Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good morning, Hungary”
17 May 2019
Katalin Nagy: US president Donald Trump received Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán on Monday evening, Hungarian time. We saw the few minutes he spent in the company of the press. It seemed like an amicable meeting, held in a good atmosphere. But what happened behind closed doors? I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Did you know that you had a twin brother in the United States?
Good morning. In fact there are more than two of us. This isn’t the first time I’ve met the US president: at NATO summits all member states – including us and the Americans – continuously consult with one another, but this was the first such extended bilateral meeting between us. And it’s undoubtedly true that around the world there are some countries with elected leaders who regard the cause of their own country as the top priority. Naturally they are large and small countries, and we must be modest when mentioning ourselves alongside the Americans, but this is also the situation with the Israeli prime minister, in India, in Hungary, in Poland, in Italy, and in the United States. Rather than working to build a world government, they completely oppose such a goal. I also oppose that goal. I believe in an order and a system in the world in which states around the world pursue their own goals and elect their own leaders; in which they cooperate when necessary, but in which they don’t want to hand over the right to decide on issues affecting their own people’s lives to someone else – to something like a world government acting as a higher authority. So there is such a group of us; I wouldn’t call it a club, but there are leaders in the world who share some similarities. We know about one another, we know one another, and we also root for one another’s success.
Will the meeting have specific consequences? For instance, were specific deals discussed?
A lot of things were discussed. But the most important thing, of course, was that we agreed – or compared our views – on what can be expected in the world in the future: what we should prepare for, and what the main issues will be. The United States has a president who has not come from academia, but from the world of business. This results in a different mentality, and in much more determined, straightforward and courageous leadership. Naturally we also spoke about specific cooperation between the two countries. In the United States they know a great deal about Hungary. This US president from the world of business is well aware that there are 1,700 US firms active in Hungary. He is well acquainted with Hungarian-US bilateral trade figures – which, incidentally, show that we Hungarians are gaining the most, and which clearly demonstrate how competitive the Hungarian economy is. He was familiar with the Hungarian economic model, and we also spoke a little about that, and about the tax system, and family support policies. And of course what he knew above all was that the Hungarians stopped migration and the overland Muslim invasion heading towards Europe. This is how they see us: we are the ones who used force to successfully halt migration at Europe’s southern borders. I can also say that the Hungarian fence has been so successful that it can even be seen from Washington.
Can we talk about specific deals? Or will that be a later step?
If you’ll allow me, I’d just like to mention the areas concerned, because we haven’t yet conducted specialist talks, and when those have finished we’ll be able to talk about specific figures. The first and most important thing is that we have an interest in the soonest possible extraction of gas from reserves in Romanian territory beneath the Black Sea. As things stand currently, this will be carried out by a US firm, because that is what the Romanians have decided. It’s in our interest for this to start as soon as possible, because as a source of gas for Hungary, Romania is the only alternative to Russia. So if Romanian-US cooperation materialises as soon as possible, Hungary’s trade in gas could involve more than one source – or be diversified, as we say in politics. I pointed out that this is in Hungary’s interest, and urged the President to take action on this as soon as possible. There is military cooperation between us. We’re currently building up a modern Hungarian army. Earlier Hungarian governments effectively carpet bombed the army, shot it apart, dismembered it and left it to decay. So the survival of the Hungarian Army is thanks to the determination, fanaticism and perseverance of a handful of officers, a few hundred officers. Hungarian politics not only abandoned the army, but it was positively hostile towards it and towards military policy. We’ve changed this. Now that we’re pulling ourselves together economically, the time has come to build a modern Hungarian army. I have high hopes for this, and I have a very high opinion of Hungarian staff officers – and most of the regular officers as well. We have some excellent military officers in Hungary. And in building up our army we’re to some extent relying on the Americans. For security reasons I don't want to say much about this, but in every country there’s so-called “critical infrastructure” which one must be able to protect – even in the event of a military attack; and I could say that in Hungary this capability is not quite complete. For this we need medium-range air defence missiles. The legal process to procure these is progressing well. And naturally we spoke about the fact that we’re allies with the Americans in NATO, and to date in its contributions to NATO’s international missions Hungary can be said to have punched above its weight. This is precisely because we have excellent soldiers, and this is how we shall continue in the future.
As the leader of a medium-sized European country, you have good diplomatic relations with all the great powers. The same cannot be said about the leaders of some Western European countries. In their debate yesterday, for instance, the lead candidates of the European Parliament party fractions said that they’re not really happy that the leader of Hungary’s government enjoys such good relations with Donald Trump.
Of course all generalisations are unfair, so I’m wary of employing them. But to use the “Pest vernacular”, large European countries are playing us for fools. I often tell them jokingly, as one friend to another, that we weren’t born yesterday. So although we may not talk about it, we understand what’s going on in the world. So for instance the sanctions against Russia and their supposedly bad relations with Russia haven’t stopped European countries from increasing their trade with Russia, while ours has decreased. And if we take a good look at what has happened, we’ll see that in fact the large Western European countries have used the sanctions to simply knock the Central European countries out of the Russian market, while they have gone in, and their trade is growing. It’s the same with China: when Central European countries cooperate with China, Western Europe always complains about it; but if I look at the numbers, I see that their trade with the Chinese is increasing at a staggering rate. So here we see a European lie: while they try to suppress the smaller Central European countries by expressing their dislike for our foreign policy, they’re making the most money they can and trading as much as they can with those same countries; in fact, they’re worried about us taking business opportunities away from them in this competition for trade. So I wouldn’t take such statements too seriously, even if they’re made by the lead candidates, because they’re clearly typical examples of European hypocrisy. Now, as regards our relations with the United States, my duty is to gather friends for Hungary. It’s the duty of the serving head of the diplomatic corps, the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister, to ensure that as many of the world’s influential countries as possible feel that not only are they not opposed to Hungary being successful, but that they have an interest in our success. And the more there are of these countries, the more successful we will be. This is the situation today. I can strike the right note with everyone – or at least I have a good chance of doing so; therefore we can cooperate equally well with the Chinese, with the Americans and with the Russians. It’s undoubtedly true that we’re in a military alliance with the Americans, and as we’re in a military alliance with them and we belong to Western civilisation, we have a closer set of relations with them. But there’s a deformation in the Hungarian mentality that would merit a separate discussion – or even a separate programme. In Hungary even the most intelligent people continually describe Hungary’s place in the world in terms of who it is in alliance with, and who it belongs to. Some of these people are among the most qualified in foreign policy – and here I’m not talking so much about political commentators, but people with the highest qualifications. By contrast, around the world peoples with a healthier outlook on life always clarify what they want in the world, and what their goals are – for example what Hungary’s goals are and what we want to achieve, who to build relations with, the quality of those relations, and the specific agreements to be concluded to attain those goals. If, for instance, American-Chinese trade is the largest between any two nation states, then why couldn’t Hungary, for instance, conduct equally good trade with both of them? We must ask similar simple questions like these, and then perhaps this inferiority complex – which perhaps derives from Hungary’s unfortunate past or smaller size – can be banished from journalism on Hungarian foreign policy and the Hungarian mentality. We can also see the end of the way of thinking which continually seeks to define Hungary’s place and goals – and the meaning of its existence in the world – in relation to others, instead of in terms of Hungarian goals and national objectives.
You said that there is a lie in Europe. Is there only one? I’m thinking about the fact that, just over a week before the elections, politicians in Western European countries say that in fact the only solution for Europe is immigration. What is at stake in these elections?
Now, in the final stage of the campaign, I don’t want to use strong words, because at times like this everyone tends to exaggerate, and it’s my job to restrain the momentum of public discourse. But the truth is that there’s a liberal network, or a liberal mafia, which is flush with money and comprises many people – politicians, journalists and analysts – who are working to create a system of concepts which are depicted as reality, even to politicians, so that when the latter make their plans for the future that is only framework within which they can think. A good example of this is immigration. This liberal mafia is working hard to convince the world – the European continent at any rate – that migration is a world phenomenon which is inevitable and unstoppable. And when it turns out that it is indeed possible to stop it – because Hungary has stopped it on land and Italy’s Interior Minister Salvini has stopped it at sea – then opponents of migration start to be treated as hate figures. Donald Trump became a hate figure too when he decided that he won’t allow America to be overrun by migrants either, and will build a wall on the southern border. So there’s a kind of intellectual collaboration, a network in Europe, which is trying to impose this framework of thinking upon us in relation to certain important issues which are fundamentally defined intellectually, but which also have financial motivation. These European elections are about whether we accept this or break free of it. This time the elections are not about whether parties of the Right or the Left will form the majority in the European Parliament. This is an interesting question, but it’s secondary. In these elections what’s really at stake is whether we will elect leaders who dare to oppose the idea that migration is a necessary part of our lives: will we be able to elect leaders who will defend Europe? Because after all, Europe is the home of Europeans, and Hungary is the home of Hungarians. Do we want to defend this, or will we allow this to change? Indeed, not only will we allow it to change, but will we actively encourage it? Because several European politicians openly say that migration is a good thing, but it’s organised badly, and so it should be better organised. This raises our hackles – or at least it does for the majority of Hungarians. We don’t think that migration must be organised: we think it must be stopped. So the message we must send – and powerfully – is that we want change: we want a Europe that defends its land and sea borders, and we want leaders in Brussels who don’t want to organise migration, but stop it. This is the sum total of what is at stake in the elections.
You don’t support Manfred Weber. Is there a candidate that you can support?
There will be.
After the elections. We’ll wait for the people to state their opinion. We’ll see how much support has been received by which political figures in which countries. After we’ve found out what the will of the people is, as early as two days after the elections, on 28 May, European prime ministers will sit down to talk. And we’ll start talks about the selection of prospective European leaders. The European Parliament will have a role in this, because it will approve – or not approve – the prime ministers’ recommendations. But the initiative, the first step, the first right to decide is with the prime ministers. We shall strive to give Europe good leaders as soon as possible.
What do you think is the aim of the European Commission in discussing Hungary’s childbirth incentives programme for two months, and raising objections to it? At times they say that they have concerns about it related to competition law, and at other times related to prohibited state aid. Why are they doing this?
The accusation or question of prohibited state aid is hypocritical, given that, of course, there’s no such problem when they decide they need to distribute bank cards to migrants. Underlying all this, I think that there’s a difference in how we see the world. Those who sit in their big bubble in Brussels live their lives with one another, and rarely meet flesh-and-blood European people – the masses of real people living in the Member States, who constitute the backbone of Europe. They believe that the world must be managed on paper, according to numbers. Natural population growth in almost every country throughout Europe is negative, and natural population trends are negative. This means that even in those countries in which there are more people today than there were a year ago, this is not because of the birth of more children, but external factors – such as migration. Right now the whole of Europe is a continent of empty cradles, and something must be done about this. We want to change this on the grounds of patriotism, because we believe that if “Never more will God have Hungarians”, as the poet János Arany wrote, then the world itself will be worse off – and we will in particular. So in taking this issue seriously we are driven by patriotic, national feelings. Other countries take this seriously because they see this leading to economic problems – and there’s some truth in that. Their line of reasoning is that economic problems are caused by a high number of elderly people and a low number of people of working-age; and if children aren’t being born, this is the situation that will emerge, and this economic problem will have to be addressed. They think that the numbers will be in order if they bring in at least as many migrants as the number of people lost because of that country’s population decline. And that, they think, will solve the problem. I always say that what we need is not numbers, but Hungarian children: we’re not seeking to sustain an economic system, but Hungary, the Hungarian nation and Hungarian history; we want to encourage the continuation of our families for several generations. Therefore we are pursuing a family policy. A few years ago, the term “family policy” had already become unacceptable. When I started using it in Europe, I was described as everything imaginable – but not a decent person; they called me everything that they considered to be negative, from a fascist to a homophobe and a nationalist. I’m engaged in a long struggle – lasting two or three years now – to convince Europe that family policy is a positive and important thing, and one which every Member State has a right to enact. So the hostility to the childbirth incentives programme stems from the fact that those who want to solve Europe’s demographic problems through migration abhor family policy. The converse is also true: we who want to solve the problems of Europe and our own country through family policy abhor migration. And because at present the leaders in Europe are pro-migration and pro-immigration, this also manifests itself in this issue. Just to clarify the legal situation, between ourselves I can say that naturally we have the right to introduce childbirth incentives. But at all costs we’d like to avoid a situation in which, after its introduction, the European Commission launches a legal procedure against us. And as people are involved in the childbirth incentives programme – we’re talking about the financial situations of families – we don’t want any later changes as a result of the European Union launching proceedings against us. So in order to ensure the viability of the entire programme, we asked Brussels to grant it preliminary approval: to look into it and tell us in advance if it’s acceptable, so as not to place Hungarian families, banks, the budget and the Hungarian state in a situation in which the Government has launched something which it’s then forced to stop or amend. The essence of family support is its predictability, and so we mustn’t introduce an element of unpredictability into thinking about and planning for families. This is why we sought their preliminary consent, but they’re not willing to grant it. If we were to have that consent, after that we couldn’t be attacked at a later stage. This is the legal aspect of the dispute.
Yes, but one would think, seeing that this programme has support in society, that they would assist it. Or aren’t they interested in what people in Hungary think, what voters think?
They approach this European problem, which we call a demographic problem, in the language of numbers, and want to solve it with immigrants. And let me say this once more: Brussels shows contempt when someone says that their own people, their own kind, their own family are important for them, that historical continuity is important, that they don’t want others to live in the country that we have defended so well for a thousand years, at the cost of so many lives. Brussels is contemptuous of this mentality, this approach, the words that we use, and the feelings that we seek to express with these words. Theirs is another world: they think in terms of a supranational European government that presides over the Member States, which tells them what is good and what is bad, and which takes ever more powers away from them. They’re not interested in whether or not there are Hungarians in the European community. They want to govern and organise an economic region according to their own business logic, in a way which makes sense to them. This is why they want to appropriate powers from Member States. At present there are two debates which are dormant because they didn’t appear to be important in terms of the election campaign. But at our latest meeting of prime ministers I had to ward off attacks which sought to change the current situation in which if we want to adopt a common European foreign policy measure, for instance, then there must be complete unanimity among the prime ministers. They wanted to change this so that in the future a qualified majority would be enough. This would mean that for instance foreign policy measures which represent Hungary’s national interests could be discarded, attacked or ignored if we couldn’t gain the support of a two-thirds majority – which I couldn’t possibly obtain. Thus we would lose our right to create independent foreign policy. The situation is the same with taxation. So Brussels sees itself as the centre of an empire, and in order to build a European empire – a liberal European empire – it wants to claim for itself the right to make decisions that has traditionally been within the competence of the nation states and the people living here. They believe that this is good. Well it may be good for the Brusselites, but in our view it is definitely not good for the Hungarian people.
At all events it’s good news for us that Hungary’s GDP figures for the first quarter are very impressive. GDP grew by 5.3 per cent and, as we say here in Pest, neither the EU average nor the German figures could be seen near us – even around the next bend. How can we sustain this? I remember that a few months ago you said that we have to aim to keep annual GDP growth above 4 per cent on a long-term basis, and in all events we must aim for the Hungarian figure to always be 2 per cent above the European average.
Well now I can sideline that 4 per cent figure, and rather say that the growth of the Hungarian economy should always be 2 per cent higher than the EU average. But at the heart of this result, this success, we find what we think about ourselves, and what we think about the people. Different leaders and different parties have different ideas about their own nations and their own countries. In 2010 – and perhaps even since my childhood – I’ve always believed that this is a good country, which just needs to be set in order. And if there is a point to work, the Hungarian people will be prepared to work – and will even like it. This is what I’ve seen around me all my life. We just have to create an economic system which gives people work opportunities and makes work worthwhile. Hungarians are good workers, good property and business owners, and they’re capable of outstanding intellectual achievements. Furthermore, they love their country. So they see work not only as a means for the advancement of themselves and their families: it also makes them happy to see the country making progress. This is how I see Hungary. Therefore we had to create economic policy which ensures that everyone has work – and the Hungarian model introduced in 2010 is precisely based on that. If everyone has work, ever better work, and people begin to receive the message that work is worthwhile – through pay increases, as is the case in Hungary today – then the recognition they receive for their work will also increase. Therefore Hungarians will feel increasingly at ease and will be capable of ever greater achievements. The whole process will become a virtuous circle which generates an ever-higher level of performance. This is how I have viewed this approach. Hungarian economic policy is based on this approach – which we could call patriotic. We’ve managed to ensure that everyone has work, we’ve managed to introduce a taxation system in which people feel that it’s worth working, and we’ve managed to create investment policy which is resulting in more and more jobs. And so the Hungarian economy has started to operate and produce results. Let me say this again: this has produced growth of 5.2 per cent, and in the future we’ll sometimes see similarly good results, and sometimes results which are not as good. In a historical context, what matters is that we should always have growth of at least 2 per cent above the European Union average. This will mean that we’re more competitive than our European rivals. This is what our future depends on.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.