Prime Minister Orbán responds to questions at the 27th Bálványos Summer Open University and Summer Camp [full text in English]
Following his speech, Prime Minister Orbán responded to a number of questions in an open forum
Delivered in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tuşnad), July 23, 2016.
Ukraine is the most difficult political and conscience issue in Europe today, and I shall talk about this cautiously. Let us think back to Ukraine the way it was three years ago. Three years ago Ukraine was described as a buffer state in the conventional geopolitical sense, in that it was a buffer state between the West and Russia. There was peace, and we, westerners and the Russians attempted to exert as much influence over the operation of the country as was still within the acceptable boundaries, whilst not letting Ukraine move out of this in-between situation, this buffer state situation. This was the case until three years ago. Three years ago – as far as we know – Ukraine decided as a result of the will of the people to change this situation. It no longer wished to remain in this situation, and wanted to embark on the path of joining the West. To break out of the buffer zone, to shake off Russian influence, and – obviously, this is a difficult issue from a legal point of view, but – to come ever closer to and to eventually become a part of what we call the West, the European Union, today. If we take a look at the path we have come down in the past three years, the balance of it all is rather disheartening. It is not my duty to weigh things up, but this country has lost a significant percentage of its territory, has lost a significant percentage of its population. Not in a war, but in such a way that they decided to leave: some for the East, some for the West, we do not even see signs of stability. The former economic structure of this country, which was not particularly outstanding as it was, has practically collapsed, and its very existence is dependent upon external funding. The quality of life has radically deteriorated for the people, and the prices of items of basic sustenance, such as energy, housing, food, have increased. It is obviously not our duty to weigh things up, but if we want to appreciate Europe’s policy towards Ukraine sincerely, we can hardly save ourselves this effort. And as we encouraged the Ukrainians – the leaders of the European Union went there, addressed these people’s movements, and promised all sorts of things –, as a result, we undertook a share of the responsibility for the Ukrainians’ decision to become a country that seeks to join the West, rather than carry on as a buffer state. We must now ask the question: have we kept our promises? This is why I refer to Ukraine as a matter of conscience from a European point of view. No, we have not. The financial assistance that the World Bank, the IMF and the European Union provide together does not allow the maintenance of the living standards that were attainable in Ukraine before. Europe has barely done anything for the reconstruction of the economy, and fails to even grant the least concession that would not cost it a penny: grant the Ukrainian people visa-free travel. But not even that! So I am convinced that we are not just facing a geopolitical problem – one that is grave enough on its own. Of course, we, Hungarians can answer this question with relative ease because here is this place called the Carpathian Basin, and the goal of Hungary’s geopolicy is to keep the Russians outside. At this point in time, they are outside, but the situation is that beyond this, beyond this Hungarian geopolitical national security consideration, we, as a part of the European Union have undertaken more responsibility for the future of Europe, and we are now not honouring this undertaking. I think that this is a problem of the conscience. What’s more, we fail to honour this undertaking against the background of the fact that a referendum was held in Holland which ruled against the entry into force of the free trade agreement concluded with the Ukrainians. As this was not binding, the agreement is in force, but the situation in itself that while the leaders of Europe expressly supported Ukraine in this highly risky historical manoeuvre of turning itself from a buffer zone into a western-style country, and then they let them down, also raises issues of the conscience, beyond the legitimate questions of reason.
What can Hungary do? This is not the subject-matter of our lecture or discussion, but I take the view that there are some eternal givens in Hungarian politics. There are three eternal givens in Hungarian politics. Size: not of its territory, but of its population. We, Hungarians account for 0.2 per cent of the world’s population, and certain things follow from this. This is an eternal given that those who are involved in politics in Hungary or on behalf of the Hungarian nation must reckon with. The other eternal given is location, which we cannot, and indeed do not want to change. It is true though that there are fluctuations, this area is in a state of constant pulsation. We are at this point in time at the stage that we are at, but we can reasonably grasp this area. Our Bishop called this – shrewdly – our territory of accommodation, so let’s call it that. This territory is an eternal element of Hungarian politics in that if we stand facing the map, to the left we have the Germans building an empire, to the right we have the Slavic soldier peoples, and to the south there are masses of Muslim people, and this has been so ever since we lived here – with some exaggeration as the Muslims came later, but this has been so for hundreds of years. And this determines, almost eternally determines Hungarian foreign policy. This is why Hungarian foreign policy cannot be a fan of the exportation of democracy, cannot be a fan of an ideologically driven foreign policy mentality, because this would relegate geopolitical realities to a lesser position, and Hungary would then lose its sovereignty as it has done so many times. So this is eternal given number two. Eternal given number three is the spirituality of the Hungarian people, about which there is a big debate, and about which a library of books has been written. I would sum this up for myself like this: the Hungarian people do not want to be a slave people, they do not want to be either the slaves of another nation, or to exist as slaves within their own country. We can simply call this a desire for freedom. There are these three things which are, in my view, eternal givens in Hungarian politics. How many of us there are, where we are, and that there is a spirituality that characterises us. Now, taking these into consideration I believe that we have elementary interests in Ukraine. It is not indifferent what is happening to Ukraine. Consequently, the Hungarian Government is doing far more than was suggested in the question here. I am pleased – this is my take on things – that the heart of the audience here is one with ours. The Hungarian Government is doing even far more than what we otherwise disclose to the public in order to ensure that life in Ukraine, and most of all, in the region close to us, in Transcarpathia should not fall apart. We are not selective in the assistance we provide, we help everyone who lives there. Not only the Hungarians, but the Ukrainians as well, everyone who lives there and is in a difficult situation. This stems from the fact – so rather than from short-term considerations, from the aforementioned three eternal givens of Hungarian politics – that we must do everything we conceivably can to prevent the structure of life in the territory bordering us from collapsing. At each and every summit of the prime ministers, I repeatedly raise the issue of the need – you may see the result for yourselves – for granting the people of Ukraine visa-free travel. If we do not give them money, if we have no long-term reconstruction plans, if we do not have any of these, if we do not want Ukraine to shamefully retreat to the buffer state status, if we do not want the people to start demanding that they should at least return to where they have once already been because it was better than this great western orientation, if we want to avoid the shame which would be one of the biggest embarrassments of the European programme and the European dream, we should give more money, offer a long-term plan, grant visa-free travel, and integrate Ukraine into the European Union within the acceptable conflict boundaries. So much about Ukraine. At any event, this is a matter of conscience for Europe, and we are not doing well in this department today.
What happens to those whom we have expelled? The wording of the Hungarian law cunningly says that the person himself must provide for leaving the country, and if he fails to do so within the prescribed time limit, he is removed from the country. This is the situation. Well now, I would like to dispel a misunderstanding. Time and time again the accusation is levelled at us that we return to the territory of Serbia the people who entered the territory of Hungary illegally, that is, the people who committed a crime, without an agreement with the Serbs, and consequently, in violation of international law. This is not the case. I would like to take this opportunity to make clear that the fence that we built is two and a half metres from the Hungarian border, in the direction of Budapest. So when we put someone outside the fence, we shall not have removed them from Hungary and shall not have moved them over to Serbia as that territory over there is still Hungarian territory. And naturally, we do not move them out there in order for the poor souls to exist in the horrific circumstances that we may now observe, but to help them to find the two entry points, by proceeding on the external side of the fence, where they can submit their requests to enter Hungary in a lawful and regular manner. We insist on the observance of law and order. The essence of this regime is that it is not in contravention of international law. This is a carefully thought-out regime.
Referendum. First of all, let me say in the context of this whole migration affair that now that I listened to the speeches of the American presidential candidates, one of the American presidential candidates, it became clear to us, or to me, that the outcome of the American presidential election is not at all indifferent for us. The Republican presidential candidate said yesterday that immigration is a bad thing and it must be stopped; no one can enter America who does not respect the American values, who does not subject himself to the laws, and does not accept the customs they have. Those who fail to do these things should not come, and that is that – this is clear talking; we are used to finer speech in high politics, but that does not change the essence of it all. The situation is that one of the main supporters of the pressure of immigration that is weighing heavy upon Hungary is the United States. Partly through its official policy; President Obama spoke about this openly at the NATO summit. Everyone who is opposed to immigration was classified as a bad guy – there I sat lying low at the end of the table... I was watching what the others were doing, and I did not get much further there either. So the Americans take the view that immigration is not something negative, but something that should be encouraged, and those who fail to see any value in it conjure up the worst examples of the spirit of the twentieth century. The American President said harsh things like this. This is the Democrats’ viewpoint, and as at this point in time it is the Democrats that put forward the President of the United States, this is also the official policy of the United States. It is not indifferent who will be the prospective President of the United States, what he or she thinks about immigration, and this will determine our lives. I do not criticise the Americans; I just want to make clear that what is right in their view destroys us, and I therefore cannot endorse it. The truth is that, from an American viewpoint, I understand that they see something positive in immigration as this is how the United States came about, but they should see that, in this story, we are the Indians. The situation is that we are the Indians, the indigenous people, the aborigines, and if you asked them about the history of America, it is not so sure they would describe it the same way as the nations which later prevailed to establish the United States. Of course, Tamás Cseh is smiling now because he foresaw this, that there is a connection of some sort between the fate of the Indians and the Hungarian fate, it is just that we did not think it would manifest itself in such a crude manner. So first of all, I would like to say that the presidential election in the United States of America is relevant to Europe’s immigration policy and the future of the situation of Hungary.
The second thing I would like to mention in the context of immigration – and this is related to Britain’s exit from the European Union – is that I personally revised a former view of mine, and this is a fundamental view – which was to the effect that the current form of NATO is sufficient to guarantee the peace of the European continent. When NATO was established, they defined a triple motto. NATO was established to keep the Americans in, to keep the Russians out, and to keep the Germans down. Now the situation is that the Germans have not been kept down for a very long time, the Russians are still outside, and the question of whether the Americans are in – the exit of Britain, and as such I mean the Anglo-Saxons, not the United States – is now to be viewed in a completely different light. The Brits are on their way out. I myself believed that as long as the Brits formed part of the European Union, there was no need for a European army because NATO provided an adequate defence structure. Today I no longer believe so. The situation is that NATO continues to remain indispensable, NATO membership is an important and good thing, it contributes to the security of the Hungarian people, and NATO’s protective umbrella is crucial for the security of Central-Europe; but if you consider the fact that the Brits, who are a nuclear power and the world’s fifth largest economy, left the European Union, and as a result, the continent’s own military might, that is, the European Union’s own military might has been significantly curtailed, I think that we cannot remain in this defenceless position from a military point of view. Therefore, I believe that we should create a European army which need not be like NATO where each nation offers units, but we should set up a genuine common army, with genuine common regiments, with a genuine common language of command, with a genuine common structure. Continental Europe may need a competent and effective military force in the future, and we do not have that today. Our defence today is guaranteed by the Americans, and partly by the Brits. This cannot remain so. This has grave consequences because setting up a European army costs money, the national budgets must be reconsidered, and the defence industry must be integrated into our economic policy. Until today we have always kept this out as a bad thing half out of a moralising viewpoint; we must now abandon this viewpoint. The defence industry is part of the national economy, defence industry production is a good thing, we must create defence industry developments, and we must set up and build the process, the machinery – by following the suit of the Anglo-Saxons – in which defence industry research generates innovations for the civilian economy. Obviously, to this end, the Germans’ military role should increase significantly, and Central-Europe, too, should play a major role in a European army. In my view, this is the future; it may take years to accomplish this, and we can only hope that there should be no need during these few years for a European army which functions without the Brits and the Americans and without the Russians. In other words, we need a force during the period to come which must protect us in an easterly direction as well as towards the south. A European army must protect the continent towards the East and the South, and this is also related to defence against terrorism and migration. One of the reasons why migrants start out over and over again and people smugglers target Europe over and over again is that they themselves see that Europe is weak. I am convinced that an alliance, a union cannot survive without a common army. And if we add to this that it is the common currency that should forge the European Union together the most today – the development of which has come to a halt, and additionally, a few countries have opted out of it –, the ties that are keeping Europe together are becoming increasingly weak. Slowly but surely there will be more cohesive force of a spiritual nature than tangible, institutional cohesive force, despite the fact that in a given situation the European Union may need institutional cohesive forces, including an army. Therefore, I believe that setting up a separate European army would be a justified move in the post-British situation, in the wake of the British exit.
The next question was related to migration, as to whether the referendum is valid or not. I must campaign for the largest possible turnout. Therefore, we should not talk about what happens if people do not turn out in sufficient numbers, but just to the extent of a short remark, let us diverge in this direction. What do we say when there is a parliamentary election, and some of the people do not cast their votes? What are our thoughts about this? What do we think about what their thoughts were and what they wanted? There is, of course, one thing we know for certain: that they did not turn up. If they did not turn up, it means that they did not want to state their view on the matter, as in the question of who should exercise the ultimate power after the elections. If they did not want to state their opinion, it means that they accepted the decision of others. This is how I see it. Because had they not wanted a certain government to be formed, they would have turned out and voted for the parties which they expect to form a different government. This is also the case with a referendum. Those who do not cast their votes leave the decision to the others. Therefore, the validity threshold does not come into play in my mind in this respect. But given that the purpose of the whole referendum is to give the Hungarian Government a mighty powerful mandate in the battles that are expected to take place in the EU in the autumn, it is not irrelevant whether I can argue that a few of us did bother to cast our votes at the referendum or that the majority of the Hungarian nation stated clearly, uniformly and in no uncertain terms that they do not want this. Therefore, I propose that we should not try to construe the referendum from a legal point of view when you seek to determine whether it is important or not, whether you should cast your votes or not, you should not try to concentrate on legal aspects such as whether the referendum induces any legal consequences, but you should consider whether it reinforces the Hungarian Government to the extent that it can protect the fundamental national interests. Naturally, the referendum will also have legislative implications, but in my view we should not talk about this now, but rather in the light of the vote percentages of the referendum.
Should we enlarge the V4? At this point in time, I do not support the enlargement of the V4; it was so hard to put it together, it works well, and it has transpired that within the EU these four states do have common, coinciding interests. It has transpired that, though we do not agree on everything, in particular, on the construction of the 20th century, this does not prevent us from cooperating in practical issues. This is a value that should not be risked, and from this respect every enlargement has its risks. Therefore, I always propose, whenever this comes up, that the V4 should be left as it is, but we must build around it concentric circles with the countries which are able to contribute to the strength of the V4 without disintegrating its homogeneity. And in this respect, my or our number one candidate is Austria. I am convinced that Austria must come closer to the V4. The Austrian Chancellor will come to Hungary next week. I would remark in parenthesis: I am not sure if this is the best place. Did you consider what would have been said about Hungary if it transpired right after a presidential election that there is such a large discrepancy between the number of votes counted and the number of votes cast that the vote must be repeated? What wrath do you think Hungary would have incurred? What awful things would have been said about us? And compared with this, how elegantly they glide over this mere technical error. It is true that it is an error in the magnitude of hundreds of thousands, but a technical error all the same. There were no abuses, merely irregularities. What a difference! This clearly indicates, paradoxically, this clearly indicates that we need the Austrians because the world outside thinks about the Austrians differently than about us. Therefore, if Austria cooperates with us, it can make a valuable contribution to the alliance of the V4, and it is also for this reason that it is important for us to conclude an agreement with the Austrian Chancellor next week, so that they physically appear on the Serbian-Hungarian border, in the form of policemen, soldiers and equipment. Because the Hungarian position is that if the Austrians want to protect the Hungarian-Austrian border, it should not be protected there, but at the Serbian-Hungarian border. This is a five-hundred-year-old lesson. It is time for it to be understood in Vienna as well.
Should we create a Central-European Union against the European Union? My answer is no. Not against the European Union, but within the European Union. The V4 is effectively just that. It is, in fact, a Central-European Union, but within the European Union. There are a few more things that it can be supplemented with. For instance, the Poles suggest the establishment of a parliamentary assembly for the V4. Each country should delegate twenty to twenty-five people, representatives, and there should be a parliamentary assembly. I support this idea, and I hope that we shall be able to approve this Polish proposal during the course of the autumn. Or we are working on the common army of the V4; this is not the European army that I was talking about, but is, in fact, an ice breaker in that we should dare cooperate with one another also in the field of military policy, we should dare reveal certain information to one another, we should dare conduct exercises together, and we should dare implement military operations with the involvement of Slovak-Hungarian-Czech-Polish units. This is an important thing I think, and so this particular kind of Central-European Union must be intensified, but must not, in my view, set against the European Union because as long as the European Union exists, the Central-European Union should be positioned within the European Union. If this constellation changes, that is another matter; but as long as the European Union exists, we, Central-Europeans can enforce our interests better within than without. So the pure national, Central-European interest dictates that we should create a union within.
I think I got to the end of the questions more or less. Perhaps, in closing, if you allow me, Zsolt, I think we should consider the chances of the European Union succeeding in facing reality and reinventing itself, whether already in Pozsony or some time later. If anyone in the audience had the impression that the terms that I used are strong, radical, or perhaps even exaggerated, I would like to remind them that this is not so. What I said was extremely proper, restrained and toned down, compared with the things that are said in Europe today and the tone they strike, and I am not talking about the radicals now, but about established politicians. So for your entertainment I would share with you a few sentences, if you allow me, originating from the pen of a Frenchman who is called Sarkozy. I quote him: „Parallel with Europe creating thousands of arrogant rules, we are unable to take joint action against the threats that risk our security. Europe is fastidious where it is unnecessary, and is ineffectual where it should be. But minds have changed, the masses are rising, the people are standing up and they are saying louder and louder ‘that’s enough’.” The title of this lecture is Tyranny of the minority, just to recreate some of the atmosphere for you. Political correctness is tyranny of the minority – this was the title of Sarkozy’s lecture. Political correctness is under siege based on the same logic we use in our criticism, is under libertarian criticism in the West as it has been in Central-Europe in the past few years. So what I am trying to tell you is that, naturally, Pozsony will be important, but we cannot expect change from a self-adjustment of the European Union. No decisions will be taken, whether in Pozsony or at subsequent meetings, which would fundamentally solve our problems. Changes can occur at the national elections.
Europe will be able to renew itself if a new government is formed, a new president comes into office in France who wants to do something different, who speaks like those on the other side of the big water speak, just somewhat more elegantly and more courteously towards the women, but just as evidently, clearly and directly. I am convinced that this will happen in 2017. The presidential elections will be held in France in 2017, in spring, at the end of spring 2017, and there will be parliamentary elections just a few months thereafter. The outcome of those elections will determine Europe’s ability to renew itself. Then there will be elections in Germany in the autumn of 2017 where the question is not who will win, if I am right and evaluate the power positions correctly, but rather what the winning programme is and what the German people should be told in the campaign in order for them to invest their trust in a new government. So I am convinced that changes may come about as a result of the national elections that will take place in the year ahead of us. Paradoxically, as I said, the American presidential elections in November as well as the renewal of the entire political spectrum in France in the spring and the German elections in the autumn will play a part in this. If the people there come out powerfully and demand their rights, there will be leaders who will be able to set right the European Union’s errors and to renew Europe to make it a place where we, Central-Europeans, too, may feel at home just the way we are.
Thank you very much for your attention.