Zsolt Törőcsik: Greetings to our listeners, and welcome to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio here in Sopron. Good morning.
We’re talking in Sopron because we’re here for a relocated Cabinet meeting. In a post about the government meeting that you shared on social media yesterday, you said that Hungary wants peace, and says “no” to migration. Are these the most important topics at this two-day meeting?
We started the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening and we’ll end it at noon on Friday. These government meetings have an unconventional structure. At such times there are always two large separate groups of issues. There are the current issues, which you also talk about – war, migration, inflation; and then there are the so-called “big issues”. While one’s dealing with day-to-day business, it’s very important for one to occasionally raise one’s eyes and look ahead instead of just at the toes of one’s shoes. And Hungary also faces big and important issues that could decide its fate for decades to come. At such times we always take the opportunity to get away from the treadmill of daily decision-making, in order to focus on these big issues. Yesterday we were exclusively concerned with big issues like the country’s energy supply over the next ten to twenty years, the exploitation of the country’s favourable geographical location, and the technological developments in the world related to agriculture – how to react to such things, and how to preserve the quality of Hungarian agricultural products. And now we’re going to talk about the army, the family support system, demography, the fertility rate, and the family. We’re dealing with big issues with a 20- to 25-year time horizon. But I think that everyone’s more interested in the first group of issues, because they directly affect our lives. And indeed, the first important conclusion that the Government arrived at – particularly now after the NATO summit – was that the war will drag on, and that the Hungarian government’s set of tasks is very different and the future for Hungarians will be different in a world in which there’s a war, compared to a world in which there isn’t a war. And I had to inform the Government that the West wants war, and therefore wants the war to continue. The proportion and number of enthusiasts for war is still overwhelming, and hardly any of us are speaking out for peace. We must therefore prepare ourselves for the fact that war and sanctions won’t disappear from our lives. We could cause the war and the sanctions to disappear from our lives, but the Western leaders don’t want them to. Yet if they did disappear, at that moment a considerable part of our economic problems would be remedied: the issue of inflation, for example, and energy prices would be resolved in a moment, and we’d be able to return to a normal path of European economic growth. But this cannot be expected. So our first conclusion is that it won’t happen. It follows from this that inflation won’t be brought down by the end of the war and the lifting of sanctions, but we must smash inflation ourselves. It has to be grabbed by the ear, by the hair, it has to be broken, it has to be wrestled to the ground and stamped on. My language on this couldn’t be harsher. We have to fight inflation. And here the Government has a plan for how we want to bring inflation down to single digits by the end of the year. Some measures will be phased out, others will be introduced; those that have worked will be kept in place, and those that we place hope in will be introduced. Right now we have this price monitoring system, which I think will help a lot, because I heard yesterday that hundreds of thousands of people are using it every day to decide on prices and their purchases. Then we introduced compulsory food price reductions. So we see that every month the rate of inflation will come down, because our measures are having an effect, month by month. The other thing we needed to talk about was the issue of migration. Earlier we put this in the category of the bigger issues, saying that the discussions in Europe had calmed down, and there was no danger. That has changed. Last week in Brussels, in a long, late-night, cutthroat meeting, a majority finally decided to introduce a mandatory migrant quota. For Hungary this would mean tens of thousands of migrants every year, with the migrant quota obliging Member States to build migrant ghettos. They distributed the shares in this, and we got a nice big chunk of it. So if we obey Brussels, which we have no intention of doing, we’d need to build migrant ghettos in Hungary. So at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting we reviewed what instruments we have – legal and political instruments – to prevent Brussels from implementing the plan. And then there’s another direct threat which also comes from Brussels: there’s a so-called “economic policy system” or governance there. Every year they publish what they think Member States should do to change their economies. Sometimes there are sensible things in it, but often also things that are unrealistic – given that those clever people in Brussels are sitting in a big bubble and think they understand the world better from there than we do from here in Budapest or Sopron. And this year they also have a proposal that would lead to the abolition of the reductions in household utility bills; they elegantly refer to it as the abolition of regulated prices, which in Hungarian means that Hungary’s being told to abolish the reductions in household utility bills. And yesterday we also discussed how we shall not abolish the cuts in household energy bills, and how, in energy regulation, Hungarian interests should be asserted both at home and in Brussels. Now, these were the most pressing issues of the day. Today there will be another matter which we must take forward to a decision. We’ve introduced a new waste management system, and from consultation with winegrowers it’s clear that this would put Hungarian winegrowers at a severe competitive disadvantage. So this morning we need to find a solution to ensure that Hungarian winemakers aren’t put at a competitive disadvantage from already very strong European competition because of regulations regarding bottles. It seems to be a small matter, but it affects many of us.
There are a great many topics that have been mentioned, so let’s go through them one by one, and then talk about some of them in a little more detail. The NATO summit is one of them – and in that context, the war. The heads of state and government of the Member States haven’t adopted a timetable for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Péter Szijjártó has said that this was a responsible decision, but President Zelensky of Ukraine has described it as a sign of the West’s weakness. Do you think it’s a responsible decision, or is it a sign of the West’s weakness?
First, let’s understand the Ukrainian president and put ourselves in his position. So when they’re fighting in a war for the survival of their people, they’re not interested in the outside world. So they can only look at this conflict through their own eyes. We can’t expect anything else from them – it’s normal, it’s human. We need to be sensible. If we did what the Ukrainian president is asking us to do, we’d be involved in World War III. Because if Ukraine were to be admitted to NATO, or if we’d admitted Ukraine to NATO, it would mean an immediate world war, because that would mean that NATO would be at war with Russia. And that would be that: end of story. This is why it was absolutely essential to brush aside the Ukrainian claims, however understandable they may be. So that’s what had to be prevented. And there were supporters of the Ukrainian position, so it wasn’t an easy debate, either during the preparation stage or on the day; but in the end we managed to reach a favourable decision. The majority didn’t want to take the risk of a world war, and so we didn’t bring in Ukraine.
What does this mean for Hungary’s security? In addition, as you said, we must be prepared for a protracted war. And indeed, despite this decision, arms deliveries are continuing, and the United States of America is now sending cluster bombs to Ukraine. The British defence secretary, however, has said that they’re not a door-to-door delivery service and that Ukraine would do well to show its gratitude for the Western help it’s received so far.
There’s no doubt that the Ukrainians’ style of communication and interaction is unusual, given that when one’s in trouble and asking for help, one should behave properly – or at least that’s what people here in Hungary would think. This isn’t applicable to the Ukrainians, and so the Ukrainians are indeed being aggressive and demanding, and are using moral blackmail. They’re doing a lot of such things. But I repeat: we shouldn’t look at this like people sitting in comfortable armchairs here in Sopron or Budapest and talking about how one should behave. Every day people are dying there in their hundreds or thousands. So I understand that the Ukrainians are in a desperate situation, they’re facing questions of life and death, and the way the world looks from there is very different from how it looks from here. But it’s important that we don’t accept the perspective from which they see the world; because if we do, we’ll slide into the war. Countries are already involved through their supply of weapons; and everyone who’s supplying weapons is involving themselves in the war. And then it’s a completely new situation if you’re supplying cluster munitions – which, by the way, are a mode or instrument of warfare that was previously rejected by the entire international community. While we didn’t admit the Ukrainians to NATO, thus averting the imminent threat of world war, we’re not one metre closer to peace, and there is escalation: ever more weapons with longer ranges and more powerful explosive capacity being sent to the Ukrainians by Western countries, especially the United States. So the situation remains extremely dangerous, extremely difficult. And let’s not forget the human dimension: thousands of people are dying there every day. When there are fewer clashes, hundreds are dying; when the fighting is fierce, thousands. So we’re losing lives. And in the Christian world of which we’re a part, this is the most important issue. This is why Hungary says, “ceasefire, peace talks”. This is also important for us Hungarians, because this war is in a neighbouring country. The various escalations could reach Transcarpathia and then Hungary, so we must stay alert; and as there are tens of thousands of Hungarians living in Carpathia, their lives are in immediate danger.
Yes, indeed, the number of casualties in the counteroffensive alone, and on the Ukrainian side alone, is now estimated at 26,000; and, according to various estimates, the number of military casualties is already more than 400,000. Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy is talking about how US president Joe Biden could end this war in five minutes. What is it that’s preventing this from happening?
Nobody knows. I say what President Zelenskyy says: if the Americans wanted it, there would be peace tomorrow morning. Why the Americans don’t want it is a question that the whole world is pondering. Because in fact Ukraine, having lost its sovereignty, has no money, no military industry of its own, no military equipment production capacity of its own, and is receiving money from us – mostly from the Americans – and military equipment from the Americans and the West. If the United States were to say that it wants peace, that we should stop the war, have a ceasefire and start negotiations, that’s what would happen tomorrow morning. Why don’t the Americans want that? We didn’t get an answer to that at the NATO summit.
You mentioned that one of the most serious consequences of the war and sanctions is inflation, and that the Government is fighting this with various means. The latest figures are for June, which show that it’s slowed to 20.1 per cent. Is this in line with the Government’s vision and timetable?
If we had the choice, the Government’s roadmap would be for it to be 2 or 3 per cent tomorrow; but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, because there are economic laws. The point is that it’s on a good trajectory – as far as such a level of inflation can be said to be on a good trajectory. But what’s important now isn’t the specific rate, but the downward trend. And although we’ve committed to single-digit inflation by December, what we see – and I’m knocking on wood – is that we may be able to reach that target a month or a month and a half sooner; but the Government just has to stick to it and enact a succession of measures to bring inflation down.
In this fight, would it be possible to accommodate the abolition of the reductions in household utility bills, which you mentioned as one of the proposals made by Brussels? Yesterday [Fidesz MP] Szilárd Németh said that such a move is out of the question. But then on this front could another battle begin between Brussels and the Hungarian government?
The context in which the reduction in utility bills should be understood is that every family receives 181,000 forints per month: if there were no such cuts, their expenditure would increase by that amount. Therefore this cannot be seen simply as an energy issue: it’s a question of the living standards of the Hungarian middle class – and not only the middle class, but also poorer citizens. Therefore we must definitely stand by the reductions in utility bills.
You also talked about migration. A new front has opened between Hungary and Brussels, and on the migration pact events have accelerated between the three main bodies of the EU: the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The latter has also proposed several pro-migration amendments. For example, in certain cases the admission of migrants couldn’t be avoided even through payment of fines, and it wouldn’t be possible to carry out the entire asylum procedure outside the territory of the EU. In Vienna last week you said that Hungary wouldn’t implement the EU’s decision on migration. This also seems to be a stalemate. I don’t know whether this can be resolved in any way; because while it’s true that, according to the proposal, Hungary would only take in sixteen asylum seekers out of every thousand, last year the number of asylum applications submitted in the EU was one million.
In the past year 330,000 illegal migrants have been apprehended at the borders of the European Union – 270,000 of them at the Hungarian border. I always give my colleagues the respect they deserve, and I don’t rule out the possibility that they may have good insights on issues that affect them less than Hungary is affected; but when it comes to migration, Hungary must rely solely on its own experience. This means that we must always think back to how violent armed migrants clashed with Hungarian border guards at Röszke, how hundreds of thousands of them marched through the country, and how they occupied Budapest railway stations. So we have our own experience, and this is what we have to work from. We listen with due respect to the siren voices of Brussels, or to what is thought to be right and wrong by some virtuous people on an ocean shore somewhere far from the Hungarian border. But we ignore them. We can only draw on our own experience. And experience tells us this: “No migration! No migration at all!” We’ve tried everything, and we’ve experienced everything. This is why, with the utmost peace of mind, we say to our colleagues in the West that there’s only one solution to the migrant crisis, and that is not to allow them to enter European territory. Only those whose asylum procedure has been completed and has been positively assessed should be able to enter the European Union. Until then, the person concerned must remain outside the borders of Europe. If we cannot arrive at this situation, then – with only a little exaggeration – everything else is completely pointless. Therefore the Hungarian model must be followed. This is what the Hungarian model has been based on in recent years. This is why there are practically no migrants in Hungary. This is why those who are overwhelmed by migrants look at us with envy, because Hungary has built its own model. This is what they now want to destroy. I’m less interested in the fact that they can’t solve their own problems, I feel sorry for them and sympathise with them; but if we’ve been able to solve this problem, they could solve it. So there’s nothing special that prevents a Western European country from solving the migrant problem in the same way that Hungary has. They just don’t want to solve it, because they have other ideas. So what I have to say is that we shall defend the Hungarian model at all costs, and we don’t want to allow it to be destroyed. The new rules would destroy the Hungarian border defence system, the only successful one in Europe. Why should we have to tolerate this? We must reject it and fight for our anti-migration policy, which has proved to be successful.
And what’s their objection to the Hungarian model anyway? Because, in fact, in the last interview you mentioned that forty-five asylum applications have been submitted to Hungary, and that these asylum applications have to be submitted at our diplomatic missions. There’s the border barrier, there’s the Hungary Helps programme, so it seems that in Hungary a package has been put together. What is the objection to this in Brussels, the reason that they don’t want to adopt it?
They think that it’s wrong. They think that it’s right to let in migrants. They think that if someone wants to come to Europe, it’s right to let them enter Europe, to submit their asylum claim once they’re here, and to let them move freely in the EU until their application’s been assessed. If it’s assessed and they can stay, fine; but if not, then we can’t send them back. This, roughly, is their thinking. Now, I don’t know what kind of people live over there who tolerate this, but I’m quite sure that here it would only take three minutes for the Hungarian people to throw out a government that behave like the governments of Western Europe. And the Hungarian people would be right; this is our country, after all, and only we have the right to say who can enter the territory of Hungary, when, and under what conditions. For Brussels to decide that we have to build migrant ghettos, and that there will be tens of thousands of migrants in Hungary again – well, I remember sweating blood until we finally managed to close the refugee camps here. Let us remember Debrecen, and the refugee camp in Bicske. They had to be closed. We finally solved our problem, and now they want to bring it back, they want to hang it around our necks again. We won’t allow that, of course, so we’ll hold out. As long as there’s a national government in Hungary, there shall be no migrant ghettos in Hungary.
What instruments does the Government possess in order to protect Hungary from this threat?
The first and most important thing is that we must remain internally solid, and this means not giving in to opposition demands. The fact is that we’re in a dispute not only with Brussels, but also with several parties in the Hungarian parliament. It’s turned out that there are mercenaries sitting opposite us there, and so a considerable proportion of the Hungarian opposition is being paid in foreign currency, in dollars – and now, we learn, in pounds sterling and euros. And everyone knows that he who pays the piper calls the tune. So we need to be aware that today there’s a group within Hungarian politics – let’s call it the Hungarian left – which Brussels can use at any time as a tool to force migrant quotas and migrant ghettos on Hungary. I don’t want to offend anyone, but we weren’t born yesterday; and because we’ve outgrown childhood, we don’t believe the nursery tale that financial support from abroad has no influence on the political decisions of the Left. So we need to acknowledge that the first frontline in the fight against migrants – in the fight against illegal migration – is in the Hungarian parliament. And we mustn’t give in to any of the demands of the Left, because they’ll tear down the fence, because they’ll let in the migrants, they’ll accept the migrant quota, they’ll support the decisions taken in Brussels, and they’ll build migrant ghettos. No matter what they say in their interviews, in fact in Brussels they’re saying exactly – verbatim – what their masters are saying. And this won’t change in the future. The second thing we can do is engage in legal battles; with these we’re on the one hand delaying and postponing decisions, and on the other hand continuously trying to organise resistance groups on one issue or another to get the legislative process stalled somewhere. It will be a longer legislative process. Now only the heads of state and government have said what they want. It still has to go through the European Parliament, through a complex agreement mechanism. So there’s still a chance to push a stick between the spokes. The Hungarian stick of ten million isn’t a particularly effective weapon, but in addition the Poles are right there with us: after all, they’re a country of forty million. And I think there will be a few more. We’re also waiting for the Slovak elections, and so I think that in the meantime the number of countries taking an anti-migration stance will increase. We need to build this alliance, this anti-migration alliance, across the whole of Europe.
You’ve mentioned the Left’s funding scandal and referred to more details coming to light: there’s another civil society organisation, a movement, which has received – in addition to forints – euros and pounds worth 506 million forints. How do you assess this matter?
I see this as a sovereignty issue. So some people call it corruption, and that’s not unjustified, but from my point of view it’s basically a question of sovereignty. So if Hungarian lawmakers or the mayor of the Hungarian capital can be bought with money, it means that these people aren’t making their decisions in the interests of the Hungarian people, but will act in accordance with the expectations of their foreign clients. This means that we’re not sovereign. However, those who call it political corruption aren’t far from the truth, because they have indeed been corrupted. They were given money for some reason. Now, corruption is a crime everywhere. Well, interestingly enough, I’m looking at the Hungarian legislation here, and I see that over the last ten or more years we haven’t cleaned up enough, but the rules on this aren’t clear. I think that, even under the current legislation, this is a criminal offence and should be punished. But it’s obvious that the rules must be made clearer, and we must state that anyone who sells Hungary’s sovereignty – anyone who accepts money from foreign clients, despite clear prohibition in the law – is engaged in political corruption, in a criminal offence. And Hungary must defend itself against this.
Does this mean that the legislature will also have a role to play in this matter?
Well, the nature of our world, the world of politics, is that nothing’s ever perfect. Of course, when you create a piece of legislation, you think that you’ve created the best piece of legislation in the world; but then a few months or years go by, and you find that it has weaknesses. Now the relevant Hungarian legislation has also turned out to have weaknesses. It’s a task for the elected representatives – in the interests of the Hungarian people – to plug these holes, to put things in order, to establish clear rules and to make it clear that foreigners cannot buy political influence in Hungary.
Here in Sopron in the last half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the relocated government meeting, the NATO summit, the breaking of wartime inflation and the financing of the left-wing parties.