Hungary’s family program should be considered in its own merit

Katalin Novák, Hungarian Minister of State for Family, Youth and International Affairs

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer. (From an idea suggested by NP-UN Board Secretary Roman Kravec).

There has been an ever-increasing trend towards political polarization in the Western world. For many people, taking a position on any given issue often depends upon which ideological corner you wish to paint yourself into – be it “left” or “right”. This is both unfortunate and an antithesis to democracy which is based upon the acceptance of the diversity of opinion. In a democratic state, people may be “left” on some issues and “right” on others. Take, for example, a person who strongly believes in social justice and favours a social democratic agenda when it comes to the economy, including universal Medicare, worker’s rights, regulation of industry etc., but is also pro-life. Liberals and New Democrats demand acceptance of the pro-choice option from all their members. Conservatives, on the other hand, allow their members to take independent stands based upon their own conscience. However, they take a pro-business approach to the economy. So where does a person who may be “left” on economic issues but “right” on social ones fit in?

That is one problem. The other is that the minute a pro-active approach to promoting family values is taken, it is immediately labelled as “right”. Such is the case with Hungary’s now eight-year-old policy of promoting families through tax benefits. According to Katalin Novàk, Hungarian Minister of State for the Family, Youth and International Affairs: “Hungary now has a family-friendly tax system. We have enacted a housing program that has already helped 400,000 Hungarians (in a country of 10 million) to acquire a larger and more comfortable home. The Hungarian Parliament recently approved the seven-point Family Protection Action Plan that includes, amongst others, a life-long exemption from personal income tax for women raising four or more children, and a general purpose, interest-free loan of more than $33,000 USD for married couples where the woman is under 40,” she stated in a recent interview with LifeSiteNews.

“We have placed great emphasis on helping Hungarian women with children through the development of the nursery school system and by introducing measures that secure their right to go back to work,” she added.

Hungary adopted such a policy because the country was witnessing a dramatic decline in population since 1981. Rather than resort to bolstering the population though immigration, the government opted to provide its own citizens with the incentives to produce larger families. This is a progressive, not a regressive action.

To be fair, the current Hungarian government of Viktor Orban is right-wing and quite far-right-wing at that. There are a number of issues on which criticism is fully justified.

One is the government’s disregard for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, refusing to accept them and going so far as to build a wall to prevent them from crossing over from Serbia. Providing refuge for people escaping war and terror is a humanitarian move. For a government that espouses “Christian values”, denying people refuge in time of need is frankly hypocritical.

Then there is Orban’s much-too-cozy relationship with Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. Internationally, Orban has strongly criticized EU sanctions against Russia, but stopped short of vetoing them in Brussels.

“To be considered a good European, you have to disparage Putin like he is the devil,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the Italian La Republica in January 2018.

According to Orban, the EU officials depict Vladimir Putin “with hooves and horns,” and ignore the fact that he “rules a great and ancient empire.”

“In the past, we Hungarians have suffered a lot under Russia,” he told the paper. “Nevertheless, it needs to be recognized that Putin has made his country great again and that Russia is once again a player on the world stage.”

He has joined Russia in denouncing Ukraine’s new language law, initiated by former President Petro Poroshenko. According to this law, members of the Hungarian minority in TransCarpathia have the right to teach their children in Hungarian during the first four grades of school. By grade five, they have the right to teach two or more subjects. This is extremely generous, especially considering Hungary’s history of oppression against the Ukrainian minority when it occupied TransCarpathia. Orban’s opposition to this is, once again, hypocritical.

Then there is the pressure exerted on NGO’s especially that of philanthropist George Soros, who has donated millions towards the reconstruction of post-Communist societies.

But while the Orban government deserves condemnation on a number of fronts, even bad governments can produce good initiatives at times. And this is one example where that adage holds true. What’s more, denouncing a policy as right-wing simply because it seeks to promote “Christian values” is as hypocritical as many of Orban’s positions. Jesus Christ, after all, championed the rights of the downtrodden.

The Hungarian family promotion program is pro-active and progressive – not reactive and regressive. It provides benefits to families and helps their economic well-being. As such, it may serve as an example for other countries with declining populations – Ukraine, for instance.

But, most of all, it demonstrates that, in a properly functioning democracy, ideas and initiatives have to be considered on their own merit and not by some arbitrary ideological classification as “left” or “right”.