Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson visited Hungary. He was taken on various tours, broadcast several episodes of his nightly program from Budapest, spoke at a conference, and interviewed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The following open letter to Carlson was written by Balázs Gulyás, a reporter for Magyar Hang (“Hungarian Voice”), which published it on August 24. The letter is presented here in English for the first time.
Dear Mr. Carlson –
You spent the last week in my country as a journalist and news anchor for the American Fox News network, broadcasting from Hungary, interviewing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and speaking at a festival sponsored by a foundation closely affiliated with the government, held in the city of Esztergom, the center of Roman Catholicism in Hungary.
I’m very flattered that your interests brought you to Hungary and that you learned a little bit about Hungarian culture. But let me get straight to the point: You’ve been had. I fear you’ve fallen victim to wishful thinking—when the desire to believe our assumptions are true becomes so great that we disregard evidence to the contrary. Of course, it might also be the case that you looked at only one side of the coin, since you were kept in a bubble in Hungary and met only people close to the government, all of whom share the same point of view. Still, don’t be too hard on yourself. It doesn’t only happen to foreigners. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have been mesmerized by Viktor Orbán’s siren song of family, history, tradition, and language—slogans you yourself mentioned in one of your shows. To be perfectly honest, for a while I myself believed Orbán would bring a new tone, fresh ideas, and build the kind of cultured and prosperous Hungary I longed for after suffering through horrible socialist-liberal governments from 2002 to 2010. I had to confront the fact that I was profoundly mistaken.
Family, history, tradition, language—these values are extremely important to millions of Hungarians, but they are merely smoke and mirrors to our prime minister. For Orbán, they are “political consumer products”—as one of his advisers accidentally blurted out a few years ago. Orbán uses these values to cloak the true nature of his regime: the theft of public wealth, which has taken on astonishing proportions in recent years, and the preservation of power needed to keep on stealing.
Dear Mr. Carlson! As a conservative Hungarian I agree with much of what you said in Esztergom, especially the parts where you philosophized. What you said about parenting, architecture, humor, the colonization of language, and the beauty of nature resonates deeply with me.
But when it comes to Orbán, you desperately want to believe that somewhere on this planet there exists a Christian conservative Disneyland. And since you want this so badly, you’ve turned a blind eye to evidence of the contrary. Maybe that Christian conservative Disneyland exists somewhere on this globe, but it can’t currently be found in Hungary. In fact, more and more people are recognizing this. Today the majority of conservative Hungarian intellectuals have left the ranks of Orbán’s party. Honestly, being conservative in Hungary today is not an uplifting experience. To witness day after day how the values and symbols that are important to you are used by a money-grubbing, power-grabbing autocrat to oppress his own nation does not put a person in a good mood. Indeed, the very Hungarians who profess conservative values are often the explicit targets of repression.
The weekly paper where I work was founded by center-right journalists. My colleagues were forced to leave the daily paper Magyar Nemzet because after the 2018 election the authorities rendered the paper, founded in 1938, unviable. Our crime was to remain independent of political influence and to criticize the government. After this we founded a weekly called Magyar Hang. Over the last three years it has grown into the second-most widely read Hungarian weekly. Yet because of their fear of the government, no Hungarian publishing house is willing to print our paper. We have to print it every week in Bratislava, Slovakia. The government obstructs our work wherever it can. In Hungary, where Orbán is supposedly “committed to freedom of the press,” our reporters are not permitted to attend the government’s weekly press conferences about which we’d like to inform our readers.
I don’t want to dwell on my own complaints, but let me mention a thing that happened to me last year. Our prime minister’s best friend and political ally is the oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros. He was an appliance repairman in a little village before Orbán came to power in 2010. Now he’s a billionaire. In 2020, I wrote an article for our paper with photos of two military tanks parked by one of the lakes at Mészáros’s country mansion. Instead of the Hungarian authorities investigating why Mészáros had military vehicles parked by his lake, I and another journalist were brought in for questioning by the police. They wanted to know why we had published this information in our article. And that incident is only the midge on the beak of the penguin on the tip of the iceberg. The handful of independent critical journalists and activists left in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary are regularly subjected to abuse. So much for the claim that those who criticize the government in Hungary are free to express their opinions without fear of retaliation, something you asserted in your speech in Hungary and when introducing your interview with Viktor Orbán.
Finally, without claiming to be comprehensive, allow me to correct a few statements you made or reported during your visit in Hungary. Early in your speech in Esztergom you said that when Anne Applebaum, an expert on Central Europe, criticized Orbán’s Hungary, you felt as if she were describing the United States. Imagine this: When you criticized the American system, I felt as if you were describing my own country. Hearing the start of your speech, I felt I had fallen into a quantum anomaly or stumbled across a snake swallowing its own tail.
While visiting my country, you gave an interview to only a single news outlet, a weekly paper that belongs to a pro-government conglomerate. This conglomerate has about five hundred TV, radio, newspaper, and internet outlets, none of which presents a view that departs from the Orbán line. This conglomerate came into existence a few years ago when these media outlets were “voluntarily” offered up by their previous owners free of charge. Although the pro-government media holdings are much larger than this—among other things they include the public media—I tend to believe an entity with five hundred media outlets would be considered large even in the United States, not to mention in a country like Hungary that has only 10 million people. To protect its media holdings from examination by the Hungarian Competitive Authority, the government classified the merger as a matter of “exceptional importance to Hungary’s national economy.” Hence the impact of the conglomerate on the Hungarian market was never examined. All these media outlets, regardless of the size of their readership, are financed by government advertisements. In other words, these media outlets are financed by Hungarian taxpayers.
In the interview you gave to one of these government-sponsored media outlets, you claimed that Orbán was “a leader of Hungarian resistance to the Soviets” in the 1980s. You also mentioned this in your interview with the prime minister. Although it’s true that Viktor Orbán was a leader of the liberal party Fidesz in the late 1980s, which at the time opposed the Communist regime (back then he and his party were financed by a certain George Soros), prior to that Orbán had been a member of the Communist Youth Association and a leader of one of its rural departments.
Also, a minor detail: In the speech you delivered—sponsored by a government-friendly institution, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, that has, by the way, received billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer money—you ripped into former President Barack Obama for living in “a $30 million estate” (actually $12 million) “on an island off the coast of Massachusetts” despite never having worked in the private sector. It’s not my place to evaluate Mr. Obama, of course, but your remarks made me think of Hungary and our own prime minister, who has been a politician all his life and is just finishing up his own mansion, one built on the ruins of a former ducal estate and estimated to be worth at least $20 million.
On your show you said that Orbán is a “Western-style conservative.” That might have been true fifteen years ago, when he gave speeches that were truly Atlanticist and frequently criticized Russia and totalitarian regimes. Since he’s been in government, however, Orbán has moved away from Europe, the West, and the United States. Now he’s making economic gestures toward, and cozying up with, Eastern dictators. It’s worth thinking about the fact that during the Trump administration, according to some reports, NATO allies refused to share sensitive information with their Hungarian counterparts on account of Orbán’s commitments to Russia and China. Also during the Trump presidency, two Russian arms dealers were arrested in Hungary at the request of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Eventually they were extradited to Russia despite U.S. protests. Hungary is having a nuclear power plant built, not by the country’s Western allies, but by the Russian state-owned company Rosatom. On top of that, Orbán has indebted Hungary to China through completely unnecessary investments (with the participation of his oligarchs). Soon the Chinese Communist Party will be opening up an enormous university in my country. Meanwhile, the Russians have established a bank headquarters in Hungary’s capital, a bank which was used in the past for espionage.
A clear sign of our prime minister’s Eastern commitments is that the prime minister’s office deleted the critical comments you made about Chinese President Xi Jinping when posting your interview with Orbán on its webpage. The government-friendly institution transmitting your speech also censored a sentence about mask mandates that was embarrassing for the Hungarian government.
But such are your hosts.
Dear Mr. Carlson! You’ve been misled by your hosts. Viktor Orbán is not building a conservative Disneyland in Hungary, but a Russian and Chinese beachhead while personally enriching himself. For him conservative values are an alibi. The next time you have the good fortune to come to Hungary, look me up, and I will offer you the red pill of Morpheus’s Hungarian Matrix, and “show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” The choice is yours.