Strong Men in Europe: Tony Abbott Visits Hungary
“I extend a special welcome to Australia’s former prime minister. It is in part due to his tough policy that we regard Australia as a model country. We especially respect it for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency which it has shown on migration and defence of the Australian nation.”
These words of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Tony Abbott at the Third Budapest Demographic Summit uttered on September 5 would have made the former Australian premier gooey and weak at the knees. Abbott, it must be remembered, had been the proud architect of the “turn back the boats” refugee policy, insistent that naval matters dealing with such arrivals be given a military flourish of secrecy. It was not for the Australian public to know how many vessels might actually be making their way to Australia.
Orbán’s welcome pressed all the reactionary points of strongman mythology: inherent toughness, obsessive border security, and the singing praise for appropriate racial stock – the indomitable, pragmatic character that would not bow down to other “ethnic” elements in the populace. (The irony, of course, is that Australia’s ruthless anti-refugee policy has the support of a good many nationalities keen to ensure that yesterday’s immigrants prevent today’s boat arrivals.)
Abbott, for his part, wrote gushingly of the Hungarian leader a few days after his Budapest meeting, seeing him as the prominent personality behind the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) who had valiantly rallied, along with the Brexiteers, against the European Union and its more intrusive expectations. Orbán “has not only transformed the economy but was the first European leader to cry ‘stop’ to the peaceful invasion of 2015 and is now trying to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate.”
The account tallies with the wet-dreamers who find the Magyar crypto-despot admirably pugilistic and capable in prosecuting his goals, especially when it comes to Christianity and cultural identity. Like Abbott, Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, was impressed in a meeting with Orbán, one that had not been anticipated. He spoke of Hungary, and Central Europe, having been victims of colonisation at the hands of Islam and the Middle East. Orbán, it was noted, was won over by Christian leaders in the Middle East warning about their treatment at the hands of Islam’s followers. “What did they say [about Muslim refugees]? Don’t let them in. Stop them.”
The admiration for Orbán is the praise afforded an ambitious and successful authoritarian running under the banner of threatened civilisations, keen to do battle with demons. Along with his ruling party Fidesz, the Hungarian leader has, as Timothy Garton Ash accurately conveys, “so completely penetrated the state administration that Hungary is again a one-party state.” An independent judiciary has been eliminated. Cronyism is encouraged; family members are favoured with government contracts; dissenters and opponents are the target of harassing tax investigations.
Since losing his federal seat in the May elections, Abbott has had little time for the antics of a fractious, scrutinising Parliament, and believes that Britain’s premier political institution is simply disrupting those who wished for Brexit. It was only before a gathering at the UK Policy Exchange where he finally felt he could give a “full throttle, double-barrel roar,” one “turbo-charged by the Parliament’s consistent attempt to sabotage the people’s vote.” (The inner despot in Abbott fails to appreciate that Parliament is the voice of the British people, however muddled it might be. Arguments on civilisation can cut both ways.)
Abbott was also keen to move away from anything approaching environmental calamity and cultural accommodation. Being in Europe, and more specifically in such amenable company, had intoxicated him. This was the frontline against unwanted Muslim immigration and environmental doomsday preaching. “I mean,” he told summit delegates, “you get a million angry military-age males swarming into a single country in a year. There are not there to be grateful, but they are there with a grievance.” Nor was there a population bomb with a fuse waiting to go off, or carbon footprints worthy of concern, or an emissions problem in an increasingly heating world. Instead, his idea of the “extinction rebellion” was demographic rather than climate-related; people, certainly the right people, were not breeding enough.
The demographic problems of various countries, with declining birth rates, had necessitated dramatic action. “Hungary, whose population is predicted to shrink by a quarter over the next half-century, is waiving household debt for larger families and not taxing four-time mothers, among other measures worth careful study.”
Orbán, as with some of his European colleagues, is terrified by a demographic vanishing. “It’s not hard to imagine that there would be one single last man who has to turn the lights out.” At the third demographic summit, he noted “the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy.” Demography, in being destiny, was unavoidable: “human life is finite; and that just as we enter life, so we must leave it.” With certain resignation, he noted the need to have more demographic conferences, in part to return his country to a state of model, diligent procreation. Woodpeckers, he surmised, had to be taught how to peck wood again. Christianity had to “regain its strength in Europe.” Abbott, himself a religious zealot, could only agree: Christian Europe had get back to some fecund, dedicated shagging.