Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the television station of the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Croatia
28 November 2019, Osijek/Eszék
Dániel Hordósi: I cordially welcome Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán to the studio. Prime Minister, it is an honour to have you here with us.
This is a historic day for the Hungarian community here in Croatia, as we finally have a new student hall of residence. How do you see the situation of Hungarians in Croatia?
We can call it historic, but let’s hope that there will be more historic days in the future. Nevertheless this is undoubtedly an important day, because, after all, a long-standing plan has finally been realised. I can’t even remember when – some time in the mists of the past, perhaps as long as twenty years ago – the first promise was made to Hungarians that they would have a student hall of residence for young people from outside Osijekwho want to study in Hungarian. The promise was that they could come here and live in a student hall of residence. I’m glad that this moment has finally arrived. In fact we created the Hungarian equivalent of this a long time ago: we built similar institutions for the Croatian minority in several – perhaps four – towns in Hungary. We greatly value the Croatians living in Hungary, and we support them regardless of party political considerations. Over here the situation was somewhat different. I remember that here there were left-wing governments with whom it was difficult to see eye to eye; it’s no surprise that all those years were lost. As I see it, this government today is quite stable. The Prime Minister is well-disposed, and I believe that the leader of the county is sympathetic towards Hungarians, and understands the context in which we envisage the future. So today I believe that there’s every opportunity for development, and this is also why we in Budapest swung into action. We saw that the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Croatia has a new leadership, and not only a new leadership: a dynamic team has taken over, and so we in Budapest are more enthusiastic. We saw that Croatian-Hungarian relations are now looking good, and there’s a new leadership eager to launch into action. Then the moment came to take action, and we started a number of programmes, including an economic development programme. We’ll also launch further programmes in the future, because today as well the Prime Minister gave me a long list of the areas in which he’d like further support and cooperation. So, to answer your question briefly, on the whole I’m optimistic about the future of Hungarians who live here.
I believe that an action plan is also being prepared. What’s in this action plan?
Well, it’s a good action plan, but we must affect a turnaround in the underlying situation. We’re talking about the future optimistically, but your viewers are well aware that the situation is far from easy. There are lots of problems in Slavonia: young people are leaving and the economy isn’t growing as fast as we’d like and as fast as it used to; and if we try to assess Slavonia in the context of Croatia as a whole, we see that it’s one of the less developed regions. So we need an action plan which prevents Hungarians from becoming embittered by a sense of decline, and which helps Hungarians by lifting them out of such an outlook and enabling them to feel that being Hungarian in Croatia offers them opportunities – opportunities that should be seized, instead of leaving or escaping from here. The action plan specifically focuses on sport, education and culture – and, particularly, on economic development. I’d like Hungarians in Croatia to regard themselves as a community with a bright future; but for this they must rid themselves of the attitude that the situation here can only get worse.So it’s also important for us that Croatians abandon this way of thinking, and actually start developments here which encourage the whole region – not only Hungarians, but also Croatians – to believe that Slavonia has a bright future ahead of it, and that it will again be able to be what it once was in its history: one of the most developed territories in Croatia – and in Hungary on the other side of the border. Every change starts with people’s hope: if their vision of the future changes, if they see hope ahead, then suddenly they’ll be capable of what they previously thought to be impossible. This is just as true for Hungarians. Therefore our action plan targets this psychological threshold, seeking to assist and support this feeling among the Hungarian community. I think we’re not doing badly in this. Several programmes have been launched in the past year. We’re especially proud of the programme for nursery schools and economic development. All these programmes send the message that Hungary is there right behind people, the Hungarian government is there right behind them; and this isn’t only expressed in words, but also in actions. We want to embark on major projects with you – so let’s try it, let’s throw ourselves into it. Today I sense this kind of mood of optimism and hope.
This is great news, Prime Minister. In Croatia there are Hungarians not only in Drávaszög and Slavonia, but also in Tengermellék [Primorje-Gorski Kotar County in Western Croatia]. Thanks to the Hungarian government, the local Hungarians managed to obtain a headquarters building in Fiume [Rijeka], which they had long desired. What is the Hungarian government’s aim with this project?
Well, we make our plans by listening to local communities, to find out what they want. In Fiume in Istria they wanted to finally have a Hungarian centre worthy of them and their history, and in which they can live their community life. But on the whole I think that Croatia is a very diverse country: Slavonia is completely different from Istria and Dalmatia. Areas also vary according to whether or not they were directly affected by the war. People’s thinking also changes accordingly: we must adapt to the local situation; and so we can never say what would be best when seen from a distance in Budapest. Our policy is to ask the Hungarians in Istria what’s best for them, and then they’ll tell us.
Let’s adopt a more global – or rather more regional – approach. How do you see the future of the Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina?
You’ve asked the most difficult question. It’s easy to be optimistic about the parts of the Balkans that today are called Serbia and Montenegro. These countries are not in an easy situation either, but their accession talks with the European Union have started. Everyone knows that this region cannot be stabilised without Serbia. So even though the path is not entirely smooth and straight, I believe that their future is moving towards resolution. Bosnia’s situation is much more difficult, and they haven’t even had a government for a long time. Only yesterday I spoke to President Dodik on the telephone. He informed me that all obstacles to the formation of a government had finally been removed, and they would also be able to adopt the document on cooperation with NATO. So today we have better news of Bosnia than usual, but we have to accept that Bosnia has an unclear future.They would like to move towards the European Union, but at the moment the EU is adopting a cautious, blocking, rather standoffish attitude; and therefore countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina – or North Macedonia and Albania for that matter – can’t see their future clearly. They don’t know whether they should envisage their future within the EU, or if they will remain outside. It’s very important that in the upcoming period those of us who want enlargement give these countries our support. Croatians and Hungarians agree that the European Union should admit as many countries as possible as rapidly as possible, according to uniform standards. This would not only benefit them, but also Croatia, Hungary and European security in general. But undoubtedly the most difficult and complex issue is Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’d like Hungarian foreign policy to focus more attention on this area in the future.
Prime Minister, thank you for the interview. I hope that we’ll be able to welcome you to our studio again soon.
If you invite me I’ll come. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.