Katalin Nagy: The news we’re now getting from Romania is similar to that from Bergamo in Italy last spring: there are coronavirus patients in the corridors of hospitals, where there’s no room for them. It’s good that we don’t have to go through this in Hungary. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. I don’t think we can sit back, though. Apart from encouraging people to use their common sense, do you have any more ideas for persuading the anti-vaxxers?
Indeed, the fourth wave is slowly encircling Hungary – certainly from the East, where the situation in Romania is alarming, with hospitals at full capacity. We’re fighting a common enemy, the virus. We’ve already provided them with ventilators and therapeutics, but now that hospitals over there are full, we’ve decided to respond to a request from Romania and accept fifty patients for treatment: fifty patients so far, in two hospitals near the border. The vaccination rate in Romania is 29 per cent, while in Hungary it’s 59 per cent – that’s the difference. If you recall, this time last year there were three times as many active cases as there are now, and there were twice as many people in hospital as there are today. This means that the vaccine is working. The proportion of people who show symptoms after having been vaccinated is under 1 per cent. I try to lead by example. You ask if we have a trick up our sleeve. I try to impress upon people – or persuade them into thinking – that they won’t be able to avoid the fourth wave. And this variant attacking Europe right now – the Delta variant – is much more aggressive than earlier ones. So for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet their reference point shouldn’t be the danger that they faced a year ago, when they weren’t vaccinated; it should be that the danger they face now is much greater than it’s ever been. This virus causes serious illness, and it will find them; so I ask them not to take the risk. And apart from using words to try to influence people – not very successfully, I frankly admit – we’re trying to set a good example. At the end of this week I too will have my third vaccination, and my message to everyone is that the third dose is like a life insurance policy.
The Hungarian Academy of Sciences has released a statement. They’re trying to say what you repeat week after week: there’s no solution apart from vaccination, but we should wear masks in confined spaces, for example on public transport, because that has some effect.
I’m sure that’s right. It’s good to keep a mask in your pocket; I always do, and I’ll put it on if I see that it’s worth doing so – if there are a lot of us in an enclosed space and I could be infected by someone, or I could give it to someone. I urge everyone to consider that. But let’s not be under the illusion that masks will protect us. Masks don’t protect us; so far, the only thing that’s proved effective is vaccination. So if you want to guarantee the safety of your loved ones and your own life, I urge you to take the first and second vaccinations – and then the third.
Are there enough vaccines?
During the summer we made preparations, and so we have everything: vaccines, hospital beds, ventilators, medicines, nurses and doctors. So in the summer the country underwent the preparations needed for it to deal with a very strong autumn wave without needing to shut it down. If vaccination works, the country will work. If I compare last year’s figures with this year’s, it’s clear that so far this fourth wave in Hungary hasn’t yet reached the level of many other countries – such as Romania.
The Foreign Minister has said that Hungary could receive [Russian] Sputnik vaccine technology as early as this year, and that the Hungarian vaccine factory could start production of that next year, if it’s ready to do so. We know that trial production of this kind has already started in Serbia. Is this an opportunity for the Hungarian health industry?
The Foreign Minister is usually right, and I understand his point, because we’ve tasked him with ensuring that by the time it’s complete the factory will have enough international orders to work at full capacity. It isn’t good to have a factory and see it fail because there’s no product to sell on the market. But for me there’s a more important aspect: the Hungarian vaccine. We don’t talk very much about that. I belong to a generation that doesn’t like to announce the result of a match in advance. Frankly speaking, it really annoys me when, in the 67th minute of a match, the commentators speculate about what will happen if the score remains as it is.
I think others would agree with you on that.
So, to be honest, we’ll talk about that at the end of the match. Why do I put it like this? Because another match is being played – and it’s not about sport, but science. The Hungarians – we Hungarians – are also trying to develop our own vaccine. We’re not doing badly, and we’ve already reached the stage at which we have every hope of producing a vaccine which we’ve developed ourselves. And if we have our own vaccine, then maybe – and this is a possibility, as Katalin Karikó is an inspiring example – it will be at least as good as vaccines developed by others, or even better. In that case we’ll be able to produce and sell our own vaccine. But we can’t be sure of this, and so the Foreign Minister is right: let’s prepare to produce our own vaccine, but in the meantime let’s have orders for vaccines developed elsewhere, so that our factory can operate. This whole thing is starting to come together, and it’s going in the right direction.
Chief Domestic Security Adviser György Bakondi has said that Europe is now surrounded by economic immigrants, by migrants, with pressure increasing on all routes: on land, at sea, in the West and in the East. Why, despite all this, is there talk in Brussels of the mandatory quota needing to be resuscitated, and of each country needing to take in more than 40,000 people?
The simple reason for this is that Brusseleers and Western Europeans have no faith in themselves. Over there few children are being born, as is also the case here; but there they’ve given up hope that the men and women of their own nations will be able to overcome this demographic crisis. And they’ve said that if things aren’t working out – if not enough German, Belgian or French children are being born – they’ll have to make up for the shortfall: if they have one German too few, for them a one-for-one replacement unit sitting alongside a factory conveyor belt could be an African or an Asian – either would be just as good. To Hungarians this way of thinking is shocking. While saying these sentences just now, I too felt their brutality. But this is the truth: they’ve given up. They think that their world is no longer biologically capable of maintaining itself, and that people need to be brought in from outside. We’re still fighting. We think – because all the surveys tell me and my meetings with young people tell me – that young Hungarians want children, and they want more children than are currently being born. From this I conclude that if we could remove the obstacles that ultimately lead to fewer children being born than young people want, then this kind of balance could be restored in Hungary. And then we wouldn’t need migrants and immigrants.
But why do they want to force that on us? They see things one way, and we see them differently.
This stems from Western arrogance. They’re not satisfied with just being successful – although, of course, recently that assumption has been seriously challenged. They also insist that they’re right. So somehow there’s something in the Brussels mindset that we don’t have. It isn’t enough for them to be free and to live as they wish, and to make the decisions that their own people want; they also want everyone to recognise that their decision is the only good decision – and not just to recognise it, but to recognise it and then copy it. So they want to tell us how to live. The bigger the country with this kind of thinking, the greater the threat it poses to us. Let’s be frank about this. The truth is that the Germans are our friends; we’ve shared many good years with them, and when we’ve made mistakes, we’ve often made those mistakes together. So there’s a friendly closeness or feeling of fellowship – especially with the Bavarians. But in Europe the big question is always this: what does Germany want? Do they want a European Germany, which accepts that there are many peoples in Europe, and just as many different solutions to the same question? Or do they want a German Europe, in which they tell us what Europe should be like? And if I look back at the recent past, or if I take recent events into account, let’s say on the issue of migration, what they want is a German Europe. So what they want is for us to recognise what they’re doing as the best solution; and then, if it’s the best solution, they also want us to adopt it immediately. That kind of thinking is light-years away from Hungarian survival instincts, from our set of instincts and worldview. If others want to impose anything on us, Hungarians will instantly pull themselves together, steel themselves and resist. We’re organising our resistance. Many Davids are now mobilising against Goliath. Instead of accepting renewed bombardment with mandatory quotas, because this is being put on the agenda again, twelve countries have written a joint letter in which we describe what steps should be taken to enable us to defend Europe’s external borders. So while we’re under pressure from the West, we here in Central Europe, together with others who live in the area of Europe afflicted by the effects of migration – so the Austrians and the Greeks as well – are trying to organise ourselves. We and they are organising, and we want to form a counterweight to the concept of a German Europe.
So does this mean that it makes sense for the little Davids to be banding together? It’s interesting that now the European Union is worried about the Lithuanian border, but it isn’t worried about the southern borders, about the Serbian-Hungarian border.
Let’s be positive and say that it’s because they trust us and they think that we can solve our problem on our own.
Of course, but for six years they’ve been telling us to take down the fence.
Yes, but it’s always been like this. We’re not having a historical discussion here, but if you look at Hungarian history, it’s always been the case that whenever trouble comes from the South, the West doesn’t help us to defend ourselves; instead they arrange for Hungary to be a buffer zone, so that they can live in comfort and safety. Because if troubles occur on Hungarian soil, if – as was the case with the Ottoman Empire and the Russians – there are wars here, if troubles flare up here, it means that the trouble can’t reach them, and they can go on living their lives in comfort. That’s why they threw us to the Soviet Union, and that’s why they didn’t help against the Turks. They wanted to create a buffer zone out of Hungary. And aside from that, when with great difficulty the Turks were finally ousted, they [Austria] claimed that we hadn’t been capable of doing so ourselves – but how could we have been, since they’d left us to our own devices? Using that as an excuse, they distributed the territories they’d recaptured from the Turks among their own aristocrats as spoils of war, and didn’t return them to their old Hungarian owners. So we have experience of how Western Europe sees Central Europe, and how Central Europe cannot count on their goodwill. We’re glad if goodwill exists, and we’re glad if we can achieve it through skilful diplomacy; but Central Europe must organise itself in its own interests, because no one apart from us has an interest in a successful Central Europe.
Yes, but they have experience and see the reality. They can see that six years of mass migration haven’t produced the results they expected, and that not as many people as they’d hoped for have joined the labour market. A large part of society is unable to accept the customs and culture of the other part. So here we see a contradiction, yet still they don’t see it.
To admit a mistake would require generosity of spirit – of intellect and of soul. This is what’s lacking today – in world politics in general, and in European politics in particular. Today everyone’s building a fence, and today everyone’s happy that Hungary’s built a fence. No European leader has ever said that we were right six years ago, that they were unfair to us, that they were wrong to attack us, and that they ask us, as friends, to forgive them for that, because a friend is a friend if they can accept others’ mistakes. That way of speaking is no longer in fashion; generosity isn’t part of European politics.
There’s another very important issue now. In the western part of the European Union we’re seeing prices – household energy bills – rising at a frightening rate. Can we prevent these high energy prices spreading to Hungary?
It was a long time ago, but your listeners may remember that in the first years of the civic, Christian democratic government that entered office in 2010, one of our first battles was with Brussels over the cost of energy. In Hungary in the 2000s we had left-wing governments, which sold off the electricity companies. Large international multinationals which had bought up electricity service providing companies – and even some of the electricity producers – asked the government of the day to let them raise prices, because the market situation demanded it. The Gyurcsány-Bajnai governments gave their permission for this about fifteen times. And prices went through the roof; anyone running a household and with children back then can remember that utility prices were sky-high. And then in 2010, when a civic government came to power, we decided that this situation had to be stopped. This was a big battle. It was years before we finally managed to get our way with the multinationals operating in Hungary and with the Brussels bureaucrats fighting for them tooth and nail. But we won that battle and introduced a price control system in Hungary that fixed the prices of gas and electricity. As a result – and I’ve gathered some data on this – the price of electricity in Vienna is now more than double that in Budapest, and Berliners pay three times as much as we do. The same is true for gas, which in Berlin is twice as expensive as in Budapest and in Vienna three times as expensive. To give a more distant example, in Sweden the price of household gas is eight times that in Budapest. So we’ve fought a successful battle, and this fixed price protects us even when the market price rises, as it has recently. This is what I’m always explaining in Parliament to the left-wing Members of Parliament, to the phalanx under [Ferenc] Gyurcsány’s banner. I tell them they should stop demanding that we introduce market prices. They’re always saying that we should introduce market prices for gas and electricity. If we were to do that, today the average Hungarian family would pay around 380,000 to 400,000 forints more every year: an extra 30,000 or 40,000 forints a month. So I think that the gains we’ve won in the battle over utility bills must be defended. Six months ago we knew that prices on the world market would start to rise. Brussels has had six months to prepare for this. They did nothing. And now, instead of admitting their mistake – a Commissioner who goes by the name of Timmermans is in charge of this part of the EU – and saying, for instance, that the Hungarian example is a good one, and that Europe’s citizens should be protected from high prices, they’re making things even worse. So in Brussels they’re now preparing to say that the current problems aren’t enough: citing the pursuit of climate goals, they want to raise the price of electricity and fuel even further. We Hungarians agree that fighting climate change is a good thing, and that the fight must be continued; we think, however, that it must be done not by forcing the costs onto the public, but onto the big international companies that are the ones destroying the climate. Now they want to introduce a complicated system for taxing people and families who own their own cars and their own homes. We’re resisting this. We’re now “conspiring” within the Visegrád 4, who have been here in Budapest, where we agreed that we won’t accept any decisions at next week’s European summit that would increase the price of electricity and gas.
For a long time you’ve been saying that indeed there’s a comprehensive social consultation on the future of Europe. I’ve read that already 3,000 conferences have been held on this subject, with ideas being collected on how Europe’s future can be made better and more beautiful. When they cannot protect the borders or ensure energy security, it makes you wonder what kind of future they’re talking about. I’ve just heard that the Rutte government in the Netherlands already knows that there will be trouble this winter with insufficient gas supplies, and that its best suggestion is for people to put on an extra pullover when they’re at home in the evening. I could have come up with that idea.
My wife says the same thing: we shouldn’t turn up the boiler, but put on an extra pullover. But that can’t be expected to be the general solution.
It’s not a strategy, is it?
Yes, we’re not all the same, and we have to take that into account. So, you see, I can say that in Western European countries today a culture has developed in which elected politicians responsible for the condition and fate of their countries aren’t expected to show direction, make proposals and lead; instead they’re expected to head up, organise and manage the work of institutions such as parliaments, committees, all kinds of bodies and organisations. This is a comforting thought, because there’s an assumption in Western Europe that a strong leader can produce problems, that there have been enough problems in that area, and so a weak leader is preferable. There’s some truth in that. It doesn’t seem to be a very agreeable idea, but I understand it, because there’s some truth in it in general, and when things are going well. But when things are going badly, and when a new phenomenon has emerged, for example when there’s a tripling of the migration pressure on the border between Serbia and Hungary, then you cannot find a solution by trudging round the traditional treadmill; you need a decision – a parliamentary, governmental or prime ministerial decision – which says that we’ll do this, this and this. You can’t defend the border against migrants, for example, with bouquets of flowers, teddy bears or welcoming committees; because I see daily reports of police officers and soldiers – to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for defending the border – being attacked. But someone has to say that the migrants who are attacking the border, who are trying to get over the fence, have to be stopped. So you can’t simply manage institutions, but you have to say: “Gentlemen, we expect our police officers and soldiers to defend the border.” And then this order must be obeyed, carried out, monitored, and repeated if necessary. So unfortunately the world we now live in means that in the political realm a soft, yielding, “unisex” approach is useless. We live in an age of pandemics and migration, and leaders need to be delegated powers. Parliaments need to debate issues, people need to elect their leaders; but when there’s a problem, then decisions need to be made. If household utility prices are rising they must be curbed. It isn’t enough to explain to people what’s causing the price to rise: it must be curbed, and families must be protected. It isn’t enough to explain the causes of migration: you have to stop them getting in. Rather than understanding the pandemic, it must be contained through vaccination. The day before yesterday I met with the V4, and here in Central Europe people have clear and unambiguous expectations of their politicians, of parliaments, and of their representatives. In the West, however, there’s uncertainty. Today this is the difference in character between politics in Western Europe and Central Europe.
Will the V4 take a concrete proposal to the EU summit next week?
We’ll be taking proposals. We definitely want to change the price regulation system that’s used today in Western Europe and eliminate the speculative element. So in Western Europe today there’s a complicated regulatory system for prices and emissions, as a result of which it’s possible to trade emission quotas on the market. But there’s always a problem when we allow money into areas where it has no place – where the priority should be to ensure people’s security, and security of supply. So we in the V4 believe that this regulatory system – which today also opens up space for speculation and drives up prices – is a bad system. This is why we’re proposing changes to many elements of the current system. We also want to persuade the Commission to abandon its plan to increase taxes on families relating to car and home ownership. You cannot fight climate change and its destructive effects by telling people to heat their homes less and use their cars less. You have to look at who’s making a profit in the polluting business sectors, and take back a significant proportion of that profit to use for climate protection.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.