Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the 5th Budapest Demographic Summit

14 September 2023, Budapest

Good afternoon church and lay dignitaries, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome to the 5th Demographic Summit in Hungary. We thank Mrs. Katalin Novák for hosting us here once more. I see that some of us are returning guests, and some of us are here for the first time.

It has been two years since we last held this conference, and – as they say here in Budapest – since then a lot of water has flowed down the Danube. The world has changed. Here and now we sit in the shadow of a war. But good things have also happened – good and significant things.

For example, the elections in Italy were won by the Italian right and Mrs. Meloni, whom I salute with great respect. Fantastic. Let’s admit it: it happened at the eleventh hour. Here in Budapest we thought that Italy would never again have a government that was patriotic, that loved families and was Christian. Congratulations, Prime Minister! Our two countries have a long history of friendship. Italy, like Hungary, is the home of freedom fighters. These are two countries which still know that there can be no freedom without authority, because that will lead to chaos; and that there can be no authority without freedom, because that will lead to despotism. And people in these two countries also know that the future of Europe lies in the family. As Prime Minister Meloni said, and I quote, “It is important for a child to have a mother and a father.” How true! All we say to the Prime Minister and all we say to our Italian brothers and sisters in Rome is Avanti ragazzi!

I also welcome President Radev – thank you for coming here. We are aware of the turbulent times that Bulgarian political life is experiencing. We greatly appreciate the President’s commitment and we see his important mission, because in Bulgaria today stability is represented by the President himself. This is important for us, because in both the battle against illegal migration and in defending our energy security, we can only succeed together with Bulgaria. Therefore, Mr. President, we wish you and your country every success.

I also welcome House Speaker Gafarova. In recent decades Azerbaijan has made enormous progress – both in terms of its economy and its political influence. Perhaps not everyone knows this, but, together with Azerbaijan, Hungary also participates in the work of the Organization of Turkic States. So from here also we send a message of respect to President Aliyev, and indeed to the First Lady.

I also welcome Mrs. Cvijanović, a Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For those who come from further away, I can say that for us Republika Srpska is an honorary neighbour. Our two countries are separated by seventy kilometres, and what happens there affects us. We also lived together in the same state for a long time, and so we know how important it is for there to be stability in the Balkans. And we Hungarians also know that for the Balkans the Bosnian Serbs are not the problem, but the solution. And there are also those among us here who come from further afield.

So as Prime Minister of this country, it is both a duty and a pleasure to welcome Vice President Mpango from Tanzania, whom we have just been listening to. Vice President, on behalf of the Hungarian government, I respectfully welcome you.

And, of course, I have just heard the fantastic power of the talk given here by another of our guests, Professor Peterson – who simultaneously demolished all resistance and raised our spirits on high. After his appearance here in 2019, I am delighted to welcome him back to Budapest. Welcome to him! I hear that these days he is not being spared by his own people at home – by the Canadians I mean. I wish him much strength in his battles! And perhaps I should also say that we have among us a Nobel Prize-winning professor, Mr. Heckman. Welcome to you also, Professor.

I would also like to welcome the church leaders, represented – alongside the Hungarians – by the Syriac Orthodox Church. A special welcome to Your Holiness. I would like to mention that it was the Hungarians who first proclaimed religious peace in Europe, and we have been maintaining it ever since – for almost 500 years. Therefore Hungary considers it a matter of conscience to take action against the persecution of Christians, wherever in the world it occurs.

Very many of you have come here to us, Ladies and Gentlemen. This shows that this issue, the issue of the family and children, is mobilising people all over the world. As you know, Hungary is the most vocal and steadfast advocate in international politics on the issue of families and demography. This has been the case in recent years, it remains the case, and it will not change. There will be no change. This is the most important thing. Those from the liberal world can attack the Hungarian government all they like for being family-friendly, for being conservative, for being patriotic; all this simply stiffens our resolve. There will be no change. Anyone who thinks they can change us by pushing and pressuring us does not know the Hungarians. I will mention that we have an old story – a joke so old it has white whiskers – in which a wife scolds her husband for never saying that he loves her. The husband gives a typical Hungarian reply, which goes like this: “I told you once fifty years ago that I love you; if there’s a change, I’ll tell you.” The Hungarian government is like that: if there is a change, we will tell you. But this story also tells our guests that life is not easy for Hungarian wives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is important that after two years we are holding a demographic forum again. Europe is still being led by a progressive and liberal elite. What I see is that this elite – instead of dealing with important issues for Europe, such as the demographic future of the continent – is preoccupied with all kinds of hogwash and nonsense. I remember that when I was young the Soviets seriously considered – and even started work on – reversing the direction of flow of certain rivers. They thought that it was possible to override the world’s created order. Two years ago I was reminded of this when I read that the European Parliament had voted that it was possible for men to have children. It is difficult to decide which of these represents the greater rejection of nature. In any case, the Soviets’ plan bit the dust, and I do not foresee a great future for the liberals either. It was the same Soviet nonsense when the communists banned the word “Christmas”, and we had to say “Pine Tree Holiday” instead. This is what I was reminded of when I read about the European Commission’s plan to stop their employees wishing people “Merry Christmas,” because Christmas is not sufficiently LGBTQ-friendly, and is not neutral in terms of worldview.

I recently read an analysis by MCC [Matthias Corvinus Collegium], Hungary’s largest talent development institution and think tank, which analysed Eurobarometer surveys. MCC concluded that the surveys were skewed towards reflecting only the fears of the progressive political elite. The surveys in no way address – especially not with sufficient seriousness – the issues that people are essentially and deeply concerned about. And, in truth, this is the most worrying development to have emerged in the West over the past seventy years. Because in a dictatorship we can still just about imagine that leaders live in a completely different world from the people and have no idea about the real problems of real life; but I had believed it to be unthinkable that such a situation could arise in a Western democracy. After all, what is decisive is the democratic mandate, the will of the electorate; and European citizens are most interested in how they can start families, create secure homes, and bring up their children in peace and security. These are demographic issues. And yet this is not the most important agenda item in European politics today. How can this be? It is because Western political life, discourse, attitudes, ways of thinking, the framework for understanding how the world works, has – to put it plainly – been hacked by liberals. They have done this in two stages: they have hacked it anthropologically, in terms of how one thinks about mankind; and they have hacked it strategically, in terms of how one thinks about the future.

The first stage was for progressive liberals to spread the view that the individual is the most important thing in the world, and that nothing greater than the individual can exist. They see tyranny in tradition, in the family, in the nation, in the homeland; and above all they see tyranny in the belief in God. In general, they see tyranny in everyone and everything that places limits on the desires of the individual. And yet, Ladies and Gentlemen, a guard rail is also something one can hold on to. It also serves to give us a handhold in the midst of life’s difficulties. It is a support that helps us to move upwards, that helps us to become who God created us to be. It is true that living together, living together as a family, involves limitations; but without it there is no freedom. Here in Hungary we know that freedom requires at least two people. Those who are alone are not free, but lonely.

This is an old song, an old difference between liberals and conservatives here in Europe. There is nothing new about it. What is new, and a development in the last decade, is the second stage in which liberals have hacked political discourse in the Western world. This is at a strategic level, through fear of the future. Watch how liberals create fear. Because irrational fear of the future can easily appear wherever the individual has no support other than himself or herself, and wherever there is no measure of things other than the individual’s acquisition of pleasure and profit. And this is the liberals’ aim: to keep a strategic-level fear of the future on the agenda, to magnify it and to exaggerate it. Take a look at how liberals approach the big problems of the world. They expect people to live in a way in which all their actions are subordinated to the imminent end of the world. I am old now, and I lived through twenty-six years of communism. I clearly remember that this is precisely what Karl Marx himself called for: people should subordinate their lives to the final, imperative and inevitable clash between labour and capital; in other words, to live in permanent class struggle.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For us Central Europeans who were hardened by our experience of communism, the thinking of the Western elites is a complete nightmare. Moreover, our memories of communism mean that for us it is déjà vu. And this is a problem! Most of all because the mentality and state of mind of a community – or, in the modern lexicon, its “mindset” – also determines the future. And it is the mindset of Western elites that prevents us from even being able to identify the most important challenge we face: the question of demography. Instead of this, politics is preoccupied with how to enforce carbon quotas in the economy and gender quotas in society. We act out of fear, Europe acts out of fear, and fear renders us defeatist. We say there is no future, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore it is not only prudent to have a demographic summit – it is clearly a duty. It is a duty to the future, a duty to our children, and a duty to our civilisation. Today this is the biggest forum at which we address the most important issues: home, family, and the miracle of having children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have heard me say that Hungary is an incubator of conservative policies. This is the place where conservative policies, workable solutions, the forward-looking initiatives of the future are being developed. We have many projects running in parallel: a work-based economy, a modern form of cooperation between church and state, and a conservative, patriotic policy in education. But in none of these areas are the results as promising as they are in demography. So, like a good laboratory assistant, I will now give you a brief report on how things stand.

Demographic policy in Hungary has set itself five objectives. The first is to make it advantageous to have children. The second is to help people create homes. The third is to base family policy on mothers. The fourth is to make the whole country family-friendly. And finally, to enable the law to protect families.

If I look at the past few years through this lens, I see that since 2010 the per capita income of families with children has doubled, and the per capita income of families with more than one child has tripled. In Hungary, not only does the amount of joy increase together with the number of children, but also people’s annual income.

Since the introduction of the Family Home Creation Allowance, one in five families has gained a new home. This includes those who previously had no home at all, as well as those who have made their existing home suitable for more children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In Hungary the biggest threat to mothers is having to cope with all the difficulties of having children alone. In the past, only half of all children born in Hungary were born to married parents, but now three out of four are. We have introduced a personal income tax exemption for mothers under 30, and mothers who have committed to having four children are exempt from paying personal income tax. We shall extend this to those with three children. I have a vision of the Finance Minister eventually fainting at the prospect of this. We do not usually acknowledge it, but in fact here in Hungary it is women who keep families together. Day in, day out, the performance of Hungarian mothers is fantastic: they go to work, they build careers, they stand their ground amidst competition, they keep everyone’s affairs in mind, and they give the world something it needs most today – and that something is unconditional love. This is the most important lesson of Hungarian family policy. If you want a future for your country, then you have to support mothers.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, we also have achievements in the field of legislation. In Hungary it is enshrined in the Constitution that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis for the survival of the nation.” The Constitution also says that “The mother shall be a woman, the father shall be a man.” It is sad that we live in a world where such things have to be stated in the Constitution. And, Ladies and Gentlemen, there was also a referendum on child protection, in which Hungarians – spanning far across party lines and with the assent of those who do not generally support the Government – collectively said that our children must be protected from gender propaganda.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thanks to the directional change in Hungarian family policy, 154,000 more children have been born than would have been born without that directional change. Just think of it: in Hungarian terms, that is as many children as the population of Hungary’s third most populous city. This is not only a success, it is more than that: it is a joy. We have come a long way, but we must admit that this is far from enough. We have only slowed down the population decline in Hungary, but we have not been able to reverse it. Now is not the time to light bonfires in celebration. We are facing very serious challenges, and it will be very difficult to cover the remaining miles during which we not only slow down population decline, but reverse it. That is represented by the golden ratio of demographic policy and sustainable population: the magic number of 2.1. If we really want to get there, we need to do more, and Hungary must also utilise new instruments. I could also say that Phase One is over, and Phase Two can begin. With the instruments we have used so far, we have already reached all the people we could have reached.

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, here in Hungary we are thinking about and working on how to further develop family policy. We have received a great deal of praise for what we have done so far, but we believe that this is not enough; we believe that we must move on and launch a second phase. This plan will need ever more support. But believe me, even if we had unlimited amounts of money, which we do not, that would not be enough. Because the battle for children is not really fought in the pocket, but in the head; or more precisely in the heart – and still more precisely in the minds of the public. We need to replace the liberal discourse that sees having children as a danger and a pointless sacrifice, and family life as a limit to the fulfilment of individual existence. When I was growing up, and when many children were being born, there was no debate about what a family was. The characters in my favourite cartoon sang “Daddy, mummy, children, full of heart and love.” And this fact wasn’t altered by lines like, “Why didn’t I marry [my earlier boyfriend] Pisti Huffnagel?”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am a politician, so please forgive me if I speak in the logic and language of my profession. I have been in European politics for more than thirty years – almost thirty-five years. What I have learned is that we have no chance of persuading and convincing the current progressive-liberal elites. No chance! They simply have to be pushed aside. The postliberal era we look forward to, which will replace the current progressive-liberal era, will not come automatically. Someone has to make it happen. And who will make it happen, if not us? To do this, we need to transform the political palette. Let us say it openly: a change of course is needed. We need to get family-friendly, conservative forces into government in as many European countries as possible. Moreover, there will be European elections next year, so all the conditions exist for a sweeping battlefield manoeuvre which turns power relations in our favour. And in the meantime we Hungarians must do our homework, we must gather new momentum and put together the Hungarian Family Policy Programme 2.0.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My wish for you is that the pro-family forces win domestic elections, that together next spring we win the elections to the European Parliament, and that collectively we effect this change in the direction of European family policy.

Thank you for your kind attention.