Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”
November 11, 2016
Twenty-five minutes to eight, you’re listening to 180 Minutes. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
Good morning, and good morning to your listeners.
Let’s begin with the amendment to the Fundamental Law. Already in our last interview you seemed to have taken account of the possibility that, although Jobbik had campaigned against the quotas, in Parliament they would not vote for the amendment to the Constitution, because of their opposition to residency bonds. And indeed that’s what happened. When asked whether there will be another vote, your parliamentary group leader Lajos Kósa said that this is not the cub scouts, and the minister leading your office János Lázár also said that this is not a kindergarten. From this I assume that you will not submit the amendment to Parliament again. Am I right?
The most important question for our lives today is modern-day population movement: the issue of mass immigration. And this is not only the case this morning, but it will remain like this for many long years. As this is the most important question at the centre of life in Hungary, politics must also regard it as the most important issue – as the starting point. We have two options. Either we surrender to modern-day mass migration, and we are flooded: the security we have built will evaporate, the threat of terrorism will increase, and the economic results which we have fought so hard for may be threatened. The other option is to stop immigration: we win a majority in Europe for an anti-immigration policy, and we protect the interests of Hungary and the Hungarian people. This is the benchmark here. It is a high benchmark. We must be able to rise to it. In my view this means that this question should be set apart from the logic of party-oriented considerations, and should be placed above and before all other questions. From the parties this requires a mentality which is different from the usual logic of party jostling and party struggles. I’m happy that the Christian Democratic People’s Party and Fidesz have managed to rise to this task. They saw the question as a national issue. The other parties, the opposition parties, failed to rise to this challenge. They got bogged down in the party political dimension and mentality, and from that position it’s simply impossible to give a satisfactory answer to this question. And therefore we must face up to the fact that the Hungarian opposition is united in the view that whatever is bad for the Government is good for them. However, the Government and the governing parties mustn’t adopt such a mentality, because as far as we’re concerned, it is not a case of “what’s bad for the opposition is good for us”. As far as we’re concerned, what’s good for the country is good for us – and on this we must not yield an inch. This is where we are at present. Over the next few weeks and months the Government – and I personally – must continue the fight to stop immigration by solely relying on the Christian Democrats and Fidesz. In this fight we cannot rely on the opposition. Now that Jobbik’s former radicals have become such a collection of spoilt brats, they have clearly switched sides, and rather than siding with the Government, in Hungarian politics they are not standing up for the interests of the Hungarian people, but those of Brussels. This is the situation. It’s sad, but we mustn’t lose our enthusiasm. We must still carry out the task, the mission we’ve been charged with – and we must stop immigration.
If I have understood correctly, from now on this will be played out on the European stage, and at present there are no further plans for amendment to the Constitution.
Well, the battlefield is in Brussels, and here on our home ground we have done what we could. On that our conscience is clear. Already a year ago we carried out a national consultation, in which we collected people’s opinions. We then created a referendum situation, in which a point of consensus was reached among Hungarian citizens who are willing to think about politics. Three million three hundred thousand people, 98% of those voting, said that immigration must be stopped. They said “no” to migration, and then we tried to transform their decision into a clear constitutional text. We can’t achieve this because, as I said, the opposition switched sides and is now on Brussels’ side. We must now interpret the existing text of the Hungarian Constitution – which is not entirely clear-cut on the issue of migration – and we must fight out the battle in Brussels, using this as our ammunition. On 15–16 December there will be a summit of prime ministers, at which this issue will be the main item on the agenda, and where there may be a decision on the European Union’s approach to migration over the next few years.
From your words I infer that you will attempt to use the present form of the Constitution to arrive at the conclusion that group resettlement cannot take place.
We have the text of the Constitution as it stands, and there are three million three hundred thousand Hungarians, voters, who have formed a unity; they expect the Government to fight for their opinion, considerations and interests. This is what we’re going to do.
I have a pessimistic feeling of déjà vu when I ask you what we can expect at December’s EU summit, because we’ve tried this so many times before in connection with the quotas and other European problems. I don’t want to criticise European leaders’ importance, or their perception of the problems, but they’re not making much progress.
But meanwhile the world doesn’t stop, and it keeps turning. Only the other day, for instance, America elected an anti-immigration president.
We’ll talk about that in a minute, but let’s stay a little while longer on EU migration affairs, and Turkey. What do you expect? Will the agreement fall through this month?
The first thing I can say is that here, too, Turkey should be seen through the lens of national interest. In modern European politics it’s become standard practice for the leaders of some states to believe that they have complete freedom to label and criticise third countries. I disagree with this practice. It doesn’t lead to a policy of cooperation based on mutual respect. Hungary accords Turkey the respect which is its due, and regards the internal affairs of Turkish politics as being solely a matter for the Turkish people. They will decide what they want. We have one standpoint, however, and it is a strong one: Turkey should remain a stable country. If Turkey doesn’t remain stable, doesn’t remain settled, doesn’t remain calm, doesn’t remain a well-governed country, but turns into a chaotic region, then in the period ahead it could represent a major threat to us – as we have already seen. We must therefore support the political forces in Turkey which create order, calm, predictability and stability. This is in the Hungarian interest, and I think this is also in the European interest. And meanwhile we should not just keep hoping that Turkey will observe the agreement it concluded with the European Union. It would be good if that was the case, but we must seek to ensure that we can protect our own countries and our own peoples – whether or not Turkey observes the agreement.
So you’re not particularly hopeful about the agreement’s survival.
Why wouldn’t I be? I’m an optimistic, creative person, so why should I prepare for something negative? The assumption should be that they will observe the agreement, and we’re working on making sure this should be the case. But Hungarian foreign policy has an old wisdom, originating perhaps from Andrássy – who is the only one of our prime ministers who was first hanged, and later became prime minister. All the others ended up the other way round. He said something like this: “It is always better to be sure that we cannot be harmed, than to assume that no one wants to harm us. It would be better situation if they simply could not do that”. And this wisdom also holds true in this situation.
I don’t know if your optimism extends to the quota lawsuit. This is another arena as far as the quotas are concerned. There is a lawsuit on the quotas before the Court of the European Union. If everything goes well, a ruling could be delivered next spring. But is there a realistic chance that the Court of the European Union will decide in favour of protecting the sovereignty of a Member State?
Of course there is.
So you’re optimistic in this area as well.
We should look at the text of the Treaty of the EU. The subject of the lawsuit is whether the Treaty of the European Union – which was also ratified by Hungary – in any way allows anyone outside Hungary to decide on who may reside in the territory of Hungary. If this is the question, I’m optimistic, because this doesn’t follow from the Treaty. The Treaty lays down that each Member State itself must decide on issues concerning its own identity – and the territory and population of a country are issues of identity. So we stand on quite strong legal foundations.
In this respect, if this is the logic you follow it encourages optimism. But if we look at other similar disputes taken to the Court of the European Union which could serve as precedents – such as the sovereignty disputes with the Germans or the French – national sovereignty was not usually triumphant.
We must wait and see. The input of lawyers will be important: they match arguments against arguments, and legal positions against legal positions. Why wouldn’t our arguments be more substantial than those of our opponents?
Since you mentioned the United States, we now know that Donald Trump will be the next US president. Did you guess, or hope, that it would be Donald Trump?
I wouldn’t want to put fortune-tellers or crystal-ball gazers out of business. I’d just say that the duty of the Hungarian prime minister, the incumbent prime minister, is to perform well in steering the ship of the Hungarian state on international waters – and this takes some foresight and awareness. As I see it, we have crossed the threshold of a new era. Brexit, too, was something like this. We could say that Brexit was the knock on the door, but this time we’ve crossed the threshold. It’s difficult to explain this in a way which is easily understood, because it’s a complex issue; but for around twenty years now the Western world has been struggling, after falling captive to ideologies. Ideological thinking has overruled reality-based thinking. A former American president once very pithily said that the problem with any ideology is that it gives you the answer before you look at the evidence. So the evidence must then be shaped in a way which enables you to arrive at the answer which you had, in fact,presupposed. I think that this is a perfect description of the phenomenon which has chained and ensnared Western intellectual life and held it captive. I think that this has now come to an end, and reality has prevailed. A favourite song of mine from way back is by Tamás Cseh – who I’m sure is looking down on us now and smiling, having seen the US election result. His song was about a letter written to us by our “Uncle Reality”. I think this is what we have received now.
Well, not everyone’s smiling. On your social media page you wrote the following: “What great news, democracy is still alive”. Meanwhile the other half of the world is writing its obituary for democracy. What in fact will happen in the period ahead, in terms of the balance of power?
We must remember that the campaign and governance are two different things – in their culture, tone and theme. Now is the time to govern. Obviously, the next US president, too, will do just that. We have our contacts over there, we see how politics is being shaped, and we understand why. I think we understand what’s happening. We see the personal options, we see the political opportunities. A great many things have not yet been decided, and on a great many important questions the technical and political positions are only just being prepared. The new president will only enter office in January, and there is a lot of time until then. The picture will gradually become clear, but I think that the world can now look forward to this change with hope. The world will be a better place with the new American president – there is a good chance of that.
I’ll ask you in more specific terms. The previous leadership, the Democrat leadership, didn’t exactly pat the Hungarian government on the back. Do you expect this to change?
I expect a 180-degree turnaround, to be honest. We’re an ally of the United States of America. We form part of an Atlantic cooperation scheme. This extends to military and security cooperation, and this is why we’re members of NATO – this is why we joined it. So we have a vested interest in rational, reasonable, calm and carefully considered US foreign policy. Secondly, we have very strong ties with the US economy. Naturally, the sizes of our two countries are not the same, but we sell a very large quantity of goods to the United States. This means jobs – lots of jobs – for our economy, and major US companies employ tens of thousands of people in Hungary. So our economic relations are also good. In recent years we have had one problem: the US administration – the US president and the US foreign policy apparatus – have pursued the ideological agenda of the Democratic Party, and have sought to export democracy – or what they understand as democracy – to the rest of the world. They have supported the immigration and population movement forces which are in play around the world; meanwhile they have been living their lives far removed from reality, in an artificial liberal world, which they have also sought to impose on everyone else – including us. So while our military and security cooperation has been excellent and economic relations have prospered, political cooperation has continually foundered. This may now change. It may change completely.
In his campaign Donald Trump said that he doesn’t support the free trade negotiations in their present form.
Neither do we, to tell you the truth. So that is something we agree on.
One other thing, then. The question is how these relations will develop with the other Western European countries – with Britain, for instance. You’ve been to London this week, and we’ll talk about the specifics in a minute, but let’s talk about US-British-Russian rapprochement, because the other area where some rapprochement is expected is the relationship between the US and Russia.
I see this as a somewhat more difficult matter than most analysts see it. A description branding the world’s strong leaders as members of a “testosterone club” is shallow, as is the assumption that just because both Russia and the United States have strong leaders, they will swiftly and easily settle the world’s conflicts together. This is not the case: the issues creating tensions in relations between Russia and the Western world are difficult ones. They can be improved, and I have faith in this. It is also in Hungary’s interests that the parties reject the current atmosphere of conflict, and return to the culture of peace and cooperation. This is Hungary’s interest. But this will not happen overnight: it will take a lot of hard work.
What we see, however, based on recent statements by the United States and Britain, is an ever stronger alliance between them, while many are preparing for a weakening, more sceptical alliance between the other leaders of Western Europe and the United States. It’s therefore particularly interesting whether there was any mention of this – of the European and transatlantic search for allies and cooperation – when the Hungarian prime minister visited Britain.
First of all, history offers guidance on how to understand the present. Cooperation between the English-speaking countries has always been a special feature of world politics. European Union or not, this fact never changed. The United Kingdom was a member of the European Union – it is no longer a member, or is in the process of manoeuvring itself out of the European Union – but for all that, the conventional Anglo-Saxon alliance has always existed. It is founded on a common culture, mentality and history. There’s no point in pretending that this doesn’t exist. Therefore, there will be a special relationship between the United States and Britain. If I understand correctly, the first contact, or conversation, telephone conversation, took place between the President-elect of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. We must take account of this as a reality. We must prepare ourselves to enter a new era: security in Europe will change, we’ll have to spend more on protecting our own security, and the US president-elect has made it clear that he’s not prepared to foot the bill to the same extent as before. It will also do us good to take a more serious approach to the issue of security, rather than seeing it as something which is guaranteed by someone else outside the continent, with an enormous US army. We, too, must do something for European security. Inevitably this will be a new element of politics over the next few years. Security, military policy, and the issue of military security in general will occupy a more prominent place in European thinking than they have done to date.
Was the current European migration policy discussed at the meeting in Britain, in London?
That issue always comes up.
What was your conclusion?
The United Kingdom’s situation is relatively simple, as they didn’t join the international convention which we call the Schengen Agreement. They never gave up their border controls. They have always remained an island nation. Hungary, however, is party to the Schengen Agreement, and we are securing a section of Europe’s common external borders. Our ways of thinking are similar: like us, the British think that illegally crossing a state border is a crime. It is not some international movement supported by trend-setting civil society organisations, but a crime which must be punished – one which has consequences. The rules must be observed, or else the security of the citizens of a given country – Hungary in the present case – will be lost. They understand this. For us, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is a loss, as the positions of the two nations are very close on most issues – including those related to economic policy and security policy.
When you arrived in London, obviously your principal objective, or one of your specific objectives, was to represent the interests of Hungarian workers. When you talk about success, what will this mean in practice?
Even though I say so myself, I successfully accomplished that task. This is because, with regard to Hungarians now working in the United Kingdom, there was agreement that in future their situation must not deteriorate, providing that the same is true for British people working in Hungary. If this is mutual – and it was easy for me to make this promise because we have no interest whatsoever in making the situation of the British living and working in Hungary any worse – in return, the situation of Hungarians now working in the United Kingdom, in England, will likewise not worsen.
So this issue has been finalised, has it? When Brexit becomes reality – of course, the process hasn’t started yet, and there are many things which we can’t foresee, but once it starts and is brought to a conclusion – will the Hungarian workers already living there enjoy the same rights as they do today?
In my view, the situation of Hungarian guest workers who are already there cannot change for the worse. I think we can treat this as a fact. The debate will be about whether those who want to go there in the future will be able to do so or not.
Clearly, another important issue or objective for the Hungarian government in connection with England, with Britain, is how to bring those workers back home. Was this mentioned at all?
My take on this whole issue, the way I see it, is completely different from the approach which dominates public debate in Hungary. My view is that, according to the latest data published in Britain, some ninety-five thousand Hungarians are working in the United Kingdom; and there are approximately fifty to fifty-five thousand Hungarians working here, in Hungary, in British-owned businesses. So we’re talking about the livelihoods of around one hundred and fifty thousand Hungarians and Hungarian families. This is a serious matter. This lends importance to British-Hungarian relations. Now, as regards those who are today working abroad as guest workers, I always speak about these people with the greatest respect. It commands respect if someone believes – for whatever reason – that they have sufficient energy and courage to try and find advancement in a foreign world. This is something which commands respect. And many of them are successful. It’s not easy to be a guest worker anywhere in the world, not even in Britain; that’s a very hard job. On this visit also, I met several Hungarians working over there. You can’t go to a bar, a restaurant, or any public place without bumping into Hungarians sooner or later. We, too, had a working lunch in a club where I met two Hungarian ladies from Kecskemét who are working very hard there, and are being rewarded for their labour. Furthermore, every year Hungarians working abroad send approximately three billion euros home to the Hungarian economy: a sum equivalent to around one thousand billion forints. So despite the fact that they are working abroad as guest workers, they play a very significant role in maintaining the Hungarian economy, and for this they deserve respect.
I understand this line of thinking, but, as you’ve told us several times on past editions of our programme, in the period ahead job creation will be one of the important questions. Are you taking these people into account?
The other side of the coin is that I believe in freedom. These people will decide for themselves. Everyone had their own good reasons. Obviously, one can find thousands of reasons for deciding to go abroad to work. But now that the situation in Hungary is improving and the country is becoming stronger, Hungary will be an increasingly attractive place. Wages have been continuously increasing for more than thirty months. What’s more, for three and a half years retail sales have been on the increase. We are still far from where we’d like to be, but we’re heading in that direction. As for when someone chooses to continue their life in Hungary, that’s something which the individual alone should decide. They will make such decisions. These are very difficult decisions in one’s life, and I trust that everyone will make them after their own careful consideration. Our duty is to use all our resources to make Hungary an attractive, optimistic and calm place, which can offer people dependable livelihoods.
You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.