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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the annual general meeting of the Association of Cities with County Rights

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

Before we meet in private with regard to specific issues, it is proper that I should also say a few words here in public to greet those present – and particularly our friends the mayors.

Thank you for your invitation, Károly [Szita]. I am glad to be here, because last time it was I who invited you to a meeting in Budapest. That meeting is why Lajos [Kósa] is here with us today: because then the Association of Cities with County Rights asked that, as all the agreements in the Modern Cities Programme have been concluded with everyone separately, there should be within the Government a point at which responsibility for the Programme’s implementation is centralised. This is because the logic of these agreements between government and local governments is that on one side the situation is easy: in its mayor, every local government has a single elected leader. By contrast, the ministries operate with a system of divided responsibilities. Different ministries are responsible for different parts of an agreement, and so on the government side responsibilities have been divided. The request was for mayors to be able to sit down to negotiate directly with someone who has been given a clear remit to deal with the issue, by the appointment of either a government commissioner or a minister. And this is how we eventually decided to ask our friend Lajos Kósa – former President of the Association of Cities with County Rights – to perform these duties. Thank you Lajos for undertaking this task, and for having performed it since then. We last met in Budapest, but I rarely attend the annual general meetings of the Association of Cities with County Rights. Perhaps Károly mentioned such an occasion in 2011.

I want to make no secret of the fact that I’m always happy to be here, but the election is approaching, and that makes our meeting today particularly important. It offers me the chance to remind all of you that an election is the most important moment in the life of a democracy. This is a celebration of Hungarian democracy. Since we are battle-hardened warriors, most of us are up to our knees, waists or chests in various campaign struggles; this sometimes alters one’s perspective, and in the course of such battles one tends to forget that one is truly taking part in something wonderful. And I would like to remind you and ask you to alert voters to the fact that something great lies ahead. Of course the candidates will make critical comments in addition to praise, but this must not be allowed to change the essential truth or distract our attention from it, because this is after all a wonderful moment. For the benefit of younger people who were not alive then, before 1990 this was something which we, our parents – and even our grandparents – always dreamed about: that there would come a moment in Hungary’s history when the people of Hungary would go out and decide the direction in which Hungary should move forward. Of course we’re preparing for our umpteenth election, and it’s beginning to become routine, but nevertheless we must remind ourselves that not so long ago we had a communist dictatorship, under which free elections of this kind were out of the question. And so this is a very important moment in the life of Hungary. The result is also important to us, but even more important is that the result should express the will of as many Hungarian citizens as possible. And so I ask you to tell everyone – from Sopron to Békéscsaba – that an important and beautiful moment is approaching. Voters should prepare for this, and come out to voice their opinions.

I am especially grateful that we are meeting in Veszprém today. Veszprém symbolises everything that we would like to achieve in this country. We are very proud of this city. Here the city’s operations are managed by a leadership that enjoys the confidence of the electorate and which has realised major achievements: things which, like an ocean in a drop of water, embody everything that we would like to achieve in Hungary. While preparing for our meeting today, I noted that the city’s unemployment rate is 1.64 per cent. So when we say that we would like to achieve full employment in Hungary, we are thinking about something like the situation we see emerging here in Veszprém. This means that in essence – and not just in speeches but in reality, in hard sociological reality – everyone who wants to work can find it. And even though it may not be their dream job, they can find some kind of employment that enables them to maintain themselves and their family. Veszprém is such a city, and we congratulate the Mayor on this. As we are after all in Veszprém, and although I feel that we are perhaps a few months late in keeping our promise, I would like to repeat that the Government has committed to build the Aranyos Valley overpass – or bridge, or whatever you call it here, Gyula [Porga]. And although there was a moment when the scheduling of the project became somewhat uncertain, it has now been included among the list of important projects given priority for implementation. I hope that the design is already underway and that we will realise this. And although we lost the last by-election here in Veszprém, I nevertheless feel it is important to remind ourselves that in that by-election campaign we promised that there would be a swimming pool in Veszprém – one worthy of a city with county rights. And, God willing, the foundation stone can be laid before the next election, which is now imminent. We would like to make it clear to the people of Veszprém that Hungary now has a government which, if it commits to an undertaking, will implement it. This, after all, is our living; the resulting trust sustains us in a political sense also.

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Coming up to elections a lot of fine thoughts are voiced – as well as a lot of stupid ones. These are also something we must deal with, because one of these stupid things specifically relates to the local government system. I can see that a campaign has developed from all sides, and of course a central party like us must expect to hear stupid things simultaneously from both the left and the right; and now they are saying that the current governing coalition is planning to make changes to the system of local government. This is not the case. We have laid the foundations of the local government system. The constitutional foundations of the local government system are solid, and I see no reason for us to interfere with them. In relation to small settlements the scare story is being spread that somebody wants to do away with local governments in our villages. This is not true. Even in settlements with fewer than two thousand inhabitants we will not be abolishing anything. Hungary will remain a country in which every settlement can have a mayor and can have a local government: even settlements with no more than four inhabitants. And so, no matter what letters the mayors of small settlements may have received recently from Jobbik or the MSZP about a supposed threat of local government downsizing or downgrading looming on the horizon, this danger has simply no basis in reality. Or, to use an American phrase, it’s fake news: totally impossible, drivel, nonsense, a silly hoax.

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say a few words about the fact that large cities are of course the focal point of the Modern Cities Programme, but all of us here today agree that the development and advancement of Hungary’s countryside is impossible without the development of cities. The Hungarian language is of course a little ambiguous about the meaning of the word “countryside”. I come from a small village, so in my eyes a city with county rights is not the countryside. But then of course from another perspective – if we define the countryside as being outside the capital city, as everything else – then every other part of the country apart from the capital is the countryside. Such an interpretation of the word “countryside” certainly exists, and this includes cities with county rights – even if, as I’ve said, that isn’t how it looks from a village perspective. But the essence is nevertheless that we cannot advance conditions in the Hungarian countryside – including village areas – unless our cities with county rights are strong and have a flourishing dynamic. So – and I am also saying this as someone from a rural background – if the cities are weak then our villages will also remain weak. If the city is weak, the village cannot be strong. The only way of achieving this is through what we are doing now; and now that the development of Budapest is on a promising trajectory with the help of its mayor, we need to strengthen our major cities within the Modern Cities Programme. This process is under way. A development programme for medium-sized towns has also been developed in outline. This is less spectacular than the Modern Cities Programme, but it is also moving forward; and then we must hitch the “village waggons” to the “development train”. And then the whole country will be developing in a clearly defined, logical order. We still have much to do in order to achieve this. I’d just like to say that the success of the development of cities with county rights is also a prerequisite for the advancement and success of village areas.

Károly Szita’s frequent observation that cities with county rights are the capitals of rural Hungary is no exaggeration. If we now take one step away from life and towards politics, then this is also true of the country’s political leadership. So if we state that cities with county rights are the capitals of rural Hungary, then we must also recognise that the leaders of cities with county rights are among the most important in the country. Because I have never seen a city with county rights develop well under a mayor who was a complete idiot. Such a correlation does not exist. I have seen the opposite, when no matter how clever the mayor was, the city’s development only moved forward extremely slowly, but what I’ve just described certainly doesn’t exist. So leading a city with county rights is a task that cannot be performed by an unsuitable person. Conversely, anyone who can successfully lead a city with county rights is justified in seeing themselves as one of the country’s top political leaders – and this is exactly how we regard them. This is no exaggeration. I certainly don’t want to get carried away, but I’ve known you all for a long time, and here even the question of who supports the Government or the opposition is secondary.

I can safely say that Hungary would have no problem in selecting a government cabinet from among the leaders of its cities with county rights. Such people have the abilities, the wealth of experience and the knowledge of what it means to jointly complete a task with the people, that we could safely entrust the country’s leadership to a government solely comprising the former leaders of cities with county rights. I can tell you this for certain, as I’ve seen quite a few governments at close quarters. So I would like this sense of self and self-respect to be active within you all. You are not in the backwoods somewhere, you are not working in a fog-shrouded hinterland: you are extremely important leaders, and through your work you are performing an extremely important task for Hungary. Also do not forget that you are the trustees of democracy. Of course there are parliamentary elections, and it is very important, it is imperative, for the Government to be elected democratically. This is also very important. There are Members of Parliament, who act as links between the electorate and the legislature: this is also very important. But the everyday practice of democracy is the business of local governments. So I would like you to think of yourselves and for cities with county rights to regard themselves as the true and ultimate trustees of Hungarian democracy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now I would like to add a few words to what Minister Lajos Kósa said about the Modern Cities Programme. This is a subject for debate, but I lean towards Lajos’s standpoint on the true importance of this development programme when looked at in historical terms. Has a development programme of this scale ever existed before in the history of Hungary, and under the Dual Monarchy? I think that this is something about which we can have lively conversations, but what is certain is that there has never been a development programme on this scale in our lifetimes. And although we view the future with optimism, I think that we probably won’t see its like again. Such is the scale of this development programme. This is why it is important that we sense its scale and importance. Hungary is a country where there are always people who perpetually try to talk us out of believing that we are capable of achieving certain goals. There are always people who want to devalue your work, our joint work, the country’s work, and everything that the country has achieved. So here in Hungary the desire to be great, to “show them what we can do”, and the impulse to create are always fighting against the knee-jerk reaction of “let’s dare to be small”. The latter is always present here. And Minister Kósa correctly pointed out that one of the clearest forms of these differences in approach creating tensions within the country is the question of the reasons for the country’s development.

Luckily, the fact that the country is making progress is no longer a matter for debate. I would also like to say a few words on this topic, but I think that now not even the opposition disputes the fact that Hungary is making progress. This is as obvious as ABC. But what is the reason for this? And this is when we hear the question, which was mentioned a little earlier: is it perhaps thanks to European Union funding? I would ask you to remember the following two figures and use them in political debates. On an annual basis, if we take everything into account and add up all of these various operational programmes – spanning agriculture and other fields – and rake all of these jargon-laden EU sums together and put them into a single basket, this adds up to around 4 billion euros a year. Hungary’s total gross national product, which is generated by us, the people of Hungary, is somewhere between 110 and 120 million euros. These are the proportions. The 4 billion is important too, but the significance of the 4 billion must be judged in relation to the 110–120 billion. What I mean by this is that the results achieved by the Hungarians in this country over the past eight years are due to the people of Hungary, and not due to something else. It is thanks to the people of Hungary. And if we look at what is behind the 4 billion euros arriving from the European Union, then we can also state – and this has been reported on in several internationally accepted studies – that a major proportion of it finds its way back to where it came from. Indeed I would go so far as to state that in fact they are making money from us. This system is good for us too, we also gain from it, but on the whole the people who provide the money are profiting from us – even if Hungary doesn’t come off badly either. This is the essence of the agreement. We’re not talking about a rich American uncle, who sends the money of his own taxpayers to Hungary out of pure kindness or a strong belief in European integration. It’s nothing like that, we can forget all that. I’ve never met a prime minister with that mentality – no matter how wealthy the people of their country might be. This is always business, a tough battle, and they always find a way to profit, even when it looks like they are giving us money. Well thought-out mechanisms guarantee that they get their money back, and they also profit. I don’t begrudge them this – I’m just trying to make it clear that you shouldn’t let anyone call into question or undermine your self-respect and self-confidence; because our achievement and confidence stem from the work that we have performed, and we have ourselves to thank for all of this.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my mayoral friends,

What stage are we at in Hungary’s development? There is also huge debate about this. I don’t like this modern communications terminology, which always seeks to set up fixed rules on how we should talk about the most basic things, and about this issue. My overall view is that between 2010 and 2014 the task was for Hungary to pull itself together. We were a country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and there were perhaps many others in the world apart from us who wouldn’t have bet a penny on Hungary’s future. Financially we collapsed earlier than the Greeks. Everyone can remember this, and perhaps I don’t need to remind anybody here. It was all but impossible to set a more ambitious goal for the years between 2010 and 2014 than for Hungary to pull itself together and get back on its feet. And that goal itself seemed to be a huge one: for the country to pay off its debts and restructure itself, so that there would be the reasonable hope of a future. Then between 2014 and 2018 we launched development programmes so that here in Hungary we can state that we are beginning to look good. We are beginning to look good. And if the Hungarian electorate honours us with their confidence and allows us to continue our work – and not just at central government level, but you too in the local government elections in a year’s time – then judging by our performance so far we can safely state that between 2018 and 2022 we will perform the work that will ensure that Hungary really does look good in 2022. Now we are beginning to look good, but in 2022 Hungary can be a country that does look good – in whatever sense. In 2022, every single citizen living here in Hungary will be able to look at themselves and say: “Our country is doing well and things look good”. This is a realistic goal, and it is something we can achieve within the next four years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You mentioned some of the important milestones in the history of local government. I’d also only like to mention them in passing, but please allow me to also state that we have completed three great tasks. In 2010 we averted the very real threat that the country would be bankrupted. After that, we drafted our new Constitution, the Fundamental Law, which sets down the foundations of the local government system. And the third step was paying off local government debts. Naturally, in relation to this the sum you remember is always smaller than the one I remember – because I was the one who had to pay and you had to receive. This is absolutely normal and understandable, and so my number is different from the one stated by Károly Szita. My number is 1,368 billion forints: the debt we took over from the country’s local governments; and Károly, I have to tell you that, according to our calculations – which is of course subject to debate, and I’m not claiming that this number is the absolute truth – we assumed a total of 376 billion forints of debt from cities with county rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I advise you not to ask for anything or recommend changes in local government which will result in you being burdened by such debt again. Minister Kósa is right in saying that all development projects and requests must be well thought out. Development is itself a fine thing, and receiving a new remit is an uplifting feeling – like an evening on the town. But after recovering from our hangover, or coming to our senses and counting the cost at midday on Monday, it turns out that Sunday evening’s celebrations were more than we can afford. And so I would like to encourage everyone, when they are thinking about local government, to not only be enthusiastic, but to also be calculating: only ask for or initiate things that you will also be able to maintain later, and that won’t crush your settlement. I’m not talking about you as mayors, but the people who live in your cities. Don’t forget that if a local government is in debt, then the people are also in debt. A responsible national leadership must always examine debt in at least three dimensions: state debt; the debt of families; and local government debt. Because if you fall into debt, someone will have to pay for it. And I don’t know how many centuries one needs to wait for the appearance of a government, the right circumstances and the alignment of stars that enable a government to assume all the debt of that country’s local government system. This has happened once, and I’m sure that it was a once in a lifetime event. And so I would like to ask everyone to preserve your current financial stability, because that is a huge asset.

Of course I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I failed to mention that the development of the years ahead is also threatened by a number of dangers. These dangers do not come from within. We shall see, of course, but I believe that the true danger comes from the outside; and this danger is not child’s play, and will not disappear within a few weeks or months like a teenager’s spots – of that we can be sure. The world – and within it the Hungarian world – is currently experiencing the reappearance of new phenomena which have not been seen on the planet for hundreds of years. The very fact that even the UN is dealing with the issue of global migration is a clear indication that we are not just talking about a Hungarian issue – and in fact not even a European issue. The question is whether the people of this planet – soon numbering more than six and a half billion – will be capable of living and settling down in the countries in which they were born, or if they will migrate here and there across the globe. This kind of thing has happened before, and we too were affected by it – long ago, it’s true – and had all kinds of experiences of mass population movement. Those experiences were not encouraging. The results of gradual mass population movement that we see in Western European cities comparable in size to yours hold no attractions, I must admit. They hold no attractions, despite the claims of some egghead or other that diversity is an asset. Diversity is not an asset, but a characteristic: an asset is something different, meaning something else. And since diversity is a characteristic, it cannot be sorted into a particular moral category ranked against other characteristics. Diversity is no more valuable than a homogeneous community. The simple fact that something is colourful and varied in character does not make it more valuable than something which is not. And it is very important for us to use this as a firm footing: we must not allow the ground to be cut away from under our feet in moral or ethical debates, because we must defend Hungary as it is now. We must state that we do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed: we do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others. We do not want this. We do not want that at all. We do not want to be a diverse country. We want to be how we became 1100 years ago here in the Carpathian Basin. This is the path that we want to continue along; and unfortunately, today this path and this opportunity is not automatically available to us. This is something that we must fight for, this is something we must defend. Today there is an ongoing debate – not just within the European Union, but also at a global level in the United Nations – on whether as a whole mass migration is a good or bad thing for humanity – including for us. And since the majority of the world’s countries tend to be source countries for migration, meaning countries that are struggling with overpopulation, a large proportion of the world’s countries think that it is a good thing. As a result, they may be capable of at least relieving – though not solving – a very serious problem which they are suffering from at home. From our perspective – and we are at the other end of the range – migration and mass population movement are bad, dangerous things which we want no part of. If we do not state this with clear and unambiguous openness and do not plant our feet firmly on our own Christian cultural bedrock, then all of these complex international debates, diplomatic ruses, Brussels tirades and silver-tongued promises will distract us and put us off balance. In consequence we will not be able to keep Hungary as it has been for the past 1,100 years, as we have managed to make it in eight years of hard work. And then not only will we lose what we are, but we will also lose our future. Finally we have a future, and we have something to defend. So the Aranyos Bridge is a good thing, Veszprém Zoo is particularly fine, and there are very many other good things, from swimming pools to whatever else. But the Aranyos Bridge, roads and swimming pools will have been for nothing if in the meantime the country’s population changes, if we are mixed with others and there is a threat of terrorism, if public safety deteriorates, and if our sense of being at home disappears and we feel like foreigners in our own land, without having moved from our settlements, from our villages or cities. In that case there would be no sense to anything at all. Or if there were, then it would be totally different. I think that this is a very important point. And in this, in enabling us to stand our ground, Members of Parliament will not be enough. For this we really need the people. We need every Hungarian. And since you are democracy’s final link and bridgehead to the people, you must also help to ensure that the people are able to defend their homeland. And for this reason I would like to thank Károly Szita, and the Association of Cities with County Rights, for making your voices heard and for dealing with this issue. Because you could, of course, simply view yourselves as an assembly dealing with development issues related to cities with county rights. But we are not living in times that allow you such a luxury. You must also assume a personal role, and help the Hungarian people to successfully defend Hungary. You must boldly state that to us Hungary comes first. Europe cannot be successful without successful nation states; and the world cannot be successful without a successful Europe; and towns and cities cannot be successful without successful villages and families. We must view these issues as integral parts of a whole, and we must stand up for Hungary. In this endeavour I wish you all much strength and health!

Thank you for your attention.