Interviews / Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Zsolt Törőcsik: Yesterday French president Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed the possibility of sending European ground troops to Ukraine, and recently he also said that France is ready to open a debate on a European defence policy that includes nuclear weapons. Meanwhile the President of Poland has also said that Warsaw is ready to host nuclear weapons on its territory, if the allies so decide. How dangerous is the war situation today? This is one of the questions I’ll be asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the next half hour. Good morning.                     

Good morning. What’s more, the European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Borrell, says that a full-scale European war is no longer a fantasy. And most of all I was struck by the words of the Polish foreign minister this week, who said that there’s no diplomatic solution to this war, and it can only be resolved by brute military force. These words reveal true intentions: they’re not communication bubbles or spontaneous outbursts, but embody real political thinking and intent. Europe is playing with fire, and at the moment we’re balancing on the boundary between peace and war.                                                                                              

How tense is the situation? I ask this because there was also a war in 1999, back then on our southern border. You were also Prime Minister then. How is what we see now different from that situation, or from what we’ve seen over the last thirty years?                                          

It’s still too early for historians to fully explore the events of 1999. We’d just entered NATO, and almost the next day we had to undergo a baptism of fire, because NATO decided to attack Serbia, and Hungary had to put assets at its disposal – primarily airports. We know this, this is information in the public realm. What I don’t want to talk about at any length is that America wanted us to open a northern front in addition to the southern front. Such a front in northern Serbia would have been on Hungary’s southern border. The Americans had specific military ideas about what Hungary should do on this front, which I rejected, thus succeeding in keeping Hungary out of the war. So there was no Serb-Hungarian war, which I think would have tragically sealed the fate of Hungary for decades to come – not to mention the fate of the Hungarian community living in northern Serbia, which still numbered 300,000 at that time. So I have personal experience of what it’s like when the winds of war whistle past one’s ears, I know that one has to use one’s brain, and I don’t endorse those statements that talk about war here as if it were an afternoon tea party. Because we clearly remember how many refugees arrived here from the Yugoslav Wars, which were far smaller than the current Russo-Ukrainian war, and for how long they had to be accommodated there in the Pécs area. They were Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. And although we weren’t involved in the war, it still caused us anguish. It’s good to know that children are in safe hands, but they don’t go to school to pass the time, and something sticks in their heads; and at school we learned that Hungary was twice forced into wars that tragically sealed the country’s future, its size, its territory, its population and its economic strength. We didn’t want to take part in the First World War, and we didn’t want to take part in the Second World War; we were forced into both, and in the end we were among those who paid the highest price. It’s my personal conviction – and on this issue the Government’s united – that we shall not allow Hungary to be forced for a third time into a war in which the Hungarians end up suffering the consequences, suffering the heaviest losses – or at least very heavy losses. So we shall stand by our pro-peace position. Unfortunately, the situation is that we’re slipping further away from peace every day. This war’s been going on for two years, for two years the European leaders have been deliberating questions of strategy and sanctions. They’ve declared that we won’t supply anything but helmets, but then it turns out that fine, there should be sanctions – but not on energy; and then it turns out that there should be sanctions on energy. And then we supply firearms – fine, but we won’t supply aircraft; and then we supply aircraft. And now they’re supplying missiles. So I’ve seen this: I sit there among them, and I see this drift, day by day, week by week – not from war to peace, but from peace to war. And I see the extreme danger in it, and I fear for the future of Europe.

This is also interesting, because according to many experts the situation of the Ukrainians on the front is becoming increasingly hopeless, and they believe that the course of the war is being decided. In this situation, for how long and why will the West continue to support Ukraine?

Hungarians are a worldly-wise people, so we can see through the games of others, and we know that war not only brings losses. Of course it does bring terrible, appalling losses, with the tide of war sweeping away human lives and entire national economies. But there are always those who gain from it. I look at the decision of the US Congress, a month or two ago I listened to the US president, and he made it very clear that the US economy benefits from arms aid to Ukraine. First the US secretary of state said this, and then the US president. Now they’ve made these decisions about 60 billion dollars and more in military aid; and if you look at its internal structure, you can see that it’s actually a huge military order for US industry. There are these NGOs, Soros and his people. There are always these financial speculators, people fishing in troubled waters, who – as they say in Budapest – are looking at the war to see what they can get out of it, and are trying to get everything they can out of it. It’s all very well to say that they’re few in number; the fact is that they exist, and they’re strong. So behind the tendency for war there are very serious forces: business, political and economic forces. But the public – the majority of the public at least – are on the side of peace. This lends the current situation its tension, with the number of people throughout Europe who feel the danger and don’t want war growing continuously, while every day European leaders take ever more steps towards war – although I’m not saying that they’re marching.                                                                        

Yes, and this is also reflected in the economic data. We’ve just been talking about the fact that growth in Europe, for example, is lagging far behind that in Hungary, and there’s an economic downturn in many countries. So from that point of view, too, the people of Europe are suffering from the war. Why isn’t the Brussels leadership interested in this?                                          

One really has to think hard to understand this, and I can’t be 100 per cent sure when answering either. But experiences of war have been different: Central Europe has lost every war; Western Europe has won every war. True, they’ve suffered, but in the end they’ve emerged victorious from wars. And, although it’s difficult to make comparisons, the extent of their suffering wasn’t the same during the Russian invasion of Europe in the Second World War: in Budapest it was greater than in Paris, because the Russians didn’t even get that far. So again, the problem is that everyone thinks about war differently because of geography. The reason we need to find a European security solution that includes the Russians, and in which everyone feels safe, is because that’s what can guarantee that an armed conflict doesn’t break out. Because the French president may say that troops will have to be sent, that they’ll have to be sent to Ukraine. Then the Russians will come, but then the French will go home. And then the Americans will go home. But this is our home and we have nowhere else to go home to from here: this is our country. It is where it is: in this windswept, war-torn, historically hazardous region. So for the peoples of Central Europe – it’s no coincidence that the Slovaks and the Serbs are speaking in a tone similar to that of the Hungarians – our historical experience of war is that it only ever ends in loss. In the end, even if the front doesn’t reach this point, we’ll pay the price for its economic effects. The closer you are to the war zone, the greater the price you pay, because the greater the risk is to your economy. When you make your calculations, your business calculations, you have to prepare for the greater likelihood that you’ll be hurt by the war than a business that’s three, four, five hundred kilometres away, or one thousand kilometres away. So we’re the ones who are most affected by war, because of caution and a lack of security guarantees. And the prices: if you look at the prices in the shops today, they’re not peacetime prices. In shops all over Europe, people are increasingly having to pay a kind of war surcharge. If there were peace and peacetime prices, the burden on families would be considerably smaller. But the same is true for economic growth. Now, I think, after the very difficult year of 2023, after sweating blood when we crushed inflation, Hungary’s plan is to make 2024 a year of growth. And this will succeed. But if we weren’t in a wartime environment, we wouldn’t have 2.5 per cent economic growth, but double that. So it’s safe to say that if we were living in a time of peace instead of the current war, the Hungarian economy’s growth performance would be double what it is now. Or, if we’re talking about the economy, there’s a risk related to the budget. If there’s still a war in 2025, then Hungary’s 2023 and 2024 military spending levels won’t be sufficient, and spending will have to be increased. If we have to increase it, we’ll have less for other things. So these are very painful economic issues. Making economic policy and running an economy in the shadow of war is difficult and requires enormous effort, and the fruits, the results, will be smaller than in peacetime. This is why Hungarians don’t simply want peace, but – because of their experience of world wars and because of the economic context – Hungarians have an instinct for peace. So saying that Hungary doesn’t want war isn’t a political statement. Perhaps it’s a political issue for the French and the Germans. Our deepest instincts speak against war and for peace.                                                                                  

We’ll come back to the economy, but at the beginning of the conversation you mentioned that Hungary successfully stayed out of a war in 1999. What will it take for Hungary to stay out of this war, and is there any experience from 1999 that can be used now?                                   

What’s essential, and what was needed then, is courage. At that time the President of the United States was Bill Clinton. He was a strong President, and back then too we had problems with how to say “no”, and still ensure that the elephant would put its foot down next to us and not on us. But we did it. It can be done: I’m sitting here, and Hungary’s alive and well. So it can be done – but first of all it needs courage. Secondly, it requires national unity. So for the leader of a country divided on domestic policy, with no clear majority for war and no clear majority for peace, it’s very difficult to keep their country out of a war. Fortunately I don’t have to contend with that now; it’s not a problem, because I feel that 80 to 90 per cent of Hungarians – and perhaps even more – are in favour of peace. So I feel that there’s great national unity, and when I have to fight there I’m not fighting for my own position, I’m not fighting for a political opinion, but I have to represent the strongest vital need of a country, springing from its vital instincts. Now, I have to say that of course the lefties – I mean the Left in Hungary – are pro-war, but here at election meetings I try to say that I don’t think it’s because they’re fools. Well, they also know that war is worse than peace. And I don’t think it’s because they’re evil, because there are very few evil people who want war because it’s bad. I don’t see that, even from the Left – I see a lot of things, but perhaps that would be an exaggeration. But what it’s about is that they’re getting paid. So they’re pro-war because there are pro-war governments all over Europe, and now even in America. And when you go to war, it’s very important that everyone falls in line. Hungary’s out of line because it’s pro-peace. This is why they want a change of government in Hungary, and they aren’t hiding it. That was the case in 2022, and it’s the case today. What they want is for the West to give us their money, for them to support NGOs, for them to support the left-wing press with American money, for them to give money to left-wing parties to create a pro-war government in Hungary. They want to create a pro-war government, for us to join the European or Western mainstream and become involved in the war, so as not to disrupt the united political chorus in favour of war. And the reality of the matter is that for this they need agents. These are the left-wing parties and left-wing thinkers and the political world of the Left in Hungary – which is a wide world, by the way, and I wouldn’t underestimate it, especially as it’s supported with foreign money. Thirty pieces of silver may not be a lot, but it’s enough.                                                                                                                                  

You’ve mentioned that neither Hungarian nor European political life is unified in terms of war or peace. In light of this, what’s at stake in the upcoming elections? Because on 19 [9] June there will be local and European Parliament elections.                                                       

It’s usually the case that the stakes in elections are mainly about which political force will have how many representatives. This isn’t just the case in Hungarian elections, but also in European elections. But this time is different. I’m not looking at who’s on the Left and who’s on the Right, but I’m looking at how many votes the pro-war forces will get and how many the pro-peace forces will get. So what’s really at stake is the war. Therefore it’s not Left and Right, it’s not ideology, and it’s not even parties: it’s how the elected representatives view the war. And, as we’re talking about a pan-European election, I’m convinced that today there’s a chance that anti-war MEPs will form a majority in the European Parliament. But, of course, the European elections are conducted on a national basis, and there are elections in all twenty-seven Member States. And my understanding is that now the majority of countries are pro-peace. If the pro-peace forces in Western European countries are politically adroit, we could have a European Parliament that doesn’t push European leaders towards war, but pulls Europe back from the brink. In Hungary, to put it bluntly, this means that here only those who vote for Fidesz will be voting for peace. I believe that there are people on the Left who have a desire in their hearts for peace; but if they vote for the Left, they’ll be voting for war. So if you want peace, vote for Fidesz.                         

To what extent can these voices, pro-peace voices, prevail – either in Hungary or in Western Europe? Here I’m thinking about the fact that a couple of weeks ago there was an attempt to block a national conservative conference in Brussels; and, more recently, a presentation by one of the participants at CPAC was blocked by one of the largest video-sharing sites. So it seems that there are attempts to…                                          

There’s a fight in progress. These aren’t attempts, there’s a battle going on. So pro-war and pro-peace forces are fighting each other. Moreover, there are other issues. I don’t want to say that the issue of the war has swept aside all other political issues, but it’s overshadowed them. Yet there are still prominent issues like gender, family protection and migration, and there are big debates on all of these. Europe feels that it finds itself at a historic crossroads: it can go this way or that way. We who shape European politics also feel that there’s weight, much greater weight than usual, to what we do, what we say and do – or that the European elections themselves have greater weight than usual. And now we have just passed this twentieth anniversary [of the accession of ten new Member States], which has also offered a historical perspective – looking both backwards and forwards. So I think that confidence can be gained from the fact that today the pro-peace forces have got as far as they have in making the European elections as open as they are. It wasn’t like this a year ago, when a larger number of ordinary Europeans were in favour of war than are now in favour of it. So the thinking of Europeans has shifted towards peace, and this will also need to be expressed politically through the elections. I’ve read assessments of the past twenty years. It’s interesting that everyone’s talking about the changes that have occurred in the new Member States, the countries whose accession brought European reunification; but I think that the more interesting question is how much the EU has changed, because this isn’t the EU that we entered. Let’s remind ourselves that I campaigned for EU membership in 2004, and I still think it’s better for us to be inside rather than outside. But I won’t deny that when we joined in 2004, the questions weren’t about what they’re about now. There was no question of millions of migrants being allowed into the continent, and migrants being forced on those countries that didn’t want them to come, such as us Hungarians. Or there was no question of someone being lambasted in the European liberal media for saying that a family is made up of a man, a woman and a child. Or there was no question of a country facing reprisals if it wrote into its constitution that a father is a man and a mother is a woman, as Hungary has done. This isn’t what Europe looked like. And we joined because Europe meant peace and prosperity, but now we’re in an economic crisis. The Europe we entered possessed and produced more than 20 per cent of the world’s economic power. We’ve slid back from that position. Our competitors have all overtaken us. This isn’t what it was about! And it wasn’t about European leaders manoeuvring the continent into a war instead of peace. So when we evaluate the past twenty years, the first sentence that one should say with a Hungarian heart and mind is “Gentlemen, this isn’t what we agreed upon!” Mother, I didn’t want that kind of horse! That wasn’t part of the deal! So it’s also worth reviewing the twenty years that have passed, these twenty years in the European Union, from this point of view. 

Let’s return to the Hungarian economy for a moment. You said that if there were peace, the growth that we see now could be doubled. But there are storm clouds in the sky: in Germany, for example, GDP has been falling, fuel prices are also volatile, and are tending to move upwards. How can these effects be countered? 

Since you’ve mentioned it, let’s talk about fuel prices for a minute. I think that the Hungarian people and the Hungarian government can legitimately expect the players involved in the fuel business – both wholesalers and retailers – to provide Hungarians with fuel at prices similar to those being paid by citizens of other countries in this region. So I think this is a legitimate demand. And it’s better that they recognise this and adjust their profits and margins accordingly – this would be better than needing to resort to state coercion. I’ve asked the Minister – Minister Márton Nagy – to negotiate, rather than use force. He could issue decrees enabling the Government to achieve this, but let’s not do that: let’s try to reach an agreement, let’s use our discretion rather than engage in arm wrestling. At the same time, I have to admit that what we’ve proposed for those in the energy business – sorry, the fuel business – hasn’t been perfect. We’ve asked them for a regional price, and we’re working from regional data: from the data of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, which includes Polish, Czech and Bulgarian prices, as well as those from our neighbouring countries. And the fuel retailers say that this isn’t fair, because – for various reasons – those other countries aren’t a basis for comparison with Hungary. Let’s leave those others out, and let’s set this average price – to which we want to link the Hungarian price level – in relation to fuel prices in our neighbouring countries. And I think this is a legitimate request from them, so we’ll recalculate the figures – while abiding by our earlier agreement, whereby Hungarians cannot pay more for petrol than the average price in neighbouring countries. So much for fuel. If we’re talking about the economy in general, I’d like to repeat my statement that if there were peace, the Hungarian economy could grow twice as fast, precisely because in that case the economies of Western Europe – especially the German economy – wouldn’t be suffering to the extent that we see now. The Germans have been wrecked by this war. The German economy has been wrecked by the fact that the Germans are paying at least twice as much for energy as they were paying earlier, after they disconnected themselves from the Russian energy system – or after the Americans disconnected them, but let’s leave the question of how that happened shrouded in benign obscurity. And the German market is very important for Hungary. The whole point of our membership of the European Union is that we have unrestricted access to the markets of countries that are richer than us – in other words, the markets of Western Europe. But if those countries find themselves in a crisis, if their wheels hit a pothole, if they’re juddering and they’re not buying Hungarian goods, Hungarian products, then of course that also affects us. So it’s in our interest for the German economy to march ahead, to speed forward, and for the German locomotive to pull the entire European economy along; because that’s also good for the Hungarians. But this isn’t the case today. Today we have to achieve economic growth in Hungary while our most natural sales market – Western Europe – is coughing, suffering influenza, sick and bedridden. It’s growing at a much lower rate than Hungary – and this isn’t just the case now, but will be, I fear, for another year or two. And it will certainly be like this for as long as we have to live in the shadow of war. This is where one has to be clever. It’s not by chance that the Chinese president is arriving in Hungary next week. It’s not by chance that we’ve increased our activities in Central Asia. We’re also reviving our relations – our economic relations – with Africa, we’re also investing capital, we’re also investing, we’re also selling products almost everywhere in the world. The focus of the Hungarian economy will certainly remain in Europe, but we need to expand the Hungarian economy’s radius of activity and capacity to act to a much greater extent than we were accustomed to in previous decades.

In the last half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán questions related to subjects including the dangers of war, the stakes in the elections on 9 June, and the economic outlook.


More news