PM Orbán: 'Liberalism No Longer Stands Up for Freedom, but for Political Correctness'
“We have lost that which made the European continent attractive," said the prime minister in this interview with a Swiss weekly, "and that which we Hungarians found so attractive in it: free political debate. Political correctness has turned the EU into some kind of royal court, where everyone must behave themselves, while all the time migration is an urgent challenge for us."
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was interviewed by Swiss Weekly Weltwoche November 13, 2015. A lengthy interview, the conversation covered the current political climate in the EU and the migrant crisis.
Scroll down for an English-language translation of the complete text. The following are some key quotes from the prime minister's interview:
“Perhaps this, too, is an effect of the migration crisis: the free and sincere exchange of opinions is less and less a part of the culture of the European political elite…Anyone who represents something other than the Euro-liberal mainstream stands out, and attempts will be made to isolate them.”
“We have lost that which made the European continent attractive, and that which we Hungarians found so attractive in it: free political debate. Political correctness has turned the EU into some kind of royal court, where everyone must behave themselves, while all the time migration is an urgent challenge for us: it has a great many unexpected consequences and unanswered questions regarding Europe’s identity or the role of Christianity. But all that one can read or hear about these things is mostly neither interesting, nor inspiring. This is a wasted opportunity.”
“In European public speech we do not talk about the fundamental issues – where in fact these nice topics originate from. We do not talk about freedom, we do not talk about Christianity, we do not talk about nation, and we do not talk about pride. To put it brutally: what dominates European public speech today is simply European liberal chatter about nice but secondary topics of lesser significance.”
“Liberalism today no longer stands up for freedom, but for political correctness – which is the opposite of freedom. This leads to a closed, elitist form of politics. If, however, people realise that no one is listening to them, that their opinion does not count for anything on an issue which will determine their lives over the next few decades, it is not simply about the capacity of governments to act, but about much more serious problems. Therefore I believe that the migration crisis could destabilise the EU. Not – or not only – because of the high number of immigrants, but because commitment to democracy will be called into question.”
“Yes; the problem, however, is that the Greeks do not want to do this. It is a mystery to me why we accept this attitude from the Greeks. Why do we not say to them: “You are a member of the EU; we helped you in your crisis, and while the help we gave you may not have been perfect, it was given with the best of intentions. As regards your borders, you have a clear obligation. You signed an agreement called the Schengen Agreement. So please do your job.”
“This makes every Hungarian angry. Our view is very simple: we did not destroy the countries from which migrants are coming. We did not bomb anyone. We did not invite anyone here. And now those who dropped the bombs and sent out invitations want to settle them here. Is this fair?”
The following is an English translation of the complete transcript of the interview:
WW: Have any of your colleagues in the EU recently called you to seek your advice, to thank you or to apologise to you?
PM: Relationships with our colleagues are not always easy – whether on the phone, or in person. We meet every two weeks; that is quite frequent. Only last Sunday we had a meeting out of the blue with heads of state and government from the Balkan states, Austria and Germany.
Of course, I mean that with your policy you have been proved right on the refugee issue. Now almost everyone wants a fence.
There is a distinct difference in the language and tone which we use when we talk to one another in the corridors and when we sit at the negotiating table. It is not my job to expose unpleasant facts in connection with political debates within the EU, but it is increasingly rare for someone to actually respond to another person’s statement. When someone wants to produce a response, they feel compelled to provoke a reaction or to say something personal; otherwise each of the attendees simply tick their own issues off their lists one by one, without paying any attention to each other. If we are together in the corridor, it is different.
We tended to believe that you go for each other’s throats at these EU summits.
Within our ranks, among political leaders, the culture of debate, of the free exchange of ideas and of free speech no longer necessarily forms part of our talks. This is increasingly rare in the public domain – in the media and also before the wider public. Perhaps this, too, is an effect of the migration crisis: the free and sincere exchange of opinions is less and less a part of the culture of the European political elite. Everything is regulated and disciplined, and every statement by every leader is tailored to their own political camp. Anyone who represents something other than the Euro-liberal mainstream stands out, and attempts will be made to isolate them. The European left is much better at this than the People’s Party formation. We have lost that which made the European continent attractive, and that which we Hungarians found so attractive in it: free political debate. Political correctness has turned the EU into some kind of royal court, where everyone must behave themselves, while all the time migration is an urgent challenge for us: it has a great many unexpected consequences and unanswered questions regarding Europe’s identity or the role of Christianity. But all that one can read or hear about these things is mostly neither interesting, nor inspiring. This is a wasted opportunity.
This sounds very sceptical. Aren’t we at the beginning of an era of greater openness?
My personal impression is that when it comes to issues of an intellectual nature, Europe’s elite only discuss superficial, secondary issues of lesser significance: nice topics such as human rights, progress, peace, openness and tolerance. In European public speech we do not talk about the fundamental issues – where in fact these nice topics originate from. We do not talk about freedom, we do not talk about Christianity, we do not talk about nation, and we do not talk about pride. To put it brutally: what dominates European public speech today is simply European liberal chatter about nice but secondary topics of lesser significance.
As it is of the utmost significance for Europe, don’t you think that the migrant crisis will force the continent to grasp the severity of the situation?
First of all, this crisis compels us to face a very embarrassing fact. In the European Union we have 28 secret services, some of which – such as the British or the French – are among the best in the world. Additionally, heads of state and government are able to rely on the services of thousands of experts and advisors. We have our intelligentsia, and we have think tanks. And despite this we believe that this crisis has fallen upon us out of the blue? It is hard to believe that no one knew what was in the making.
Do you think that what awaited Europe was known for some time?
It is hard to shake off this thought. We were debating for months, but the outcome was always the same: “Let the people in”. And on top of this, in the first few months, for some reason no one was able to say out loud that this is an issue of the utmost importance for Europe. For months it was first regarded as a humanitarian issue, and then as a technical problem as to where the refugees should be settled and how they should be distributed. No one raised the question of whether the essence of the matter is more about our existence, our cultural identity and our way of life. I do not know for certain what is actually happening, and I do not want to blame anyone; but the suspicion arises that none of this is happening by chance. I am not brave enough to publicly talk about this as a certainty; the suspicion inevitably emerges, however, that there is some kind of master plan behind this.
Whose master plan?
That is the hardest question. To answer it, we have to look at a few left-wing studies which have been published in recent years and are concerned with the future of the European Union, society and a possible European superstate. I am in the process of re-reading these articles and essays, and one cannot fail to notice that some authors have demanded an ever diminishing role for the nation state. In their view, between the individual and the superstate that stands above nations, there is ever less need for the nation state, and they argue for a new type of relationship. The European left and radical American Democrats have conceived a theory for this new world. It would be superficial to say that this is the motivation behind migration, but there is no doubt that it is connected to the issue of migration.
In what respect?
They see migration as an opportunity. For a decade or two the left-wing intelligentsia in Europe has been ideologically prepared for this. Now we are facing simple Realpolitik and power politics. All indirect evidence and experience points to the vast majority of these migrants later becoming left-wing voters, once they have settled down. Consequently, future left-wing voters are being imported into Europe.
Angela Merkel cannot be described as a radical left-winger. She was the one, however, who opened the doors wide.
Many of us have been thinking about this for some time. Germany is the key. If the Germans were to say tomorrow morning “We are full, that is it”, the flood would immediately abate. It is as simple as that – a single sentence from Angela Merkel. I have raised this issue with her a few times.
And what was her answer?
That things are more complicated than that. I would be the last person to call her a radical left-winger. Angela Merkel is the most important political leader of the right, but we must not forget that she heads a coalition government with the Social Democrats, without whom there is no majority. This is therefore a very tough power game. The SPD is not willing to say that the country is full, it rejects the reinstatement of border controls and the idea of transit zones, and it is opposed to the simplest measures. If we want to understand what the Chancellor is doing, we should look at the extended coalition which is a political reality in Germany.
Doesn’t the migration crisis demonstrate to the citizens of Europe that the EU is not even capable of fulfilling such fundamental tasks as the protection of its borders? That the EU is not even capable of enforcing its own asylum laws?
This negative impression over the EU’s helplessness already existed before the migration crisis. The citizens of Europe saw it during the financial crisis and the crisis over Greece. They criticised their politicians for not being able to find a way out of the financial crisis. The stagnation of our national economies is still evident. At the same time, new giants are emerging on the horizon, while the old giant, the United States, is also gaining ever more strength. European citizens are convinced that their leaders are not effective. The migration crisis has, however, created a new impression. This is not related to effectiveness, but to democracy. Now we are faced with the following question: who the hell decided on this policy? If we are to tackle fundamental questions such as our identity or protection against terrorism, we must discuss them, and we should have discussed them with our citizens.
So are you saying that no one has authorised Merkel and her associates to let in waves of migrants?
It is about more than that, as even today there is no intention to involve the people in the debate. Public opinion is simply disregarded.
What is the reason for this?
Liberalism today no longer stands up for freedom, but for political correctness – which is the opposite of freedom. This leads to a closed, elitist form of politics. If, however, people realise that no one is listening to them, that their opinion does not count for anything on an issue which will determine their lives over the next few decades, it is not simply about the capacity of governments to act, but about much more serious problems. Therefore I believe that the migration crisis could destabilise the EU. Not – or not only – because of the high number of immigrants, but because commitment to democracy will be called into question.
So the crisis demonstrates the true face of the EU as it really is: a group of politicians who do not listen to their electorates?
This has not always been so, as the EU is not by definition incapable of acting in a democratic manner and involving citizens in the process of opinion-making. When we changed our fundamental structures in the Lisbon Treaty there were many debates, and in some countries referenda were even held. Now, however, when our survival is at stake, this is not the case. We cannot go on like this. We must involve the people in the debates.
Are you optimistic about the possibility that the elite’s opinion will shift in this direction?
A great deal depends primarily on the Germans.
Are you optimistic that the Germans’ opinion will shift in this direction?
I do not know whether this will happen, but there are several reasons why this should be the case. Fortunately, I am not a German voter.
The Europeans do not agree even among themselves as to how to manage the problem of migration.
There are two reasons for this. And it begins as far back as the word we use to describe the phenomenon. The Germans call it a refugee crisis, we call it a migrant crisis. We point out that many migrants are coming for economic reasons, and many of them obviously have no idea what awaits them. All they sense is that they could have a better life here. Additionally, it is also a security issue if we let someone into our house whom we do not know.
And the second reason?
The extent of the problem. Some people talk about only a few hundred thousand, or at most a million people. We are talking about at least one million; taking family reunifications into account, this number can be multiplied by five – five million annually. And the numbers could continue to rise. Additionally, we have information from the refugee camps and the countries of origin that the people there are convinced that they are expected and will be welcomed in Europe. On this assumption, setting out suggests no risks, as there seems to be an invitation. And we must not forget about Africa! Africa is only just starting to move, and unless we have a rational policy, the Africans will also start coming. That would mean dozens of millions more. The extent of the problem is already greater – and will extend even further into the future – than is conceived of by many European leaders.
How can this migration flow be stopped?
When you see an extraordinary problem, you automatically think that you should resort to extraordinary solutions. However, this is not how it is in politics. We should quite simply adhere to our rules, our laws; this is not too complicated. It may be difficult, but not complicated. If the Greeks observed the Schengen regulations, we would not have a problem. If the Greeks are unable to observe those regulations, we should persuade them to do so. If we are unable to enforce this, then we need a second line of defence. This is not complicated at all. This is why I do not accept the argument of some politicians that we must simply accept things the way they are, because we have no extraordinary means with which to address this extraordinary challenge.
Would you still be in favour of Hungary’s EU accession today?
I was in favour of Hungary’s EU accession in the referendum, and I would most certainly be in favour of it today as well, because we see things in a historical perspective. And it is not just about our living standards or temporary difficulties. The situation for Hungary is completely different than that for Switzerland. In the case of Switzerland, there is not a shadow of doubt as to where it belongs: it belongs to the European continent. It does not matter whether you are a member of the EU or not – you are a European country. We, however, live in the East, on the historical border of the continent. If we were not in the EU, we could easily find ourselves in the same situation as Ukraine. From a historical perspective, Ukraine should be in the EU. But at this point in time does it truly belong to Europe? If we do not want to be a second Ukraine, if we do not want a country in the twilight between two worlds, Hungary must belong to the EU. It is about our identity. If Hungary were situated between Switzerland and Austria, this question would not be quite as easy to answer. But unfortunately that place is already taken. (Laughs.)
Do you think Angela Merkel has a plan? Or will she simply be overcome by the problem?
She is a strong leader, and not only because she leads a strong country, but also due to her personality and leadership qualities. Her coalition partner, the SPD, however, ties her hands, as it signs up to the left-wing conception on the future of Europe. So the situation is difficult, and will become increasingly difficult. Turkey will come into the picture now. It is not easy to come to an agreement with the Turks on the issue of migration. Therefore I take the view that the key country is not Turkey, but Greece. We cannot successfully negotiate with the Turks if they know that we have no alternative. We need another solution, and this lies in Greece protecting the European borders.
Will the Turks use migrants to gain accession to the EU? Or will they simply send all the migrants to the EU?
In politics we often neglect the emotional factor. In the EU we must admit to ourselves that in the past we have not always been fair to Turkey. We failed to take into consideration that it is a proud nation, and now we are paying the price for this. In international relations the most important thing is to respect the national pride of others. We should therefore concentrate on Greece, and should say to the Turks: “Listen, it is better to have an agreement than not to have one. But if there is no agreement, we shall get along without you, all the same.”
Should the Greeks close their borders?
Yes; the problem, however, is that the Greeks do not want to do this. It is a mystery to me why we accept this attitude from the Greeks. Why do we not say to them: “You are a member of the EU; we helped you in your crisis, and while the help we gave you may not have been perfect, it was given with the best of intentions. As regards your borders, you have a clear obligation. You signed an agreement called the Schengen Agreement. So please do your job.”
Why doesn’t anyone remind the Greeks of their responsibility?
It is not only a matter of not reminding them: we even send our buses and trains to the south to transport migrants to the EU. Not only is a wave of migrants laying siege to our borders, but we ourselves are organising this flow. In this crisis there are three groups of active participants: people smugglers, political activists and governments. This is a strange coalition. But what do European politicians talk about today? They talk about how immigrants can be brought to the EU in the safest and most humane manner. This makes us part of the people smuggling business. As a result, no one tells the Greeks to do their job. Meanwhile, Hungary, the only country which has taken its Schengen obligations seriously, has been attacked and criticised on this score.
What do you hear from Angela Merkel and others when you present your arguments?
They have a reasonable argument. They say that the fence is good for Hungary, but it merely diverts the flow in a different direction, and the migrants wander through different countries. Meanwhile, the risk for the EU continues. My answer to this is that if everyone followed Hungary’s example, if everyone fulfilled their duties, the problem would be solved.
According to your information, what percentage of migrants are genuine refugees within the provisions of the Geneva Convention?
According to the classical terms of the Geneva Convention: zero. The Geneva Convention clearly lays down that there can be no asylum-seeking “à la carte”. As soon as a refugee reaches a safe country, it is no longer their individual right to decide which other country to go to with reference to their refugee status. Under this definition, those arriving in Hungary from another EU Member State or candidate country cannot claim asylum in Hungary. This does not mean that these people do not need help. We appreciate their position, we conduct the necessary procedures, and women and children receive more favourable treatment. From a legal point of view, however, the situation is clear: there are no grounds for asylum. How is it possible for someone to leave Austria in order to claim asylum on the other side of the border, in Germany?
This is a very legalistic interpretation.
Let us then look at the situation from a moral point of view, as well: how do we define our own moral responsibility towards war refugees? I believe that our Christian responsibility does not lie in offering them a new European life. Our responsibility lies in enabling them to return to their old lives, once their own countries have stabilised – even if this takes years. It is not easy for European politicians to combine personal compassion with intelligent state politics, because their conscience is not absolutely clear on account of their countries’ wealth and high living standards. There is, however, no reason to feel this way, because continents and countries richer than Europe – America and the Gulf States – have done far less than we have.
Do you see yourself as the only European politician who assesses the situation correctly?
I know several European leaders who privately have the same opinion as myself. In public they must say otherwise, however. This is not lack of courage, hypocrisy, or intellectual weakness. This is simply because the left claims a monopoly on analysis in Europe. If you take the field in a debate on values, you need to be very careful to cover your back. There are not many politicians who can claim the strength of electoral support which I can. As a young man it was not one of my ambitions to eventually become the scourge of Europe. If, however, I look at the current state of the European civic and Christian democratic camp, I have to undertake this job, since it cannot be done by others.
But not everywhere. We can see consolidation of conservatives in Europe: in Poland, in Britain, in Switzerland, in Denmark. Aren’t you able to say that everything is moving towards the right, in the right direction?
To put it cautiously, this cannot be ruled out. Yes, the signs of the times appear to be positive. From an intellectual viewpoint, however, the political right is still not as competitive as the left. We are not strong in the media, in think tanks, in universities and in schools, where the coming generations are educated. This battle was lost by our parents.
But what next?
Allow me to speak about a few positive developments. There are terms and concepts which for a long time could not be uttered, but which are once again beginning to form part of public discourse. For example, “borders” – are they good or bad? We can once again say that they have their good sides. Or “nation”: this word can once again be used in a positive sense. “Christianity”: most European leaders – including myself – are advised not to use this word too frequently, because most Europeans no longer feel Christian. Now, however, this word is once again returning to political debates. Or “pride”, as in “the pride of a nation”: once again it has become a legitimate expression. A positive consequence of the migration crisis is that once again we are attempting to talk openly about our continent’s identity – more freely than in the past two decades. The second positive consequence is that once again the issue of security is being taken seriously. Over the last twenty to thirty years Europe has taken its security for granted. This is now at the centre of our attention. Thirdly, once again greater significance is being attached to national views on possible solutions. Earlier there was never an alternative to “the common European solution”.
How would you specifically describe the existential threat Europe is exposed to?
We Europeans – who are thought to be enlightened and liberal – think that everyone behaves the same as we do. If Europeans were to go to live in Syria, they would attempt to become part of life in Syria. We would not want to change Syria according to our conceptions, but would accept it as it is. This is why we believe that people coming from Syria are also like this. This is not the case, however. They have a different mentality, and they want to preserve it. Christian Europe – which I also regard as a cultural concept – is a common identity which can be described. This does not mean that this Christian Europe is better or worse than the Islamic world; it merely has different rules and beliefs. Europe should not isolate itself, but also should not give up these Christian foundations. The existential threat we are facing means that we Europeans have forgotten how to fight for ourselves. We must say, however, that these are our values, this is our history, this is our life the way we want to lead it, and we shall protect all this. This is not what we are doing. We do not even talk about this as a theoretical option. When I speak about Christian Europe in the European Council, the others look at me as if I had just stepped out of the Middle Ages.
Do you have allies in Europe?
The British have always been good allies; they have common sense. They do not argue about whether we are Christian or not, because this is not an opinion but a fact. And the opinions of the Scandinavian countries, too, often diverge from the mainstream. You sometime find allies in corners where you least expect.
Which way should the EU move? More in the direction of a loose free-trade zone, or in the direction of deeper integration?
The most important thing is that we must not lose a single day. Every day as many as ten thousand come into the European Union, and if we multiply this by a factor accounting for family reunification, this number stands at fifty thousand. Before we think about how the EU should change institutionally, we must close the borders. We must destroy the business model of the people smugglers, because business is the biggest engine behind this mass migration. We must prevent people smugglers from delivering on their promises. The only way to do so is by demonstrating that people who have paid a lot of money for this will not be allowed in. I am not a friend of fences, but this is the only way to destroy the business model. We built a fence in Hungary. The Slovenians are doing the same, and I hope that the Croatians, the Serbs and the Macedonians will also follow suit.
But illegal migrants will also have to be deported.
It is cheaper and simpler to stop them on the border. Once they are here, they cannot be repatriated. Where should an aircraft carrying deported migrants land? These are practical problems – from a legal, moral and financial point of view. In Hungary we take the view that a stitch in time saves nine. Naturally, we did not like the images which were shown around the world when we were building the fence, and when we were called heartless. But that was the price we had to pay. And now? There were only two migrants at the border yesterday.
What do you think of the idea that migrants should be distributed across the whole of Europe according to quotas?
This makes every Hungarian angry. Our view is very simple: we did not destroy the countries from which migrants are coming. We did not bomb anyone. We did not invite anyone here. And now those who dropped the bombs and sent out invitations want to settle them here. Is this fair?
Many Swiss politicians see the migration crisis as an indication that the EU’s underlying concept is wrong. It does not work; it is neither fish nor fowl, neither nation state nor federation of states. For instance, the individual states are required to take responsibility for their borders. It would appear that your approach is not quite as drastic.
The problem is not posed by the mechanism of the EU, but by political leaders. If they were determined enough to implement what they resolved upon, the mechanism itself would also work. If, however, the EU proves to be unable to rise to the challenge of migration, the peoples of the EU will ask themselves whether the whole arrangement serves any purpose at all. For a long time this whole thing has not just been about migrants, but about the issue of leadership and the structure of the EU.
Earlier you stood firmly by the European Union. Has this faith been shaken in the past two years?
At present it is hard to be enthusiastic. We are sitting here in the Nándorfehérvár Hall of the Hungarian Parliament Building. This mural here shows how Hungary defended Europe against the Ottoman Empire. If you look at the churches depicted here, you can see that none of them stand here, in Hungary. Here is Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, Stephansdom and Cologne Cathedral. The Hungarian nation would be the last one to argue against the European Union. At the same time, we very firmly demand improvement of the EU. But we must first take urgent action in order to overcome the migration crisis. The Swiss are right, however: later the Europeans will have to reconsider the structure of their union.