Evidence of widespread interactions between Heritage Foundation officials and Viktor Orbán’s regime show a deep relationship that would bring Hungary’s “illiberal democracy” to the U.S.

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In a January interview with the New York Times, Heritage Foundation President Kevin D. Roberts stated that he views Heritage’s role to be “Institutionalizing Trumpism” through Project 2025, a plan spearheaded by Heritage and supported by more than 80 far-right outfits, many of which push Christian Nationalism, the restriction of women’s healthcare rights, and the dehumanization of the LGBTQ+ community (Read the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism’s full analysis of Project 2025 here). 

But instead of Trumpism, Roberts actually seems to be modeling his vision of America on Orbánism, named for Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, a country that the European Union views as an “electoral autocracy,” not a democracy, that has stripped rights from LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and women and that has deep ties to Russia. Orbán also celebrates Christian nationalism, calling himself a “defender of Christianity,” and advocating that Christian nationalists in the US and Europe “unite forces.”

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts (right) meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) in Budapest in November 2022

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts (right) meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) in Budapest in November 2022

Heritage’s Orbán connections run very deep. Here’s the evidence:

  • In January, Roberts praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in an interview with the New York Times, describing him as a “very impressive leader” whose efforts to “cause a conservative Christian political turn” in Hungary “should be celebrated.” 
  • In December 2023, Heritage spearheaded a two-day private conference that brought together elected members of the Republican Party, officials from the Hungarian embassy, the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, a think tank connected to the state, and pro-Orbán organization Centre for Fundamental Rights, in order to attempt to convince the Americans to vote against further military aid to Ukraine. (Hungary ultimately voted for an EU Ukraine aid package in January 2024).
  • In May 2023, Roberts spoke at CPAC Hungary’s conference in Budapest with two other Heritage colleagues, which was hosted by an arm of the Hungarian government. At the same event, Orbán decried LGBTQ+ rights and migration.
  • In September 2023, three more Heritage colleagues attended the Third Danube Geopolitical Summit 2023, organized by the Danube Institute, a think tank that is funded by Hungary’s government and has close ties to Orbán’s government. (see GPAHE’s reporting on the Danube Institute here). The conference flier described the event as a joint effort between Heritage and Danube.
  • In March 2023, a formal agreement was signed between the Danube Institute and Heritage that would allow for four researchers from Heritage to visit Budapest and work with the Institute as visiting researchers, and further allow for the organization of joint events. Announcing the partnership, ex-Danube Institute fellow Lili Naómi Zemplényi wrote, referring to Danube Institute associate, István Kiss, ““István Kiss reminded that American conservatives are happy to learn from good Hungarian practices and suggested that some of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s policies, like banning the promotion of gender ideology in schools and educational institutions, were inspired by Hungary’s child protection legislation. In other words, the Heritage Foundation has now become interested in the Danube Institute not only for the geopolitical research that the Institute produces, but also due to the Institute’s embeddedness in and knowledge of Hungary.””
  • In September 2022, Roberts was present at the Edmund Burke Foundation’s NatCon III and was a keynote speaker at the May NatCon London 2023 conference, both organized by another Danube Institute fellow, Ofir Haivry. NatCon conferences often feature Hungarian acolytes of Orbán. It was during the London conference that Roberts repeatedly made references to the evils of “globalists,” a sometimes antisemitic trope frequently used by Orbán and the American far right to define their enemies. At that event, British far-right speaker Douglas Murray was accused of downplaying the significance of the Holocaust. 
  • In May 2022, the Heritage Foundation was an official sponsor of the Political Network for Values (PNfV) Transatlantic Summit in Budapest, also funded by the Hungarian government, that featured a whole host of anti-LGBTQ+ speakers from groups including C-Fam, the European Center for Law and Justice, the Family Research Council, ADF International, and CitizenGo (see GPAHE’s profiles of the ADF and Family Research Council here). 

It seems clear that Heritage, once an institution that promoted Reaganite conservatism, is very keen on Orbánism and sees it as a model for the United States. This can be seen in the aims of Project 2025 and in Heritage’s tight ties with the Hungarian regime. And in Roberts’ own words about Hungary at the 2023 CPAC: “[G]lobal forces are intent on imposing on you a woke ideology that would lay to waste what you’ve so bravely fought to maintain for the past 1300 years: your culture and your civilization. They are the spearhead of a new global order trying to replace the nation-state with international governance. All regimes have a world view and woke is the ideology of the global regime. But you are standing in the way…I’m here to tell you and [Prime Minister] Orbán, ‘Thank you.’” Roberts’ bio from the conference in Hungarian reads “the president of the Heritage Foundation, who sees Hungary as an example.” 

It defies belief that Roberts is unaware of Orbán’s policies and what is happening in Hungary, given these ties. And yet, in that January New York Times interview, when asked about Orbán bragging about turning Hungary into an “illiberal democracy” and the backsliding of democracy in Hungary, as well as his anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant policies, and his wish to prevent Europe from becoming “mixed race,” Roberts claimed “I’ve not seen that.” The evidence of his very close ties with Hungarian power brokers suggests that he surely has, and that his plans, clearly described in Project 2025, are to bring those elements of Hungary’s regime to the US.

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