“Dictator,” “populist,” “reactionary” — Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister, has to put up with a lot of vilification in the media and from politicians.
Groundbreaking successes of his family-oriented governance and his appropriate response to population decline are hushed up. Orbán is keen to provide all available support for young people who have children and want to start families. And he is successfully doing so, compared to other governments in the West: the Hungarian government provides the most resources for families, almost 5% of GDP.
iFamNews (IFN) had the opportunity to talk with the Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, about the actual situation in Hungary – and how Orbán has been able to achieve such great successes with his pro-family policies.
IFN: Before the election of Orbán, Hungary was on the verge of collapse. Did his pro-family policies have a positive effect?
Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen: First of all – the demographic crisis is not only affecting Hungary. Pope Francis once put it succinctly before us, the EU ambassadors: “Gli Europei non fanno piu figli” (“Europeans are not making children anymore”). Hungary has only been active in this area for a few years, because a country without strong families simply does not work. And the results are absolutely visible. Between 2010 and 2018, the abortion rate fell by 33.5 percent, marriages increased by 43 percent and divorces also fell significantly – by 22.5 percent between 2010 and 2017. But that was BEFORE the new family initiative of the last two years. In 2019, marriages were 84% higher than in 2010 due to the new measures. And in 2020 fertility, the number of children per woman, is 20% higher than in 2010. Yes, you can change things.
IFN: Hungary is being ridiculed as old-fashioned in the media and by politicianss. What can the nations of Europe and the world learn from Hungary’s example?
As expected, the international reactions were somewhat mixed. A minister in Sweden was reminded of the Third Reich, presumably from the mistaken assumption that modern achievements were being turned back and women forced into the kitchen and into having children. This is nonsense – in Hungary, women only have the choice of whether they prefer to achieve their goals at home or at work. Families are supported in both cases, including families with many children. But this is not the case in other countries.
Other countries have shown great interest in our ideas and are considering taking action. Minister Katalin Novák travels a lot and talks about family policy. Demography is everybody’s concern.
IFN: Which element of family policy has so far proved to be particularly successful?
If a State wishes to encourage families to embark on the adventure of (large) families, it must first take money in hand. A mixture of tax relief and direct financial support is very important. A few examples: from the third child onwards, you pay practically no income tax, a woman with four children never pays tax again. There are loans for young married couples that you do not have to pay back from the third child onwards. There are also loans for house building, financial support for larger family vans. Grandparents receive support for childcare.
But it is also important that it is socially accepted to have many children. The family is particularly emphasized in the Constitution. And everything is always easier when public figures present themselves as family people. Prime Minister Orbán is clearly and visibly a family man, our Family Minister and many others show themselves to be family people. This sets an example and helps to encourage people.
IFN: Have there been positive reactions from the Vatican so far regarding the example of Hungary?
We are in discussion with the Vatican’s family authorities and provide information about what we are doing. Last year I visited with my Minister for Family Affairs both Cardinal Farrell, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Monsignor Paglia Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Institute John Paul II for Studies on Marriage and Family and President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. I think the Vatican knows exactly how committed Hungary is to family.
IFN: Thank you very much for your time, Excellency.
Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen has been Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta since 2015. He lives in Rome with his wife and six children.