Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban just unveiled a seven-point plan to help the formation of marriages and families. What could be closer to Catholic Social Teaching than the formation of marriage, family and the raising of children, and on human solidarity?
The Orban government’s “Family Protection Action Plan,” announced last week in his annual State of the Nation speech, proposes that women with four children never pay a cent in taxes for the rest of their lives.
Couples will be offered interest-free loans of up to $36,000 that will be canceled once they have three children.
The plan includes subsidies for large families to buy seven-seat vehicles.
It extends loan programs for families with two or more children to buy homes and includes loans for women under 40 who get married, even paying grandparents for childcare.
The plan creates 21,000 new kindergartens.
The issue for Hungary is two-fold; massive emigration from Hungary to other Western European countries, and a low fertility rate. The solution to shrinking populations and labor shortages, according to European Commission anyway, is massive immigration from the Muslim Middle East, something the Hungarians have refused, and therefore drawn hostility and even threats from internationalists everywhere.
Orban insists that Hungary must protect its own European and Christian culture. According to the 2011 Hungarian census, 54% of Hungarians claim to be Christian, the vast majority being Catholic, followed distantly by Calvinists, which is Orban’s profession. An alarming 27% of Hungarians did not declare a religious affiliation, and an even more alarming 16% said explicitly they were “irreligious.”
What Orban announced this week is hardly new. Hungary has been at the knotty issue of family formation and demographic decline for some time.
Last summer, Katalin Novàk, Hungarian Minister of State for the Family, gave a talk in Rome wherein she said, “[Hungary’s constitution] attaches special importance to the family, protects the institution of marriage, and states that the foundation of family lies in marriage and the parent-child relationship. It declares that Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.”
Novàk pointed out that Hungary spends 4.8% of GDP in support of families, nearly twice the European average of 2.55%. Programs include a one-off payment upon the birth of any child. Newly-weds are eligible for a tax allowance of 16 euros per month. They have something called the Baby Bond where the government and parents contribute to savings accounts. There are free textbooks for children through fourth grade, and even free summer camps that 100,000 kids took advantage of in 2017. First-time mothers have their student loan repayment suspended with their first child, 50% of the debt is forgiven upon the second child, and with three kids, the loan is forgiven altogether.
There are skeptics that such policies can actually improve demographics. But the news so far looks good. Though the Hungarian population has declined from 10 million to 9.7 million between 2010 and 2017, live births have grown from 90,335 to 91,600. The fertility rate has improved from 1.23 to 1.50 per woman. Abortions have declined from 40,000 to 28,000. Marriages have increased from 35,000 to 50,000 while divorces have decreased from 23,000 to 18,000. Something is happening.
It is hard to see Hungary and Orban because of the leftwing chaff that is nearly nonstop. We are told he is a fascist in line with Putin. That he is a white supremacist and an anti-Semite. The fact is that Orban has been elected and re-elected several times. Polls show he is more popular than any leader in Europe. Jewish intellectual David Goldman argues that Hungary is the safest European country for Jews. He describes walking around in Budapest wearing his kippah and receiving nary a sideways glance let alone hostility.
Jews in other capitals are warned against wearing anything that might suggest they are Jews. I wrote several stories at Breitbart about the terrible violence, mostly from Muslims, against Jews all over Europe. But not Hungary.
Orban is a nationalist, to be sure, and he is standing up to the European Union, most especially on immigration, some would say invasion. But, this is hardly against the teachings of the Church. The Church does not teach that we must relinquish our sovereignty to international institutions. And while She teaches we must treat the stranger with dignity and respect, we are not required to allow all strangers to waltz across our open borders.
There is the question of favoring those who chose to get married over those who don’t. We live in a society that values a kind of radical individualism and therefore many on left and right will blanche at favoring families over singles in government policy. But, even the UN recognizes the family is the “fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state,” though that was agreed to long ago. Sadly, it is impossible these days to get European countries to agree to this language in new UN documents.
Leftist Catholics should be swooning over these new family laws announced by Victor Orban. They have long argued that the abortion rate cannot be met on the supply side, that is, by banning abortion, but rather on the demand side by offering women economic incentives to have their kids.
If there is any praise for Orban’s family policies, I can’t find it. I did see Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter comparing Orban to Hitler. I found Santiago Ramos at Commonweal complaining that Orban was trying to revive what he called Hungary’s “vestigial Christian culture.”
On the other hand, American Christian conservatives have actively supported Victor Orban and what he is trying to do for families in Hungary. It would be an interesting question if small-government, conservative Christians would support similar government plans here in the United States.