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: Western European politicians are increasingly raising the idea of the possible deployment of European troops in Ukraine, as well as that of restoring compulsory military conscription – including for women, according to some. In the meantime NATO is considering whether it should allow Kiev/Kyiv to attack Russian targets with the Western weapons it’s been given. What direction do these declarations point to for the West’s war strategy, and how can one stay out of this? This is one of the questions I’ll be asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the next half hour. Good morning.                                                                                              

Good morning.

Perhaps the most serious debate on conscription is in Germany, but it’s also on the agenda in many other countries. And the fact that this isn’t a distant prospect is shown by the fact that Latvia, for example, reintroduced conscription last year. What’s the reason for the rapid militarisation of Europe?                                                                                                            

Thirty years ago, when conscription was still common, there was an idea that constant readiness – the constant training for warfare of young generations that was achieved through conscription – was no longer necessary, and our countries could be defended by so-called “professional armies”. Peace had been established in Europe, the Cold War was over, the Russians – the Soviet Union – had been pushed back from Central Europe, and essentially no military power on the globe could rival NATO. So countries would select, in each country a layer of the population would be created who’d be willing to risk their lives – even take an oath to sacrifice their lives – to defend their homeland. They’d be professional soldiers. In my view these people constitute the best part of society: they’re the most committed, the most serious, the most serious oath-taking part of Hungarian society, or of our societies, who say that they’re willing to live differently from the rest of us in order to stand ready to defend the homeland. They say, “We don’t live like you comfort-loving civilians.” I don’t want to be offensive to our kind, but when I was a soldier, civilians were described as “wimps”, because, “We don’t live like you civilians, we live differently, we live like soldiers.” This includes a very physically demanding lifestyle, camaraderie, comradeship, honesty, humility, and self-sacrifice for one’s country. And these people are selected, they’re separated out, and they become the professional army, while others go about their lives. This has been the basic concept. Now that there’s war in Europe again, a big question mark has been attached to the concept. And I think that humility, discipline, self-defence, the ability to make a sacrifice, comradeship and teamwork are values that should also be present in those who aren’t professional soldiers. But this doesn’t necessarily require the reintroduction of conscription, because – even without conscription – we have reserve training programmes, we have military high schools, and we have summer programmes where we can bring people – young people – closer to weapons training, self-defence, honour and patriotism. This is why Hungary doesn’t yet feel that reintroducing conscription is the only way to respond to the current war. Therefore in Hungary there are no immediate plans for the reintroduction of conscription, but there’s a great deal of effort being invested in military studies, training, and the introduction of defence studies in secondary schools. So we’re doing a number of things that will enable the whole country – the whole of Hungarian society – to defend itself without the need for conscription. Now, this debate is also taking place elsewhere. There are others – I see Germany most of all, but also the Baltic states – who have almost reintroduced it, some who have already done so, some who now want to, and who will be reintroducing conscription. This is a matter for each nation, and we don’t need to concern ourselves with it. What we do need to concern ourselves with is the fact that they’re also – particularly in Germany, and the German leader of the European People’s Party – talking about conscription as if it should be within some kind of unified, imperial – that’s my word – army controlled by Brussels, by the European Union. This would mean that control over the fate of our country’s young people would be removed from national jurisdiction, we’d lose part of our sovereignty, and someone else would decide about Hungarians’ lives and deaths. This is unacceptable! Even before this idea puts out shoots, it must be plucked out of the ground as soon as its seed has fallen, to be sure of preventing it becoming reality.                                     

There’s another plan, but it’s emerged in a much more concrete form. This has to do with whether NATO will allow Ukraine to attack Russian targets with Western weapons; and NATO’s role in the war is already much more active than it’s been to date. How do you assess this kind of shift, these plans? 

Now that, because of the war, I’m coming here to your studio more often, every time I prepare for this conversation I have the opportunity to make comparisons with what happened in the past week – where we’ve come from and where we’re going. And it’s alarming when you don’t just look at events as you would from day to day, but stop and say where we were a week ago and where are we now. Every week we’re closer to war. So every week something happens that points in the direction of drifting into war. This week two things happened. The first was negotiations between France and Ukraine to allow French training officers to go to Ukraine. We know that there are advisers in Ukraine in a semi-official capacity – NATO soldiers are there, but not officially, or at least not in a military capacity. The most military-oriented thing that can happen is training. So in undertaking to train soldiers openly in Ukraine, the French are moving to a new level. This week the other – even more worrying – development has been that ever more people, including the NATO Secretary General, are saying that the weapons given to Ukraine by Western countries can be used not only for defence, but also to attack the Russians. The NATO Secretary General says that the weapons we’ve given to the Ukrainians belong to Ukraine, and from then on they can do what they want with them. This is now leading to a big debate on how these weapons are operated when they’re put into the hands of soldiers. This is especially true for the more technologically sophisticated weapons, and how they’re targeted; because this is usually done via a satellite system, and with some form of computer technology. So how Ukrainian is the weapon that’s been fired into Russian territory, and to what extent isn’t it? This will be a big debate. And obviously, as the Russians announced yesterday, they see this as NATO’s hand in the weapons-inflicted damage caused by Ukrainians on Russian territory. So without NATO, Ukraine wouldn’t be able to fire on Russian territory, and after all NATO has something to do with that. So we’ve somehow taken another step in engagement. Moreover, in all this the most instructive and important thing is that we have to be able to gauge the intentions of the opposing sides – because if we don’t, we’ll go very wrong. And – regardless of what anyone thinks of the Russians, because they attacked Ukraine, they launched an invasion – the Russians have very clear targets. They say that they invaded Ukraine because Ukraine wanted to join NATO. I also think that the key to the situation is Ukraine’s membership of NATO, and the future of this issue. And in military terms the Russians have also announced that they’ll advance into Ukraine until they’ve created a zone which the Ukrainians cannot fire across with long-range weaponry to inflict damage not only on the populations and towns and cities in occupied territory, but also in old-established Russian territories. So the weapons the Ukrainians are firing into Russian territory are also linked to how far the Russians will advance. The Russians have told us that the better the weapons the Ukrainians fire, the further the Russians will advance. Of course no one knows whether or not this will be the case, but at least the message is clear. So there’s a risk. We have to very clearly see that if we support Ukraine in firing on Russia’s territory, we’ll be bringing it closer to us: we can bring the Russians closer to us. We have to think about all these things. I just want to tell you that, week by week, specific steps are being taken that also develop such deep connections. Because drifting into a war doesn’t happen overnight. It has three phases: there’s discussion, then preparation, and then destruction. We’ve already completed the discussion phase. What we’re talking about now, what we’re analysing now, is a question of preparation, and it means that we’re centimetres away from real destruction.                                              

But if this is causing such controversy and posing such a risk, why are Western politicians so determined to continue supporting Ukraine?

Because they think they can win. So I also think about this a lot, because they’re sane people, and they can’t want destruction and war – or at least only for very good reasons. And obviously they must have something which keeps their sense of danger lower than ours, otherwise they’d behave like us. I think geographical distance has a bearing on this. So one factor is that the big European states are further away from Russia than Central Europe is. They think of Ukraine as a buffer zone between them and Russia – and of course there’s also Central Europe. That’s how it used to be, didn’t it? That’s what they used us for. So they think they’re further away from the real risk than Central Europe is. Of course Central Europeans are wailing about this, and the Hungarian prime minister is beating out fires, scaremongering, and talking about the damage of war. This may be true in Central Europe, but on the Atlantic coast, in France, how can it be? Of course this argument ignores the fact that modern technology can cover greater distances than in previous wars; but all the same, their sense of security is much stronger than that of the Hungarians. Not to mention that they’ve won wars. And they still think – and I now think that this is the most important reason that they’re behaving differently from us – that they want to win this war against Russia, they want to defeat Russia. Of course sometimes they say it like this, and sometimes they say that the Russians mustn’t win. But the point is the same: they want to achieve military success against Russia – at any cost. 

For weeks we’ve been referring back to events before the First and Second World Wars. But when it comes to the question of staying out of the war, almost 110 years ago to the day, in a letter dated 1 July 1914, the then Hungarian prime minister István Tisza warned Emperor Franz Joseph against going to war, saying that “The worst conceivable situation would be for us to start a great war under the most unfavourable circumstances.” In the end Tisza’s words fell on deaf ears in the West. What will it take for the Hungarian voice of peace to be stronger now than it was then?

It’s interesting to look back at history. The other day I spoke here about the way in which Hungary was forced into war, both in the Tisza era and in the Horthy era. This has subsequently been disputed by some historians, especially those of the liberal variety, although the facts are quite clear: we didn’t want to be involved in either the First or Second World War. In the course of this debate, I’ve looked up the surviving manuscripts of the negotiations between Hitler and Horthy, and it’s quite clear that Hungary and Governor Horthy were under tremendous pressure to get as many soldiers to the front as quickly as possible – and, incidentally, to deport as many Jews as possible from Hungary. So at the time the Hungarian government was under enormous pressure. I’m not saying that what we’re suffering now – and what I’m personally experiencing – is at the same level as it was then, but we’re moving towards it. So I can tell you that at every EU summit the pressure on me and on us is increasing: it never decreases, there’s no pause, it’s constantly increasing – and I feel that it’s not over yet. So here we have to resist. The question here is whether we have a country behind us, whether Hungary is united in the cause of peace, whether we stand up for peace, and whether we dare to say that we’re not prepared to die for Ukraine. Because, after all, that is the crux of the matter, and this is where we arrive at: Are we willing to shed Hungarian blood in Ukraine, for Ukraine? And we are not. And while it’s possible to make all kinds of forceful pro-war attacks on this, I’ll take them on: I’ll take them on there and I’ll take them on here. For us the most important thing is the Hungarian interest, and that this war is not our war: this war isn’t being fought in our interests, Hungarians mustn’t suffer in this war, and we must stay out of this war. Of course I’ll accept this, even though it may be an extremely unpopular position – perhaps not here on the radio, but it’s extremely unpopular in Brussels, and there sometimes it’s a unique position. But we must stand our ground. After all, it’s not in our contract that we should always feel good: our contract says that we should do our job. Well, now this is the job! The truth is that I have a strong argument – but it’s a pity that arguments are no longer relevant. My argument is that NATO is a defence alliance. So we created it – or it was created, and we joined it – to ensure that its member countries are protected. It wasn’t set up to organise a mission, say a NATO-Ukraine mission, to intervene in an armed conflict outside NATO territory and thereby create the threat of a world war. It’s absurd that, instead of protecting us, NATO is dragging us, as a member country, into a world war. It’s as absurd as a firefighter deciding to put out a fire with a flamethrower. That’s not what NATO was created for. So this is a strong argument, and this is where I stand. And I ask the Hungarian people, at every election – and now too – to support the Hungarian government in this.

The organisers of tomorrow’s Peace March, which you’ll be attending and speaking at, say that a pro-peace stance is also the aim of the march. In this situation, what do you see as the significance of the Peace March?

The most important thing is to make it clear that now we really are balancing between war and peace. So we have to say that we perceive the danger, because many people – especially in Western Europe, and the Hungarian Left, which is paid by them – also claim that the immediate danger of war that we’re talking about doesn’t exist. But it must be said that it does! And the people who can speak out about the threat of war are those who are most threatened by it and who feel themselves to be in danger: ordinary people, the people. So the most important thing is to make this clear. And it must be said that anyone who talks like a warmonger, anyone who supplies arms like a warmonger, anyone who wants to send soldiers like a warmonger, is a warmonger. And this is true of the European leaders, it’s true of the Hungarian Left, and it’s true of the whole Soros system that finances them. This is the first thing. The second thing that we must make clear is that Hungarians have a strong desire for peace, and we don’t believe that Europe can endure another war. Since we’re a week away from the European elections, this Peace March can remind us that the founding fathers of the European Union were right, because they stood on this one statement, which was their foothold: Europe could not endure another war. This was why they created the European Union. So it’s a peace project, it was set up in opposition to war, so that we didn’t end up in that situation again. In contrast with that, now the European Union itself is going ahead and taking us into war. It must also be made clear that we didn’t join the European Union in order to collectively go to war; nor did we join the European Union in order to pour 100 billion euros into war. Money’s being poured in by the sackful – money that’s being thrown together from the taxes of individuals and companies, from individual and company taxpayers. And instead of keeping it in the European economy and using it to develop Europe, we’re sending it away and burning it in the war. We’re already at 100 billion, and ever more demands are being made. War is a Moloch, a monster that’s always hungry and needs to be fed. It needs to be fed with money, and I see that the Americans – at least the Democratic administration – and the leaders of the European Union are prepared to feed it. If we’re going to spend all our money in Ukraine, how are we going to restart the European economy? These are all questions that need to be put openly to European leaders. And the true point of the European elections is about making it clear to them that there is democracy and that the voice of an increasingly pro-peace Europe cannot be ignored. It is not just the voice of the Hungarians: there are still a good number of countries who have moved – or are moving, manoeuvring their way – over here to the side of peace. So European public opinion is pro-peace, and its will must be taken into account. Therefore a good European election must lead the war leaders off the warpath.

Yes, but if we look at the last few weeks, whether at the assassination attempt on Fico or the banning of the Brussels peace conference, the warmongers seem to show a kind of hostility towards the advocates of peace. What could be the reason for this, and how can it be dealt with?

This is the case in the first phase of every war. It’s worth reading not only the memoirs of politicians, but also those of other contemporary witnesses: writers, artists, authors or academics. The first phase of every major war was fought under intense moral pressure, whereby the pro-war side argued that the only morally right solution to the conflicts that had developed was war, and that therefore anyone who was on the side of peace was in fact taking a morally wrong position. This was demonstrated in fiery rallies and clashes from France to Hungary; and as time went on and it became clear that war wasn’t the solution to the conflicts that had arisen between European nations, the pro-war position shifted towards the pro-peace position, with support for the pro-peace position growing until peace finally arrived. But this took four years in the First World War and five years in the Second World War. Terrible casualties are being sustained. History exists for us to learn from it. We should spare ourselves these four or five years. So now, at the outset, we can say that there’s no solution to this war on the battlefield. Those who want to win this war on the battlefield are condemning themselves to war and are risking a world war. So let’s spare ourselves that! Let’s learn from earlier examples! Let’s take back the initiative, let’s have a ceasefire and let’s start negotiations, before we find ourselves in the middle of a major European war. 

Almost every election is described as a watershed during the campaign. But, based on what’s been said so far, and in the current situation, how is this election different from previous ones?

Indeed, as you say, sometimes we use the words “watershed” and “historic” too easily; but when you say it, you feel it. I can use that as an excuse. And even now, I myself feel that when we look back on this period, this election, this year, we’ll perhaps say – as we now say about 1914, or as we say about 1939 – that this was when the great trouble began: when the preparations turned into the actual continent-wide conflict, leading to the involvement of all of Europe. That can be avoided. It’s by no means true that all wars are written in the stars. All wars are the result of leadership decisions. And if the leaders are sensible, there will be no war. If leaders decide not to go to war, countries won’t get involved in war. If leaders decide that peace is more important than war, then there will be peace. These are human decisions. And human decisions are made one by one, as you noted at the beginning of the discussion. Right now, the decision is to give Ukraine more weapons and allow the war to escalate and widen. These aren’t necessities, they’re human decisions. And there are democracies in Europe, democracies one way or another – sometimes the bike chain comes loose, but nonetheless they’re democracies. Leaders must be forced to make pro-peace decisions, and in democracies the only way to force pro-peace decisions out of leaders is with elections: vote out the pro-war, vote for peace; remove the pro-war politicians and replace them with pro-peace politicians. Now, for example, it’s not pro-war MEPs – in Hungary, let’s say, not representatives of the Hungarian Left – who can and must be sent to the European Parliament, but pro-peace MEPs. In Hungary today only Fidesz and the KDNP are pro-peace, so if we want peace we should send them to the European Parliament.

I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the risks of the Russo-Ukrainian war, tomorrow’s Peace March and the stakes in the election.


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