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26 July 2022

The threat of Viktor Orbán’s anti-mixed race speech

The Hungarian prime minister describes the world European and American conservatives are trying to create.

By Emily Tamkin

On Saturday 23 July the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán gave a speech in Romania. “We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race,” he claimed, “and we do not want to become a mixed race.” Countries in which Europeans and non-Europeans live together are no longer nations, he said (adding, among other things, that the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist and Orbán’s favourite bogeyman George Soros’s “troops” were forcing migrants onto them).

This made headlines, not least in the United States, where Orbán is expected to speak next month at the annual convening of the Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac), in Texas.

Why did the speech get so much attention? It was not the first time Orbán had made such a remark. On the contrary, Orbán has been speaking about the importance of preserving racial purity for years, of the need to preserve “ethnic homogeneity”, and of the “real threat” of a “mixed-population Europe”.

Perhaps it was because Orbán is to headline Cpac in the US, and because it is here, in the US, where civil rights protected under settled law are newly under threat, making this comment at this time a kind of perfect match of content and context. The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Clinic last month overturned Roe vs Wade, the 1973 case that protected the right to an abortion, but many expect the assault on rights to go beyond abortion, and for the right-wing majority court to make other rulings that will unsettle other “settled law”.

In the US, the right to marry outside your own race was only guaranteed by the Supreme Court in Loving vs Virginia in 1967. In March this year Mike Braun, a Republican senator from Indiana, said that the decision had been a mistake and that the issue of interracial marriage should have been left to the states, although he then walked back his comment.

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[See also: Hungary and the US right deepen their illiberal mutual admiration]

In his concurring decision in the Dobbs case Justice Clarence Thomas mentioned other Supreme Court cases protecting the right to gay marriage and access to contraception, suggesting that they, too, could be overturned. Loving was conspicuously absent (there may be some who would here have me point to the fact that Thomas, who is black, is married to Virginia Thomas, who is white; this is true, though the extent to which Thomas’s own experience informs his decisions is beyond the purview of this piece). That is not to say that Loving is safe forever; no civil right is anywhere, and certainly not in the United States today. But the threat of the right-wing attendees of Cpac being so taken with Orbán’s comments that they push en masse to outlaw interracial marriage seems, at least for now, remote.

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To my mind, Orbán’s comments are not scary because they speak of a distant world that may be, but because they articulate the world that the Hungarian prime minister and his fellow travellers in the United States are already actively working to bring about. It is not literal interracial marriages that are under threat, but the respectful, dignified melding of cultures, and of the people who comprise those cultures.

This is not only true in Hungary, which Orbán and his admirers claim as a bastion of sovereign (and white) Christian Europe. It is true in America. The language of preserving the purity of white America, of protecting it from other, non-white people, permeates policy. After Roe was overturned the congresswoman Mary Miller thanked Donald Trump for delivering “a victory for white life”. She later claimed she had misspoken, but the fight to ban abortion has long been linked to anxiety about declining white birth rates. It’s not just abortion policy: there are some who have made the case that the National Rifle Association pivoted from focusing on responsible gun ownership to fighting gun control after civil rights were expanded in America; to own a gun was to fight government overreach as manifested in desegregation, and to defend the sanctity of the white American family. This fear, of course, also informs American immigration policy. The whole logic behind the Great Replacement Theory, as it is pushed by right-wing politicians and pundits alike, is that people from elsewhere will come and corrode and push out white society, and that white society is what America should be.

Orbán’s speech isn’t about the threat to any one law, or case, or policy. That his vision is wholeheartedly embraced by the American right isn’t about that either. It’s a threat to many. Or, rather, it’s not only a threat to policy, but to all those, everywhere, who do not wish to live in a society where full membership is dependent on race, or religion, or sexuality. Orbán didn’t speak into being a new project, he articulated one that’s already unfolding.

[See also: What a Giorgia Meloni government would mean for Italy]

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