Saturday, April 13, 2024

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The focus of Hungary’s summit on increasing birth rates was more centered on fear rather than practical measures.


The tricycle parade for children commenced at around 10:00 AM on a chilly Saturday morning, right in front of Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest City Park.

The pathway surrounding the fake gothic castle was decorated with recently constructed stalls, offering baked goods and activities for children. A faint noise could be heard from the bridge over the castle’s moat, gradually increasing in volume until a group of energetic children on bikes appeared, with their parents running alongside them.

The parade opened the third, and final, day of the Budapest Demographic Summit — Viktor Orbán’s biannual get-together of right-wing thought leaders who gathered to discuss Europe’s declining population and falling birth rates.

The event was a family festival that included activities like face painting, carnival games, and a petting zoo. This stood in stark contrast to the tense and guarded atmosphere of the gathering of politicians and conservative leaders during the past two days.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni stated that in our current time, everything that defines us is facing challenges. She spoke about the summit’s purpose in her opening speech.

According to her, demography is not simply one of the primary concerns for our country. It is the crucial factor that will determine our nation’s future.

As additional individuals stepped onto the platform, the roster of adversaries against the concept of family adopted a noticeable tone of culture wars. The typical culprits were present: Liberalism, feminism, Marxism; along with smartphones and sex education. The concept of “woke” banking was heavily criticized by Australian preacher Nick Vujicic, while Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán denounced the fear of climate change as the cause for a declining birth rate.

There were calls for traditional family units, with preference for marriage and heterosexual relationships.

“The proper encapsulating structure around the infant are united and combined parents, man and woman,” said Canadian psychologist and polemicist Jordan Peterson as he paced up and down the stage in the Budapest Fine Arts Museum’s elegant Renaissance Hall. “All alternatives to that are worse … Single people, divorced people, gay people, deviate from that,” he said.

Andreas Kinneging, a philosophy professor at Leiden University, expressed a similar sentiment.

Kinneging stated that our goal is to determine the roles of men and women and how they align with their inherent nature. He then surprised the female moderator by proposing that one of them works while the other takes care of the children.

At times, the conference veered into more significant topics. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics, discussed the significance of family in addressing educational and financial disparities. He presented research demonstrating that teaching parents to support their children’s education could positively impact their social and economic progress. However, these instances were infrequent.

The Budapest Demographic Summit is a twice-yearly event hosted by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, where prominent conservative thinkers come together to address the issue of Europe’s decreasing population and declining birth rates.

The population riddle 

There are significant inquiries regarding effective strategies for promoting child-rearing.

Research indicates that individuals in Europe, regardless of gender, desire a larger family size than they ultimately have. The decreasing birth rates have a significant impact on the population distribution, resulting in a smaller proportion of individuals of working age compared to those who are retired (known as the dependency ratio). This can create challenges with pension benefits and access to healthcare.

This is a particular issue in nations such as Romania and Bulgaria, where the combination of low birth rates and significant emigration intensify the problem. “My country is one of the fastest aging and shrinking countries globally. In the last decade alone, we have seen a decrease of 850,000 individuals, which accounts for 12% of our total population,” stated Bulgarian President Rumen Radev during the summit.

On paper at least, Hungary’s results in raising its fertility rate are impressive, and could serve as a lesson for others. The country plows about 5 percent of its GDP into policies to encourage family formation, including tax breaks and low-interest loans for families with children, and free in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. Since 2010, when Orbán took power, Hungary’s fertility rate has risen by about 25 percent, going from the lowest in the EU to a bit above the bloc’s average of 1.5 births per woman.

But the actual role of the Hungarian government’s policies in driving this change is an open question. The country was one of the hardest hit by the financial crisis, which may have had a role in depressing births in the period immediately before and after Orbán took power. Furthermore, other countries in the neighborhood have seen similar recoveries, pointing to what may be a regional trend rather than the success of special efforts on the part of the Hungarian government.

Newly released statistics indicate that the fertility rates in Hungary have either leveled off or decreased. While this may be a momentary aberration, if it continues, it will hinder Orbán’s objective of attaining 2.1 births per woman by 2030. This is the crucial figure necessary to maintain a stable population without relying on immigration.

Regional tensions

There were few concrete policies discussed at the Budapest summit. Instead, the focus was on ethnic grievances and regional politics.

The President of the Azerbaijani National Assembly, Sahiba Gafarova, mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed territory with Armenia, and accused Armenia of damaging all significant sites of Azerbaijan in that area. Shortly after, Azerbaijan initiated a military attack in that location.

Željka Cvijanović, the former prime minister of Republika Srpska — a majority Serb region within Bosnia and Herzegovina — spoke about the importance of the traditional family and sustaining birth rates threatened by globalists and liberalism. Ignatius Aphrem II, patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, discussed the plight of Christians in Syria, which he said was made worse by international sanctions on the country.

The selection of the Transcarpathian Children’s Choir to present a musical performance was not a random decision. The area in the western part of Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Hungarians, and there is currently a disagreement between the two governments about the use of language after Ukrainian became required in schools. The children, dressed in white embroidered gowns, sang Templom és iskola (Church and School), a poem written by Sándor Reményik in the early 20th century about the Hungarian language, church, and schools.

Next, Hungary’s President Katalin Novák spoke and commended the choir’s performance despite the challenging conditions they are facing.

Novák stated that they will persist, echoing the words of Reményik.

At City Park in Budapest, individuals were focused on practical matters rather than worrying about moral decline and the decline of society.

Istvan, a 45-year-old man, appeared fatigued as he watched his two three-year-old sons ride their tricycles. He had attended the family day festival with his wife. When asked about his experience raising children in Hungary, he responded with a hesitant “so-so” and added, “It can be challenging.”

“What would improve his quality of life?” he chuckled, “A better job and more money. I believe this is a common issue in Hungary.”