Orban's speech shows how Hungary cherishes its past, unlike the West

The Hungarian leader takes a very different stance on issues of culture heritage and national identity when compared to post-national leaders in the West.

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Today's report comes to you from Tusványos, a Hungarian ethnic festival in Romania where there is a significant Hungarian minority population. One of the things we heard at a panel discussion is how the Hungarian minority is picked on, so says the Hungarian bishop, by people in Romania, including, sometimes by the government.

It was quite a prickly criticism of Romania, and what's fascinating is sitting next to the bishop the whole time was the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who had a lot of jokes and barbs about Romania and its new leader. One of the jokes was Orban has been prime minister so long that this is his 20th counterpart on the Romania side.

It was pretty cheeky, but he did have some olive branches for the Romanian government, and other neighbouring, countries too.

But I found it remarkable that the prime minister of Hungary would speak so passionately about the Hungarian minority in Romania. The title of the speech was "A Time For Peace", which I assumed was going to be about the Russia-Ukraine war.

That's not really the number one thing on the agenda for the folks here, though. They're ethnic Hungarians who regard themselves as Hungary but don't live inside the country. And the country that rules over them, Romania, they say treats them abusively or turns a blind eye to abuses against them.

I think the people at Tusványos interested in Hungarian nationalism and being defended and remembered by Hungarian politicians, so they're very supportive of Orban.

In the West, the media is pumping news about the Russia-Ukraine war all the time. Therefore, I think that's why I was expecting the whole world shared this obsession. Of course, they're quite concerned about the war; but it's not the number one thing on their mind. And we should remember that just because the United States, United Kingdom and a handful of other countries are obsessed by it, there are other things going in the world.

Here, economic development was something Orban talked about longer than he talked about the war. The European Union meddling in Hungarian affairs was something he talked about. He said that since the United Kingdom left the EU through Brexit, that's made it tougher for countries like Hungary. I suppose having the British in the EU helped tamp down some of imperial overreach of the EU.

He also referred to an essay that said in the last 300 years there had been 16 transitions of power from one global leader to the next, one civilization to the next, one great power to the next. And 12 out of those 16 transitions were violent, done through war. Only four were done peacefully. Orban said he's worried the world is at that juncture again, that the world is hurtling towards war. 

He talked a lot about the rise of China economically; he talked about how the three largest investors in Hungary are Japan, South Korea and China — not the United States.

It was interesting to see just how unmoored he is from the United States. And maybe that's just a function of geography, he's far away from the U.S. and he has more pressing concerns locally. 

If I had to take something from his speech, it's his belief in a national identity. And underneath the national identity is a Christian identity, and he used Christian language more than any politician in the West. He called the constitution a Christian constitution; he sat next to a Christian bishop; the emcee talked about Christian ideas and cited the Book of Matthew in his closing remarks.

Hungary is a very interesting place. Maybe it's a little more like Canada or the United States was a generation ago; before Christianity was driven out of the public square, and that void was filled by environmentalism, wokism, LGBTQism.

One thing Viktor Orban offers his people is identity. Identity of history, culture, art, language, religion, borders. That is a very strong identity and Orban is trying to strengthen it, that's why he's called a nationalist. Nationalism is sometimes used as an epithet in the West, which is a post-national society where we tend not to believe in anything.

Trouble is, if you don't believe in anything you'll fall for anything. If you remove from people their history, their national heroes, and if you take from them a belief system like Christianity, something will fill the void.

Here, in Hungary, Viktor Orban has a different idea. Filling the public square with Hungary-ness, and so far the people of Hungary seem to love it.

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