Hungary is governed according to the kind of conservatism that has vanished from British politics

Journalist Alessandra Nucci has written an inspiring article about Hungary in this Catholic World Report feature. It seems that Hungary, one of the newer members of the European Union, is determined not to be browbeaten by Brussels into giving up its own cherished principles, enshrined in its Fundamental Law which replaced the Communist-dictated Constitution of 1947 in 2011.

Nucci notes that “The new Fundamental Law is everything a central bureaucracy devoted to secularising the culture abhors.” Among other things, the Hungarians have framed a law that recognises Christianity “as the basic religion of the Hungarian people” while allowing for freedom of religion; that seeks to protect life “from the moment of conception”, although abortion in certain circumstances is permitted; that believes in the family “based on marriage between a man and a woman”, although it allows for civil partnerships; and which states that the Members of Parliament who approve the Constitution are responsible before God.

I find this deeply moving for all sorts of reasons, not least because I am old enough to remember the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and hundreds of refugees fled to England. I also remember hearing as a child about the widely publicised torture – “brain-washing” was the word used – of Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary, by the Communists when they seized power in Hungary after the War. This brave people lived behind the Iron Curtain for 40-odd years and clearly loathed the experience. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and their emergence as an independent, proud and ancient nation, what did they do? They looked to their Christian roots and framed their Constitution accordingly.

Nucci makes the point that Hungary had experienced the “intrusive central planning of Moscow”; thus the country was alert to recognising “similar methods by the central planners in Brussels.” Having thrown off the deadly embrace of the Russian bear, the country does not want to be trapped in the tentacles of the European octopus.

The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, stirs the heart when he is reported to have told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview, “We have to be aware that life in the EU political arena won’t be easy for us. On some basic principles we think very differently…The mainstream of European political thinking today is motivated by the notion of progress. They believe there is a target for development. We believe we are living as human beings created by God. We don’t think there is some target for European history.”

Orban reflected, “Mainstream European political thinking is that we should abandon our roots. Roots are considered the enemy of freedom. But without roots we are lost. It’s a question of individual liberty, Christian values, of nation and religious life. The mainstream says our approach is not a modern, European one … But the values and traditions we are defending are European ones. We are ready to discuss these points, but not in a way where the mainstream defines what is modern or European.”

Orban could almost be an old-fashioned English Conservative with his talk of “God”, “roots” “traditions” and “values” and his suspicion of the word “progress” as the all-embracing raison d’etre of politics. That kind of Conservatism has vanished in this country; can you imagine Cameron and the Coalition even remotely thinking of themselves as “responsible before God” for their political decisions? But I am glad to see that it has been resurrected in Hungary. Hungary showed its bravery in the face of the Russian tanks in 1956. That same bravery now has to face up to the European Union – to which the late John Paul II appealed in vain when he asked it to remember its Christian roots when framing its own Constitution. Nucci notes that the Lisbon Treaty reluctantly includes a mere half-sentence that refers to “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.”

Isn’t it odd to think that we, who have enjoyed living in the free West when all of Eastern Europe was in thrall to an inhuman ideology (whatever the late Marxist Professor, Ralph Miliband, with his rose-tinted NHS glasses, might have thought) have given up on God while a former Soviet satellite that suffered mightily both during in the war and after it, has re-discovered Him? Perhaps the moral is that you have to endure great spiritual and material privation before you discover the roots of true and lasting freedom – something very different from the restless pursuit of secular “progress” and “modernity”.