Interviews / Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Hír Television programme “Daily News”

Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Hír Television programme “Daily News”

Zsolt Bayer: Good evening. This is a special edition of “Daily News”. My guest in the studio is Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. Greetings to you. Hello.

Good evening, hello.

Just to clarify for our viewers, we agreed in advance that we could try to address each other formally, but as we’ve known each other for thirty-six years we couldn’t manage that, so we’ll stay informal. Let’s get started. Two and a half years ago, nobody – or at least very few people – would have thought that a war would break out here in a neighbouring country. Then, a year ago, perhaps no one thought that the whole of the European Union – apart from us – would try to get involved in this war. And three weeks ago no one would have thought that in Central Europe an assassination attempt would be made on the Prime Minister of a neighbouring country. And when you think about all this, I sit here slightly terrified of what it could be that I’m not thinking about now, and God forbid that it becomes a reality next week. 

All sorts of things are possible that we don’t think about today – or if we do, we dismiss them, and then they happen. This is the direction of my reasoning, which you’ve just voiced. It’s often said that we exaggerate the threat of war, that we paint the horizon or the clouds too dark; but if we think back to where we were two years ago, there’s nothing exaggerated about what we’re saying now and what we’re predicting. You know, I went over to meet the President of Russia before the war, maybe two or three weeks before the war. I came home from there, and maybe I was here in this studio when I said that there was a 50–50 chance that Russia would attack Ukraine, given that there was no way that the Russians could accept the Ukrainians joining NATO. I said there was at least a 50 per cent chance that they’d even go to war to prevent that: they’d mount an attack on Ukraine, an attack that’s unacceptable in international law. That’s what happened. For those who say that we’re exaggerating, I always recall that two years ago the German chancellor said that they’d only send helmets, and that there would be no question of sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Oh, and sanctions! “Well, of course, there should be some sanctions”, they said, “but sanctions definitely can’t be imposed on the energy sector.” This is where we’ve started from. And today we have German tanks scuttling around Ukraine, German air defence systems being delivered, and the entire European economy cut off from the Russian energy system, which used to provide cheap and rational supplies. So if we continue at only half this pace, in a few months we’ll be on the eve of open military confrontation.

You’ve just said that every day the opposition here in Hungary says that Orbán’s the only one talking up the existence of this war psychosis. But in reality there’s what you’ve just listed. Let me add to this the fact that nowadays everyone – starting with the French president – has started to talk openly about the possibility of a nuclear war; and the Polish president has directly asked the EU or NATO if they’d like to see nuclear weapons on his country’s territory. And I’m reminded of the classic rule of dramaturgy: if you see a gun on the stage, you know by the end of the third act it will be fired. Now we’re putting nuclear weapons on the stage. What hope is there?

Our best hope is the fact that war is made by people. Wars are waged by specific, well-known people making decisions to keep it going. So this war isn’t a force majeure, ineluctable fate, divine retribution or an inescapable curse. The war is the result of a human decision. Now we can tell – right from the moment the Russian president gave the order to attack Ukraine, which was a human decision – how those human decisions followed one after another. In the European Council, where I sit at the table, I’ve seen how this happens, who makes what arguments, how decisions are made, how the pro-peace Hungarian position is voted down or pushed aside, and how they’ve proceeded from one decision to the next – always moving closer to open conflict. So, since it’s people who make the decisions, and the bad decisions so far have been made by people, what we can hope for is that people can also make good decisions. The question is whether they can do it themselves. I say no: they have to be forced to do so. These people, whom I know personally and who are counterparts of mine, are unable to make any decision other than the one they’ve made so far. So the only change we can hope for will be a political change, a change that’s accepted under duress. This can happen in two stages, because the current war frenzy or psychosis, the resurrection of evil, has two sources. One source is the centre of the European Union, and the other is the centre of the US administration. So the first step is to force the current people to take anti-war decisions, because they won’t accept them of their own accord. This is what the European Parliament elections are all about. They’re not only about the number of pro-peace and pro-war MEPs in the European Parliament. Another factor is that the European Parliament elections are held on a national basis – in our country and all the others. So they also reflect opinion on national governments. I ask people to affirm their confidence in the Hungarian government, in order to strengthen our political capabilities and our ability to assert our interests in the cause of peace. This debate is also taking place in other countries at the moment, and if in the domestic politics of most countries it becomes clear, as I hope, that there are more pro-peace than pro-war people, then this could turn people who have made bad decisions so far in the right direction. But Sunday will only be the first half of the match – there will be a second one in America in November, which will be at least as important, if not more important, than the European one. And if a pro-peace president is elected there, then there will be people in both places – yielding to the pressure of public opinion in Europe, and someone of pro-peace persuasion in America – who can collectively stop the war. This war can be stopped in twenty-four hours. So, to stop killing more people on the front line, a ceasefire can be agreed within twenty-four hours. It will take three telephone calls. One would be to the President of Ukraine to say, “Mr. President, the situation is that we’ve decided that instead of the automatic support that we’ve been giving, now we’re going to give conditional support. The first condition is that an immediate ceasefire must be proposed. And then we’ll see what peace negotiations can follow.” This can be arranged in twenty-four hours.

I know I’m looking at this as an informed amateur, but let me come back to the series of bad decisions you’ve just talked about. Is there any rational explanation for what this European Union – this world of “hedonistic pagans”, to quote from your speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad last year – has as a master plan? Why do they think that now’s the time to defeat Russia, as several leaders have said several times. How? Why? What can we suppose to be the goal?

It is indeed the case that pro-war leaders in the West want to defeat Russia in a war. This is the master plan. It’s as simple as that. The question is why? Well, for money, wealth, influence – as usual! In terms of natural assets, Ukraine is a rich country. And Ukraine is so deep in debt that…

It can’t even see beyond it.

And now, just to give you a relatively recent piece of news, the Americans are peddling this great idea that they’ll lend Ukraine another 40 billion dollars, and we Europeans will guarantee that the Ukrainians will pay it back. So we’d be told to guarantee it.

We’d be the guarantors.

Of course. So I just want to say that behind it all it’s about money, power, the assets of Ukraine that can be acquired and sold off, the land there, and the economic opportunities there. And then, who knows? From there we could go back to the days of Yeltsin. Well, many Americans and Europeans remember the 1990s, the time of President Yeltsin, as a time of great economic opportunities, when they were accepted without hindrance – indeed welcomed with open arms. They entered the Russian economy, and began to transform and exploit Russian economic opportunities according to the logic of the modern world economy. After a while the Russians said that they weren’t in the mood for this, that it didn’t seem such a sensible solution. So they took matters into their own hands and reorganised things – in the Russian way, of course, as a Russian martial community and martial state knows how. They reorganised their own world. And many people wish they could go back to the 1990s, when these resources, assets and money were accessible not only in Ukraine but even in Russia. So here many people envisage a great realignment of power relations in the East, the first step in which can be the defeat of the Russians – now, in military conflict in their own backyard, on the borders of Ukraine and Russia, for the first time in God knows how long. And in the meantime, when such a war starts, everyone adapts, everyone sees the opportunity for what can be gained from it: the arms suppliers arrive, the lenders arrive, the speculators arrive, they make a killing, and they push the machine forward. This is their world, this is not who we are; and so we have to understand that in a war it never becomes clear who is right. In a war, it only becomes clear who survives; because the logic of war is different from the logic of peace. I’ve been saying this in Europe for two years, but it’s fallen on deaf ears. Because when you start a war, the first person dies, then ever more people die, and you invest ever more money. Then you’ve converted your economy to a more military form of operation, and it’s very difficult to stop this machine; because you’ve already invested in it, you’ve already sacrificed lives, you’ve already subordinated your economy to the goal of victory. And to withdraw from that, to come back from it, to stop it, is quite another thing. In the beginning politicians always think, “We’ll go up to a certain boundary and stop there.” But one can never stop. So the logic of events is different before the war, when politicians are thinking about it, than it is during the conflict, and at the end. This is why diplomats should never hand decision-making over to the military – because after that it will be difficult to take it back. So the biggest mistake was first that the war broke out, and second that when it broke out, we gave the wrong response: we didn’t isolate this conflict as we did with Crimea, but turned it into an open, pan-European conflict. Every country except Hungary became involved, almost becoming belligerents, seeing the Ukrainians’ war as their own war – even though it’s a war between two Slavic peoples. It’s a complicated story, but it could have been localised and prevented from reaching the point where now we’re talking about nuclear weapons, NATO troops, NATO-Ukraine missions, arms supplies, German tanks. All this could have been avoided if we’d reacted well to the Russian military initiative, which undoubtedly violated international law. 

Let me ask about our solitary condition. How can it be that we’re alone in representing the pro-peace position? Ten years ago, or maybe more, George Soros gave a long interview in which he uttered the following sentence. It’s so outrageous that I think I can recite it by heart. Ten years ago Soros said, “The Russians will have to be defeated by the technical superiority of the West and at the cost of the blood of Central and Eastern Europeans, because Westerners would not tolerate Western soldiers coming home from the front in body bags.” I’ve hardly heard a more outrageous and despicable sentence in my life. And obviously we weren’t the only ones to hear it. How can it be that at least Central Europe isn’t standing up for what we’re standing up for?

I think Central Europe thinks what we think, but the leaders aren’t saying it. So I don’t think there’s a big difference of opinion among the peoples of Central Europe south of the Carpathians. So whether you’re Slovak, Hungarian, Croatian, Serb or Romanian, I think we’re all roughly in the same range. It’s a different story north of the Carpathians, with the Poles and the Baltic states: that’s a region with different historical experiences. But I think that the people of Central Europe are sensible, and they know perfectly well that in every war we collectively can only lose – all of us. Even those who think they’ve won will later find out that they’ve lost. But leaders aren’t in a position to represent what people think, which is mainly because in world politics today there’s a system of influence – and perhaps there always has been. The big boys develop the capacity that experts call “power projection”, enabling them to impose their will on the leaderships of other countries, on the territories of other countries. This also exists within the alliance system; so we’re allies of the United States, we’re both members of NATO, for example, but there’s still a continuous attempt by the United States to influence Europe. We’re also allies with the Brusselites, we’re members of the European Union; but there have always been – and still are – attempts by Germany or France to project their power on Hungary. But we shouldn’t be surprised; I see this as the natural course of things. And, as the Hungarian prime minister, who has sworn an oath of independence for Hungary, I’m doing nothing less than building a Hungarian system of national security and independence that’s capable of warding off such attempts at power projection. And many of us have invested many years of our lives – perhaps the plural isn’t unjustified – in building a strong Hungary that can defend itself against such an elaborate system of power projection. Because here we’re talking about NGOs, we’re talking about the media, we’re talking about funding, we’re talking about scholarships, we’re talking about universities. It’s the “open society” that George Soros has adopted as his banner, and in the name of which he’s doing everything that he’s doing in the world. The correct way of putting it is that “We open up societies, open them up to our business interests, enabling us to penetrate them.” This is the open society. This is what we’re defending ourselves against. I note, by the way, that when the Left was in a better state, there were left-wing prime ministers – I won’t name names – who defended against this. It wasn’t always the case that the Left was bought by the Soros family, or the Brusselites or the Americans, applying external force on the leaders of the Left to take a pro-war stance – regardless of left-wing voters’ desire for peace, which I believe is a given in Hungary too. This wasn’t always the case in Hungary. We’ve remained intact, and the civic, national, Christian side has organised itself and is able to defend not only itself, but the whole country. The Left wasn’t able to do this, and so it fell: it fell victim to internationalism. 

An attempt at power projection – that’s how you put it. One of the ways of attempting to project power, I suppose, is making others financially dependent. Now, through this lens, as we’ve spoken about Soros’s outrageous statement, let me ask you about something else which I think is outrageous – although it may just be just me who thinks so. The European Court of Justice wants to fine us 6 million forints a day – or it doesn’t just want to, because it’s a fait accompli, and the judgement’s been handed down. And just to add to the outrageous part, they don’t want to make this public until after the elections, because that would befuddle the voters here. So they’re fining us 6 million forints a day for keeping migrants out of Hungary and defending the EU’s external borders. I don’t know how much money we’ve poured into this since 2015. 

700–750 billion forints.

And after the election there will be a judgment, and we’ll stand here and say that for defending the external border, we should be willing to pay 6 million a day. I have to ask, what can be done in this situation? Are we going to pay out I don’t know how many billions a year?

That’s how things stand now. Or we let the migrants in. But what I’m suggesting – as I said before – is that Hungary isn’t just a strong country in terms of its institutions, but also a strong country in terms of public opinion. If we ask people whether we should pay 6 million forints a day or to let migrants in as Brussels wants, which will we choose?

I think I know the answer.

This is how it is. They have even more serious tools. They’ve also tried to strangle Hungarians with financial tools. So all manner of power projection and influence has been tried. For a long time they didn’t want to – and didn’t – pay us our EU funding. Then, of course, we got some of it, and today it’s coming. But the plan was to spread the message in the international financial world that Hungary was about to collapse. This is something that the Left here in Hungary has been chanting: “There’s no European Union money, and under such circumstances it’s not worth it for the financial markets to give Hungary money either, it’s not worth investing.” And then, they thought, the Hungarians would go back to Brussels, get down on their knees – as the fine Dutch prime minister suggested – and humbly ask the Brussels bureaucrats to undo all this and allow us to be good friends again. In contrast with this, investment is pouring into the Hungarian economy, and we can access money from the financial markets – in large quantities, if not unlimited quantities. It’s turned out that the world not only has a Western leg, but also an Eastern leg. And this year economic growth in Hungary will be much higher than the EU average. We’ve broken the back of inflation and brought it back down, albeit while sweating blood; and the prospects for the Hungarian economy are at least as good – if not better – than for most European economies. We couldn’t be strangled, because we’ve invested twenty or thirty years of our lives – starting with Joseph Antall – into building a system that can defend itself. Into building a sovereign, independent Hungary. There have been better periods, there have been those for whom things went faster and better, and those for whom things went less well; but we built this when the governments in Hungary were not of the Left. And this is what we have today. The heart of this system is that voters go to the polls and give the government of the day the confirmation it needs, so that it doesn’t have to create a divided system of government through coalition negotiations. Because where there are coalition systems, attempts at influence immediately come in through the gaps created by disunity, they force those gaps wider, and they find people whose interests can be drawn into the Western sphere of interests. In this way Hungary would slowly lose its own sovereign decision-making capacity. Hungary’s protected from this not by the Hungarian government, but by its citizens. The fact that we’re able to protect the country is only a consequence: we’re able to protect it because the Hungarian people want Hungary to remain a sovereign and independent country, in addition to being a member of the EU and NATO. 

Speaking of the economy, I’ll now try to present a very brief summary. Today the largest volume of trade in the world is still between China and the United States. Today the largest buyers of Russian gas by volume are Spain and Italy. The United States bought two and a half times as much enriched uranium from Russia in the second year of the war as it did before the war. These are some hard facts. In comparison with this, every day we’re told that we mustn’t trade at all with Russia, that China mustn’t be allowed in, and Chinese influence: ugh, terrible… Now, beyond this, again and again I have to come back to the same point: their wanting to prevent us from doing what they’re doing is a pharisaical, dishonest attitude. But again, what’s the reasoning behind this on their part – why is it important to them that we don’t trade with China, for example? And why is it important to us that we do?

I think there’s nothing wrong with being aware of your own mistakes sometimes. Moreover, there are some qualities that are virtues when seen from here, and perhaps more of a handicap when seen from over there. And here you’ve touched on a point that I consider to be more of a handicap. But I also see signs of virtue in it, so I’m not ashamed of this handicap. We are self-respecting. So Hungarians are excessively self-respecting. Who cares what they say? We care what the West says about trade with China; but they don’t care what we say about them, so why should we care what they say? I’m not saying that Hungarians are over-sensitive, that’s not the point. Hungarians think that there should be fair treatment in the world. I don’t really want to share this bad news with people, but the world isn’t fair. And the world powers, especially those bigger than you, don’t want to be fair to you. They’re swayed by their own self-interest. They’ll do what’s in their interest. They’ll say things that serve it. And you’ll listen to them if you want to, and if you don’t want to – well, I for one don’t usually listen to them. I have self-respect, but I know how these political games are played. So I don’t think that we should concern ourselves too much – as we do today – with the opinions being expressed about us in the West. We need to be concerned with what our goals are, whether we have the road maps to achieve them, whether we have the means, whether we have the resources and whether we’re achieving our goals. Does it matter what they say about buying back Budapest airport? We took it back, and that’s that. So all I’m saying is that, out of our own self-respect, we need to pay less attention to what’s said and much more attention to what we want to do. We need to live a more active life – this is something [interwar minister of culture] Kuno Klebelsberg would say. Back in the 1990s [the historian] John Lukacs taught me a lesson when he said, “My Dear Viktor, the Hungarian people are a declarative people: they declare something and then expect it to happen. So we shouldn’t bother about declarations, but we should define, we should designate our goals, and then we should achieve them. This is what’s needed. The way it’s done in the West.” So only as much self-esteem as we absolutely need, as much self-respect as we owe ourselves. Never mind what they write in Paris. I look at the Italian press, and every day they write a pile of articles attacking Hungary. The Italian press is about nothing else. So what?

So let me ask you this, because it’s relatively recent news. Why was the airport buy-back important for Hungary?

In 2010 the people decided that they’d had enough of the Gyurcsány era, they found us to correct those mistakes, and we got a two-thirds mandate. Then we looked around the Hungarian scene, and we saw that 90 per cent of the banking sector was in foreign hands, most of the energy sector was in foreign hands, the media was in foreign hands, retail was in foreign hands, and even monopoly assets like the airport – of which there’s only one – were in foreign hands. And then we created a programme and we said that, because this is a matter of national security, there are certain areas in which national ownership – not necessarily state ownership, but Hungarian national ownership, private and state ownership together – must exceed 50 per cent. We started doing this, and in most of the areas we’ve achieved what we set out to do. To this day we haven’t been able to achieve this in the retail sector, although that’s important for the Hungarian agricultural sphere. That’s a task for the future. And we also identified those assets that we felt were in a monopoly position, not improving because they weren’t being developed, but just being used for profit. We saw that these needed to be taken back. An example of this was the airport. It took me ten years or so of my life to come up with what’s called a notification of sale. It came together, we were close to finalising the deal before COVID. But then COVID came along, and it wasn’t possible to continue this in a situation which required a completely different logic in politics and in economics: human lives had to be saved, and the plan had to be shelved. But now that we’d got over that, and the Hungarian economy was standing on its own two feet, the moment had come. And the big thing is not just that we’ve taken it back, which is of course the most important thing, but that we knew we weren’t communists: so we didn’t just take it, but we paid for it, as is customary in the civilised world. And we found an operating partner with whom we hope to make a fantastic airport out of this shabby something or other that’s Ferenc Liszt Airport. We’ve brought in one of the best airport operators in the world. It has big development plans, so we have huge plans for how the Hungarian economy will benefit from this being back in national ownership.

I see.

This French company is a good company. The Hungarian state can’t run an airport: I have many good ministers, but I wouldn’t consider any of them suitable to oversee the Hungarian airport in addition to their other burgeoning tasks – that wouldn’t work. So we need a private actor whose financial interest will be to make it work well, and whose financial interest is also in our interest. 

Alexandra Szentkirályi has withdrawn from the election for Mayor of Budapest. A rational but unplanned decision, or a tactic?

First of all, Alexandra is a brave woman, so when she took up this challenge, she set herself a very difficult goal. Let’s not forget that a Fidesz-backed mayor was at the city’s helm for nine years, and Alexandra was deputy mayor alongside him for five years or so, so she knows the “company” inside out. But somehow the Fidesz organisation in Budapest has always failed to strengthen. So I have to admit that today our organisation in Budapest is not at the same level as it is in any other town or village in the country. So the least organised Fidesz community or political representation of the civic, national, Christian community is in Budapest. This is our responsibility, and I accept that responsibility. So Alexandra Szentkirályi had to enter this campaign without a structured political community behind her. Budapest is home to a lot of people with nationalist sentiments, and always has been. It’s not just the city centre and the inner area of that, but there’s the edge of the city: there are people there who are very similar in their way of thinking to people who live a few kilometres away in the countryside. So Budapest isn’t a place that’s been lost as far as civic, national, Christian thought is concerned. I never think of the city in that way, but as a city to fight for. It has a colourful, diverse range of intellectual trends, and well-developed political actors. You have to fight there – if you want to gain voters’ trust you have to fight for it. We’d have had a chance if we’d worked properly for it over the years. That’s what was missing, and that’s why Alexandra embarked on a campaign that unfortunately didn’t have a strong enough background. And now, at the end of the campaign, she saw that she’d done everything she could. I can only say the best things about that, by the way. And she said that if we want change, she’d have to step back. I said to Alexandra, “I can say that in this campaign I’ve done what you’ve said, because this is your campaign. I think you’re right. The Fidesz point of view is now being overtaken by another point of view, and that view is that there should be change in Budapest. And if you see this as good and achievable, then you can count on me. I not only take note of your decision, but I also support it.”

Tomorrow the country will choose. What’s at stake in this election?

There are two things at stake: there’s war or peace and European elections; and there’s the election of local leaders. You travel around the country, you’re probably one of the people who knows the country best, and you can tell – perhaps in many cases, not only in cities but also in villages – where there are good mayors and good councils, and where there are rogues. You can see that immediately in a village and in a town. It’s by no means irrelevant which leaders are elected to serve in local governments. If good leaders are elected, then these municipalities will develop, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity, because there will be opportunities, Hungary is faced with good opportunities, but in this situation you need good local leaders who can cooperate with the Government, who know what their municipality wants and are able to implement it. So we need to choose good leaders, because the prospects for our places of residence over the next five years depend on them.

Marco Rossi has announced his squad. What do you see as Hungary’s acceptable minimum performance in the European Championship?

In the end, the only acceptable one is to reach the World Cup final. So the right attitude is to say that we have to be able to go where we’ve been before. So if we’ve climbed a mountain once, there’s no reason why we can’t climb it again. So that will be at some point – I’m not going to give you a time, but we have to get there at some point, because we’ve already been there twice. As far as the current European Championship is concerned, I see a trajectory from where we started in 2010, from a situation of total chaos, and where we’ve got to where we are now thanks to the work of national team managers Storck and Rossi. I think we not only have a team that’s capable of performing, but a team that’s capable of great things. But we’re not yet so good that we expect them to do great things. They’re capable of surprising us, but to expect them to surprise us in every game is, I think, too much. In the end, you accept the result if the performance shows heart and we’ve put in all the effort we can. That’s what I expect. Anything can happen: there could be sunshine, there could be mud.

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time. I also thank you, the viewers, for your kind attention. Tomorrow there’s an election, everyone must go and vote. All the best, goodbye.


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