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

Katalin Nagy: We’ll take another step in the relaunch when we’ve reached the point at which 4 million people have been vaccinated. I welcome to the studio Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who’s just come from a meeting of the Operational Group. Let’s look at the latest numbers. Where do we stand now? Good morning.

Good morning to you and your listeners. The most important news is that we’re arriving at another staging post today, and from Saturday morning – from tomorrow morning – the start of the night-time curfew will change. So on Saturday night we’ll have to get home by midnight, and shops, restaurants and catering establishments can remain open until 11 o’clock. Places such as the indoor areas of cafes, bars and restaurants, hotels, leisure facilities, zoos, museums, cinemas, theatres, gyms and sporting events will be open to people with immunity certificates. And we don’t want to separate minors from other family members, so they can visit such places when accompanied by an adult, by a relative. This will come into effect on Saturday morning, tomorrow morning. Last night the number of people who have been vaccinated reached a total of just over 3.93 million or thereabouts, and we assume that today and tomorrow we’ll certainly have reached 4 million; so we’ll be bringing these new rules into effect from tomorrow morning. In addition, we’ve now taken stock of the vaccines available, and we’ve decided that we can vaccinate people between the ages of 16 and 18 – but only with the Pfizer vaccine, because for the time being this is all we can responsibly commit ourselves to. Their vaccination will only start after the school-leaving exams, because we don’t want any students taking those exams to be in any difficulty due immune reactions. This is why their vaccination will start after 10 May. We have to put aside Pfizer vaccines for them, and we’ve calculated this, having taken a general overview of warehousing options yesterday. Today we can still vaccinate with Pfizer, but not tomorrow, because from tomorrow we have to set them aside for our students. So whoever wants to be vaccinated with Pfizer can still get that vaccine today, but the next time it will be available to them will be some weeks from now. By the way, in Hungary now there are so many vaccines, there are several types of vaccine that in terms of quantity will be enough for everyone; so here in Hungary we already have the vaccine for whoever wants to be vaccinated. So we have vaccine, we have the ability to vaccinate and we have the organisation; now it’s up to people to get the vaccine.

Let’s go back to the reopening and the next step. Last week, when cafe, bar and restaurant terraces were allowed to be open we saw the photos. Some leading doctors and sober-minded adults turned pale at the sight of those pictures, and a lot of people were afraid about the reopening. Everyone downed tools, one might say, removed their masks and took to the terraces. So it wouldn’t hurt to draw attention to the need for individual responsibility.

We can draw attention to it, but we’re adults; everyone needs to know that up to now we’ve been protecting ourselves by isolation: we’ve withdrawn, retreated, quarantined and so on. And in this way we’ve slowed the spread of the virus. But now we’re on the attack, because the vaccine is “killing” the virus – but in a way similar to a bulletproof vest: when someone’s vaccinated, the virus bounces off. So everyone will have a vest, a bulletproof vest – which they put on either in their family doctor’s surgery or at a vaccination point. And so there will be no one left for the virus to attack. But we must act responsibly, because not everyone is vaccinated yet, and those who aren’t vaccinated can still infect others. Someone who’s already protected will no longer infect new people or make other people sick, but someone who hasn’t been vaccinated could infect others and may be infected themselves. So we haven’t put the pandemic behind us, but we’re in the last decisive – presumably victorious – battle. In this situation there’s still a need for responsibility, and we must follow the rules. For example, when we open hotels now, they’ll only be open for people with immunity certificates. We knew there was going to be some sort of debate about this, so we asked people about it in the last national consultation, which we held on the subject of the relaunch. In that consultation 65 per cent of respondents said that it would be justified to make such a distinction. And as now among the adult population there are more people who are protected than are unprotected, we need to accommodate the majority rather than the minority; and so it’s right that we’re placing great emphasis on the immunity certificate. Constitutional disputes and attacks have emerged, but we’ve examined them and we don’t see them as being well-founded. And so the immunity certificate will be in operation in Hungary. How this immunity certificate operates at border crossings is another story. In relation to those countries which are important to us, we’ve authorized Minister Szijjártó to conclude bilateral agreements on the mutual acceptance of each other’s identity cards and immunity certificates. We’ve also reached agreements with two countries: Montenegro – which has a coastline – and Serbia. We’re also negotiating with other countries – first with our neighbours, and then with others. So you’ll be able to go anywhere with the Hungarian immunity certificate. It’s been put about that it won’t be possible to travel after having been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine. That’s balderdash. I’ve been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine, and I’m also going to travel – not because I’ve got diplomatic authorisation to do so, but because I’ll have the right to do so. So those who’ve been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine will be free to travel during the summer.

What does the European Union have to say about this – about these agreements between countries? The European Parliament has adopted a much stricter – or a rather more exclusionary – proposal than the European Commission, because the former has voted that only people who have been vaccinated with Western vaccines should have the right to travel with a “green passport”.

And yet the Germans are buying Russian vaccines, the German chancellor has said that there should be mutual recognition of one another’s’ vaccines, and the World Health Organization’s opinion is that such recognition should extend to the Chinese vaccine. We can be sure that there won’t be any such restrictions. There either will or won’t be an EU card; if there is it won’t be for some weeks, or rather months, and we don’t want to wait for that. If we have an EU card we’ll use it; but in the meantime we’ll use our national card, and make agreements with our neighbours on a reciprocal basis. So whatever vaccines Hungarians have been vaccinated with, they’ll be able to travel if they want to.

Returning to reopening, residents in nursing homes and social-care institutions are very happy, because now if they’re protected they too can leave the institution and also be visited. But those preparing for wedding celebrations, for example, don’t understand why once we’ve reached the point at which over 4 million people have been vaccinated it’s possible to attend sporting events, but they still can’t hold their wedding celebrations. They’re asking why this is so.

You can go to a sporting event if you have an immunity certificate. We don’t want to split up weddings, with guests with immunity certificates on the right and others on the left. So people there will be mixed. It’s difficult to handle these situations in which people who are already protected are mixed with those who aren’t. A comprehensive set of detailed rules needed to be developed for restaurants, for example, because from tomorrow people with immunity certificates can use the indoor areas of restaurants. But terraces can be used by anyone without restrictions, and if someone from the terrace goes inside to the lavatory these two worlds get mixed up. So we’ve had to create a rule in which someone with an immunity certificate has to wear a mask inside a restaurant when they’re not sitting at a table, because they could come into contact with someone who isn’t protected yet. So a lot of things need to be considered. And your listeners won’t have imagined what a huge number of factors need to be taken into consideration. Yesterday, for example, we had to deal with anglers, because it turned out that the ban on pikeperch and asp fishing is about to expire, and the right time to fish for them is at night. And so from tomorrow the night-time curfew will enable fishing after midnight. Such is the diversity of life – and, fortunately, Hungarian social life in particular – that we’re also creating detailed rules to help such special groups. For example, in Hungary there are 700,000 anglers; our Hungarian world is by no means ordinary in terms of structure, colour or the complexity of its composition. I think that this is good: it’s part of the country’s strength, which also stems from it being so diverse.

If there are four million people vaccinated now, will the next step be 4.5 million or 5 million?

We don’t know yet – and to be honest the reason we don’t know is that we’re Hungarians. I also see that when there’s a deadline for tax declarations, people always leave it until the last minute before rushing to the tax office. I see something similar here with vaccinations. But this phenomenon doesn’t only exist in Hungary, because it seems that in other countries there’s a similar symptom: when the proportion of people who have been vaccinated reaches half the adult population, interest somehow fades. In the beginning everyone’s rushing, because they sense the danger; and indeed the third wave of the pandemic has decimated us, as we’ve all lost someone who’s close, a relative or a friend. But when people feel that the situation is getting better and the data is improving – just as it is improving every day – somehow it soon fades from their memory and this frenzy for vaccination cools down. Now we’ve got to the point at which we have more vaccines and more vaccination capacity than people who want to be vaccinated. So it’s no longer a matter of telling someone to come the day after tomorrow because there aren’t any vacant slots today; if they register they can walk in and be vaccinated at the given time. There isn’t anything like this yet in Western Europe, where they’re still working their way through the age groups and there are lockdowns. We’re the only country that has already got to the state that if a citizen registers and wants to be vaccinated on a certain date, they’ll get it then: they’ll go in and be vaccinated, regardless of their age or medical condition. This is a great success! It’s not easy to talk about success, and Hungarians tend to say that it’s not right to talk about success; but if “success” is taken to mean “performance”, then it’s easier for it to be accepted. And performance shouldn’t be hidden, but put on display: we must be proud of it, and must say that yes, we Hungarians are the first and fastest in Europe to be able to show this performance.

This week Parliament decided to restructure the universities. As a result the Opposition thought that it should turn to the Constitutional Court, because they interpret this move as the Government selling off public assets. Why do you think universities need to be restructured?

I’m glad that life is finally getting back to normal, and that this is also happening in politics, with topics other than the virus and vaccination now receiving public attention. The virus is still the most important topic, however, and vaccination is the most important issue. Remember that the virus won’t go away on its own, but because of the vaccine; so everyone should apply to be vaccinated, because we can only protect ourselves with the vaccine. But vaccination has now supressed the virus sufficiently to allow room for substantive debate of other issues as well. If the Left believes that a piece of legislation should be examined by the Constitutional Court, then it’s normal for the Constitutional Court to do so. As far as universities are concerned, it’s worth starting out from the position that Hungary has an extremely inflexible higher education system, and the lustre of its earlier successes has faded. We used to be very proud of our universities, but if we look at the rankings today, we find fewer reasons for pride. We all feel that there’s more in universities, more in higher education, more in talented Hungarian youth and more in committed teachers than we see in the performance that they’re now delivering. So somehow the system isn’t working well: it isn’t sufficiently driven by incentive, sufficiently attractive, sufficiently flexible, or sufficiently rewarding of performance. A lot of intelligent and talented people who could also teach in universities aren’t attracted to them, and therefore they choose different careers. So a great deal needs to be changed. And the truth is that the world’s best universities all operate in some kind of flexible form, being run by foundations rather than the state. And we’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll transform Hungarian universities into foundations. We started this with some of them, we selected a few – the choice of which was also the subject of debate. Soon some of them will have been in operation for a year. We’ve observed their experiences, and as the university sphere has seen that this change has been a positive one, more universities have announced their desire for restructuring. So it hasn’t been the Government deciding this but the universities, who have declared that in the future they’d also like to work in a more promising way. And we’ve accepted these demands. Never before have universities in Hungary received as much investment, as much money, as much support, predictable long-term operating conditions and development opportunities as they’re receiving now. I expect a great deal from this, like a locomotive: intelligence, strength, knowledge and learning are driving forces, after all. From now on the quantity and quality of this in Hungary will improve, and so they’ll be able to more powerfully pull Hungary’s carriages – not only in the economy, but also in other areas of life. So I look forward to this transformation with great anticipation.

And in the world at large, where the biggest universities operate in the form of foundations, aren’t they worried about state assets being transferred to foundations?

There it’s more a case of organic development. So it’s been happening over many decades, and there are places where it’s come into being over the centuries. In Hungary everything was nationalised by the communists; so if the communists hadn’t set foot in Hungary, backed up by the bayonets of Soviet troops, universities in Hungary today would be in much better condition than they are. So they were nationalised, together with everything else in Hungary, and organic development in the world of Hungarian universities was interrupted. Incidentally, we already had difficulties because of [the Treaty of] Trianon, which resulted in extremely good universities falling outside our borders. They had to be partially or completely repatriated to post-Trianon Hungary, which was also a shock for them; and then just over twenty years later the communists came along and nationalised them. So here Hungarian higher education couldn’t participate in the organic development enjoyed by Western Europeans. And this is why when it comes to transformation there’s always a debate, and the only thing the Hungarian mind focuses on is whether something’s public or private. Here we’re talking about setting up foundations in the public interest. The funding and budget support given to them cannot be used for anything other than education and the university’s own purposes. On the other hand, they’ll be able to operate stably and predictably in the long run, because this foundation system allows just that. Not even governments will be able to pull these universities’ strings. They’ll be much freer, have more autonomy, and be far more in control of their own affairs than they used to be – not only intellectually, but also financially.

This is now being attacked in Parliament by the Left. And let’s briefly go back to…

They’re attacking it, which is something I understand incidentally, but that’s a political attack. We need to understand that this isn’t a technical debate, but a political attack. What’s the reason for this? The reason is that in Hungary the Left is an internationalist formation. Universities are national institutions, so they’re the custodians of national sovereignty, national self-knowledge and consciousness, national learning and national culture. And we don’t want them to become globalist institutions of some kind that have lost their national character. Of course they’ll have to fit into the international environment, they’ll have to compete there; but they’ll have to compete as Hungarian universities. And by definition, when we set up these foundations and seek trustees, we’ll be selecting people – this is the task for Minister Palkovics – who have this national approach. And that’s why I can’t wholeheartedly nominate an internationalist, globalist-minded person for such a board of trustees. Because in that event I’d also be taking universities in that direction. So it’s clearly right and proper that now, when we have a national government, we’re putting our universities on a predictable path for the long run; because that’s how they’ll remain within the sphere of the national interest and national thinking.

And the Left have an internationalist mindset, don’t they? After all, we’re hearing anti-vaccination voices from the European Parliament. And I ask this now because Policy Solutions – a research institute with ties to the Left – commissioned an opinion survey on how people with party political preferences feel about vaccination. They asked people if they’d have themselves vaccinated. They found that 11 per cent of Fidesz voters said they probably wouldn’t have themselves vaccinated, and 17 per cent of opposition voters said they probably wouldn’t. So that attitude was 6 per cent higher among opposition voters.

We’re also conducting such research, and we see even more brutal numbers than you’ve described. So we see that 71 per cent of people who are pro-government are willing to have themselves vaccinated, compared to only 59 per cent among supporters of left-wing parties. That’s a big difference. It’s morbid but true that their work has produced results. So the Left is anti-vaccination. They have anti-vaccination campaigns, those who pay attention to them understand what they’re being told, and they’re less willing to have themselves vaccinated. So the Left’s anti-vaccination campaign hasn’t been ineffective: it’s produced a result, as people’s party-political sympathies are linked to a significant difference in their willingness to be vaccinated. I also want to speak to people on the Left, however. I’m not only speaking to our own followers, but I must do my job as Prime Minister for the whole country. I must also serve the interests of people on the Left; I speak to them and now I tell them to ignore the anti-vaccination campaign of the left-wing parties. This is not a political issue. By not having themselves vaccinated they’re not harming the Government and they’re not harming me – whom I assume they don’t support. So they’re trying to express their political dissatisfaction with us in the wrong context. It should be expressed differently, and not by refusing the vaccine. This is because they’re harming themselves with this. So I respectfully ask people on the Left as well not to make a political issue out of vaccination. Don’t listen to your parties, don’t fall for their anti-vaccination campaign, but accept vaccination, because this is about lives. It’s about your lives – and of course those you can infect without vaccination. So I appeal to the Left for their understanding, and also to left-wing voters’ sense of responsibility. This is a national priority. Vaccination is a national priority.

The data shows that employment in March was 66,000 higher than in February. We know that the Government has taken steps to ensure that even in May furlough payments will be received by companies that need it. How do you see this? Will these furlough payments be enough for the relaunch? Is there capacity for this in the budget?

Support is never enough, because whoever gets it always says that they’d have liked more. So we shouldn’t be under any illusions that any Hungarian will say that they’ve received enough support, because they could always get more. But if we ask, as you’ve done, whether it’s enough for the relaunch, then I have to say that yes, it is enough. It’s not enough on its own for success, for which a lot of work is still required, and they’ll need to overcome their difficulties. Those whose businesses have been at a standstill for six months or a year and who are now reopening are having to deal with very serious difficulties. We must support them, and so we’ve extended the period for which furlough payments will be provided. We’re providing investment and development subsidies, because now these enterprises – Hungarian SMEs – desperately need to be in alliance with the Government, as we can only relaunch the country together. Now most of my work focuses on vaccination: I’m dealing with vaccination, and we need to have good organisation in order to convince people to have themselves vaccinated, and so on. But I see the question of relaunching the economy coming back into our life, and that also needs to be dealt with. We’re about to set up an operational group for the economic relaunch, and we’ve already started this work, I’ve started. So people will soon see the next economic steps in the relaunch as well. We’ve developed both this year’s budget and the 2022 budget in this spirit, and that’s how we’ll present them. It will be a budget for the relaunch of the country, in which we’ll provide all kinds of funding. After all, if Hungarians hear the phrase “crisis management”, they get goosebumps, because they’ve got used to the idea that when there’s crisis management, people will come for what they have and take it away. And this is how it used to be: leftist governments’ crisis management was based on confiscation. The logic of national crisis management, however, is different, and not like that of the Left: it seeks to give. So I’m insisting that the next step in repaying the thirteenth month’s pension is included in the budget for 2022, so that senior citizens will receive two weeks’ worth of the thirteenth month’s pension. And I’m also trying to fight – not unsuccessfully, I feel – for implementation of income tax exemption for people under 25, and for Hungary to be a country that gives young people the chance to stand on their own two feet and get a start in life. Whether or not they’re in education, Hungarians under the age of 25 won’t pay tax on earnings: they’ll just start work and see the results of their work. I’m fighting for all this. So this crisis management – nation-based crisis management – and the relaunch have a logic which is different from that coming from the Left. I’m personally proud of this and I’m working for it. This operational group will be good, and I think it will be effective. There’s a debate about when we’ll reach the pre-pandemic level of economic performance. I won’t go into that debate now, but in my opinion we’ll get there faster than many people think. I hear high-profile economists and institutions commenting on the budget, proposing a smaller budget deficit – and they’re right, this is generally the correct approach. Here and now, however, we can’t do this, and I’m not encouraging the Hungarian parliament to do it either. This is because then we’d have to give up some things – the payment of the second week of the thirteenth month’s pension or the tax exemption for young people – that we want to combine with crisis management and with relaunching the country. So the ‘22 budget is a relaunch budget, and it shouldn’t be judged by fiscal standards that are natural in times of normality.

We have one more minute. Yesterday you walked to the post office and sent a special greetings telegram to your mother. Does this mean that there’s no way you’ll be able to greet her in person on Sunday?

I hope I will be able to, but in our profession you can never be sure. What was also in my mind was the fact that after all we’re witnessing a historic moment, as for me and my contemporaries the telegram has been part of our lives for a long time. We’ve received telegrams, special greetings telegrams, but if I’m not mistaken, following international trends, now Magyar Posta [the Hungarian postal service] has decided to end this service, as there’s not enough demand for it. And I didn’t want to miss out, I didn’t want a part of our life – of my life – to disappear without bidding it farewell. And that’s why I went to send a telegram. And as Mother’s Day is knocking on our door, I thought I’d send my mother a telegram to mark the occasion. Incidentally, I think that the crisis has hit women and mothers the hardest. I’m married, I have many children and grandchildren, and I see the tremendous work done during the pandemic by my daughters and my wife running their families. Children weren’t able to be taken to crèches, to go to school or kindergarten, but had to stay at home. Online teaching isn’t easy or automatic: one needs to sit there, especially next to younger children, to help them. Meanwhile women need to run the household, and that has to be dealt with when one comes home from work. They’re also working somewhere themselves, so they have a second job. So I have to say that Hungarian women’s contributions over the past year deserve all possible respect. So maybe we should remember that too as we approach Mother’s Day.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.