Hungarian conservatives launch English-language journal

This month, we are witness to an eyebrow-raising development in Hungary. A new English-language journal entitled Hungarian Conservative is being launched on April 15th by the Batthyány Lajos Foundation — a non-profit group dating back to 1991 and established by Hungary’s first democratically elected prime minister, József Antall. The Batthyányi Circle of Professors, affiliared with this foundation, has been critical of Viktor Orbán in the past. The new journal’s editor-in-chief is the former ambassador to Ireland between 2011 and 2015 and university professor Tamás Magyarics, whose research focuses on twentieth century American history. Also on the editorial board is Gyula Kodolányi, a writer and former advisor to Prime Minister Antall on foreign policy matters. Present as well is John O’Sullivan, the late Margaret Thatcher’s speech writer.  Others involved include Gellért Rajcsányi, a journalist with Mandiner online news site, and former Fidesz politician György Schöpflin. Undoubtedly, the Hungarian Conservative team has decades of relevant experience in areas of public policy, academia and political commentary — and this should serve them well in their pursuits.

That said, it’s perplexing to read their assessment of the state of Hungarian conservatism:

We believe that the political success and intellectual renaissance of Hungarian conservatism over the past ten years affords ample grounds for sharing our thoughts and experiences on these issues with both friends and intellectual adversaries abroad. This journal aspires to be the foremost English-language voice of twenty-first-century Hungarianconservatism (sic), and a forum for rational debate on our future…Our objective is to address the outstanding issues of conservative thought in the realms of politics, society, religion, and culture, both past and present. Conservatism, after all, is by definition not a closed and coherent system. Therefore, one intended mission of the journal is to highlight the values—and value systems—which are at times sorely missed from our lives.

The journal will appear on a bimonthly basis, which should provide the editors and contributors ample opportunity to reflect on what the present regime of Prime Minister Orbán has done to conservatism and conservative thought in Hungary. As the foundation which gave birth to this journal was established by the leader of the now defunct Hungarian Democratic Forum, the demise of the party at the hands of Mr. Orbán’s Fidesz is one avenue to explore. I imagine that its former long suffering leaders, Ibolya Dávid and Károly Herényi, would be much obliged to share their experiences with a new conservative journal. The sad fate of the Heti Válasz weekly newspaper, launched under the first Orbán government of 1998-2002 as a conservative voice, is another piece of Hungarian conservative history. By the time Mr. Orbán returned to power in 2010, Heti Válasz had fallen out of favour to such an extent, that government ministers were mostly barred from offering them interviews. The political magazine’s mortal sin was that the foundation charged with publishing it was independent of Fidesz. While often supportive of the government, it did not shy away from also offering critiques. The magazine was eliminated in 2018, although some of the editorial team strived to keep a digital version of it alive. Nonetheless, it is shadow of its former self. The editors of Hungarian Conservative might speak with Gábor Borokai on his experiences of the Hungarian “conservative renaissance” that they suggest is presently underway. Although hardly examples of twenty-first century conservatism, the Hungarian Smallholders’ Party (FKGP) and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) were also eliminated by the Fidesz.

The path of Hungarian conservatism is strewn with victims of the current regime. The real damage, however, is not the fact that Mr. Orbán resorted to salami tactics to destroy Hungarian right-wing parties and publications, but rather how he denigrated critical conservative thought, reducing it to self-serving, exceedingly cynical and morally bankrupt slogans aimed at nothing more than building on base instincts in Hungarian society and keeping his one-man party in power in perpetuity. I fear that the new journal will avoid these difficult discussions by instead looking outward and focusing on international matters or theory, while ignoring the elephant in the room.


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