BUDAPEST — Most people want to survive. What could be more natural than that? Most peoples want to survive, too. That’s no less natural.
For a thousand years, the lands inhabited by the Hungarian people have been invaded, their settlements sacked, men, women and children enslaved and slaughtered. Mongols, Ottomans, Nazis and Soviets were among those who conquered and ruled the Hungarians. Somehow, they’ve survived.
Hungarians today, a clear majority, believe their national existence — their unique identity, language, culture and traditions — is threatened again. This time, however, it is not by nomads on horseback or soldiers in tanks. It is by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union.
In 2015, Mrs. Merkel decided, on her own initiative, to establish an open-door policy for “migrants” from the broader Middle East and Africa. Since then, she and other EU leaders have been pressuring Hungary to accept its “fair share.”
All members of the EU have a “duty to make legal migration possible to help countries that are in trouble,” she has insisted. Hungary should demonstrate “solidarity” by agreeing to participate in a “fair system of distribution” of those who have arrived — more than a million in 2015, several hundred thousand since — as well as those who will arrive over the years ahead.
Here in Budapest just over a week ago, a conference was convened by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, Hungary’s largest multidisciplinary college. Its title: “Migration: The Biggest Challenge of Our Time?”
A featured speaker was former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who argued that there was no need for a question mark on the sentence above. He accused “European elites” of seeking to replace the continent’s existing nation-states with a single “European nation” and attempting to create a “truly European man, a Homo bruxellarum.” To accomplish that, he said, “They have to dissolve the old existing nations by mixing them with migrants from all over the world.”
He added: “Mass migration necessarily leads to substantial cultural, social and political conflicts, shocks and tensions. It touches upon fundamental aspects of citizenship, community and identity of our countries. The European political leaders pretend not to see it. This is unacceptable.”
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear that he didn’t quite agree but he defended “my friend Viktor Orban,” the controversial Hungarian prime minister, and called for compromise among the nations of a now “greatly divided” Europe.
Mr. Orban took the podium next. He observed that the population of Africa is predicted to rise by a half billion over the next 13 years, and that the gap between the quality of life in Africa and Europe will widen. He urged more economic assistance be given to Africans in their home countries.
He distinguished between asylum seekers — for whom Hungary has an application process in place — and other would-be immigrants, especially “men of military age, unarmed but in military style.”
The mainstream media mostly ignored the conference. The only CNN story I saw was headlined: “US sending diplomats to speak at migration summit — in hardline Hungary.” It criticized the Trump administration for not addressing “concerns over the spreading influence of far-right ultra nationalist parties on the continent.”
CNN is entitled to its opinions — though in days gone by distinguishing opinions from news was a skill its reporters and editors were expected to master.
Here’s my opinion: I think Hungarians have a right to make decisions for themselves, especially about issues likely to have profound and long-lasting economic, political, cultural and demographic impacts.
We all say we value diversity and pluralism. Doesn’t that imply that different peoples are entitled to make different choices? Hungarians make such choices by casting ballots. Last year, Mr. Orban won his third consecutive term in office, with a two-thirds majority in parliament. Oddly, however, democratic outcomes disapproved by the “elites” of whom Mr. Klaus spoke are reflexively disparaged as “populist” (or worse).
Some proponents of open borders and mass migration are undoubtedly motivated by humanitarianism. But the remedy for poverty in the developing south cannot be to resettle all the poor in the developed north.
Opponents of mass migration are often called nationalists, a term meant to be pejorative, and often justified by the assertion that that it was nationalism that caused World War II and the Holocaust.
But Hitler — born in Austria — founded the Third Reich, meant to be understood as a new empire. Its goal was to conquer and rule other nations. So Nazi Germany was not nationalist but imperialist.
Can nationalism lead to hyper-nationalism, chauvinism and supremacism? Sure, just as having a cocktail before dinner can lead to alcoholism. But that’s no justification for the defamation of either.
In “The Virtue of Nationalism,” Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony argues that to be a nationalist simply means believing that the world is “governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference.” Does that sound “far right ultra” to you?
Mr. Orban’s priority, and that of those who have been voting for him, is the preservation of what Mr. Hazony would call a “national collective characterized by bonds of mutual loyalty and unique inherited traditions.” Again, I ask: Is that so radical?
Hungarians, Mr. Orban said, “don’t want to change, we’d like to stay as we are. We have our faults, of course, which we’re happy to go about correcting, but in essence we don’t want to change.”
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.