Éva Kocsis: You’re listening to 180 Minutes, and we have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
Good morning to your listeners.
Recently, in the past few weeks, there have been quite a few meetings: the V4, the European People’s Party summit yesterday, and Rome in between. But before we start talking about those, we should also mention that there is one issue here at home that’s provoked rather strong reactions. This is the legislative amendment that would affect the Central European University. Did we need yet another issue? Once again we’re front page news, and newspapers are asking why the Hungarian government wants to have the CEU closed down.
Well, fraud is fraud – whoever commits it. There was an inspection; every four to five years we conduct comprehensive inspections of teaching institutions, and we found that there are irregularities in the operation of several universities – including George Soros’s university. And in Hungary one cannot be above the law – even if you’re a billionaire. This university must also observe the laws.
When we’re back here in six months’ time – or in a year’s time – will there still be a CEU in Hungary?
Well, that depends on the talks and agreement between the US and Hungarian governments.
Did you contact the US administration about this beforehand?
We didn’t, because the normal course of things in the world is that if someone provides teaching in Hungary, and it doesn’t regard itself as a Hungarian university – but in this case an American one – an agreement must be concluded between the two governments. There is no such agreement at present. Earlier It wasn’t clear whether such an intergovernmental agreement was necessary, but now we’d like to make this clear. So the future of the “Soros university” depends on the outcome of US-Hungarian intergovernmental talks.
Will you also have talks with the CEU?
The CEU simply has to comply with the law. We don’t need to have talks with it, as at the moment it is not the US government – though perhaps it would like to be.
Let’s talk about what’s happened in the past few weeks and months.
We shouldn’t leave this topic so soon, because in this situation Hungarian universities have good reason to complain. The situation that this unclear legal state of affairs made possible is far from fair. If a Hungarian university operates in Hungary, it issues a degree: a Hungarian degree. And that’s that. Compared with this, there’s a university operating in Hungary which issues two degrees: a Hungarian one and an American one. This is not fair on Hungarian universities. There is competition among universities as well, and it’s inexplicable why we should place our own universities at a disadvantage. Seen from the other angle, it’s unfair to provide an advantage for foreign universities. We need a clear and fair situation.
A degree issued by the Central European University is in practice also valid in the United States. It’s not another degree.
But this is what I’m talking about. No, this is about two different things. They issue two degrees: a degree which is valid in Hungary and a degree which is valid in the United States.
But that’s what international universities do.
They do if intergovernmental agreements allow their operation and the two countries concerned previously agreed and approved this.
But this hasn’t come up in the past. We can see, however, that Democrat politicians have already indicated that this won’t end well.
Hungary is a sovereign country. Hungary is a country which supports knowledge at all times, and it doesn’t tolerate fraud.
Do you think that what’s happening at the CEU is fraud?
But of course. There is a clear rule stipulating that a foreign degree can be issued in Hungary if the university in question also conducts teaching abroad. In its letter, the “Soros university” has itself admitted that it doesn’t run teaching programmes abroad. This is against Hungarian regulations.
Let’s talk about the meetings then, the meetings that have taken place in the last few days. The European People’s Party had a meeting yesterday. Everyone there spoke about unity and solidarity. But those who read between the lines may have received the impression that the differences are still there. Was the atmosphere quite so amicable behind the scenes?
Unity is always important in the life of a community – be it a family, a nation or an international organisation. Clearly all such public congresses also exist to demonstrate unity. The real art is to meanwhile honestly address issues on which our views differ. For my part I also attempted to address this need.
Were you able to discuss these issues? Did you speak to Angela Merkel?
I met with around twenty delegations, and almost set a record in diplomacy for the number of bilateral meetings – ranging from the Croatian prime minister all the way to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I also exchanged a few words with Angela Merkel, but there were no bilateral German-Hungarian talks.
At those meetings with your colleagues, was the border closure mentioned? This is the other issue that has provoked rather heated reactions.
Migration is always mentioned. The situation is simple, but it’s not easy. The fact is that Hungary is situated on Europe’s external border. So if Hungary’s external border is endangered, then Europe’s external border is endangered. Hungary is simultaneously protecting its own external borders and Europe’s external borders. And if we weren’t protecting Europe’s external borders, the Austrians and the Germans would be in big trouble – as they were when Hungary still wasn’t able to protect them because it had no border protection system. At that time Hungary was unable to protect Europe’s external borders, and millions of migrants marched through Hungary towards Austria and Germany. We put an end to this, and everyone in Austria and Germany is happy about that – although political double-dealing doesn’t allow them to say so, or write about it. Let’s put it this way: in a number of countries in Europe there is a culture of hypocrisy; everyone knows that without the Hungarians they’d be in much bigger trouble than they are in now – indeed, they’d be in real trouble. Everyone knows this, and in the corridors and in meetings behind closed doors everyone thanks Hungary for its work. But when it comes to public statements, everyone says – though not with the same intensity as earlier, because the situation was far worse two years ago – that things are not quite right. And I say that in my view everything is in order.
Before the People’s Party congress, the original plan was to adopt a decision stating that all asylum-seekers should wait outside the borders of the European Union for assessment of their applications: in their countries of origin or in refugee centres set up outside the borders of the EU. Did you eventually adopt such a resolution?
The world of Christian epigrams provides a saying that is apt here. It runs like this: “Whoever is right before all the others is considered to be a heretic”. Now, from this point of view Hungary is seen as a heretic. But after a few months – or in some cases, a year or two – it always turns out that we’re right. This is not necessarily because we’re cleverer than others – after all, why would a Hungarian government be cleverer than, say, a German or Austrian government? We can’t assume this – much as we’d like to. Put quite simply, Hungarian policy is driven by common sense – but this isn’t true of every country. Common sense dictates that we look at things as they really are. If someone crosses the border illegally, they are breaking the law. In this event, we’re not talking about someone in need of understanding because they’re in a difficult situation, but someone who has knowingly broken Hungarian law. And of course they need to be helped, and they will be helped – but only as permitted by Hungarian law. Hungary is not a corridor or a railway station, where everyone is free to come and go without controls – without us knowing who they are, what they want, where they’ve come from and why they’ve come here. So in this respect, from the very beginning Hungary – listening to its most basic instincts, which history has clearly taught us to follow – has asked the right questions, and has given the right answers. And the West is lagging behind us by a year or two. This is also true for the question that you raised here. A year and a half ago, in the Schengen 2.0 plan, I suggested that refugees should be separated from economic migrants in a legislative procedure that should take place outside the territory of the European Union. At the time everyone cried “heresy”. But now more and more governments are proposing that the conditions for such a system should be put in place, and are saying that this is the right solution. The tightening of the Hungarian border policing system and the setting up of transit zones on the Serbian border precisely serves this goal. It won’t be long before all European countries follow suit.
This is also where the Strasbourg judgement comes in. When we last met, we couldn’t speak about something that the Helsinki Committee has since revealed: that in fact they sought out those two Bangladeshi men from among the migrants arriving here because they needed someone through whom they could demonstrate Hungary’s violations before the Strasbourg court. One question is how much you expect there to be a future series of judgements, decisions or petitions on this issue. The other question is how open the People’s Party delegations were to what you said there about the need for reform of the European Convention on Human Rights.
First of all, I must say that in my view this situation is morally untenable. These NGOs, or non-governmental organisations as they call themselves, aren’t civil society organisations. They have nothing to do with civil society organisations, of which there are thousands in Hungary. To be frank I feel very strongly about the behaviour of these international networks. I’ve been to the Hungarian-Serbian border several times. On a continuous basis, day and night, young Hungarians in the uniforms of the military and the police are defending the safety of the Hungarian people in difficult circumstances – in a situation which is rather complex from a moral or human point of view. These people deserve recognition. I’d also like to thank our police officers and soldiers – and I do so whenever I can – for the work they do there. And then there are some organisations which, clearly driven by motives that are alien to Hungarian interests, attack these people. First of all, these organisations accuse them of not doing their job properly, saying that in fact they’re wolves in human form, who take pleasure in physically abusing the migrants who come here. This is a monstrous lie. We must refute these accusations and stand up for our soldiers and police officers. Secondly these organisations attack the work of these people. After all, what’s the point of these young Hungarians defending the Hungarian border if international networks then open up all sorts of legal loopholes? Why do they apprehend illegal border crossers, why do they risk their own physical safety, if all along these networks in Budapest and Brussels treacherously undermine us with legal loopholes? So to be honest, this isn’t just a legal issue and it’s not just a financial issue – though I’d like to say a few words about that as well; but, quite simply, this is a fundamental human issue. This is not acceptable. As regards money, the cat’s out of the bag, because it’s emerged that these international networks are rather keen on money. So there’s also a well-established migrant business in operation, with Hungary required to pay someone six million forints on account of two Bangladeshis, whose whereabouts we don’t even know; we must also pay the legal costs and lawyers’ fees of the international network which dragged us into this lawsuit.
But this is the case in all legal procedures.
Yes, but this procedure is unnecessary, and the lawyers initiated an unnecessary procedure for which they receive payment. So we have to say that they have been profiteering at our expense. This is what is happening. This is a migrant business. This, too, must be brought to an end, and we must uncover what’s behind it. It’s regrettable that the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg assists in this business, and its decisions undermine the safety of the Hungarian people. We would now be required to let in two Bangladeshis, we don’t even know where they are, and…
Well, somewhere in Europe probably.
We don’t know. In any case, we would now be required to let in people whose identities and location are unknown to us. And this has not been left for us – the Hungarian authorities – to decide, but for some judges sitting comfortably in Strasbourg, who say that these two people should be let into Hungary. And we don’t have a say in that? After all, we live here, this is our country, and this should be for us to decide. These are unacceptable things. This court must be reviewed, we must conduct a review of its operation, and I’ve suggested that we change it – that we reform it – on some important points. Within the European Union the position of Fidesz is that of a reformist opposition, so such work suits our profile.
How did politicians from the People’s Party react to this? Was there talk of the option raised by the Centre for Fundamental Rights: that, as a last resort, we could even withdraw from the convention?
Several countries have already raised objections, so we’re not alone: others have other problems, but this is hardly surprising for a court. At times like this, we should review whether the Member States which joined forces to operate such a shared court continue to regard as valid the goals which led them to set up this court. But we’ll look into this ourselves, and this issue will feature on the agenda of our next two government meetings.
We’ve spoken about Bangladeshis here. There’s no war in Bangladesh, and, even if life there is extremely hard – no one can deny this – there are some other countries of a hundred and seventy million where life is hard.
International asylum law makes it clear that no one in the world has the right to choose where they want to live, and every country has its own population. For someone to live somewhere other than where they were born, they also need the consent of the people who live there – in the place which is not where the person seeking to change countries was born. If someone wants to live in Hungary, they must seek the permission of the Hungarian people. There can be no international principle, norm, court or organisation which says that it doesn’t matter what the Hungarian people think about their own country and about whom they want to live together with, and that someone else will decide for us. This is impossible. There is no such international principle. There is, however, a well-established international campaign, which has been ongoing for more than a decade. It can be linked to the name of George Soros, and it seeks to prove that borders make no sense, and that nations have no right to decide for themselves whom they wish their peoples to live together with. According to this, international legal institutions must be created to oversee the nations and to tell us or decide for us who may live where, and together with whom. There is even an extensive intellectual support framework for this, and a number of high-profile works have been published on this subject. These are extremely dangerous. So let me repeat: these are theories conceived in the Soros workshop, and these have also infiltrated a number of international institutions. We must fight these battles. We must argue against them. We must make their operations transparent, and we must make clear that often it’s not about the principles of human rights, but about greed and the migrant business.
In Warsaw you made it clear that for the future of Europe much more efficient economic cooperation is necessary. Before that, there was a ceremonial summit in Rome. I don’t know how celebratory the atmosphere was behind the scenes, but I think you’ll tell us. On the whole, the closing declaration contains words of the greatest beauty, but it says quite a lot about the situation in Europe if in a closing declaration it’s necessary to state that the leaders will listen to the people who elected them.
Indeed it’s been a busy time – a busy time diplomatically. I started in Rome, from there I had to go to Warsaw, and then back down to Malta. In foreign policy it’s wise to be cautious. Here’s the European Union, for instance. We’ve got a number of problems with it, and on a number of issues it even poses a threat. We have to defend ourselves, because on a regular basis they seek to take away national powers through all sorts of non-transparent techniques – that’s true. But at the end of the day we’re talking about the European Union. If we put the European Union into historical perspective – and that’s just what we did in Rome, as it was our sixtieth anniversary – we’re talking about an unprecedentedly successful international enterprise. This is the starting point for the truth. Our generation is the first one born in peacetime, and with a good chance of also dying in peacetime. This is unprecedented: neither our parents nor our grandparents had the chance to live lives without war. Though the reasons for this involve more than just the European Union, in my view the European Union also played a part in it. This is a very great achievement. In addition, if you look around the world you’ll see some good places: one could also live in the United States or Australia, but most people would like to live in Europe, because Europe is – we can say with due modesty – the best place for people to live. This is a great thing. So our achievements – past and present – are fantastic. The problem is that there are challenges which tower over us. Everyone – even the simplest among us – can see that: you don’t need to have the mind of a nuclear physicist, the German chancellor or the Hungarian prime minister. You don’t need to be a politician. People can see that Asia is rising, and that non-European powers account for an increasing percentage of the world economy’s production. Anyone can see this – if only on the labels of the products they buy. They can also see that tensions are rising in other parts of the world. They can see that technical developments are emerging in the world for which they’re not yet prepared. These are called robotics and digitalisation. They can see that millions of migrants are being allowed to march through the European continent without anyone – other than Hungary – trying to stop them. They can see that the British – with the world’s fifth largest economy – are leaving the European Union, and terrorist attacks are taking place in Europe. Challenges for the future are emerging on the horizon which make even the European people uncertain. The European elite is responding to this by taking its peoples to task, by saying that instead of talking about the uncertainties of the future they should recognise the splendid results we’ve achieved here so far. There’s some truth in this, in this sentence, but that’s not how the people think; and they’re right, because they’re concerned about the future. And while Europe is the world’s best place, this is why radical parties around Europe – radical parties based on protest – are rapidly gaining in strength. This is because the European people see their future as uncertain – and with good reason. And it’s our duty, the duty of European leaders and politicians, to give answers to these questions: to tell the people how we’re going to handle the migrant situation, and whether there’ll be a Muslim majority in Europe or not; whether or not we want to do anything to counter this; whether the Christian cultural environment in which we live will survive. What about issues of demography? Are we going to create a family policy which means that the number children born doesn’t fall, but rises? Are we able to handle a destabilised, dangerous Ukraine, and a simmering Balkans region? These are all questions that the European people are interested in. Questions such as whether they’ll have jobs, because if our competitiveness deteriorates and others are manufacturing instead of us, where will the people of Europe work? We have to answer these questions. For its part Hungary has already given its own answer to every one of these questions, one by one. I’m not saying that the Hungarians have the philosopher’s stone in their pocket, but at least we are naming the problems and giving an answer – the quality of which one can debate. Life will decide whether the answers work or not. We have no reason to be ashamed: most of our answers have worked. As a result, although we’re poorer than people in the West, here in Hungary today the future appears to be safer, or more settled and capable of being planned than in European countries richer than us.
For instance, from information leaked to Spiegel it seems that Angela Merkel’s party will argue for acceleration of the return of migrants, that people being rescued shouldn’t be transported to Italy but back to the shores of North Africa, and that the asylum requests of those who give false identities should be terminated. In other words, German policies are also moving towards a tightening of regulations.
There’s democracy in Europe. The elite, the political leaders can turn their backs on the people, because they’re not interested in what the people think about one problematic issue or another for a few months or for a year or two; but this will backfire. This chasm cannot keep on widening without consequences, because politicians will find themselves falling into it – politicians, not the people. If someone fails to understand that the people – and here I would say the citizens of every European country – want the borders to be defended, want terrorists to be stopped and public security restored, that they don’t want to support people who don’t want to take part in their society’s labour market; if a politician or a political party or a government fails to hear these voices, they’ll be ejected. And those who don’t want to be ejected by the people will have to change. If we look at the election in Holland, it was a major breakthrough. The Dutch governing party were able to stay in power because they adopted the policy which Hungary follows. They clearly stated that the flow of migrants must be curbed, it must be stopped, and we must return to normality in European life. This is why they were able to stay in power. Those who didn’t follow suit, such as the Dutch socialists, quite simply disappeared without trace. This is because there is democracy in Europe, and on an important issue like this – which is, of course a sensitive one with a number of moral aspects – politicians must stand by the people: they must listen to the people and stand by them.
The budget will be presented to the Government next week. At the meeting of the Chamber of Commerce you said that the situation is not good, but it is promising. We need more if the country wants to do great things. What does this mean in terms of figures, in next year’s budget? What expectations have you set for your ministers, and what will you concentrate on in the period ahead?
At the beginning of my term in government I asked all my ministers to do their jobs, and year after year submit budgets which allow everyone to take a step forward every year. I’m no great believer in great leaps forward. From time to time there have been attempts at that in the economic history of the world. The end result of great leaps forward is pain: and more often pain than success. So I’d rather an approach which is calculable and capable of being planned. I’m a believer in going upward one step at a time in a credible way. And every year everyone in Hungary can take a step forward. I know that everyone would like to take two or three steps at a time. In the game of pool there’s a rule that at least one of your feet must be on the ground at all times. Otherwise accidents can happen. This is true for both the economy and the budget. So everyone should be able to take a step forward every year. We’re building a work-based society. People should feel that there is a point in them working. For this first we need jobs. When I took the helm in 2010 unemployment was at twelve per cent, and compared with that we’ll soon see it falling below four per cent. In this regard the country has scored a fantastic achievement. Even wages have now begun to rise. No one is satisfied with their level of pay – yourself included. Ten million people out of ten million have the same opinion. But every year they must and can feel that there is a point to their work. I think that now Hungary is a country in which this can be felt. Of course political opinions differ, and of course many people think that we need to struggle with great difficulties. But if we put politics aside for a moment and look at the country’s situation rationally, if we compare things now to how they were last year, the year before or earlier – and in particular to the state the country was in before 2010 under the socialists – everyone can see that we’ve come a long way. The country is developing, and in the year ahead the budget must contribute to this development.
In the past half an hour you’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.