The central European nation of Hungary got a lot of attention here in the United States last week. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, following in the footsteps of other “national populist” figures on the right, met with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, and hosted a show from the country. The visit was designed to use Budapest’s cleanliness, civic virtues, and beauty to advertise for the Hungarian government’s anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ policies, which to Carlson are not discrimination but evidence of Orban’s dedication to family values and the willingness of Hungarian conservatives to fight rather than compromise with liberals.
This new focus on Hungary is unsurprising to those of us who have followed the country during Orban’s now decade-plus term in office. My fascination with Magyarzag, which is what Hungarians call their nation, goes back to a trip I took after senior year with the rest of the Central High School Orchestra and Choir.
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For myself and most of my classmates, this was our first time outside of the country. We found Hungary to be fascinating and incredibly different from everything we knew. Our school was so diverse that some rankings have in the past referred to it as the most diverse in the nation. By contrast, nearly everyone we met in Hungary was a Magyar. In Philadelphia, we shut down our trolleys; in Budapest, the villamos are beloved and convenient. Our rivers are cut off from the city by I-95 and I-76. Budapest is centered on its section of the Danube River, with the majestic Parliament building standing proud and overlooking the river.
From a city planning perspective, Hungary does have lessons — predating Orban — to offer America. Budapest is a densely populated city, but it is quieter, cleaner, and less noisy than Philadelphia (or seemingly any other American city). The city’s public squares and green spaces are well-used and the aforementioned trams serve about one million people per day, although the $5.60-a-gallon gas prices (something most conservative commentators would balk at) may have something to do with that. I doubt that their transit agency rips out many Budapest gardens either (RIP the wildflower garden at the 40th Street trolley portal).
But Tucker Carlson wasn’t in Budapest to learn about the wonders of modern trolley systems with dedicated right-of-way and frequent service. He’s there because of Prime Minister Orban’s record and rhetoric on immigration. Orban has said that Hungarians “do not want to be mixed. ... We want to be how we became eleven hundred years ago here in the Carpathian Basin.”
Like the Huns, Avars, and Pechenegs before them, the Magyars arrived in the Carpathian Basin from somewhere in the steppes of eastern Europe and central Asia. The reason their language and culture survive, rather than that of their steppe-nomadic predecessors, is not dedication to racial and cultural “purity,” but the openness and willingness to accommodate outsiders as stated by King Stephen, their first Christian king. Arpad may have led them over the mountains, but it is Stephen’s version of the kingdom that endured for centuries: “For a country of one single language and one set of customs is weak and vulnerable. Therefore I enjoin on you, my son, to protect newcomers benevolently and to hold them in high esteem so that they should stay with you rather than dwell elsewhere.”
The reason their language and culture survives is not dedication to racial and cultural “purity,” but the openness and willingness to accommodate outsiders.
When medieval Hungary fell to the Ottoman Empire at the 1526 Battle of Mohacs, St. Stephen’s kingdom included not just Magyars, but Croats, Slovaks, Slovenes, Romanians, Serbs, Ruthenians, Jews, Germans, and others. It was this multicultural nation that resisted Ottoman conquest for so long. Later, when Hungarian leaders pursued a more exclusive vision of their nation by pushing for national revolution in 1848, Croatian and Slovak militias mounted opposition, fearing enforced Magyarization of their communities. And after World War I, two-thirds of Hapsburg Hungary seceded to join the new Czechoslovak, Yugoslav, and Romanian nations. Hungary briefly regained a few territories, but the moral cost of aligning with Hitler and the Axis powers caught up — many of their Jewish citizens were murdered by the Nazis and the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, or unwilling to return to a country that had helped facilitate the Holocaust, much of Budapest was destroyed by the Soviets, and their territorial gains were reversed.
The lesson Hungarian history offers America — and that should be taken up by those of us on the right — is not to close our borders or oppose multiculturalism. It is that embracing the strengths of all our communities enables us to thrive, whereas rejecting multiculturalism hurts the country. As Ronald Reagan, the last Republican president to win over 50% of the popular vote twice, said: “We lead the world, because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength from every country and every corner of the world.” Those who are welcomed to our nation will gladly and bravely fight for it, while the path of ethnic nationalism leads to dissolution and failure.
Instead of following in the path of Viktor Orban, as Carlson and fans suggest, Americans should instead heed the words of St. Stephen.