Zsolt Törőcsik: In addition to the Russo-Ukrainian war, another conflict has unfolded in the past week on Europe’s outer borders, after the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas carried out a bloody terrorist attack in Israel. The country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that they are at war with Hamas. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orban to the studio. Good morning.
Hungary and Israel are allies, and in recent years the two countries have developed a very close relationship. In the light of this, how do you assess this new war?
You can assess it in that light, but I’d prefer to approach it from a more general, human perspective. So terror is unacceptable. And when you see its imprint, the consequences, the images, it has a shattering effect. So now it doesn’t matter who are friends and who aren’t; these are brutal things that simply shake you. The first thought that always goes through your mind is to feel for those who have suffered the attack, to pray for the relatives, for the survivors, and in general to be on the side of the victims emotionally. One’s second thought is always to thank God that we don’t have such a problem. So let’s thank God that we can live in peace. And a politician must also remember that it’s at times like this that we see the value of the peace and stability in which we live, and it’s the job of our elected leaders to protect it. So in the light of such a terrorist attack one can even more clearly see that the peace and security of the Hungarian people must be protected. This is a prize which on the one hand we should be grateful for, and on the other do our utmost to preserve. And then, once you get beyond that, comes politics. And indeed the fact is that Hungary has always been against terrorism. So regardless of which country the terrorist attacks have targeted, we’ve always been against terrorist organisations. We’re part of the international community which meets regularly to coordinate international action against terrorism – even if it’s somewhere in Afghanistan, even if it’s somewhere in a region even further away from us, and even if it’s in Israel, on the territory of the Gaza Strip. And then one expresses what it is one hopes for. The first thing we hope is that we can get everyone out who is Hungarian and who wants to come out. It isn’t so easy, by the way, to get Hungarian tourists who are out there – and who don’t yet perceive the danger directly – to understand that they should get out as soon as possible. In such cases the capabilities are available – by plane, by boat, by any means possible – to get every Hungarian out. We should also be thankful that so far we haven’t heard of any Hungarians being among the victims. The victims include the sons and daughters of many nations, including citizens of European countries. So far it seems that we haven’t lost anyone. And then one says that when a country is attacked through a terrorist act, the leaders there – and in this case Prime Minister Netanyahu – obviously realise that they have a duty to their own people to do everything they can to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. And indeed we must say that if someone is subject to a terrorist attack, they have the right to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, that their own citizens don’t fall victim to terrorist acts again. And the third idea is at the same time to localise the conflict, to limit it as much as possible, to restrict it geographically, and to confine it within boundaries. Because although a war is in progress, this war is against terrorism – just like the one waged by the Americans, if we think back to that. Now there is no war between states. The danger is that, as a result or consequence of a terrorist act, Israel could become involved in a war with a neighbouring Arab country. Now that would be a big problem! So an Arab-Israeli interstate war would destabilise the whole region, it would shake up everything in world politics to such an extent that we’d feel the shockwaves even in Hungary. The task of Hungarian diplomacy is therefore to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, and to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, while at the same time pursuing a policy of what international diplomacy calls de-escalation, so that we don’t see the development of an interstate war.
How can this be prevented? Because, after all, in our broader environment we now have a war in our neighbourhood and a conflict raging or emerging on Europe’s borders. What does this mean for Hungary or Europe from a security point of view?
Perhaps we should remind ourselves that things were just starting to go well in that corner of the world. So under President Trump, during his term as US President, Arab-Israeli relations greatly improved. For years before that they’d been much worse. More recent years have been characterised by a loosening or easing of relations between the Arab states and the State of Israel, or an easing of tensions, and a search for paths for cooperation. There’s been an improvement in relations between Israel and the Arab states that perhaps no one would have imagined a few years ago. Things were just starting to go in the right direction. Whether the terrorist act is connected with this – whether it was done precisely to stop this process from going any further or not – is still speculation, and we don’t yet have any intelligence information on that. So I’m sure that, despite the terrorist attack, we should salvage what we can from the results of the rapprochement of recent years – even if today that doesn’t seem easy at all. Now the next thing that’s shocking – and that should set off alarm bells in our heads – is that all over Europe there are demonstrations expressing sympathy for terrorists. They’ve even tried to do so in Hungary; but here one can’t stage a demonstration expressing sympathy for terrorist organisations, because that in itself would pose a terrorist threat to Hungarian citizens. So let’s forget that. This isn’t the time or place for that, we won’t grant any permission for it, and we – the Government – will make use of our legal rights. But in many places in Western Europe they cannot prevent pro-terrorist demonstrations. This means that there are people in Western Europe – and it seems to be a large number of people – who approve of such actions. And as masses of people were allowed to enter Western European countries during the migration crisis without undergoing screening, these now include Hamas proxies. And this poses a direct and serious risk to all Western European countries. I’ll say this again: let us thank God that in 2015 our minds and hearts were in the right place, and we built both the fence and the legal barriers that enabled us to keep away from Hungary the terrorist threat that inevitably goes hand in hand with migration.
Indeed, in the past hour our correspondents have also reported that there have been pro-Hamas demonstrations in Sweden, in Britain and in many major European cities. And the same correspondents have also reported the fears of the Jewish community, with Rabbi Slomo Köves, incidentally, coming here and saying that he’s shocked to see what’s happening in Western Europe. These events…
Sorry, this is also important for Hungary, because let’s not forget that Hungary has one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. Of course it’s a colourful world: just like in Israel, here in Hungary it’s also a very colourful world, with Orthodox and Neolog Jews. Obviously, these people have a variety of political views, but they’re all citizens of Hungary. They’re Hungarian citizens, and the Hungarian state must protect them. So – whatever their religion, whatever their origins – Hungarian people, Hungarian citizens, cannot be allowed to feel threatened because of their origins or their religion. This must be prevented! This is a safe country. It’s true that we’ve entered an age of dangers. Just look back: a pandemic, a war between Russia and Ukraine, and now a terrorist attack in Israel. We’re living in an age of dangers, but this doesn’t mean that in Hungary we can accept a reduction in the level of security, the level of security in our lives. In an age of dangers, the Hungarian state must stand its ground.
Yes, and in Western Europe we see a trend in the opposite direction, precisely because Jewish communities are afraid. Will the events that we’ve seen in Western Europe in the last week change the EU elite’s position on the issue of migration? Because in the meantime the Migration Pact – including its hitherto disputed parts – was adopted last week, despite Hungary and Poland voting against it.
No, they’re not changing their position. With all due respect, I have to say that they’re blind, that God has taken away their clear-sightedness. So in Brussels today – and this will be a major battle in the coming months – they’re creating rules with which they’ll seek to force us to allow the entry onto Hungary’s territory of people, migrants, who are violent and aggressive, and who use weapons against Hungarian border guards at Hungary’s southern borders. So they want us to share with them the security risks that they suffer, which are a result of the bad decisions they made in earlier years. We don’t want that; we want to share in the good things, not the bad things. The European Union isn’t about sharing out the bad things among us, but collectively gaining and progressing more, because we can produce more good things. Now they’re not creating something good, but something bad – by letting in migrants, pushing aside Polish-Hungarian resistance, and inviting migrants into Hungary and Europe through the even more forceful imposition of a distribution system. The EU has decided to distribute refugees who have arrived in Europe illegally. We would also need to take in a few thousand. According to the EU’s current decision, we too would need to build a refugee camp, a migrant ghetto, for around ten thousand people, and we would need to keep the migrants there for a while – before letting them out. So they want to impose something bad on us. The situation is absurd. If we look at the map of Europe’s refugee and migrant policy today, we’ll see that only one model has worked. Many things have been tried in Europe to curb migration, but only one model has worked: the Hungarian model. One cannot cross the Hungarian border illegally: there’s a physical and legal border barrier against those trying to cross illegally. They do leak through, that does happen, but we do our utmost to hold them back. If we didn’t hold them back, hundreds of thousands of them would enter Hungary and Europe. So we can say that the Italian model doesn’t work, the Greek model works partially, and the French model doesn’t work at all. The only model that works is the Hungarian model. There are no migrants here. Zero! And there won’t be. Instead of the EU adopting what I could call Hungarian know-how – or Hungarian knowledge, Hungarian solutions – and applying this knowledge elsewhere in Europe with certain amendments to account for national characteristics, it wants to destroy our well-functioning model. I’ve been able to defend it – with great difficulty – up to now, because on three occasions at the European Council of Prime Ministers we’ve succeeded in securing the passage of our proposal that migration legislation should only be passed unanimously. For years we’ve been unable to reach agreement, but at least they’ve been unable to destroy what we’ve built. But now they’ve used legal violence, they’ve brushed aside the written political agreement that was previously concluded, and they’re forcing legislation on us. We must defend ourselves against this, we must defend ourselves again – this time by other means. I don’t really see any means other than defending ourselves politically. Of course we’re not implementing anything that would endanger the security of Hungarians, but this won’t be enough: we need to achieve political change in Brussels. The current leaders must go. With such people we won’t be able to defend Hungary, because Brussels won’t face up to us, but will attack us from behind. It wants to let in people who have a proven record of violence against Hungarian border guards. We cannot allow this, and so in the upcoming European Parliament elections next year we must achieve a significant change in the EU. Otherwise Brussels will be a continuing security risk for Hungary. So we must disconnect them from our security system, because Brussels isn’t helping, but wrecking.
Yes, but they want to get this accepted before the European Parliament elections. Is this the reason for the great haste, then – that they’re also afraid of political change?
Yes, they know full well that the majority of the European people – the vast majority, in my opinion – agree with us. So if you ask a citizen of Western Europe what kind of migration situation they’d like to see, the vast majority of them will say that it should be like Hungary: with no illegal immigrants, zero, no one. Now that they’ve been let in, they’re hoping that someone will take them away – and this is called distribution. They haven’t been able to defend their borders, there was a mass influx of illegal migrants, and there’s been a mass influx ever since. The rules in Brussels are seen as an invitation; because if you’re sitting somewhere in a fairly desperate situation and you hear that if you enter Europe illegally you’ll be distributed among the Member States, you’ll set off. So now we’ve sent them an invitation letter, Brussels has sent them an invitation letter. So if you ask Westerners, they’ll say that they don’t want that, and that the borders have to be closed, like the Hungarians are doing. But the EU leaders are doing the opposite, and they know that they’re defying their own people. And Hungary is the only voice in Europe today that’s able to speak for the interests of the people. We’ve been the only country to have a referendum, but now this weekend the Poles will have a referendum on the issue of migration. Nowhere else have the people been asked what they want, how they want to settle this issue in their own country. We’re the only ones who have been in this situation, we’ve done it, and this is why we’re on very solid ground, defending the Hungarian physical and legal border, with a democratic decision backing us up.
New economic data has appeared in the past few days: inflation fell to 12.2 per cent in September, down since January from a high of 25.7 per cent. We’ve tracked the decline here, too, every two weeks. Are there any factors that you see are holding us back – or could hold us back – from reaching the target of under 10 per cent in the coming months?
I don’t see any such factor now. At the beginning of the year we had to make a difficult decision, because traditionally the fight against inflation is the responsibility of the Central Bank, but here we were faced with an international inflationary deluge of such magnitude that the Central Bank couldn’t cope with its small buckets, and we needed more serious instruments. And so the Government had to take on the task and responsibility of fighting inflation. The Central Bank’s doing its job, but it couldn’t have prevented this flood, and so the Government had to act. We’ve introduced measures. I’m not saying that in all circumstances they pass the test for good taste: price freezes, and so on. So we had to introduce measures that were alien to the functioning of the economy, we had to intervene in the economy, we had to intervene in the fabric of the economy, causing disruption in order to cure the problem. But this has yielded results. So in the end it turned out that the diagnosis was correct and that the therapy was well targeted. So we’ve gone from 16 per cent in August down to 12 per cent in September, and I foresee single-digit inflation in November and December. This is good so far, this doesn’t worry me anymore, and now I see this as being on the path that we need to be on. We had a higher ambition than that, but we haven’t been able to achieve it. So while fighting inflation we wanted to keep economic growth at a relatively high level. And this hasn’t worked. So now it’s turned out that we either put inflation first or we put economic growth first, but the two goals don’t work together. That’s what we’d have liked. So now we’ve been forced to change our strategy, and we’ve decided that in 2023 this is the year to bring inflation down – that’s the most important thing, even though it means a loss on the economic growth front. And we’ll restart economic growth in 2024. The two couldn’t be done at the same time, so we had to line up the tasks in order. In 2024 we’re going to aim for high economic growth.
How do you see this being achieved? Because it seems that, one by one, European countries are downwardly adjusting their growth outlooks. For example, recently the German economy minister announced that they’d been expecting growth, and now they expect the economy to contract this year.
It’s not going to be easy, because it’s difficult for you to grow in an environment where other people aren’t growing. This is especially true for a country that has a small internal market. We have an internal market of ten million people, and a lot of our economic output comes from producing at home and selling abroad. But if there are no buyers abroad because there’s no growth there, then your own products are stuck here. This is why it’s important that a country doesn’t stand on one leg. So the German economy is important for us, and the European Union is still the dominant and primary player; but we must remain open to every market in the world. This is why there’s a big debate in the world today about whether the world economy should be split into a Western and an Eastern world economy, or whether we should continue to follow the logic of interconnection, otherwise known as connectivity. The Hungarian economy has a clear interest in connectivity. This is why, for example, I’m going on an extended trip to China next week, an extended trip involving several meetings. Currently we’re interested in every market in the world. It’s important to sell our products everywhere from Vietnam to China to South America. This is a major task not only for business people, but also for the Hungarian state. The foreign trade part of the Hungarian state faces a major task in the year ahead. It needs to do two things: it needs to create investments in Hungary, and then it needs to sell those products. And in the coming year the state will have tasks in both areas, both in supporting investments and in placing products.
Was this – building economic relations – the purpose of your visit to Georgia over the past two days? What results have we achieved here?
The main question here was whether the European Union, in its present tormented state, would be able to link up with new regions in an economically profitable way. The country we’re talking about – Georgia – is in the Caucasus, on the other side of the Black Sea. And the question is whether the world of the Caucasus can link up in an economically rational way with the world of Europe. The closest to this are the Georgians. They have a political system similar to Europe’s, and they have institutions that we are familiar with. It’s a European country, it’s based on Christianity, and it’s an important gateway: a gateway area between Europe and the rest of the Caucasus. We have a major joint programme, without precedent in the world: we want to import green energy, electricity, produced in Azerbaijan – which is also that region – to Europe via Georgia, Romania and Hungary. To do this we need to lay a high-voltage cable – which is over 1,000 kilometres long – under the Black Sea, and build all the associated infrastructure. This is also supported by the European Union, and this is a major EU programme. It can be completed within a few years, it will be good for the people living there, it will be good for Hungary’s security – its energy supply and security – and it will be good for the whole of Europe. So we have a major flagship programme that we want to jointly implement with them. In these troubled and confused times we hope that the EU won’t back down, and goodness knows what’s in the heads of the Brusseleers; but this is a serious and good programme, and it’s worth carrying it through.
The past few weeks have been full not only of negative news, but also of Hungarian successes, with first Katalin Karikó receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and then Ferenc Krausz the Nobel Prize in Physics. Since then many people have interpreted these prizes in many different ways. What do you think is the most important message of this Hungarian success for Hungarian society, especially for young people?
When I look at the world I’m obviously biased in favour of Hungarians. Obviously in these fantastic stories everyone sees something that they feel is close to their heart. For some people it’s biology, for some it’s physics, and for some it’s saving human lives; because each of them – even our Nobel Prize winner in Physics – is somehow connected to biology. Every Hungarian is happy about this, even though I have no idea what an attosecond light pulse is – but I think it could be something big. But what’s closest to my heart is that these are two scientists, two Hungarian scientists, who come from “deep Hungary”. Because this shows the incredible vitality possessed by us Hungarians. This is something that we sometimes forget, and therefore we don’t think as highly of ourselves as we could. So for Hungarians the problem isn’t that they think too highly of themselves, but rather that they underestimate themselves. And here we have two Nobel laureates, one of whom comes from somewhere in the Jász-Kun region, and the other from Mór, in a Swabian area. So we’re not talking about people from the centre of Budapest, not about the children of wealthy families who have graduated from high schools in the US or European universities, but about people from the world of deep Hungary, where great minds are born that later you can only admire. And this is happening in Hungary. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and not only in science. So in my opinion the talent and knowledge that lies deep within our people will come out and can be lured out if there’s good policy, good weather and a fortunate historical zeitgeist. And this is our great reserve. So we should never be afraid. So, no matter how difficult the times we’re living through, Hungarians should never be afraid, because there are fantastic minds emerging somewhere out there, on the edges, in the deep regions of Hungary. The moment they’re given even a small chance they’ll start to move upwards and find themselves among the best in the world. Such are our athletes, but also our scientists, and I believe that culture can also produce a good number of such great personalities. So this is a positive encouragement for the future. What these two Nobel Prizes tell us is, “Fear not, Hungarians, you’re talented enough to succeed, even in the most difficult times.”
In the past half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the terrorist attack in Israel, migration policy in Brussels, the state of the Hungarian economy, and our new Nobel Prize-winning scientists.