures great is being challenged in various ways. This is the time to show strength, determination, and bravery. This is the time to step up and protect what we believe in and what we wish to pass on to the following generations. What is at stake is the European way of life: the respect for our Judeo-Christian heritage, our common history and culture, our diversity, and our European freedom. The European freedom that is resilient to the pressure of ideological hegemony includes not only civil and political freedoms—such as freedom of speech, assembly, association, and conscience—but also the right to decide with whom we want to live with, to defend our families and raise and educate our children as we wish. This is what we call the European tradition and consider the definition of freedom.
We cannot, therefore, let the liberal and left-wing mainstream distort this concept of freedom and substitute it with their blunt, colorless, and odorless theory of civil liberties. Instead of freedom of speech, they want political correctness as defined by them, and monopoly of opinion instead of a true pluralism of ideas. They want a faceless and homogenous mass of people without identity and national character. They believe that national pride is a disgrace, patriotism a form of extremism, Christianity an antiquated religion, and family an obsolete notion of coexistence. The liberal network and media intentionally amplify these tendencies, and social engineers push us towards some sort of post-modern utopia. No gender roles, no gender identity, no belief, no responsibilities—only individualism, personal rights, and personal feelings that determine the rights of others.
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Is this the end of history? We do not want to end our history. On the contrary, we want to continue our history and prosper for many more centuries. Hence, in this upside-down world there is a great need for those voices who say, “so far and no further!” I am glad to say that we are looking good in the central part of Europe. Our people and especially our intellectuals are now—30 years after the fall of the communist regimes—able to pronounce their opinions and convictions about the future of our nations and Europe. Such perspectives might differ from the liberal mainstream, but they exist for the benefit of all. They present an intellectual challenge to the ideological monopoly and shed light on the old truths and principles that once made our nations great.
We grew up and as equal members of the community, we are now able to stand up for our beliefs and our own interests. We are able both to express and at the same time defend our point of view, even when it comes to the most fundamental questions of the societies. Central Europeans tend to agree that Christianity is not only a belief or a practice of faith, but also a cultural predestination. That families are the foundations of our societies. That social arrangement should be binary—and based on man-woman and mother-father relations. That social problems need to be solved internally and not by implementing an open—a wide open—society. That borders do matter. That a strong Europe can only be achieved through strong and sovereign nations. That we do not need to be ‘woke’ since we never fell asleep.
There is a consensus among these nations that there is a common denominator regarding conservative values and principles that we all share and protect.
In Hungary we seized the opportunity the Hungarian people granted to this government. In 2010 Hungarian people decided to empower the government with an extraordinary two-thirds majority to bring an end to the post-communist era. Citizens gave us a mandate to build the state on new foundations based on the Fundamental Law of Hungary. The core elements of this structure are Christian tradition, conservative values, strong nation, and thriving families. To us conservatives, law is never just a catalogue of rights and obligations or institutional and procedural regulations, but a manifestation of our conviction and historical constitution. We believe—unlike our socialist and liberal counterparts—that the values of neutrality, transitionality, and technical workability within a constitution are not an honor but a denial of our identity.
If you take a look at the Hungarian Fundamental Law, you will see that it is not possible simply to change the name of the country and get another nation’s constitution. Unfortunately, in some cases it is totally possible, but not in Hungary. To us, the Hungarian Fundamental Law is the cornerstone and the ultimate declaration of our constitutional identity. Frankly, it could not be otherwise.
The Hungarian state was a Christian state from the beginning. We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built it on such solid ground and thus made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago. Christian roots and values are inherently built into our identity, history, laws, customs, and the whole society. Therefore, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the importance and the impact of Christian teachings and practices. As the Fundamental Law of Hungary states “We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.”
In addition to this religious premise, the conservative government also incorporated the most profound values of our society in the basic law while creating a modern, long-standing document that meets the demands of the 21st century. We declared our sincere devotion to the next generation by stating that we bear responsibility for our descendants. We stated as early as 2011 that “our children and grandchildren will make Hungary great again with their talent, persistence and moral strength.” We do not organize our society on aid and subsidy, but we honor the work of the individual and praise the achievements of the human mind.
While in many European countries, a liberal system was developed in which society and nation are nothing but an aggregation of competing individuals and the subjects of a market economy, we believe that there is a common goal of the citizens and that individual freedom can only be complete in cooperation with the rest of the community. Because we believe that individual rights come with personal responsibilities too. It is quite symbolic that while the word “rights” is featured 33 times in the Fundamental Law, the words “responsible” or “responsibility” only 19 times. Personal and community responsibility is present throughout the entire Fundamental Law.
It is no surprise, then, that families are at the heart of the basic law. We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence. In Hungary, in contrast to many progressive countries, the family is not just a blood nexus, a mere legal fact, but a concept saturated with values that define our identity and our worldview. Our perception of the family sets us apart from the European countries which strive only for the fulfillment and maximum empowerment of the lone individual. For us, however, family policy is not only a demographic toll, but also an identity issue, a defining element of our sovereignty. Our goal is not to relativize, but to revitalize our families.
We believe that the full support of our families is the guarantee for the preservation of our sovereignty. Therefore, the Fundamental Law of Hungary also entrenches the protection of marriage and states that the raising of children is the sole responsibility of the parent. This is also why we declared that “we shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.” Also, that “the mother shall be a woman, the father shall be a man.”
Naturally, we do not think that community overrides every aspect of human existence. We too believe in individuality. But this individuality cannot be selfish, but must be integrated, self-conscious, devoted, humble, and respectful. This type of accountable individualism is what societies demand. Because these citizens will be able to form strong bonds and feel well-suited to living in families. Strong families are the foundation of strong communities, which are a prerequisite for strong nations. And eventually we arrive at the point where we must recognize: a strong Europe can only be built on strong nations. This link, this chain of connections and nexus, is what makes us Europeans unique and resilient to the challenges of our times.
Therefore, it is extremely important to understand that anyone who attacks the families, eventually will attack the whole construction, the whole European Union. It is obvious from the above commitments that we do not accept migration as a solution to demographic challenges. We accept that some countries wish to become a country of migrants and we understand that there is a deep philosophical and political difference between us and those countries about the concept of nations and Christian freedom. Nonetheless, we are convinced that mass and mostly illegal migration is not just endangering our culture, sovereignty, and self-identity, but also brings social tension and inevitable disturbances while destroying the cultural identity of Europe. Therefore, we hold that European migration policy should aim at stemming the flows towards Europe, tackling the root causes of migration and strengthening cooperation with third countries. We have to prevent all different proposals and measures which are encouraging people to embark on these perilous journeys.
We regard it as important not to draw a parallel between the current Ukrainian refugee crisis and the migrants during the 2015 crisis, most of whom did not legally qualify for international protection. This crisis is completely different: it is clear that there is an armed conflict in our immediate neighborhood.
Hungary wants a secure society with the right to decide its own destiny. We should focus on our own, internal resources. What we need is not an over-centralized, top-down empire which dictates how we must live but strong and successful nation-states. We need to accept that there are fields where European integration failed, but we also need to highlight those areas where it proved an unprecedented success.
The management of the COVID-19 pandemic was an instructive example of the identity crisis of the European Union. When the pandemic hit, the common approach was swiftly put aside and an increasing number of Member States took the fight against the virus into their own hands. As Douglas Murray recently wrote, a remarkable trend has emerged: that no matter how bad the situation is, the EU always finds a way to make it worse. In the case of the vaccines, the Union’s efforts to ensure that nobody raced ahead meant that every country advanced at the slowest rate possible.
These critiques of the European Union do not mean that Hungarians are not devoted Europeans. On the contrary, and as once again the Fundamental Law states, “we believe that our national culture is a rich contribution to the diversity of European unity.” As Prime Minister Orbán once put it, “I could not be a European if I was not a Hungarian.” That is the root of everything. But it does not mean either that we should be silent when it comes to the most fundamental questions of our lives. Therefore, I urge everyone to think clearly, see through the uniform coat or the multicultural sunglasses. We must recognize that the European Union has departed from its very foundations. Originally the European project had a solid base: Member States set realistic common obligations based on pragmatic objectives and their cooperation was based on mutual respect and trust, resulting in a win-win situation for all participating countries, their citizens included.
The Founding Fathers of the EU always sought compromises among member states. They recognized that the basis of joint European success is tolerance of each other. However, what used to be an economic cooperation, now has become a bureaucratic superstate. Today a serious deficit has evolved in the European institutions despite our experience of more than half a century. European cooperation is faltering, above all because nations feel that they are slowly being stripped of the right to exercise their legitimate sovereign powers. The European Commission made a serious mistake by announcing its intention to replace its old neutral role as ‘Guardian of the Treaties’ with a new political one. The European Court of Justice must stop its federalizing agenda: it has purposefully extended its powers and undermined the bulwarks of national sovereignty. It must find its way back to its dedicated mandate. It is very unfortunate that, in the name of political correctness, even references to Christian traditions and spirituality have now been banished from EU debates.
It must be acknowledged that forcing the creation of a European demos is contrary to the European ethos. “United in diversity” as the official motto of the European Union calls on us to respect each other’s values and perspectives and to align our positions by adopting a pragmatic approach. This motto expresses what makes Europe special and unique: an alliance of strong and culturally rich European nations. All we need is a brave return to the roots of the European values, and the reinterpretation of these strong bonds in the spirit of the 21st century.
For that, we have to address the real questions and we must dispel clichés. We want to preserve our cultures of our countries, and we want to decide how we want to live and raise our children. In this battle, our constitutional identity serves us as a compass and as an ideological safeguard. The Fundamental Law embodies our national affiliation, our identity, our worldview, and our sovereignty, passing on the values that our ancestors formulated for the Hungarians of the future. Our Fundamental Law is therefore a constitution that creates an alliance among Hungarians of the past, present and future. Nation, community, family. These are the slogans we proclaim, because these are the values we share.
Judit Varga is the Minister of Justice of Hungary.
This text is adapted from a speech delivered on March 23 at the National Conservatism Conference held in Brussels. It has been edited for clarity and length and appears here by kind permission.