Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on service to the nation, the future of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin and what is at stake in the 2018 parliamentary election.
One of the great achievements of the next few years will be that it will be well worth being Hungarian – even for a Hungarian living in the very last house on the edge of the furthest village. This was part of what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated in an interview given to our newspaper group. The Prime Minister said that the Hungarian community in the Carpathian Basin is on the threshold of a great era, and that community’s anticipated success will make it desirable to cooperate with it. According to Mr. Orbán, a partnership for cooperation primarily focusing on the economy can be forged with the current Romanian government; and with the approach of next year’s parliamentary election, he is asking Hungarian nationals beyond the borders to take part in this great challenge and claim a share in a brighter shared Hungarian future.
Szabolcs Rostás: In light of the political situation in Hungary and the polls, the outcome of next year’s parliamentary election may seem like a foregone conclusion: the identity of the winner is known in advance, and the current course can continue. For all that, however, I presume that the Fidesz–KDNP alliance isn’t just sitting back and relaxing. How would you assess the work your government has carried out over the past four or eight years?
An election is never a foregone conclusion. Anyone thinking that would not only be making a political mistake, but would also be showing a lack of respect for the electorate. Elections are not decided by polls or estimates, but by flesh-and-blood Hungarians. As to how they will decide, only they can know. We must wait with appropriate respect and patience for the election day to come, and for voters to state what they think. Whatever they say, we must acknowledge it, and continue our work and political life accordingly. Until its very last day in the service of the nation, a Hungarian governing party has a single duty of honour: to examine every issue and decide on it according to the best interests of the Hungarian people. The four-year term ends on the night of the election, everyone’s mandate expires with the end of that term, and a new period begins. I have concluded agreements with the Hungarian ministers for a four-year term. This will expire soon, everyone will take a break and give an account of their work, and then in light of the election results we’ll decide how to begin the next four years. It’s true that we have chances, and insincerity is also a sign of disrespect towards the electorate, so we must state with all honesty that the Fidesz–KDNP alliance has a good chance of earning the trust of voters. We have worked very hard over the past three and a half years, and also in the four years before that; we announced a clear programme, and I believe that we have accomplished what we committed to do. We promised to build a workfare economy, so that every Hungarian who wants to work may do so – and we have achieved this goal. We sought to build the future of Hungarian society on the foundations of families; this is why we have supported people who agree to have and raise children, and why we have placed families at the centre of our fiscal strategy and our entire approach to economic policy. In my view, families are fully aware that raising children and living in a family is less of a burden today than it was four or eight years ago. The third thing we agreed to do was to unify the nation: we have our own history, which we have to accept, and we don’t want to hide or run away from it. We are a national community torn into several parts: a community whose members are bound together by our common history, language and culture. I don’t believe that the motherland can be successful if any of our national communities beyond today’s state borders is unsuccessful; and likewise I don’t believe that any of our communities beyond the borders could be completely happy – no matter how well they’re doing – if the motherland were suffering. There may be a time lag between the development of the motherland and that of the detached parts of the nation, because it takes some time for the motherland’s achievements to generate sufficient funds and energy to channel to communities beyond the borders; but what matters is that everyone is moving in the same direction. Today even communities beyond the borders can sense that the motherland is doing better than before: it’s more stable, it’s stronger on its feet, and it is able to help. Our fourth undertaking was to pursue a nation-oriented foreign policy that serves our national interests. We are members of the EU and NATO primarily so that we can serve the interests of the Hungarian nation, and it’s easier to do so from inside those structures than from outside. In addition to all these things, we’ve managed to stay in contact with the people throughout; in today’s Western democracy this is a key issue, because in many places governing formations have detached themselves from their electorates. We have launched the national consultation, however, and we regularly involve the people in the process of discussing and deciding on important issues. This is how we’ve managed to maintain contact between the Government and citizens. The combination of these results and achievements enable us to enter the election campaign with good prospects. But no matter how good their prospects look, those who don’t make every effort and don’t work night and day on retaining the precious trust they’ve earned can find themselves facing a nasty surprise.
Do you believe that the preservation of these achievements will be what is most at stake in the 2018 election in the motherland?
What is at stake in the election is not just continuation of the direction in which we have set out. A greater task also looms ahead of us. The results achieved are not only threatened by a change of government, but by the fact that the whole of Europe is struggling with a problem that it is unable to resolve: the problem of mass population movement. I believe that most countries in Europe are unwilling or unable to protect themselves against this. If Hungary is unable to protect itself against the challenge of migration, the hard-earned results achieved over the past eight years will evaporate. A completely new Europe with a mixed population would come into being, which would weaken the prospects for work, for military service, and for cultural vigour. I wouldn’t want to live in such a country, I wouldn’t want my children to grow up in such a country, and I wouldn’t want that for my grandchildren either. And so we state in no uncertain terms that we want a Hungarian Hungary; and this will require a halt to mass population movement. There are countries which have become immigrant countries, but I wouldn’t want Hungary to become such a country. I ask those who agree with me – those who also envisage a Hungarian and Christian future for their children, and who don’t want to live in a country with a mixed population, exposed to the threat of terrorism and poor public security – to renew the alliance that they forged with us four or eight years ago.
The parliamentary election next spring will be the second in which Hungarians beyond the borders with Hungarian citizenship are eligible to vote.
If it is true that over the past few years we have built a common future, if it is true that with this hard work we have managed to clear the path to a promising future, we must not be lazy, and we must follow that path all the way. This means that next year the moment will come when we must reinforce all that we have done so far. Hungarians beyond the borders, in Transylvania, will also benefit from taking part in the adoption of a great, joint Hungarian decision across the Carpathian Basin. In order for them to vote in the election, they must register; they shouldn’t leave it to the last minute, as that will lead to undue haste and will result in lost votes. I urge every Hungarian to register; this registration is now nothing less than enrolment in a brighter shared Hungarian future.
More than a decade and a half have gone by since one of the most significant achievements of policy on Hungarian communities abroad announced under the first Fidesz government: the passage of legislation on preferential status. The number of Hungarian nationals has also increased by almost a million due to new procedures for naturalisation. At the same time, the economic strengthening of the detached nation parts has also begun. What will be the main mission of policy on Hungarian communities abroad in the future?
When it comes to policy on Hungarian communities abroad, I always aim at those in the middle and lower strata. Since I was young I’ve seen that, even in the most difficult times, the intelligentsia – those with qualifications, a good education and a safe family background – find their own way as Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. This may not be easy, but somehow they can remain Hungarian, as they’re educated, highly-qualified, and have access to good schools. We must not forget them, as they represent the quality which constitutes the Hungarian spirit which we can all be so proud of. So it’s important for us to have an intellectual elite. But we must pay particular attention to the groups in the middle and lower levels of society, as they find it more difficult to remain Hungarian: they are affected most by assimilation, the adoption of other languages and mixed marriages. We must pursue a policy on Hungarian communities abroad which confirms that being Hungarian should not only be uplifting, but should also be beneficial; and it should be beneficial being a Hungarian not only for the best-educated, but for every Hungarian. The business development programmes serve this purpose. In territories beyond the borders the motherland is now able to launch economic development programmes with goals similar to those announced in the motherland, and which can help everyone to take a step forward. These are now coming to fruition in Vojvodina and Transcarpathia, we’re just beginning to launch them in Transylvania, and in Felvidék we have agreed with the Slovaks on how these could be implemented in a way that they can also support. One of the great achievements experienced by Hungarians in the next few years will be that, simply on account of their nationality, they will have wider opportunities than earlier in terms of development, employment, income and education. So it will be beneficial remaining Hungarian – even for a Hungarian living in the last house on the edge of the furthest village. Now we must strengthen the trunk of the tree that is the Hungarian community; the roots must be watered, but the crown is fine.
The forced closure of the Marosvásárhely Roman Catholic Secondary School and the Ukrainian education Act have recently proved that the rights acquired by Hungarians beyond the borders can be withdrawn. What possibilities does the motherland have to expand its political and diplomatic arsenal to ensure the protection and extension of the rights of communities beyond the borders?
The situation varies from country to country. First of all, it is important that the motherland continuously declares and confirms its good intentions. We do not want to harm anyone; all we want is for everyone who God made Hungarian to be able to remain Hungarian and find advancement as a Hungarian. This is what we offer to help with. This is not aimed against Romanians, Serbs or Ukrainians; this is about Hungarians. If the Hungarians are doing well in Transylvania, Transcarpathia or Felvidék, those territories will gain in strength. A well-intentioned policy which seeks to strengthen the local Hungarian communities is also in the best interests of the neighbouring states. This is the underlying principle, based on which I try to build fair, equitable, honest and sincere relations with all of them. In the case of Slovakia, these attempts are proving to be successful. I’m not saying that we don’t have any disputes, because there are disputes in all relations between states, but the leadership in Bratislava understand that the goal is to serve the common interests of Slovaks and Hungarians. We are therefore able to cooperate, and within days we will lay the foundation stone of a new bridge over the Danube at Komárom. We have reached a historic compromise with the Serbs: presidents János Áder and Aleksandar Vučić have started a process which in terms of scale and emotional significance is only rivalled by reconciliation between France and Germany. I believe that Serbia’s future is in the European Union, and Hungary is the strongest supporter of its aspirations in this direction. The autonomy which the Serbs have provided to the Hungarians in Vojvodina is exemplary, and of course the Hungarians there have also organised themselves extremely well. The situation in Romania is more difficult, as over here a lack of trust shrouds relations between the two countries like a thick layer of fog. From a historical perspective this is understandable, and there’s no point in moaning about it; our history is what it is – the question is what we can make of it together. When Romania has a well-intentioned leadership which shows Hungary the respect that is its due, we can make something of it; but if there is a hostile leadership in office, relations are always weakened. In such a difficult period, all we Hungarians can do is not respond in kind to provocation and harshness. Recently I personally have also had to put up with a lot from certain Romanian political leaders, and so has our homeland, but we have never reciprocated such attacks. In the medium-term this approach will begin to bear fruit. We are now in an era of building trust, and I have started building relations with the President of the Romanian ruling party. I believe that we can put together a cooperation package which concentrates primarily on the economy, and which could serve the interests of Romania, Romanian Hungarians and the mother country alike. We still have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic.
In your telephone conversation with Liviu Dragnea, the PSD President promised to resolve the situation of the Catholic school in Vásárhely. Could this create the foundations for building dialogue in Hungarian-Romanian relations, which in recent years have been rather cool?
When the final election results came out in Romania, we took some steps that were designed to build relations and to open a new chapter. This process made slow progress, but the case of the school in Marosvásárhely has now accelerated it. Every cloud has a silver lining: in our case the silver lining is that the building of relations has gathered some speed. I’m convinced that the entire Hungarian community in the Carpathian Basin is on the threshold of a great era, and great things will happen here. Our efforts will no longer be confined to defending against the curtailment of rights, but will be extended to the reinforcement of rights; instead of poverty, we will see tangible growth at a steady and predictable rate. Hungarian families will become stronger than they were ten to fifteen years ago; increasingly, national dissension will be replaced by national cohesion. From now on we won’t be happy just because someone else gives us a job, but in fact Hungarians will provide other Hungarians with jobs in competitive European factories and businesses. It’s not easy to believe this: this is not what we’ve been used to over the past seventy years. But I venture to say that we are on the threshold of such an era, for which the foundations were laid by the Hungarian Constitution and the National Government enjoying the support of the people. In my view, the fact that the Hungarians are on the rise and have a bright future will also make it desirable to cooperate with us. The Romanian, Slovak, Serb and Ukrainian nations each have a vested interest in maintaining good relations with a country such as Hungary, which is preparing for great success. We are open, and we would like the Romanians to also share in this success. I see a period of ten to fifteen years ahead of Hungary and the Carpathian Basin in which the general atmosphere and quality will be completely different from that which we’ve lived in so far.
How do you think Ukraine could be convinced to revoke the law which negatively affects minorities?
The situation is difficult in Ukraine. At the end of the day, we naturally understand that it is a country facing serious military challenges on its Eastern borders. We are patient and understanding with the Ukrainians, but we cannot accept the breaking of promises. We have always stood up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and we have been the loudest and keenest advocates of the idea that Ukraine should start moving closer to the EU and be granted visa-free travel. We have, however, always asked them not to place on their agenda anti-minority – and consequently anti-Hungarian – proposals that we have heard about in news reports and which have been circulating in the political sphere. We believed them when they said that this would not happen, but as soon as we managed to ensure trade concessions and visa-free travel for Ukraine, the very next day they passed a law like this. We can only take this as a blow below the belt, and Hungarian politics simply cannot move on from here as if nothing had happened. In addition, before the Ukrainian parliament there are another two Bills which have been conceived in a similar spirit. If Europe swallows this now without a word, rights will be withdrawn with the education Act, and then we can’t hope for anything positive in connection with the other laws either. Hungary and Europe must now show Ukraine that it must answer the following question: does it want to become a European country? If so, it must understand that the rights acquired by minorities cannot be withdrawn.
While a few years ago Fidesz was criticised by the RMDSZ [Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania] for seeking to weaken the alliance by supporting its political opponents, today relations between the two parties are continuously improving. What has caused this reconciliation?
We have had our share of difficulties with the RMDSZ, but these were mostly associated with the previous leadership, and not with the current one. Our political community – the civic-national camp – found it hard to stomach the fact that, at the time of the 2002 election in Hungary, the then President of the RMDSZ turned his back on us without even waiting for us to fight our struggle in the election’s second round. The RMDSZ now has a new leadership. I’ve always thought that Hungarians in Hungary have a duty to acknowledge the decision of the people who live here. And the people who live here – 70 to 80 per cent of them – regularly vote for the RMDSZ. What anyone in Budapest thinks about this is irrelevant: what’s important is what the Hungarians living in Transylvania think about this. If they support the RMDSZ, it is my duty to develop stable and fruitful relations between the RMDSZ and Hungary and the Hungarian government.
How do you see the chances of the autonomy aspirations of Hungarians beyond the borders – in particular, in Transylvania?
Autonomy is a goal that is much disputed, but the Hungarians have neither the means nor the opportunity to give up on it. It’s worth engaging in debates to clarify matters. For instance, the Serbians have realised that after Hungarians living there were granted exemplary autonomy, Serbia has not weakened, but strengthened. The work of intellectual and political organisation which we must carry out will take a long time, but in the end we will reach our goal.