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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: The number of infections is increasing in neighbouring countries – in Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Austria. Here on Kossuth Radio yesterday Professor Béla Merkely said that introduction of the virus from abroad should be prevented. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Can this be prevented? What measures are needed?

Good morning, and a very good morning to your listeners. The key to success is within us. So it’s up to us. We’ve scored a victory against the first wave of the pandemic. Hungarians must now recognise that this is a stage win: we’ve won a battle, but we haven’t won the war. We’ve scored a stage victory. There’s no vaccine, so we cannot vaccinate ourselves to prevent ourselves being infected. And since we cannot tear the country off the map of Europe, and we don’t want to, the world around is affecting us. One must be sensible here, and we have to make good, intelligent decisions about where we go on holiday. Of course if Hungarians don’t see the sea at least once a year they feel as if they’re in prison. Or at least they are many of us who…

Lake Balaton is also very beautiful.

…feel this way, and this is a very strong feeling in the hearts of Hungarians. But now perhaps one should choose Lake Balaton. So everyone needs to think carefully about where they go on foreign holidays. Although there’s always constant pressure from Brussels for us to allow unsupervised entry for people from ever more countries, we – I mean the Government – must strive to resist that pressure. Yesterday the Operational Group held a meeting, and we decided that initially – despite this recommendation from the people in Brussels – we won’t be allowing entry without checks to anyone from non-EU countries other than Serbia. Moreover, even if someone from an EU country just wants to travel across Hungary, they’ll have to return to the previous system, in which we opened corridors: transit corridors or health corridors, which were the only routes along which it was possible to cross the country. It was only possible to stop at designated petrol stations, and one had to leave the country immediately. Anyone deviating from this route will face a penalty. So although it’s summer here, with people in swimming trunks and bikinis, eating ice cream and lángos, and one feels that freedom has broken out, this is only partly true. This is only partly true, and so I want to tell Hungarians that we must exercise caution. And the Government should listen: not go on vacation, but listen! I think we need to stay at work for quite a few more weeks, and we need to make sure that the intensification of migration pressure doesn’t endanger the Hungarian healthcare situation. So up until now one thought that migration would only make the public safety situation worse; but now if you look at the rising numbers, you see an increase in the number of infections in countries along the customary migration routes. So now border defence is also health defence, and we’ve strengthened border defence. The activity of people smugglers has unexpectedly increased, so we’re struggling with increasing numbers. So far this year more than one hundred and thirty smugglers have been arrested, and the number of attempts to cross the border illegally has increased by more than 40 per cent. So we need our police, and we need our soldiers. This brings us to the question of what we’re seeing in Western Europe and America, where society and the political elite are betraying their own police officers. In Central Europe such a thing is unacceptable. It’s not right in general, but when it comes to defending the border it’s especially important to be there backing our police officers and our border guards.

It seems that Brussels doesn’t recognise these achievements. On the one hand, one doesn’t understand why there’s pressure for us to admit people from non-EU countries, when they also see that everywhere – in most places, in our surrounding area – the number of infections is increasing. Don’t they see this? On the other hand they don’t like what we’ve achieved, because they want us to continually change our border controls.

Recently we received a ruling criticising the transit zone, and we put an end to its operation. We thought a lot about whether or not to implement this decision. It’s not good to live in a transit zone; but with all its discomforts it was much better than being in a prison, given that one could leave it for Serbia. You can’t voluntarily leave a prison, but here you could, so we said that it’s not detention. What kind of detention allows you to walk out? But the Brusselians said that it was indeed detention. We didn’t know what to do, but in Hungarian style we said “so be it”, and we closed it. And so from now on if someone wants to come in, if any migrant wants to enter Hungary in a legally acceptable way, they must submit their application at a Hungarian embassy in a neighbouring country. That’s where they’ll have to wait; and then, when there’s a decision and if it’s positive, they can come to Hungary. But I wouldn’t promise anyone that – I wouldn’t raise too many hopes in that regard. So we responded to the attack in Brussels by making border defence even tougher.

Rights activists also seem to have noticed this, as up until now they’ve been saying that the transit zone hinders the free entry of immigrants. Now it seems that they want it to be reinstated.

Well, I don’t want to bore the listeners, but I’ll remind them that there were riots on our border at Röszke. And if you switched on the TV last week you could see that there were riots in Vienna – which in Hungarian minds is still the yardstick for cleanliness and order. There have been gang wars in Stuttgart in Germany, which according to our Hungarian way of thinking is the world of order. So if we want Hungary to remain a peaceful, safe and secure place, we must take the toughest possible action against migration. And that is what we shall do. When it comes to disputes with Brussels I don’t feel isolated, because I feel that the vast majority of the country supports this position. There was also a national consultation on this. We’ve asked the people. Not only are we supported by a parliamentary election result, when our programme was supported by a large majority of people, but we also held a national consultation. This enabled people to express their views on several specific questions, and we shall act accordingly. Everyone can be sure that national consultations will serve as a compass for the Government. This was the case for migration, and it will also be the case for disease control.

If you’ve already asked several questions about migration in the past, and even had a national consultation which covered the whole issue, then why is it necessary to ask further questions now?

We’re now asking about the connection between migration and disease. Basically, of course, now the whole national consultation questionnaire mostly revolves around health care, the pandemic and relaunch of the economy; but at some points it touches on migration. So there are questions that relate to both at the same time. I understand Brussels’ aspirations and instincts in wanting to restart the economy as soon as possible, because after all this is still basically an economic community. There are countries that are in serious trouble. I think that Hungarians don’t usually believe this, or don’t take it seriously. So in Italy, say, state debt is 130 per cent of annual gross domestic product. Well, a level of over 60 per cent is already unhealthy. We’re also around 70 and pushing it down to go below 60. But 130? But in France, which is still one of Europe’s great powers, at any moment it will go up to 115–120 per cent. And I haven’t even mentioned the Greeks. But it’s even true in model countries like Belgium. So there’s a serious problem here. State debt in Spain has risen in a few years from just over 30 per cent to over 90 per cent. This shows that these economies aren’t competitive and are unable to generate as much income, because obviously they can’t sell their goods at the prices and quality that they normally do, and they can’t generate sums equivalent to those that they’re spending. Now a Hungarian thinks that this could only happen under socialism and under left-wing governments. This was the same here in Hungary. But one considers the normal course of life to be a country not spending more than it can earn. And in various ways Hungarian voters tend to urge us, the people responsible for state affairs, to avoid overburdening the country with debt; because those with high debt and an uncompetitive economy are making themselves vulnerable. Hungarian people usually look up to the West, because we learn at school and hear elsewhere that things in the West undoubtedly go better than they do here: that over there finances are definitely more in order than in Hungary, and so on. But if someone is in the thick of things, as I am, they see that this isn’t true. Our finances are in far better shape and our economies are far more competitive in Central Europe, in Poland, in the Czech Republic, and with the Slovaks. It’s true that we had communism for more than forty years, and this plundered us. This is why we’re poorer than Westerners; but our economies are more competitive, our finances are in better shape, and we’re on an upward path. The situation in the West, in Western Europe, is completely different. So from this point of view it’s completely understandable that Brussels is trying to do everything in its power to make tourism, trade and transport as intensive and as strong as possible. Because this is what Western economies need – they’re in really big trouble. The current European Union aid package, the rehabilitation fund, the so-called Next Generation Package, is in fact aid that we’re giving to the South. A few years ago – say, ten years ago – would anyone have thought that Central Europe should be considering whether it wants to help richer countries that didn’t suffer communism and that joined the EU earlier than we did? Now this is what we’re talking about! We’re sending aid! So I think that this is a new situation that the Hungarian people are not really aware of, or are only very slowly becoming aware of: the situation in the entire Central European region has changed. One should look at the world from a different perspective, and Central Europeans can stand tall, knowing that their battle against the pandemic has been more successful than that in the West. Our finances are in better order and our economy is more competitive. The one problem is that we’re poorer, but for this…

Exactly!

…there’s a historical reason, for which the communists are responsible, not our parents and grandparents.

That’s exactly the point I wanted to make. Looking at the numbers, we know that per capita GDP in France, Spain or Italy – and perhaps even in Greece – is higher than in Hungary. So when Brussels talks about this, one gets the feeling that this particular restart package should be distributed for the benefit of the countries of the South. But we’re still only striving to catch up. So why should we be worse off, or why should the V4 countries be worse off? 

There are many aspects that need to be reconciled. I often lambaste bureaucrats in Brussels, but I recognise that they don’t have an easy task, because they need to reconcile many different aspects and the interests of European regions which are in completely different situations, economic situations. And I say that we stand ready to help the southerners who are in trouble, but we also want fair treatment. So we don’t want to be cast in the role of suckers. So providing aid and accepting certain complicated loan terms which Hungarians would normally baulk at doesn’t mean that we’ll be played for suckers. So if we’re to embark on the path of pumping money into various European economies, this must stand on a fair, morally acceptable basis. This is why we’re debating this point. There’s mayhem in Brussels, incidentally. So in the next two to three weeks your listeners will hear about the ferocious debates in Europe surrounding the issue of relaunching the economy. But to be honest I feel calm about that, because today our budget will be adopted by Parliament. We have a budget, and it contains stable facts and figures. In it there’s a major fund to assist in preparedness for disease control, and there’s also an economy protection fund. Both are well financed, and both will work. Recently we’ve invested many hundreds of billions of forints in investments which will be realised in the next six months to one year. So I’m not worried about the Hungarian economy, although now we have to fight; because we’ve only won one stage, and the Tour de France or such cycle races consist of several stages, and we’ve won the first. Now we have to win the second stage, a second battle. This is job protection, in which we’ve committed to independently creating at least as many jobs as the virus destroys. This is the second stage. We are fighting this battle. One means of doing this is the budget. And if you read this budget you’ll see that, of course, this won’t be a land of milk and honey, but there will be very substantial things, as after all in a time of crisis we can still start to reinstitute our thirteenth month’s pension. In addition to crisis management, however, there are measures in place to increase the amount paid to women who’ve just had a child: through the benefit called CSED, for the first six months after giving birth they’ll receive a sum equivalent to 100 per cent of their salary. A woman who gives birth will receive slightly more money than if she’d stayed at work and hadn’t given birth. So this budget also contains breakthrough elements – especially in family policy, partly for pensioners and partly for young people. This gives reason for confidence. So I see 2020 as a difficult year. We’ll also have to fight for jobs in 2021, but overall there isn’t simply light at the end of the tunnel: we can see how we could emerge from this whole crisis in a stronger condition. I’m not saying this will definitely happen, but that’s how we could emerge. There won’t be a second wave if we continue to be careful, if we don’t allow the pandemic to ramp up again, if our healthcare professionals are well prepared and do their job well – professionals whom I thank for their heroic work so far, remembering that yesterday was Semmelweis Day. If we’re vigilant in border defence, if we implement the budget, if we continue to fund investments and job-creating, value-creating economic activity, if we don’t allow ourselves to be seen as suckers by the West and if we manage to put all these together, I think that Hungary can emerge from this crisis in a stronger condition.

With regard to the budget that Parliament is voting on today, the opposition doesn’t usually vote for these budgets. Two prominent MSZP politicians, who are always very concerned about the healthcare and education situation, would strengthen these two areas with proposals costing a few hundred billion. How can you ensure that a budget provides a guarantee for the situation that it was designed for?

When one looks at the Left, someone like me who thinks in simple terms is baffled. I no longer know what they’re doing. So first of all, they haven’t stood by the country in a time of trouble. They’ve used all their strength to repeatedly say “no”, and they’ve terrified the country with a fake video which I consider to be the moral low-point of the past thirty years. They’ve played on people’s fear of illness and death, exploiting it and building a narrative on falsehoods to boost their own political popularity and hostility to the Government. This is an almost unfathomable abyss. So I’m baffled, and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I’ve been in opposition. The parties that make up the Government today were themselves in opposition once. I’m not claiming that when we were in opposition we were without fault, but what the Left is doing now is simply and absolutely incomprehensible. When there’s a problem, one must stand by the people and the country, and one mustn’t go running to Brussels to file reports against us. They’ve been doing this continually. They’ve been working to weaken our crisis management capabilities. Then they falsify the facts and, playing on fear, continuously seek to convince people that there’s a huge problem in this country. Meanwhile we are among those European countries which have been most successful in protecting themselves. So I’m baffled. I looked at their comments on the budget, and I found no logic in it. So for now, all we can do is vote for the budget submitted by the Government. I can’t begin to understand why it’s necessary to steal national consultation questionnaires from people’s letter boxes and deprive people of the opportunity to respond. Of course I ask everyone to fill out the questionnaire and send it back, but Hungarians are adults: if they don’t like the Government, or don’t like the consultation questionnaire, they won’t send it back. But why steal them from mail boxes? These are actions on the Left that a sober-minded person can hardly follow. So I suggest that in the budget we focus on refining the government proposal and not on comments from the Left – because they’re not leading us out of the woods, but into the woods.

Yes, not only are these envelopes being stolen out of mail boxes, but there are MPs, independent MPs, who are asking people to send questionnaires to them. This may also raise privacy concerns. Why does the Left think that if such a consultation is a success for the Government, they too can succeed by somehow trying to act on it or resist it?

It’s not for me to understand the Left; it’s my job to try to make decisions which benefit the country. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t sometimes imagine ourselves in their situation – although that’s not easy. If one thinks about the nature of the traditional Left, then the traditional Left supports pensioners, say. The current government is restoring the thirteenth month’s pension, which they took away. And normally the Left supports wage rises. They took away the thirteenth month’s salary, took away one month’s earnings, while we’re continuously raising wages. I often spar with them in Parliament, and then all I need to do is say, “Very well, gentlemen, you were in government for eight years. Let’s see: what was the minimum wage? Let’s see: what was the average wage? Let’s see: how much is it now? Almost double! So what are you talking about?” So of course the Left’s task isn’t an easy one, because in Hungary we don’t have a government organised on an ideological basis. Of course we call this a government of the Right, because it’s based on national and Christian values; but if we look at its programme, it’s a national government, and leftist thinking is part of the nation. That is also a tradition, even if we sometimes argue with it. Yet the operation of the current government contains social programmes, family protection programmes, which used to be considered traditionally left-wing. But now we have a national government. We have a large, broad, strong national government that strives for national unification. And this is why in a time like this it’s very difficult to somehow take a position against such a government. One should ask why one needs to take a position against such a government. Of course one can be on the Left, and if there’s a government of the Right one can support the elements in it that coincide with the thinking of the Left: not criticise them, but support them. There’s health care, for example. We’ll be spending much more on health care next year than we did last year. This is something that could be supported. We’re also spending more on education. This is another thing that could be supported. But if one says “no” to everything, one ends up with the fate that has now befallen the Left.

We’ve already talked about the European Union’s recovery package. In relation to the seven-year budget, which is also being negotiated – and here, even if we return to this recovery package – it’s interesting to note that there was a proposal seeking to divide the V4 countries: for example, they wanted to give more to Slovakia than to Poland or Hungary.

There are always such attempts. I don’t think two minutes is enough time for us to venture into historico-philosophical explanations, but if we take a look at what’s happening in a historical context, what we see is after all a surprising thing. Here we need to recognise that at the end of World War II Germany had been bombed back into the Middle Ages. At the end of World War II we Central Europeans were thrown over to the Soviet Union and the communists. And the West – the areas west of Germany – triumphed. Seventy-odd years have passed, and when we look at the map we see that Germany is the richest country, the British have left the EU, and Central Europe is developing. Something strange is happening, an epochal shift. Now everyone is expecting Central Europe and Germany to be the core of the EU’s competitiveness, and they’re hoping that this region will pull the whole of Europe out of trouble. So I see that one can like or dislike Central Europeans and Germans in particular. But after all, over the course of 75 years they’ve managed to clamber back from medieval conditions to the top spot in Europe, so that now everyone expects them to provide the money and the solution. This is a respectable achievement. But now they need to use this power intelligently, and we Central Europeans need to take care not to let the horse run away with us; because we see the difference, the dynamics, the disparity in development, but we must understand that we need to succeed together. So Europe needs to pull together. We have better prospects for success as part of a European economy than as separate national economies. But for this to happen, Brussels must not seek to force the Hungarians, the Czechs or the Poles into a way of life that we don’t want to live. So let us live our own lives and we will be successful together. The bureaucrats in Brussels ought to understand that we’re not entering a period for empire building, but a period for intelligent teamwork between nation states. I see some prospects for this, but this is why we Central Europeans and Germans must enter the fray on a regular basis.

Germany has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union. There will obviously be changes to their programme, which they may have planned a year and a half ago. Do you expect Hungary to be able to cooperate with the German presidency on this programme?

If we’re treated fairly in the current economic debates, then yes I do. There’s one thing on which we obviously won’t be able to cooperate with the Germans: the issue of asylum. Although I strive to do so, it’s very difficult to forge a functioning combination from fire and water. It’s clear that the Germans have decided to try to remedy their demographic problems – with few children being born there – through migration. We Hungarians see this as a huge problem. Our history is different. We’ve seen what it’s like when communities from the Muslim world come to Hungary; and we don’t believe that replenishment of the population from that world would result in a peaceful, safe, balanced, Christian, Hungarian life. Yet in Hungary we want a peaceful, safe societal life built on Hungarian and Christian principles. Therefore we need to solve our demographic problems ourselves. In other words we need children – our own children, Hungarian children – and not migrants. This way of thinking is different from that of many countries, including Germany, which see migration as a completely natural technical instrument which can make up for a numerical shortfall in the population and the labour market. Hungarians are all too aware of the fact that you may expect to get manpower, but in fact what you will get is people – together with their cultures, their traditions, their conflicts and their worldviews which are different from yours. Sooner or later this will have an impact on your life, and it will lead to conflict. We don’t believe in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups adjacently living in parallel societies. This has not been our experience. And since we don’t have migrants now, we don’t want to have them in the future. So in Germany, and many other countries, the situation is different, because migrants are already there. Let’s not forget that all the countries where there are migrants were colonial countries, without exception. And so a colonial past comes with consequences. Hungary didn’t want to be a colony, we never wanted to become a colony; and neither did we want to have colonies. So on this matter our basic instincts, our culture and our perception are completely different. We believe that Hungary belongs to Hungarians, and that we Hungarians will solve our problems.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.