Let’s begin with the hottest topic of the past few months, with vaccines.
Yes, but there is an even hotter topic. Why are we sitting here, after all? Hungary is preparing for the V4 presidency, and I saw that I last gave an interview to a Slovak newspaper in 2009.
You gave that interview to former journalists of .týždeň in Rimaszombat (Rimavská Sobota), at the congress of the Party of the Hungarian Community. The truth is, by the way, that in the past few months, you have given no fewer than three interviews to German media outlets.
Precisely, and none to Slovaks. I believe that this is not a normal state of affairs, and so I decided that it was time to change this.
Already at the end of the autumn, when there was no way of guessing what complications might emerge in connection with vaccine supplies, you spoke favourably about the Russian and Chinese vaccines. Did you foresee the problems related to supplies, or was your support for Eastern vaccines just something close to your heart?
I decided the way I did because last spring I had a similar experience, except that was called the fight for ventilators. Demand was much greater than supply, we foresaw that something similar might happen, and we wanted to be sure. And as we have good relations with Russia and China, we made enquiries on a preliminary basis about whether they would be able to sell us vaccines. They answered in the affirmative, adding that they would be able to supply limited quantities. Just now before I entered this room, I was on the phone to the President of China. I agreed with him that they would supply the remaining vaccines at an earlier date than scheduled originally.
In Slovakia, the government stumbled partly because of the Sputnik vaccine as some members of the government didn’t agree with its use without registration by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Weren’t you concerned about beginning vaccination without the European registration of the vaccine?
Our controlling authority represents the highest world standards. We didn’t automatically allow the distribution of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, they had to be authorised by our controlling authority. However, should any suspicion arise, we also have Western vaccines checked. For instance, now we understand that there are problems with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. We didn’t automatically accept the EMA’s opinion on this vaccine. The vaccines were taken back to storage, and the controlling authority will examine them the same as the Chinese or Russian vaccines.
In the next couple of days, Hungarian laboratories will also decide about the Sputnik vaccines supplied for Slovakia. However, many people won’t trust them, claiming that in actual fact the Sputnik vaccine was approved not by Hungarian scientists, but by Viktor Orbán.
Slovakia is a sovereign country. They requested our help with issuing a professional opinion. We will issue such an opinion, and you will do with it whatever you like. There will always be silly opinions.
In the past few weeks, over here, the term ‘sovereignty’ has been mentioned several times in connection with Budapest of all places. After your meeting with former Prime Minister Igor Matovič and György Gyimesi, where you agreed on the testing of Sputnik in Hungary, Mr Gyimesi said these talks were successful because the meeting was not attended by Slovak diplomats. Had Slovak diplomats been present, you wouldn’t have come to an agreement with Mr Matovič?
I’m not taking the troubles of politics in Slovakia on my shoulders. All I can say is that Hungary had good intentions. To anyone who has ever been my colleague as prime minister I’m always prepared to render any service they need, and through them also to their nation. If tomorrow former prime minister Mr Fico or Mr Pellegrini says they’d like to speak to me, I’ll be at their disposal. I’ve been in politics for a very long time, and it’s a difficult job, but there is also a pleasant side to it. I’m required to cooperate with different types of people which is very exciting intellectually, also in the case of Slovakia, with people like Mr Fico, Mr Pellegrini and Mr Matovič who have completely different personalities. I had very good relations with them all, both politically and personally.
Mikuláš Dzurinda was also your counterpart for four years. Which one of them was the most interesting for you intellectually?
(Laughing). Mikuláš is lost in the fog already, I would rather concentrate on the other three. Robert Fico is a feisty, old political warrior who always fought hard for the interests of the Slovak people at all our talks, whenever we met. We had to invest a great deal of emotional and intellectual energy in finding out eventually that we’re better-off cooperating than fighting. We managed to reach that point, we concluded many good deals. And as I myself am an old warrior, I know that warriors have mutual respect for one another. Pellegrini is a completely different type. He’s a man of compromise, who always wants to come to an agreement. Naturally, he aims for good agreements, but in a more Mediterranean, more relaxed manner.
And Igor Matovič?
Regrettably, I only had the opportunity to work together with Igor Matovič for a short while. For him Christianity is key. Mr Matovič is a man with perfectly good intentions. A typical well-meaning Catholic. When I sat down to talk to him, it was like talking to Brother Matovič. These things are important. You mustn’t believe the Western political thought that in politics institutions are the most important. Institutions are always run by people. A person’s character, way of thinking and world view are of the utmost importance. And it has been these characters that have played a very positive part in the building of Slovak-Hungarian relations in the past few decades.
Hungary’s population is less than 10 million, but in Europe they’re talking about you all the time, they look upon you as a strong player, and the media depict you…
…more like the leader of an empire of devils, I think. Meaning that this is not a very positive image, it’s the opposite.
You were helped to this new position by the refugee crisis during which you said things which many Europeans West of us thought, but which their politicians failed to vocalise.
That’s right. Everyone is probably dealing with Hungary more than its weight would warrant because on the issue of migration we took a position that went against the entire mainstream. All my European colleagues kept talking about a European solution, and I told them that if a solution was not reached by a given time, we would build a fence and stop migration on a national basis. Time went by, there was no European solution, and I did what I had said I would. Migration opens up a great number of issues such as the protection of borders, family, demography, security and terrorism which are grave geopolitical issues, but they’re also ideological issues. And as I take part in these debates, this is what makes Hungary and me personally more widely known.
Isn’t it more the case that you were turned into a European symbol by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who in September 2015 refused to protect the German borders?
It’s a frequent occurrence in Hungarian history that both heroes and martyrs are made by the Germans.
No doubt, since then you have spoken to her many times. Do you think she regretted her decision?
Yes, I have spoken to her several times and tried to convince her that our own path, the path that we Hungarians opted for can also work for others. I never wanted to convince her that she should try to think differently about migration. If the Germans want to let in millions of Muslims and to build a multicultural society, it’s their decision, it’s their fate. I only asked her to recognise our own right to have a free decision of our own. A decision that is different from that of the Germans. We don’t want such a society. I asked her to strive not for hegemony, but for pluralism. Her response was that migration can’t be stopped. My answer in turn was that Hungary will prove that it can be, and that she should look upon us as a kind of laboratory. As to whether she regretted it, in this regard what matters is not Angela Merkel, but the German spirit.
What do you mean?
The Germans believe that if the indigenous German society begins to abandon Christian values when living together with Muslim migrants in the millions, they will all mix together and create a new society. In political terminology, we call this open society, and the Germans believe in that. I don’t believe in it because I take the view that, as a result, parallel societies will come into being which will live side by side, and this could result in grave problems. I don’t wish this for my own country.
You mentioned the multicultural German spirit, but directly afterwards, you were elevated to the position of hero of the refugee crisis in Germany’s CSU, whenever your name was mentioned at mass events the Bavarians applauded enthusiastically, and People’s Party boss Manfred Weber spoke about you in words of the highest praise. Today, however, you’re not allies anymore, on the contrary. What happened between you two?
Every love affair has a history of evolution, but the personal part of this story is perhaps less important. It’s enough for anyone to know that Mr Weber insulted Hungary when he said that he didn’t want to be President of the European Commission with the votes of the Hungarians. The Hungarian people expected me to make sure that such a statement shouldn’t be left without consequences. Mr Weber could have become President of the Commission with the votes of the Hungarian people, but he said he didn’t want that, and so that [becoming President of the Commission] was denied him. In politics – which is also about personal ambitions – this evidently caused him a certain degree of personal pain. But such is life. Behind personal matters, however, there is also something else which is perhaps the most important issue of the present time. What do the Germans want? Do they want a German Europe or a European Germany? There is a huge difference between the two.
What does that difference lie in?
When the Germans want a German Europe, that means that they want to tell the other nations what to do and how to live. And Manfred Weber joined that group. He wants to determine what’s right in migration, family policy and fiscal policy. He wants to tell us how we Hungarians should live. Helmut Kohl did the very opposite of this: He wanted a European Germany, and instead of hegemony he aspired for pluralism. He always recognised that smaller nations, too, have the right to decide about their own fate.
In contrast to Mr Kohl, is Angela Merkel aiming for hegemony?
We will only be able to say anything with certainty about Merkelism after a longer period has passed. I have an opinion about it also at present, but it will have to be tested by time. I believe that the Merkel era which has lasted for sixteen years has been a transitional period. When that era began, the Germans did not yet want to tell Europe’s other nations how to live because the German CDU had a clear character which was different from the European liberal mainstream. Helmut Kohl readily undertook this debate with the liberal European mainstream, and was also engaged in a dispute with the liberal press. But this came to an end after him. Today there is no meaningful difference between the opinion of the liberal mainstream and the opinion of the German Christian democrats. The reason for this shift was that the Christian democrats were unable to forge a majority, and Angela Merkel was compelled to govern in a grand coalition. Can I diverge for a minute so that you better understand me?
A German divergence?
Yes. When I first became prime minister in 1998 I was thirty-five. I had already been in politics for ten years, but I’d never been prime minister before. I called Helmut Kohl, and asked him as an experienced, leading European politician for a meeting. I asked him whether he would tell me what he thought was important about this line of business. He said naturally he would, he told me to come along and he would be at my disposal. We talked for many long hours.
What did he tell you?
One important thing: You were elected by the Hungarian electors, your number one responsibility is for Hungary, and you shouldn’t let anyone hinder you in that. He also said I must demand that my opinion be accepted in Europe by trying to find a common voice with the other leaders of Europe, but I shouldn’t ever allow someone else to dictate to me what I should do and how I should do it.
Evidently, you have heeded his advice.
But he further advised me that if I want to be a successful prime minister I must also be president of the party. I didn’t heed that advice, resigned my position as president of the party, and lost the next election.
Helmut Kohl would probably be surprised to see the old alliance falling apart and new ones coming into being. At the beginning of the year, Fidesz left the European People’s Party (EPP), and announced the coming into being of a new alliance with Law and Justice (PiS) and Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord whose mission it is to protect traditional Christian values. What is your goal? Do you want to establish a new group in the European Parliament, or do you want to start a new European movement which will seek to change the European Union?
When Fidesz left the EPP, or as we say it, when the EPP left us, it was an important question for us whether we should take part in European party life. We decided that we should, also for the reason that European party debates leave an impression on domestic politics as well. We didn’t want to give our opponents this advantage. We must now clarify what we want to achieve in European politics. Our answer to this question is that we want to change Brussels.
Exactly what does that mean?
In its present form, Brussels is not capable of giving appropriate answers to the people’s problems. Migration proved that point, but neither was Brussels’ response to the 2008 financial crisis convincing. We would have liked to change Brussels together with the EPP, but they chose not to embark on that project. We must now create a new political community which is able to exert pressure on Brussels; this is what we’re working on now, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Spaniards and many others. This will eventually also manifest itself in some kind of an institutional framework.
If in Italy Lega were to win the next elections, you would be relatively strong, but you need further allies for pan-European influence. Are you counting on politicians such as Marine Le Pen?
Cooperation always means the will of multiple parties. Not one of us can demand that only players close to our hearts be allowed to take part in that cooperation. Not only Hungary’s Fidesz, but Poland’s PiS and Mr Salvini, too, will bring their own allies into this cooperation. We must accept this.
Do you mean to say that you are also counting on Marine Le Pen, meaning someone that you once rejected cooperation with?
This possibility is in the air.
A few years ago, you started saying that you’re building an illiberal country. This scared many as this concept is seen as a theory that calls into question the division of power which is a characteristic of pluralist democracies. Is there a reason for such concerns?
No, there isn’t. I think it’s true the other way around. Today, there is no such thing as liberal democracy, only liberal non-democracy. There is liberalism in it, but no democracy. The liberals are aiming for opinion hegemony. This is what political correctness is in service of, and with its aid they’re stigmatising conservatives and Christian democrats, they’re trying to defeat them. I’m fighting against the liberals for freedom. While I stand on the side of freedom, they’re on the side of opinion hegemony. Your question has another dimension as well. In the last hundred years, Europe was compelled to face two totalitarian threats: national socialism and communism. The response to this was that conservatives, Christian democrats and liberals combined forces in the interest of protecting democracy. After 1990, they drifted apart because on important questions such as family, migration, the duty of nations and education we have completely different views. It is in this regard that I’m illiberal, and this is why I didn’t use the term ‘anti-liberal’. The liberals shouldn’t only ever see us as the enemy. For a hundred years they were our allies.
What you said sounds perfectly natural, but why do you think you prompted such negative reactions with this notion and its definition?
Because this is a complex matter, and today’s modern politics is at odds with detailed reasoning. Politics that is based on reasoning has limited scope. Modern politics is no longer about convincing, but about slogans and mobilisation. Therefore, today European politics is much poorer and shallower than it was thirty years ago.
What would Viktor Orbán in 1992 think about the establishment of an illiberal state? The Viktor Orbán who was the opposition of József Antall’s national-conservative government and held anti-clerical views?
Every course in politics must be viewed in light of the given era’s set of coordinates. What set of coordinates did we have at the time? There were communist successor parties which were forced into opposition, and in came the conservative government parties. At the time, the question was whether these new parties would be able to prevent the return of the post-communists. The conservatives didn’t invite us into the government, and therefore we remained in opposition. But we didn’t want to join the post-communists’ side. The original big liberal party did that, however, and by doing so they committed moral suicide. We didn’t do that, we were the opposition of the conservatives, and fought against the return of the post-communists. Something which we regrettably failed to prevent. This led us to combine all democratic forces, and in 1998 we pushed the post-communists out of government. Beyond doubt, since then on many ideological topics we haven’t had the same opinions as we had back then, but there is continuity. Also back then, we stood on the side of freedom, and against the post-communists; this hasn’t changed.
Would you try to summarise how you have changed personally in the past thirty years?
It’s difficult to tell, this will always be biased on my part. What is it that we know today and we didn’t yet back then? We know that the role of churches in society is greater than we assumed at the time. We also know that without the cooperation of the states of Central Europe, not a single Central European state is able to defend its own sovereignty. In the nineties, this wasn’t yet so obvious. Neither did we presume that the Western model would ever lose touch with reality as much as it did in 2008, during the economic crisis. At the time, the economic pillar of the West was shaken, to be followed by the social pillar with migration. In the nineties, the attractiveness of the West was unquestionable. I respect the West, we take part in this integration, but I have to say that in the past few decades the countries situated West of us have lost their attractiveness. I wouldn’t like Hungarian children to live in a Hungary in twenty years’ time that will resemble many Western European countries. Thirty years ago, we didn’t yet know how the Muslim world would expand in Europe, how China would change the world economy. And as we are Latin Christians, we didn’t assume that Orthodox Christianity would play such a significant role in the future.
So your message to those who reproach you for having changed so much is that the world around you has changed much more, is it?
Change and preservation constitute the dynamic of human life, and also the intellectual excitement of life. This is a productive conflict. We don’t want to fall out of the modern world, we’re not anti-modernists, we understand that the world keeps changing, and it must change. The question is what we want save from the past for the future. In this respect, we have continuity. We want to preserve the freedom which we refer to as national sovereignty at the level of nations, and individual freedom at the level of individuals. We insist on this even amidst the modern world.
Some of your critics, including former allies of yours from your liberal period, say that you have changed because of power. When in our country in the nineties, Vladimír Mečiar was prime minister, we were at the receiving end of EU criticisms claiming that in Slovakia democracy and freedom of the press were in danger, and Mečiar was building an authoritarian state. Today, you are criticised on the same scores. We appreciate that some of these criticisms come primarily from the liberal-left-wing establishment, and are of an ideological nature. On the other hand, however, several conservative Hungarians in Slovakia acknowledge that public service media are completely pro-government the same as they were over here during Mečiar. The question is this: Haven’t you gone too far in laying your hands on the various spheres of the state?
I’m not familiar with Slovak public service television, but I am familiar with German and British public service television. I would venture to say that Hungarian public service television is less pro-government than the German.
Many Hungarians take the view that it’s similar to what television was under János Kádár.
I lived under János Kádár, and my message to them is this: it’s nothing like that. Under Kádár, we were forced to have our thoughts printed illegally and to disseminate them in secret. If a friend from Slovakia comes to visit Hungary today, goes up to a newsstand and says ‘Can I have copies of the newspapers that abuse Orbán and his government,’ they will be given around eight newspapers and periodicals. But let’s talk about the press seriously. There are two ideological trends in Hungarian politics. One is liberal, the other one is Christian democratic. If we take a look at commercial television channels, there is one liberal and one conservative. Or let’s take a look at the major online portals. There are one or two conservative, and there are around six on the liberal side. If we take a look at national dailies, the one with the biggest circulation is liberal, and the second biggest is conservative. And if we take a look at political weeklies, there are two conservative and four liberal ones. Meaning that if we take a look at the commercial media, there is no sign of hegemony, only signs of pluralism.
You’re also criticised for the fact that you have balanced the ratios between liberal and conservative media by using political power.
When I came into power, media percentages were nine to one in favour of the liberals. Today it’s half and half. My critics claim that I changed this, except I didn’t. I publicly asked Christian-minded members of the business community to not accept the nine to one situation. I called upon them to establish Christian democratic, conservative media projects as this is a duty of private business, not of the state. This is how many conservative media outlets came into being.
Let’s stay with public service media for a little while longer. Isn’t it true that your view is that these media outlets shouldn’t be critical of the government?
Public service media are run by journalists, I can’t and won’t give them instructions. However, I think it’s a normal state of affairs that when a conservative government is in office, public service media, too, should be more inclined that way. I can’t give them instructions. But if they want to render an account of life in the country, they can’t ignore the fact that a Christian democratic government is at its power centre. When there was a liberal government in office in Hungary, the public service television took a liberal interpretation of the government, and at that in such a way that there was no room allowed for conservative, Christian thoughts even in the private media. However, as this in my view is in the nature of public service media, the key is not public service media, but whether there are other media in addition to them. Not to mention the fact that the viewing rates of public service television are a fraction of those of commercial television channels, let alone the realm of online media. These days, everyone who has a smart phone can be a journalist, a correspondent, they can upload their own news reports. Meaning that on the whole, the Hungarian media situation is fair in my view.
We Slovak journalists found it strange that the Hungarian press was not allowed to report from hospitals about the COVID situation. In Slovakia, this would be inconceivable. Wasn’t this seen as journalists, including those of commercial outlets, being muzzled?
This was not an instruction for journalists, but for hospitals. Hospitals were instructed not to allow journalists in, just like anyone else. Several other countries adopted similar measures. We clearly laid down that the persons responsible for our defence operations would provide all information for the press every day. However, as long as there is an epidemic in hospitals, no one is allowed to set foot inside. If relatives are not allowed in, why should journalists be?
For the first time in thirty years, the Hungarian minority lost representation in Parliament last year. What do you think the explanation is?
This is a sensitive issue. State borders, political borders and the borders of the nation don’t coincide. A Hungarian who lives in the territory of Slovakia, speaks in Hungarian to their children, reads Hungarian literature, and watches and listens to Hungarian media quite simply lives together with the Hungarian people in a cultural sense. Therefore, here in the motherland as we call it we must pursue a policy which strengthens this cultural unity, but doesn’t interfere in the sovereignty of another country.
It is, however, probably true that Budapest has its own interests in the Southern part of Slovakia.
Budapest has a vested interest in the Hungarians living in Slovakia being able to represent their own interests in Pozsony (Bratislava), and us not having to represent their interests in Pozsony from Budapest. If the Hungarian community does well in Slovakia and is able to represent its interests, it’s better for the Slovaks and for us, too. Right now that’s not the case.
However, Fidesz’s influence has become rather dominant in the Southern part of Slovakia in the past ten years. While MKP (Party of the Hungarian Community) blamed Béla Bugár for having betrayed the Hungarian cause and contributed to the assimilation of Hungarians in Slovakia, Bugár told them that he would never become a mere vassal of Fidesz and politicians of Híd were extremely critical about the funds which were sent to the Southern part of Slovakia in the form of state project financing. The use of the word ‘traitor’ in connection with Bugár was probably a reflection of the Hungarian infighting…
…these are very harsh words. I understand that Béla Bugár wouldn’t be proud of being friends with us, but many Hungarians feel the opposite. This is a dispute among Hungarians who like having a bit of a fight among themselves. However, this is about the Hungarians in Slovakia who must find a form in which to represent their own interests, whether through a mixed party, by forming one big party or through a Hungarian party of their own.
Doesn’t the case of Most-Híd indicate that Fidesz has a vested interest in Hungarians being together in a single party?
Fidesz as a national party has a vested interest in many Hungarian children being born also in Slovakia, their mothers speaking to them in Hungarian, these children going to Hungarian schools, not being hurt by anyone for speaking Hungarian and having freedom for political representation. The form in which they achieve that is secondary. This is why we support cultural identity, rather than political interests.
There were periods, however, when significant tensions emerged due to your political projects with which your targeted our Hungarians, be that about the Hungarian cards or dual citizenship ten years ago. It’s a fact though that recently you have not brought up topics of this nature, and it was also surprising that the Trianon anniversary last year was almost conflict-free. Wasn’t that so because politically you have already exhausted these topics?
For instance, Romania, Serbia and Croatia believe that dual citizenship is a good legal means, and helps them with different opinions living together. You Slovaks have a different idea about this, you have the right to do so, I don’t agree with you on that, but I simply accept that you don’t want to have this legal means enforced. We sincerely hope that one day, based on other examples, you will change your minds. But this is no reason to cause tensions.
Isn’t this more about the fact that under your leadership the refugee crisis changed Hungary’s attitude to the European Union and Central Europe so much that you don’t want to broach subjects that divide us?
I will always ask neighbouring countries to provide a fair home for the Hungarians living there. If I believe that their rights are violated, I will always stand up for them in an appropriate form. However, right now these problems weigh much lighter than the issue of the whole region because if we fail to combine forces, Slovaks with Hungarians, Czechs and Poles, if we fail to stand up and take action together in the West and East, we will all be worse off for it.
What do you mean?
It may sound a bit harsh to the Slovak ear, but we Hungarians believe that every nation must understand a lesson in Central Europe. After World War II, the peoples of Central Europe, regardless of which side they were on, were handed down the same fate. Those who were on the good side were meted out the same in reward as those who were on the bad side in punishment. Quite simply, we have a common fate. The question is who will organise Central Europe. The Germans, the Russians, the Americans, or we the people who live here.
In reality, isn’t it Viktor Orbán who would like to do that?
That’s not realistic, Poland is the flagship. Without Poland, the other countries of the region have no weight. If Poland were to quit the V4, the V4 would lose its keel. Slovakia, too, has a key role of its own, except I’m not sure that every Slovak understands this.
What do you mean?
The essence of the V4 is that it’s capable of exerting influence both towards the North and the South. There are the Poles to the North, and the Hungarians to the South. The North must be connected to the South, and without you we would be split into two. This is why I keep suggesting to the prime minister of Slovakia that North-South relations should be a top priority. There is no motorway, there are no railway lines, and the gas pipelines, too, lead in a different direction.
Slovaks, however, tend to see themselves more as a bridge between East and West, rather than between North and South. And on top of that, the V4 are completely divided as regards relations with Russia and Putin. The Poles are clearly anti-Russia, there is a different way of thinking in both Slovakia and Hungary, while in the Czech Republic the atmosphere is currently changing in the wake of the Vrbětice incident. Won’t Vladimir Putin divide the V4?
First of all, let us detach the person of the Russian president from Russia. We shouldn’t create the illusion that this issue depends on the person of the Russian president; for us, Russia is quite simply a geopolitical problem. Yes, the Polish pursue a very firm anti-Russian policy, while we Hungarians perceive you Slovaks more as friends of the Russians. At the same time, the Czech political mentality has always featured a pan-Slavic element. We Hungarians have the feeling that for the Russians it’s easier to cooperate with the Slavic countries than with us. Additionally, we’re the only country that initiated a war with Soviet Russia in 1956. No one other than us did that, that element is part of our national heroism.
How do you want to forge unity within the V4 if the attitude to Russia divides and will continue to divide them?
We can find the best answer by taking a look at the map. It’s perfectly evident that Poland needs security guarantees, it’s an enormous flat area. Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are protected by the Carpathians, and while naturally we, too, need guarantees, we’re not threatened by Russia the same way as the Polish perceive themselves to be. Therefore, it’s essential for us to coordinate the needs for Poland’s security guarantees with the needs for Hungarian-Russian cooperation within the V4. Meaning that each V4 Member State itself will shape its own Russia policy, but we must also be able to give each other guarantees against Russia. Now when the Czechs asked us to issue a statement of solidarity, regardless of what I think about what happened, we immediately gave the Czechs that solidarity…
…despite the fact that you have a completely different opinion about the Vrbětice incident?
I asked Czech leaders whether what happened was indeed what I read in the papers. The answer I got was ‘highly likely’. So this is my opinion about the situation.
Guarantees towards Poland are now provided within NATO. Do you mean some kind of special guarantee within the V4?
Yes, they are indeed provided within the boundaries of NATO, but today European defence is something we can only fantasise about. Defence should not be relegated to the world of fantasies, it’s the toughest reality because there, there is force against force.
Meaning that your answer is common European defence that radiates strength?
We take the view that the EU is pursuing an unsophisticated Russia-policy; it’s only able to say yes or no. However, we need a more nuanced policy, one which understands that Russia is a state with mighty strength which respects strength in return. Meaning that if we’re not competitive with the Russians militarily, they will pose a threat to us. On the other hand, we must cooperate in the economy. However, we’re doing the very opposite: with the policy of sanctions, we’re demonstrating economic strength, while in military terms we’re soft. We should do the very opposite.
In the EU you’re regarded as a person who wants to weaken or destroy the EU and its institutions. However, now you’re saying that you would like to achieve the establishment of a common European defence capability for the resolution of the Russian problem.
Yes, because the set of coordinates in my head doesn’t dictate that either we fully support the EU or we’re completely against it. There are elements in the EU which should be strengthened; the opposite of that is true of the European Parliament which plays a positively harmful role because it places European politics on party foundations and the European Left use it for attacks on the sovereignty of states. So the question is not whether we should say yes or no to the EU, but what kind of an EU we should have.
István Stumpf, the man who shaped you intellectually, recently said either the European Union will become a federation, a community of nation states by 2030, or it will cease to exist. What’s your projection for the period up to 2030?
This question again underlines Slovakia’s significance. Slovakia is a key state not only because it connects Europe’s Northern and Southern parts together, but also because you’re the only Central European country that embarked on the experiment called ‘Eurozone’. You have valuable experience. For the time being, we’re only outside spectators, trying to decide whether monetary integration is good for a nation or not.
I’m sure you, too, have economic analysts and political scientists who assess this question.
Naturally we do, and there are different opinions. But returning to your question, the EU in 2030: all I can say with any degree of certainty is that there won’t be a European people, Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans and French will continue to live here, and while there will also be a significant Muslim element, there won’t be a “European people” as such. There will be nations and states, they will figure out a form for cooperation which is called the European Union at present. But what matters is the intention, not the institution. In 2030 we will cooperate; the question is what will happen to us.
In what sense?
In Western Europe cultural changes are taking place, there are many migrants and a Muslim minority there, the original populations are abandoning Christianity, and are heading for a post-Christian and post-national society. The question is whether these societies will be able to build a stable Western Europe.
Do you think they won’t be?
Personally, I’m much more positive about the future of Central Europe than about the future of Western Europe. I do believe that our children will have a better life than we do. We will experience a major Central European renaissance in the economy, in demography, in security policy and in culture. I’m optimistic. But whether there will be stability in Western Europe in 2030, that’s the future’s most exciting question.
Do you effectively want to prepare Central Europe for a life without the European Union?
I would rather say the EU has to date revolved around a German-French axis, this has been a bipolar cooperation. Now we’re heading in a direction that by 2030 there will also be a third pole: Central Europe, or the V4. The volume of trade between the V4 and Germany is double the volume of trade between Germany and France, and triple the volume of trade between Germany and Italy. In recent years, this tripolarity has been clearly detectable in the debates about migration or the budget; this is my vision of the future.
For decades, Hungarian politics was a captive of Trianon, József Antall said he regards himself as the prime minister of 15 million Hungarians. Now that we listen to you, we get the feeling that you don’t want to live with this Trianon trauma, but instead you have found a new European mission for the Hungarian people.
We like that statement of Antall’s, at that time it was an extremely important statement.
Isn’t it anymore?
In the meantime, thirty years have gone by, and that statement hasn’t become any less important, except that completely different issues have emerged on the horizon. To these the Central Europeans can only find answers together because if we lock ourselves back within our own borders or take up a hedgehog position, we will all stand to lose.
You’re talking about your own Central European visions over a period of decades. However, as early as next year you may lose the elections against the united opposition. Aren’t you concerned about that prospect?
If I complete this electoral term, I’ll be able to say that I spent 16 years in government and 16 years in opposition. Come what may, I’ve seen it all.
If you lose, will you try to return four years later?
I’m preparing for victory. We’re a big party with a culture, programmes and visions behind it, and the majority of Hungarians feel and desire something that we represent. It’s another matter whether in their opinion we represent it well. Our presence in politics as a political party is deeply embedded both philosophically and emotionally, and so such a party will always exist. A new generation of politicians has grown up; they’re 15 years younger than us, they no longer went to school under communism, they had a better education than we did, speak several languages, their horizon has broadened and in the meantime they have learnt the trade of politics together with us. If therefore members of our generation decide to not come in to work one day, we will have successors.
We can be sure, however, that in six months’ time Angela Merkel will leave the scene for good. You told the German press that you’re sorry to see her go. In light of the intense dispute you had over migrants, was this mere courtesy to the German public, or are you genuinely sorry about her departure?
I respect Merkel, regardless of the fact that I disagree with her on a number of issues. It’s a great personal achievement that for 16 years she has been able to keep her own party at the centre of governance. Those who are not in this line of business can’t truly appreciate how much intellectual and emotional energy this requires. I am indeed sorry to see her go. So far, we had always had a good idea about what will happen in Germany after the elections, the framework was stable. I’m afraid that we will only truly find out after Merkel’s departure that we will miss her more than we would think today.
Today all the doors are open. What will the consequence of the Greens’ increasing dominance be? Will a new generation of German political leaders be ready? No one knows that.
In this interview, too, you spoke about Christianity. You regard yourself as a Christian democrat. In Slovakia, in contrast to Poland, we see Hungary as a secularised country, the number of practising Christians is relatively low. Isn’t it possible that you, too, are already a post-Christian country, and what you’re keeping alive is, in a certain sense, political Christianity as is the case in Putin’s Russia?
My personal answer is that I’m a believing Christian, and every Christian Slovak is my brother and sister. As regards politics, the task of Christian democratic politics is not to defend the religious beliefs of churches, and therefore I would rather not use the term ‘political Christianity’. The most important question of our existence is whether we will obtain salvation or be lost in perdition; this is not a political issue, this is the essential question of Christianity. But in this, politics has no competence. So I don’t talk about Christian politics, I talk about Christian-inspired politics. We defend our form of life, including human dignity, freedom, family, national community. There are political schools which attack these values, which want to tear them down, and we must resist them. It’s not about my personal faith as persons who themselves are not believers can also be part of a Christian democratic policy. We’re not the leaders of some sect, but of a political party with a programme.
Protecting the life of the unborn – that you yourself stand for – is a key issue for Slovak Christian democrats. However, in practice your government has done nothing for this. Meaning that while you recognise that it is a fundamental human right, at the same time, you don’t want to take the next step. Is that perhaps because you would not have a majority for that in society?
I’m clearly on the side of life. In 2011 we adopted a new Constitution in which we laid down clearly what we find important about the meaning of life. The policy of an all-out ban – which is otherwise legitimate also from a moral point of view – would induce a contrary effect. In politics it’s results that matter. Intentions are important, too, but intentions without results could lead to disaster. Over the past 11 years, we have managed to radically reduce the number of abortions, even without a full ban. A result of our governance is that the country is much more pro-life. However, with this question we have reached another important thought which is about how justice and majority are connected in politics. This is a difficult question because if the majority are unable to serve justice, that majority is worthless. However, if you can’t connect justice to the majority, you can’t act in the interest of justice in politics.