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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good morning, Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini visited Hungary yesterday. He met Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán. I welcome Viktor Orbán to the studio.

Viktor Orbán: Good morning.

In an interview which appeared on Wednesday in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, you said that Matteo Salvini is the most important man in Europe today. Was this simply a gesture of courtesy to your guest, or something more?

No, it wasn’t simply a gesture of courtesy – it was more than that. Of course there’s no harm in being polite to one another, and bad habits involving discourtesy are spreading in Europe. I see leaders or politicians from certain countries who are too willing to use strong language – and even coarse expressions – when talking about other countries’ leaders. They don’t realise that this is disrespectful: not just towards those other countries’ leaders, but to the people who elected them. I saw a few malicious comments in German on President Salvini’s visit to Hungary. Mr. Salvini represents the Italian people, and whoever insults Mr. Salvini is insulting the Italian people. But I also see the same here in Hungary, because here the candidate heading the European electoral list of an opposition party has described the head of the Polish government party and the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Italy as “scoundrels”. First of all, I apologise to both the Italian and Polish peoples for the fact that some politicians in Hungary think it right to say such things, but this is a bad European habit: clearly some people can’t find the balance which enables them to criticise someone’s opinions and still show respect for that person. As for Mr. Salvini’s visit, in addition to its importance it has drawn attention to a cultural phenomenon: the misguided direction in which European politics is heading. I think that what lies behind this is frustration – and it’s no accident that taking the lead in this are the Germans. Looking back, over the past few decades we Hungarians have regarded the Germans as a hardworking, cheerful nation that values respect. We’ve always respected the Germans for being so orderly – not just in their appearance, but also in their words. They had a certain discipline, and there were certain things they wouldn’t take liberties with. Evidently they’ve now consigned this to their past; and, using an unacceptable style of language, they make brazenly judgemental comments about politicians from foreign countries, politicians from other countries. Now, if the only indicator of the importance of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister was how much he’s been attacked because of his visit to Hungary, I can see the justification of my claim that here in Hungary we’ve been visited by Europe’s most important man. But setting aside such attacks, another clear proof is that he has hammered nails into the coffins of pro-immigration politicians. In Europe there are two kinds of politician: pro-immigration and anti-immigration. I’ll just modestly mention that while of course it’s a smaller country, by halting overland migration Hungary has also been part of this operation – although it has used smaller nails. Mr. Salvini has stopped migration at sea, and has thus proved that pro-immigration politicians are lying when they say that migration cannot be stopped. Furthermore, the most powerful argument used by pro-migration Western Europeans was that those arriving by sea must be rescued from the water, because this is what humanity demands. Ever since Mr. Salvini has been Interior Minister and has not allowed such boats into Italy’s ports, the boats have stopped setting sail. And if these boats don’t set sail, people won’t drown. So during Mr. Salvini’s time in government the number of migrants drowning at sea has fallen dramatically. This clearly indicates that Mr. Salvini’s and Hungary’s policy is the right one, and also a humane one.

This rapport and like-mindedness began last summer, when you visited Milan at Matteo Salvini’s invitation. But it seems that this like-mindedness and rapport are not really the direction that the European People’s Party would like: they’re setting a much more radical direction.

Or a different course. I like newcomers, and I can honestly say that I’ve always been sympathetic towards European politicians who make the commitment to enter politics – despite the fact that Europe’s economic and political affairs are in an unhealthy state. Such enthusiasm, patriotism and commitment are rather touching. So unlike the Brussels elite – which sits in its bubble and sees a threat in every new direction, thought and person – I’m happy to see new people entering politics. This is also true in Hungary, but that’s another matter. I’m happy to see new people entering politics: they all bring new energy, enthusiasm and commitment. In Brussels the biggest problem is that there are pro-immigration politicians sitting there who can’t remember the last time they saw a real person, the last time they visited a village or town in a Member State to confront the real problems of everyday life. They’ve been sitting there in their bubble for a long time now, locked into their own way of thinking, and speaking a language of their own which we don’t understand. It took me years to learn it. If ever there was a language you’d need to take an exam in to learn, that language is “Brusselese”. So they’re sitting there, and you can tell that the most that they’re engaged in is arrangement and administration, doing their jobs in the spirit of “things should carry on just as they have done so far”. Then people appear from outside – for example, the Vice-Chancellor of Austria Mr. Strache, who’s coming here next week, or Mr. Salvini – who say, “Gentlemen, to put it bluntly, things are going badly, and things will have to be changed here, here, and here.” This is always beneficial: for the people, for the economy, and for politics. So I celebrate Mr. Salvini as a man of commitment and enthusiasm who shares our thoughts and wants to change Europe. We will need people like him in the years ahead.

You went to Röszke, and Mr. Salvini saw how the Hungarian government has been defending its borders on the overland route. His experience is that maritime borders can also be protected. One has to ask why something that is working at the level of Member States cannot work at the level of the European Union.

First of all, I complained to Mr. Salvini. I’m not saying that I cried on his shoulder – that would perhaps be an exaggeration; but I did complain to him, because here is the European Union, with a pile of money, and here is this border fence, which has halted migration. It has closed off the Balkan route, and it is the greatest European success in the area of migration. And instead of celebrating this as a joint success – as we shouldn’t forget that Czechs, Poles, Austrians and Slovaks have also been defending the Hungarian border, coming here to help – it is continually being criticised. Money is found for all sorts of bull – pardon the expression – but it doesn’t even occur to them that perhaps they should reimburse at least fifty per cent of the border defence costs, as we’re not only defending Hungary’s borders, but also the external borders of Europe. And in the period ahead they want to spend an enormous amount of money on border defence – though not by giving it to those who are doing a good job of defending borders well, but in some other way. So instead of giving the money needed for border defence to Mr. Salvini’s Italy – or to Hungary and the Hungarian government led by me – they want to solve the problem of the defence of our borders from Brussels.

But they did promise – perhaps more than once – to pay at least half the costs.

Hungarians have two things to say about this. One is that we’ve had our fill of promises, and we’ll believe it when we see it. The second is one that we brought with us from the days of socialism, and it goes like this: we were never so poor that we couldn’t make promises. Now this is exactly the case with Brussels.

You’ve said that the direction that Mr. Salvini represents is the right one, and that one should join forces with him. But it seems that the European People’s Party is not open to this. What is the importance – particularly for us Hungarians – of the upcoming elections to the European parliament and their influence over what will happen?

We speak a lot about European parties – perhaps to an unjustified extent. Ultimately there’s the European People’s Party, of course there’s the Party of European Socialists, and there are the European Liberals. But this is not very significant. What really is significant is the nature of the leaders that the European Union will have after the elections. Who will be the leader of the European Commission? Who will be the leader of the council of prime ministers, in which I represent Hungary? There is also the European Central Bank, there are some other important positions, but these two are the key ones. The question is whether these two positions will be filled by pro-immigration politicians or anti-immigration politicians. I think that the question of which party alliance they belong to is a secondary one. This is more an issue of state politics. I don’t want to make border defence a party issue. Security is not a party issue: a country cannot be defended on a party basis; a country can only be defended on a national basis. This is a governmental task. So we anti-immigration politicians should be appointed to those positions, and in this I ask for the assistance of Hungarian voters. I ask them to support my programme when they vote, to support the Hungarian government party and support the Hungarian government. We can exert pressure on Brussels by ensuring that the most important positions are given to anti-immigration rather than pro-immigration people. Everything depends on this. Party considerations are secondary.

The People’s Party Spitzenkandidat [Manfred] Weber says that border defence is very important, but he would link it to the migrant quotas. This is unacceptable for Hungary. And Italy also says that while border defence is important, something should be done about the huge number of immigrants who are there. The opinions of Hungary and Italy do not align on this. You have a proposal, however: you’ve said that a council of Schengen Area interior ministers should be set up, and they would be able to solve this issue. But what guarantee is there of that happening?

The way that interior ministers think is different from the way that politicians think. Of course interior ministers are also in contact with politics, but in essence they have more contact with the darker side of reality. So they know how to handle problems. Elegant Brussels bureaucrats – whose language, as I’ve said, is barely comprehensible – have no idea about the real meaning of Röszke, the meaning of the border fence, what “migrant” means in reality, or the meaning of migrants attacking police officers. They don’t know the dangers accompanying the distribution of money using anonymous bank cards. They don’t understand that they’re bringing terrorism into Europe together with migrants, because there’s no threat of terrorism in their offices and well-protected homes in Brussels. What I’m saying is that an interior minister is the kind of politician – if I can put it that way – who’s very close to the problem that we need to solve now. For years Brussels has been unable to resolve this question, so let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that it ever will. Let’s face reality, and trust in people who will be able to deal with this. This is what Brussels has done on the issue of Europe’s finances. There’s a group of countries in the European Union which has a common currency: the euro. In Brussels questions related to the euro are not dealt with by the prime ministers. Questions related to the euro are not dealt with by the Brussels bureaucrats – or if to some extent they are, the bureaucrats don’t have the final say. Those decisions are made by a separate council comprising the finance ministers of the countries using the euro, because finance ministers are the closest to money issues, and this is why these issues have been entrusted to them. Of course the most important strategic decisions must always be made by the prime ministers, but in Brussels there’s an established and successful method for handling financial affairs. This power was not given to Brussels: the Economic and Financial Affairs Council is not answerable to Brussels bureaucrats; it is answerable to national governments, and functions as a council like the one I’ve suggested for interior ministers. As regards the linking of migrant quotas to other issues, we’re in a campaign, and at such times diplomacy isn’t irrelevant, but it’s secondary, so let’s not beat about the bush: the Germans want to get rid of people they were silly enough to let into their country without careful consideration. They let them in, then realised that this is a problem, and now want to distribute them. They want rid of them. So while they cite humanitarian arguments, this is in fact an anti-migrant reaction, pure and simple: “We let them in, but things didn’t work out and we’ve got a lot of problems; so take them off our hands.” I don’t think this is a good approach. If they’ve let them in, they should keep them. We have a folk saying about village courtship: “The one who plucks the flower is the one who should smell it.” They did this to themselves. We’d be happy to help, but not by destroying Hungary in the process. We can help the Germans and the Italians – and on this I’ve already succeeded in coming to an agreement with Mr. Salvini – by declaring that these people must be taken back to their homelands: instead of distributing them, we must take them home. This is possible. We’re trying to set an example in this, even though it’s a small example, as we’re not a big country of the kind that dominates European debates. But we have a programme called Hungary Helps, which is specifically guided by concerns of humanity and Christian responsibility, and through which we’re spending a great deal of money – an extraordinary amount compared to the size of the Hungarian economy – on the reconstruction of towns, villages, schools, hospitals, churches, cemeteries and universities in the countries where migrants have come from. In addition to the demands of compassion and the desire to help, we’re doing this because if we don’t rebuild these settlements, there will be nowhere to go back to. But this requires two things: these settlements must be rebuilt; and migrants must be sent back home, they must be taken back home. I think that this is the solution. The solution is not to select the best migrants, and then – hypocritically voicing human rights slogans – distribute the unwanted ones to other countries which are naive and small enough to have this pushed down their throats. This attitude is not acceptable. Excuse me for speaking so bluntly, but the Hungarian people are about to make an important decision, and there’s an election campaign, so we must call a spade a spade.

Yes, but President Macron, for instance, says that those countries which don’t show solidarity and are unwilling to take in migrants awaiting distribution should be expelled from the Schengen Area. Yet another ultimatum.

As I’ve said, one must speak politely; we respect President Macron, but luckily France does not enjoy a special status in the European Union. If they want to depart from the Schengen regulations currently in force, they must first change the Schengen Agreement. That will not happen, and my advice to him is not to bother trying.

At the end of last week you were in China, at the One Belt One Road economic conference, where together with thirty-six other national leaders you were engaged in talks. You’ve described the agreements concluded there as being very successful. What is the reason for this success? Is it that we’ve not fallen behind the 126 countries that have already joined?

There are two reasons. The first is that if we look at Western governments’ opinions on China, we see two different types of opinion. There are countries, prime ministers and nations which see the rise of China as a threat. Day and night they talk about this, explaining it in an effort to convince their own voters that the rise of China is a threat. And there’s another group of countries, to which Hungary belongs. I’m happy to represent the policy which says that the rise of any country in the world is never a threat, but always an opportunity. We’ll see whether it turns into a threat, but at this point in time we can certainly say that this is an enormous opportunity, as the world economy is expanding by 1.4 billion people. A country that was previously cut off from the world is becoming a part of the world economy. Hungary is a country which has had its natural resources and its energy resources taken away from it. Over the past hundred years or so we’ve had all sorts of problems, and so all that Hungary has to build on is hard work. This means that our advancement is dependent on our own muscles and minds. Hungarian living standards would be about one third of what they are today if we were only able to sell the products we make with the strength of our muscles and our brains in Hungary, in a market of ten million. Even though our natural resources have been taken away from us, Hungary is a country in which there is vitality: we have human strength, creativity and vitality. We make extremely valuable products, and if we can sell them in the world market, we can live three times better than if that option wasn’t open to us. This is the situation today, and this is the path we are on. China is an enormous opportunity for us. This is the Hungarian approach. The other reason that cooperation between China and a group of Western European countries is an enormous success is that we’ve embarked on a historic enterprise – that expression may be overused, but perhaps it’s not unjustified here – by deciding to link Europe with Asia. We’re talking about vast distances. If these spheres aren’t linked together, then we cannot trade, in that part of the world international trade won’t function, and we won’t be able to export our products there. But the Chinese said that they’re successful enough and are growing fast enough to assemble those countries interested in trading with China into a programme, a large economic programme, the essence of which is to link our countries by air, rail and road. They’re prepared to provide expertise, to organise political consultations and to provide funds. And they’re also prepared to conclude trade agreements. This is what we’re taking part in now. Those who take part in this will be the great winners of the next ten or twenty years. Those who are left out will fall behind.

There’s an old, recurring opposition criticism which states that the Hungarian government is detaching Hungary from Europe and from the West, and is orienting towards the East – and that this presents an enormous danger. Before you arrived in China you had talks in Kazakhstan. Critics ask why the Hungarian prime minister is conducting dialogue with autocratic Eastern leaders, and they declare that this is not right.

I have to say that knowledge of the facts would be of great help to them. People expressing those views are unaware of some fundamental facts. We don’t criticise Western countries – say, Germany – on those grounds, do we? They are streets ahead of us in trade with China. So we want to catch up. The big bucks – if I can put it like that – the big money…

Has already been taken?

Not yet, but so far it’s gone to the Germans and the French. Just now the French have sold three hundred aircraft to the Chinese. Despite all their disputes, trade between China and the US is at the highest level – and we can confidently include the US as part of the West. So anyone who asserts that Hungarians shouldn’t trade with people of the East – with the Russians, the Kazakhs or the Chinese – because it’s incompatible with Western behaviour is simply unaware of reality. They’re dreaming – or perhaps delirious, I don’t know – because in reality the French, the Americans, the British, the Germans and the Italians are all strongly represented in those markets, and laugh at others who believe sanctimonious claims that cooperation with the East is not a good thing. They’re making these claims, but meanwhile I see the figures in the real world: they’re making money and business is healthy. I think that Hungary’s government shouldn’t be a dupe, it shouldn’t be foolish, inept or naive; that’s no way to represent the Hungarian people’s interests. Of course there are virtues and values that are important for us, but let’s not mix them up with trade, making money or increasing Hungarian exports: let’s do the same as the Westerners, with whom we share a system of alliance.

Yes. So is the view that cooperation between East and West is indeed necessary for Central Europe to succeed a pragmatic one? Critics reply that the Budapest to Belgrade railway line is a good thing, but it will take 130 years to recover the costs of the initial investment. I don’t know where they get their figures from, but there is such a counterargument.

That’s because figures don’t answer back. Why don’t they say five hundred years? These claims are completely unfounded. How the initial investment is recovered – or not – depends on exactly how much freight is transported on the line. That in turn depends on the future importance on the “New Silk Road” of the Port of Piraeus – which the Chinese have bought. The more involved we are in construction of the New Silk Road, the faster we’ll recover our investment costs. Furthermore, we’re not businesspeople: we shouldn’t think about whether something will pay for itself in two days, or how the initial investment could be recovered sooner. We should consider what best serves the long-term interest of the Hungarian nation. And for freight coming from the South, from China – freight approaching Hungary from the South – what best serves the interest of the Hungarian nation is for the route to run through Hungary. This is because we will make money from this, we will have an income from this. Therefore the question is not whether the investment costs will be recovered, but for how long it will generate a profit for Hungary. This is aside from the minor detail that Belgrade and Budapest are not very far from each other – a distance of something over three hundred kilometres – but today it takes between seven and eight hours to travel between Budapest and Belgrade, just so that a Serb can meet a Hungarian, or two Hungarians on different sides of the border can meet each other in one of these cities. When this railway line is completed, the journey will be reduced to between two and three hours. And it is in our interest for as many routes as possible between the region and Western Europe to run through Hungary. This may cause inconvenience, and there will many trucks and so on, but the economic benefits will be incalculable. Finally I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that if we consider what advantages Hungary has to offer, what competitive advantages it has compared with other countries, our greatest advantage is our geographical location. This is particularly true in light of the fact that after World War I we lost territories, Hungary shrank in area and therefore we no longer have the advantage of size. Therefore every investment that takes advantage of our geographical location will provide the Hungarian economy with a double payback.

We have one more minute. The President of the United States has invited you to Washington for a working visit this month, on 13 May. How significant is this? The last time a Hungarian prime minister went to Washington was fourteen years ago.

I’ve met US presidents on several occasions, as both Hungary and the United States are members of NATO, and there are regular NATO meetings and summits – at least every other year. At those events we always talk to each other, just as in Brussels at the prime ministerial summits. So US-Hungarian relations have been conducted at the highest level, but there haven’t been any bilateral talks. The significance of this meeting now is that in the world there is a concept represented by the UN, which holds that migration is a human right; and if someone wants to leave their own country for another one, then they should be allowed to do so – in fact they should be supported financially to enable them to do this. And there are some of us around the world – larger and smaller countries – which disapprove of this. The United States of America clearly regards this as a danger, and we share that view. Within the UN we belong to a group seeking to block international efforts aimed at encouraging migration and spreading it around the world. Therefore one of the most important issues in our meeting will be how we can cooperate at international forums in the future in the fight against migration. And of course there will also be economic issues, because US-Hungarian economic relations are making excellent progress. After the EU, the United States is one of our most important partners – or perhaps our single most important partner. So we will talk about money, migration and the economy.

We wish you the best in your talks.

Thank you very much.

You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.