Victor Gaetan is a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Register, focusing on international issues. He also writes for Foreign Affairs magazine, The American Spectator and the Washington Examiner. He contributed to Catholic News Service for several years. The Catholic Press Association of North America has given his articles four first place awards, including Individual Excellence, over the last five years. Gaetan received a license (B.A.) in Ottoman and Byzantine Studies from Sorbonne University in Paris, an M.A. from the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, and a Ph.D. in Ideology in Literature from Tufts University.
Where on earth does an unborn child have explicit constitutional protection from the moment of conception?
Where do women have three years of maternity leave and grandparents will soon qualify for subsidized parental leave too?
And where are mothers with four or more children exempt from income tax for life?
Hungary has pursued an aggressive pro-family policy since 2010, enough years to show positive results.
Between 2010-2018, the abortion rate dropped 33.5 percent, marriage increased 43 percent, and divorce decreased significantly too—by 22.5 percent between 2010 and 2017.
Before mass migration into Europe became a contentious issue, Hungary decided to confront its anemic birthrate with a multi-faceted plan to promote marriage, childbirth, and big, homegrown families.
Christianity Since A.D. 1000
Minister of State for Family Katalin Novak, 41, was recently in Washington, DC, eager to share more about her government’s strategy, which of course requires putting money where its mouth is: Budget resources for families increased from 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 to almost 5 percent this year.
She confirmed that the program is a reflection of the nation’s Christian roots.
Hungary adopted Christianity under Saint Stephen, who reigned from A.D. 997 to 1038. Today, according to Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Hungarians are Catholic and 22 percent are Protestant, with a sizable group calling themselves unaffiliated.
“For us, family is the basic unit of society. Traditional families represent a value we intend to defend not only in Hungary but internationally as well,” the mother of three told the Register.
Hungary also allows churches to run public schools: as long as they teach a certain core curriculum, they can add religious instruction and education on ethics.
The Washington Post took issue with Minister Novak’s visit — and specifically, the push to increase the birth rate — quoting a former Obama appointee saying Hungary’s plan is “at odds with accepted best practices.”
Article II of Hungary’s constitution states, “Human dignity shall be inviolable. Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; the life of the fetus shall be protected from the moment of conception.” This language was added in constitutional reforms adopted in 2011.
“Even one abortion is too many, but we have made great progress bringing the numbers down,” she said. In 2018, there were slightly fewer than 27,000 abortions nationwide.
While abortion is allowed in a “grave crisis situation” until the 12th week (and in very limited cases beyond the first trimester), approval is required from a medical committee, two medical consultations are required with a mandatory waiting period, and a certificate from a midwife must be obtained.
Novak thinks two factors have been crucial in reducing the abortion rate: Education and mandatory counseling together with tax benefits and family support programs available even to the unborn.
“By making families eligible for benefits at the second trimester, we put family values into practice even for the unborn,” observed the minister.
The nation offers a creative array of family incentives, including a $35,000 subsidy to young married couples; state supported loans for housing; mortgage reductions for families with children; car purchase support; and mandatory nursery school from age 3.
The EU versus Hungary
Hungary has run several public education campaigns to promote traditional families as well as adoption.
In 2011, huge billboards depicting babies in the womb declared: “I understand if you’re not ready for me yet, but give me up for adoption instead – PLEASE LET ME LIVE!” in metropolitan Budapest, where almost one-third of all Hungarians live.
Bureaucrats from the European Union (EU) complained that the Hungarian government inappropriately used EU funds for the pro-life campaign.
That was early in the EU’s campaign of harassment against Hungary for daring to have a national vision that is explicitly, even audaciously, independent. The Hungarian government has pushed back against numerous policies favored by globalists including open borders, same-sex marriage, gender ideology and legalization of drugs.
When Hungary stood up against mass migration, and said, economically and culturally, the country could not manage to assimilate a new population, the EU began a process designed to punish Hungary.
This year, U.S. taxpayer-funded Freedom House has issued a report calling Hungary “partly unfree,” based on vague accusations about stifling NGOs; Hungary’s main offense was rejecting pro-migration, anti-family organizations financed by billionaire George Soros.
What many refuse to recognize is this: Hungary suffered an atheist, dictatorial regime for over 40 years and it is returning to its Christian heritage in order to restore human dignity.
As Minister Novak put it, “In the Communist period, the regime tried to destroy family values and that is something we have to rebuild.”
This history is what explains the 2011 Hungarian Constitution preamble:
We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian State on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago…
We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country…
We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence, and that our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith and love.
In post-Christian Europe, Hungary as governed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took this office in 2010, is seen as a destabilizing force. Orbanism might be contagious, the new commissars fear. And indeed it is.
Signs of popular rejection of “ideological colonization” (as Pope Francis calls it) by Brussels include a more assertive Visegrad Four (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia), populist electoral success in Italy, and the “yellow vest” protests in France.
Thirty years out from the Communist yoke that came from the East, Christian Hungary is today in a battle with the West: Orban called Brussels the “stronghold of the new internationalism” as he announced the pro-family program last month.