Addison Graham: Latter-day Saints should not admire Hungary’s ‘family values’

Hungarian President Katalin Novák visited BYU’s Provo campus on Tuesday.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Hungarian President Katalin Novák meets with the First Presidency, minus church President Russell M. Nelson, and other Latter-day Saint leaders at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.

Hungary wants everyone to know that it supports Christian values and large families. Naturally, this message resonates with many Latter-day Saints. However, a closer look at Hungary and its ruling Fidesz party reveals a brand of governance that none of my fellow Latter-day Saints should promote or admire.

In efforts to strengthen alliances with American conservatives–especially conservative religious institutions–Hungarian officials tout pro-family policies while obscuring an important fact: Hungary is not the last bastion of conservatism in Europe as it would have the American right believe; rather, it is a borderline-dictatorship ruled by a Prime Minister who increasingly controls Hungarian media, derides racial mixing, and defends Vladamir Putin.

BYU, an institution I love, is not wise to indulge Hungary’s political pandering.

Hungarian President Katalin Novák visited the Provo campus on Tuesday to speak to students and meet with administration before visiting Governor Cox at the state capitol to discuss “Utah-Hungary relations and joint priorities,” according to the governor’s office. Though Hungary’s presidency is more of a ceremonial position, Novák’s visit still underscores the extent to which Hungary wants to strengthen its ties to American religious conservatives.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who holds the majority of power in Hungary and amasses more by the day, has made inroads in courting American conservatives. While speaking in Dallas at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference, Orbán proclaimed his nation “the Lone Star State of Europe.” Unapologetic about his nationalistic views, Orbán said, “The globalists can all go to hell. I have come to Texas.”

As evidence of his successful courtship of American conservatives, Orbán did not need to travel to Texas the following year. Instead, CPAC went to Hungary.

Orbán gained power in 2010 when his Fidesz party won a super-majority in parliament. Since then, the prime minister has almost single-handedly written a new constitution, appointed staunch loyalists to the court, and poured government resources into buying up media conglomerates to control messaging and shape public opinion.

Hungary did not open its borders to immigrants during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, and Orbán is not shy about indicating the reason behind such a decision. “We are not a mixed race … and we do not want to become a mixed race,” Orban said days before his speech at CPAC 2022.

Hungary’s ambassador to the U.S., Szabolcs Takács–who accompanied Novák to BYU on Tuesday–echoed Orbán’s message by stating last May that the problem with people migrating from the “southern hemisphere” is that “they dissolve the fiber of traditional European identity and way of life.”

Furthermore, nothing seems to persuade Orbán to cut ties with the Kremlin – not even Putin’s war on Ukraine. Orbán, who once cited Putin’s Russia as a model of good governance, has called Ukraine a “no-man’s land” and over the summer played down the notion that Putin’s power was weakened by the Wagner rebellion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky challenged Orbán to pick a side in the war. “It’s time to decide already,” Zelensky said. But Orbán refused and later mentioned “the Ukrainian president” while listing the political opponents he had to overcome to win his reelection bid last year.

Orbán wants Donald Trump back in the White House. The problem is when “liberals are in power in Washington,” Orbán said. Echoing Trump, Orbán also said that in regard to Ukraine, “The hope for peace is Donald Trump.” Trump says he could end the war in 24 hours but has not said how. Neither will he say that he prefers a Ukrainian victory.

When I asked President Novák about Orban’s endorsement of Trump during a student question-and-answer session at BYU, she said, “I don’t really want to comment on the prime minister’s statements. I don’t think it is a place and a time to do so.”

But as Novák holds up pro-family policies in seeking allies at BYU and elsewhere, when will she have to answer for the increasingly authoritarian government she represents?

In striving to find common ground with American religious conservatives, including Latter-day Saints, Hungarian leaders have conveniently overlooked that their approach to refugees, race relations, and to basic freedoms is antithetical to statements made by the church.

The delegation that came to BYU this week was looking for cultural allies. Rather than accepting their professions at face value, we — as Latter-day Saints and a BYU community — need to distance ourselves from the CPAC crowd that is applauding a right-wing dictatorship advancing under the banner of family values.

Addison Graham, op-ed

Addison Graham is a senior at Brigham Young University.