Katalin Nagy: With me in the studio is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who last visited us at “Good Morning Hungary” more than a month ago. As I remember, at that time the Government was planning to organise vaccination days and weekends: special days on which one wouldn’t need to book a vaccination appointment in advance. Do you think these have fulfilled the hopes placed in them? Good morning!
Good morning, and greetings to your listeners. Indeed it’s been a long time, and thank you for inviting me here today. We last saw each other before Christmas, so first of all let me say that Christmas was almost how one imagines it should be. The virus was still casting its shadow over families, but we were able to get together, we were able to meet, and even though the danger hadn’t gone away, the threat was less severe than earlier. And New Year’s Eve seemed like a normal, human New Year’s Eve. But the pandemic isn’t yet over. According to all the medical experts, this new variant – which is called Omicron – is weaker than the previous Delta variant, but the experts say that it’s forcing out that more dangerous Delta variant. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need to protect ourselves. And the tool that we have in our hands – vaccination – also works in this situation. This is why we’ve been talking – and why I talk – about the issue of vaccination action days, and how important they are. So we have a trump card in our hands which strikes both the Delta and the Omicron variants. I urge everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to get themselves vaccinated – and if they’ve had two doses, to get the third. I ask parents to consider having their children vaccinated, as this will also have an impact on education in schools. So let’s not feel that we’re over this, just because now the variant that seems to be prevalent is weaker than the ones we suffered from earlier. I’ll try to be precise about the vaccination days, so I’ve got a note from the Operational Group about the schedule. This is the following: towards the end of every week in January there will be vaccination action days: at the hospital vaccination points and at the district centre specialist clinics you can get vaccinated without an appointment every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Operational Group says that this will be possible every Thursday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Everyone is also asked to follow the information provided by their general practitioner, as – depending on local situations – general practitioners will also be holding all-day vaccination sessions on some weekends in addition to their usual surgery hours. So the state, public administration, the healthcare system and doctors stand ready to vaccinate everyone. From this morning’s report from the Operational Group I’ve also made a note of how much vaccine we have: we have over 2 million doses of Pfizer and almost 700,000 of Moderna; so we also have enough Moderna vaccine to meet demand from those who come in on vaccination days. Speaking of Christmas, perhaps I should also just thank everyone. I thank the border guards, the police and soldiers, because migration didn’t stop at Christmas. I thank emergency services staff, and I thank doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, and everyone who worked at Christmas instead of spending the time at home. Many of them weren’t at home, but were working for the safety and health of others.
As the days, weeks and months go by, it seems that from February onwards there will be a change in the definition of who is protected.
Yes. Gergő Gulyás [Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office] has told me to be very precise on this, because if one makes a mistake on this one can create chaos. So with your permission I’ll have to rely on the precise text here, too. Let’s start with the fact that the rules are different than earlier, because this disease has a more rapid trajectory. And so virologists, specialists, have told us that therefore we should change – it’s worth changing – the epidemiological protocol. In addition, such decisions have also been taken in other parts of Europe, where things are more advanced and Omicron is spreading faster or more widely than in Hungary. So others have already tried them, and we’ll be safer if in Hungary we follow the lead of those who are ahead of us. The length of quarantine will be reduced from ten days to seven days, and you can be out of quarantine after five days if you have a positive test…
A negative test.
Yes, so a “bad” test, or one that shows that you’re not infected.
Yes. Yeah, in that sense, yes.
So there’s an infected person, then we have a test that says the person tested isn’t infected, and they can come out of quarantine after five days. And there’s also a change in schools: if there’s an infection in a class, only the unvaccinated children will have to stay at home, and they’ll have to stay at home for the period of time I’ve just said. The education of the other children, the vaccinated children, will continue as usual. Now there are also changes to the rules that apply to the immunity certificate. After 15 February we’ll only issue immunity certificates on the basis of vaccination. Previously you could also get an immunity certificate if you’d recovered from infection. But now that practice will be discontinued, and in effect the immunity certificate will become a vaccination certificate. From 15 February people will get this vaccination immunity certificate if they’ve had three vaccinations, or two if it’s been less than six months since their second vaccination. Children will receive the certificate after two vaccinations. Now at its meeting on Wednesday the Government also addressed the issue of the fourth vaccination. Sometimes government meetings feel more like medical conferences; but at the same time we’re expressly forbidden to feel that we understand these deep technical issues, so we rather listen to the Minister and the Operational Group’s report. And they’ve recommended that we should support the fourth vaccination. We think that the third vaccination boosts immunity very powerfully. We strongly recommend that everyone takes it. But if it’s been at least four months since someone’s third vaccination, and they feel that they need a fourth dose, they can take it; and if it’s been six months we recommend that they take it. But you need to get the opinion of your doctor, your own local general practitioner: you should only have the fourth vaccination after you’ve consulted your general practitioner.
Is hospital capacity sufficient?
Our hospital capacities are fantastic – especially our human capacities, because our doctors and nurses have endured a truly unparalleled level of pressure. I also watch the news from the West with an eye to how resilient their healthcare systems are, and how they can withstand the pressure. And we can be proud of our doctors, our hospital managers, our nurses, and everyone who works in the hospitals in general; in terms of performance they’ve shown that they’re able to compete with the healthcare system of any other country, including those that are wealthier than us. The report that I received early this morning states that we now have 2,611 people in hospital, with 243 people on ventilators – on invasive ventilation. Fortunately there are no children among them. The number of hospitalisations in Hungary, which is now 2,611, was once over 10,000; and indeed there are beds available – and, if necessary, staff capable of treating them and providing care – for numbers of well over 10,000. So we can feel secure in terms of medical care, nursing care and specialist care.
This week the Government announced a food price freeze. Why was this necessary? After all, we saw that inflation in December was already a little lower than the 7 per cent of November.
Do you mind if I go a little further back? We’re a government that believes that the economy works best when people are as free as possible to pursue their own interests. So we believe that the market, the economy, has a set of rules that can settle the order of economic life. At the same time, however, there are crisis situations. And the question is this: Should we intervene in the natural functioning of the economy? And if so, to what extent? I learnt my lessons from Sándor Demján in the early 1990s, when Hungary was still in thrall to the great fashion of liberal economics, and thinking was almost exclusively determined by that system of ideas – which has many attractive elements. Sándor Demján said, “My dear friends, of course it’s usually good to create uniform, normative rules for the economy; but in times of crisis there is no normativity.” And all over Europe at the moment we have a level of inflation which is diverting the economy from its normal functioning. Energy prices are behind the high inflation, and we’re suffering from European inflation. It would be nice to stop inflation at the borders, but that’s not possible, so the aim must be to dampen the negative effects of inflation on us. What can be done now? We have two ways of defending ourselves, there are two ways: one is to raise wages and pensions, so that if prices are higher, people will have more money to pay the higher prices; the other is to restrain price rises where possible. We can’t believe it’s possible to restrain prices in general, but we can achieve results in a targeted way, as Sándor Demján said, by intervening in certain areas. The question is this: Can we correctly identify the areas in which we want to achieve results? What have we done so far? In Hungary since 2012-13 we’ve had a system of reductions in household utility charges. So we’ve already capped the prices of utility bills for families. This is a good thing in general; but it’s particularly beneficial when things are going wrong, as they are now, when inflation is out of control, because it protects families. I meet other prime ministers, but in Hungary people don’t generally know what enormous social tensions are caused in Western Europe by the sudden impact of price rises on the energy bills that families have to pay. Over there within the space of two or three months in the past year, some families’ utility bills could have risen by 50 per cent, or doubled. And if here in Hungary utility bills – for gas, electricity and water – were suddenly to double, just imagine how many families, even in the stronger middle classes, would find themselves in an almost hopeless situation. So this would be a difficult challenge not only for the low-paid, but also those in the middle class. We don’t have that situation because of our regulation of household utility prices. Now that inflation in Europe has increased, it’s immediately hit fuel prices. The problem with this is that it not only increases the price of fuel, but that it’s reflected in everything, because goods need to be transported. So there we’ve tried to introduce a price freeze. There were major debates about whether it was needed, whether it was possible, and when it could be introduced. And it’s been successful. So I think that we’ve not only succeeded in introducing it – as signing a regulation is the easy part; but it also works in reality. So we’ve restrained the fuel price increase. There’s another threat to the lives of families, for those who are paying interest on loans – especially those who have mortgages. This is because at some time in the past they’ve taken out mortgages for their flats, for the roofs over their heads, and those mortgages aren’t at a fixed rate. They’ll see their interest rates rise, because unfortunately inflation will also drive up interest rates. Here we’ve introduced an interest rate freeze, so that we don’t end up with families losing their home, the roof over their heads that they’ve worked so hard to maintain for so many years. So even in times of inflation we’re trying to protect families. These are unprecedented measures, and they’re things that have been done nowhere else – or hardly anywhere else – in Europe. And now we see food prices rising, which brings me to the answer to your question. What should we do at a time like this? Well, first of all you have to look around, because you mustn’t think that you’re the only one who knows the solution. There’s never any shame in learning, so you have to look at what others are doing. And in November I found that the Serbs are doing something very exciting. I spoke to President Vučić about it. Although they can’t regulate the prices of all the items in the shops, and they certainly can’t check them, they selected five basic food items, I think, and said that regardless of the present price, there has to be a return to the price that was being asked on a specific date in the past. We’ve set this date as 15 October. So for the six products selected in Hungary, these basic foods, the shops have to go back to the price level of 15 October. And of course we’re making it compulsory – as the Serbs have done – to have these goods on the shelves at all times. So once the price is low, it won’t be possible to stop offering these products.
Here in Hungary there’s a fear that this will happen.
No, they’re obliged to stock them, and we’ll check on that. Apart from the fact that it may not be necessary, the reason we can’t freeze the prices of every product is that we wouldn’t be able to check compliance, and the shopkeepers themselves wouldn’t be able to comply. And it wouldn’t be right to expect people, tradespeople, to comply with something that’s impossible for them to comply with. We’ve created a rule that can be complied with, and we also have the capacity to enforce compliance if necessary. If these products aren’t on the shelves, we’ll impose fines, we’ll impose very heavy monetary fines; but I truly hope that there’ll be no need for threats and that traders and retailers – primarily large international chains – will realise that the public interest demands that they keep adequate stocks of these products. Naturally this can’t last forever, and we’re introducing it for ninety days. The Serbs introduced this measure for sixty days, and they extended it when they found that inflation hadn’t yet subsided. I really hope that by the time this ninety-day period ends, the level of European inflation will have subsided, making things easier for Hungary as well.
During this ninety-day period, could earlier prices be imposed on further products?
Although scanning the horizon for future events is also part of my job, I’m not a fortune teller, and I wouldn’t like to speculate. If we’re able to keep the prices of these six products at the level they were on 15 October, then I think we’ll survive this more difficult inflationary period.
The Opposition say that this measure is anti-market, it has a market distorting effect, and VAT should have been reduced instead. Aren’t you concerned that the European Union will launch yet another infringement procedure against Hungary?
Well, we don’t know what Brussels will do. Instead of common sense, over there they tend to follow market dogmas. I accept that in many respects the latter are valid, but I don’t accept that there’s no alternative to them. I know that an economy functions well if we allow people to pursue their own interests, and that the essence of the economy, of the market, is that everyone tries to behave in an economically rational way, maximising their advantage, their profits. This is normal for an economy, but not for a government. A government must represent not only the needs of the market, but also those of the nation, of society as a whole. For us the top priority is the security of families. Our job is to protect families, and if something bad is happening in the market we mustn’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, that’s what a market economy’s like.” We must intervene. Sometimes unemployment increases, and then we must intervene. For instance, we set up a public works system, or we’re increasing wages, or reducing taxes on businesses so that they can employ more people. In other words, a government mustn’t simply be a bystander observing what’s happening in the economy: when it experiences harmful phenomena that deviate from what’s normal in the economy, it must intervene. This isn’t how they see things in Brussels, and so I’m prepared to have to defend this measure. As regards criticisms from the Left, I think they’re suffering from a knowledge deficit: we’ve already reduced VAT on basic food items to 5 per cent. Indeed they’re also suffering from a knowledge deficit related to the fact that they didn’t vote for it. When the Government reduced VAT on basic food items to 5 per cent, the Left didn’t vote for it. To be honest, what’s happening doesn’t surprise me; but I don’t think it’s normal. Just because someone is left-wing or in opposition, if there’s a government measure that’s important for the people, they could say that it’s a good measure. They could even say that they support it. They can disagree with the Government, or say that for them the Government’s a pain in the neck; they could even say that they hate the Government – although that’s not a desirable attitude. But the approach to some issues that are important for the people should be based not on party logic, but on the public interest. Would it have been so hard to say that the Government made a good decision – at least for six food products? They can’t bring themselves to say that, however, and instead they’re saying completely unreasonable things. This leads me to conclude that on this we can’t count on them. Let me repeat: when we reduced VAT on the most important food items and they had the opportunity to vote for it in Parliament, they didn’t vote for it.
You’ve already mentioned the measures you adopted at the beginning of the year. What’s the Brusselites’ opinion about families with children here in Hungary being reimbursed the personal income tax they paid last year?
I think we won’t have a problem with that. Let’s be under no illusions: they’ll keep examining us under their microscope. The basic situation is that the Hungarian way of thinking, the direction and policy of the Hungarian government, is different from what’s favoured by Brussels. In Brussels they think that they know more than anyone else. People in cities often believe that the bigger a city, the greater the intellect reserves found there. This seems logical, but it’s not necessarily true. People in the countryside can also be right: people living in villages and small settlements can also be right. There’s no direct correlation between the size of a given settlement and the amount of intellectual reserves found there. I say this as a village boy, basing it on our own self-confidence. After all, they believe that Brussels is an imperial centre, the political capital of Europe, where the most knowledge has been accumulated. And so they think they can even say who should do what, and where they should do it. We don’t share that view. We believe that there’s a big difference between Berlin and Budapest, there’s a big difference between a medium-sized French city and a small Hungarian settlement; and so everywhere we must allow decisions to be made where the natural order of life deems it to be logical. So I think that there will be attacks from Brussels on account of our measures to protect families. But we’ll be able to defend ourselves against them; partly because there are European laws that guarantee our rights, and partly because recently – in the past ten years or so – Hungarians have proved that we’re not cowards, we don’t lose our nerve, and we proudly stand up to protect our interests. This is also how it will be this time.
The President of the Republic has announced that the parliamentary election will be held on 3 April, and that this will also be the date of the referendum on the approved questions on child protection. Just now, only yesterday, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued a statement saying that the referendum is unacceptable, because it discriminates against LGBTQ people. Why do you think that such a referendum is important?
Well, we know that lady. This is the position she holds now, but she’s an old “Sorosist” player in European politics. For your listeners’ information, I’d say that when you hear her you should imagine George Soros standing behind her. So she’s not the Hungarian voice of George Soros, but his Serbian voice.
Indeed, she also attacked the media legislation back in 2011, didn’t she?
Of course she did! She’s been set on us – or I could say that she’s one of the members of the Soros army that’s been set on Hungary. And if anything happens that George Soros and his associates don’t like, then this lady speaks out. With all due respect to her, unfortunately I have to say that she often talks nonsense. This is the situation now as well, given that this law is about the protection of children. Hungary is a country where adults – who can take responsibility for their own lives and who don’t need someone else to take responsibility for them – are free to shape their lives as they see fit, within the boundaries of the law. For instance, how they live, their sexual practices and orientation are not a matter for the Government’s and not a matter for politics. Perhaps they’re not even a matter for their neighbours – although that question’s a little more difficult. Those things are their own business. So Hungary’s a free country in which adults are free to choose their own way of life. And this is how it should be, this is what we fought for under communism: to stop communists telling us how we should live, and for people to be able to decide that for themselves. It’s one of life’s strange twists, of course, that those who used to be communists and used to tell us how to live are now the fiercest enemies of every kind of statutory regulation – including rules serving to protect children. But returning to the starting point, adults are one thing. These rules and this referendum don’t relate to adults; they’re about what’s happening to our children. And we must protect our children. This means that we must give parents the right, we must recognise the right of parents – in fact there’s no need to give them the right because parents have that right as a matter of course – to decide how they want to raise their children. We have child protection laws which guarantee the safety of our children, and there are rules which guarantee the right of parents to make decisions on the raising and education of their children – especially when it comes to such a sensitive issue as sexual education. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about homosexuality or heterosexuality; on the issue of sexual education, parents must decide at what pace, when, how – using which words and phrases, and in what form – they introduce their own children to this extremely complex facet of human life. And furthermore they must do so at a sensitive age. Everyone remembers their own childhood, when between the ages of 14 and 18 it wasn’t easy for us either to transition from child to adult, from boy to man. It was a complicated world, and one in which we needed our parents’ support and assistance. Parents can’t delegate this right, and neither can schools take it away from them. They can’t say that they’ll expose our children to presentations and propaganda which our children aren’t prepared for, or which we as parents disagree with. This referendum is about defending this right that parents have. This is about a child protection law, and it’s a referendum that seeks to defend that child protection law.
All the more so because there are ever more media reports telling us that, without the knowledge of parents, this propaganda work has already started in several secondary schools – both in and around Budapest. Most recently, for instance, we’ve heard that a transvestite gave a presentation to children.
Well, it’s no accident that this law is also sometimes called an anti-paedophilia law; but this means it’s important to make a distinction between two things. On the one hand, it’s possible for our children to be exposed to sexual predators. In the news just yesterday, or the day before, I saw that in Germany a paedophile network with hundreds of members has been uncovered. Germany is a civilised country. From time to time we have disputes with the Germans, because they think they have the right to tell us how to regulate our lives, and we don’t accept that; but despite that we respect them and regard the Germans as a nation that’s reached a high level of civilisation, and a country with a well-organised state. And all of a sudden we hear news of the discovery of a paedophile network of several hundred members. It takes some time to build a paedophile network of several hundred members. We need to recognise that in this modern world – which in certain respects is quite insane – there’s a rise in phenomena from which we must protect our children. This is one of the issues related to child protection. As our parents – and I don’t think it was just my mother, but it must have been yours too – used to say, “If anyone touches our children, I’ll scratch their eyes out.” So the protection of our children must be accepted as an unconditional priority. This is the issue of paedophilia. But that’s not what we’re talking about now, because Hungarian laws already take care of that. We’re talking about another phenomenon. Whether or not it leads to paedophilia is the subject of much debate, but I don’t think that’s important now. This other phenomenon is that the state or the school system is popularising certain sexual practices that parents don’t accept, or don’t want in their own families. The school system is allowing children to be exposed to such popularising presentations, such propaganda, without consulting parents. Of course my children have grown up, and their most difficult years are over, but I also demand the right; but every parent is justified in demanding the right to decide on this when schools seek to expose their children to unusual things. And they should have the chance to say, “Thank you, but we don’t want that, we’ll deal with this ourselves at home.” At the same time, if approached by the school for their consent, parents also have the right to say that they have no problem with allowing their children to be involved. This must remain the parents’ decision, however. What matters is that not a single Hungarian parent should feel that anyone wants to take away from them the exclusive right to raise and educate their children – especially during the most sensitive years in their lives. They shouldn’t have to worry that while they’re raising their children they might be exposed to influences that they don’t want, and find to their surprise that their children have become distant from them. I repeat that this is a very difficult period in the lives of families, and in it we must help parents, rather than take that task away from them.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.