Viktor Orbán Flatters Republicans

In his triumphant speech Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán played one of the oldest—and most morally grotesque—rhetorical cards in the central European diplomatic playbook: comparing the domestic political opponents of his audience with the totalitarian murderers who once subjugated his homeland.

“The Hungarians defeated communism, which was forced on us by Soviet troops and arms. It took a while. We began our fight in 1956 and won in 1990, but we did it,” Europe’s longest-serving prime minister said. “But communists are tough to beat. They rose from their ashes, came together with the liberals, and come back all around the world stronger than ever. If somebody has doubts whether progressive liberals and communists are the same, just ask us Hungarians. We fought them both, and I can tell you they are the same.”

The claim that communists have come back “stronger than ever” would surely be news to the three dozen or so modern-day countries whose populations in 1988 were still under the iron boot. Only in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba have communist parties retained their monopoly on power. One could perhaps make the argument that current and former communists, after allowing for quasi-capitalistic economic activity, now have more internal strength and financial resources in China and post-Soviet Russia than they did in 1990, but that’s not an argument that Orbán, the best friend of both Moscow and Beijing within the European Union and NATO, is eager to make.

The conflation of contemporary Western lefties with former East bloc totalitarians, a favorite dinner-party trick of such perennially overrated post-communist politicians as former Czech President Václav Klaus, serves the dual purpose of flattering American conservatives that their parochial political concerns (about, say, gay marriage) are imbued with internationally heroic heft, while diverting attention away from the less seemly (and less traditionally conservative) record of the speaker.

Addressing a CPAC audience, Orbán made sure to shout out the conference’s patron saint: “We know what we have Ronald Reagan to thank for.” But that’s a considerably different song than he was singing two weeks ago in front of an audience of ethnic Hungarians in the Transylvania region of neighboring Romania.

There, in a speech that generated controversy for other reasons, the Hungarian actually compared Reagan to communists: “Historically, the Americans have had the ability to pick out what they identify as an evil empire and to call on the world to stand on the right side of history—a phrase which bothers us a little, as this is what the communists always said.”

Full Post by Matt Welch @ Reason

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