Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the 3rd Budapest Demographic Summit
5 September 2019, Budapest
Good morning Your Excellency, Your Graces, President of the Republic, Your Excellencies, Prime Ministers and Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is splendid that we are together again, for the third time now. We thank the organisers, as they are the heart and soul of everything. I must single out Professor Pál Demény, who is with us here: he started this series of conferences, and he is its mentor to this day.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have some special guests: presidents and prime ministers from important countries. I extend a special welcome to Australia’s former prime minister. It is in part due to his tough policy that we regard Australia as a model country. We especially respect it for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency which it has shown on migration and defence of the Australian nation. Thank you for accepting our invitation. We have here with us President Vučić from Serbia, whom I also wish to greet separately. Every nation has views on other nations, and this is particularly true for neighbours. We Hungarians, for instance, generally say that the Slavs have big hearts. We feel that this is especially true of the Serbs, who are not only our neighbours, but also share the same fate as us: I sometimes feel that they’re driven not by one heart, but two. Should anyone doubt this, they should look at the Serbian team in the Basketball World Cup.Mr. President, may your team perform miracles in this World Cup! And also with us here is the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, who is not only able to perform miracles, but has already done so. He has performed an economic and financial miracle in the Czech Republic, and for this reason his stock in Hungary is especially high. We ourselves are developing well, no doubt about that, but when we look at the Czechs we can only ever see the backs of their heads. Prime Minister Babiš is an inspiration for us, because we Hungarians want to catch up with the Czechs. So the better he does his job, the more he inspires us Hungarians here. If you will allow me, in parenthesis I would say that it is testimony to the current strength of the Czech Republic that, instead of exalting the Prime Minister as his achievements warrant, the country can afford the luxury of attacking him. This is despite the fact that he is Europe’s best economic policy maker. From here, from Hungary, all we can say is “Blissful Czechia, we envy you your problems.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our topics today are demographics and the family. We have heard some fine speeches. I’m in a difficult position now, as how could I add anything to what we’ve heard from previous speakers? I believe I can add two things to what you’ve heard. One is to say a few words about the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy; and then I would like to draw your attention to some key aspects of the Hungarian family support model. So first the intellectual and spiritual foundations.When I was young, a conference such as this about demographic problems would have caused some surprise. The reason for this is that everyone – regardless of education or ancestry – knew and understood one of the most important ancient truths: back then everyone still understood that human life is finite; and that just as we enter life, so we must also leave it. This is the law. In my life so far, I’ve seen three types of response to this law, to this difficult situation; there are three directions we can take in seeking a way out, if you like. One of these is the realm of mind-altering substances: a life of addiction, overindulgence and consumption, through which we can distance ourselves from the question of the meaning of a life that is finite. This approach to the unpleasant reality of life’s finite nature seeks to give an answer which denies the very existence of the question. The second approach is to find a path to the Creator who has decreed the finiteness of our lives and has created its law for us: to try to move towards Him as closely we can, to hear His answer and be healed. This approach, this path, this direction has given the world towering civilisational achievements and majestic works of art and culture. The third approach open to us is to attempt to cultivate the continuation of our earthly lives. This we call the foundation of a family; this we call children. “Body from body, blood from blood”: children, who in some way are also a continuation of our own lives. Summa summarum, in the old days everyone in Hungary knew this, and so we didn’t hold demographic conferences: we saw no need to encourage woodpeckers to peck wood. Huge changes have taken place, however. These huge changes can be summed up in a single phrase, around which the speeches here revolve; that phrase is population decline, the issue of population decline.
When we Hungarians sought to clarify the intellectual and spiritual foundations of family policy, we first tried to understand the nature of the problem. The first step towards understanding a social problem is delimitation of that problem: to appreciate its extent. Therefore we asked ourselves whether demographic decline is a general phenomenon for all humanity on a global scale. We concluded that in fact it isn’t: the populations of Asia and Africa, for example, are increasing. Next we asked whether population decline is a civilisational malaise – a characteristic of Christian civilisation. We found that it isn’t: around the world, the number of Christians is increasing, not decreasing; and all projections indicate that around the world in the coming decades the number of Christians will continue to grow. So if we’re not confronted with a general human problem, or a malaise linked with Christian civilisation, then to what is it linked? We came to the conclusion that in the final analysis this is a European phenomenon. Naturally on other continents there are also countries where we see population decline: there is such a country in Asia, for instance. But there is only one continent on which the problem is a universal characteristic: Europe. So we Hungarians think that this is a general European phenomenon, and should be seen as such. What is the cause? There are various competing theories. In my personal opinion the reason is fairly obvious. Population decline has become a European problem because Europe fought two brutal civil wars within its boundaries. In school these are referred to as “world wars”. But while there’s no doubt that they extended beyond the European continent, in fact they were a horrendously bloody European – or, to be more precise, Western – civil war, or civil wars. There are a variety of estimates, but adding up the European and American casualties in the two world wars – excluding Americans who fell on the Asian fronts – gives me a figure of approximately fifty million people lost by us in the European conflicts alone. And I’m convinced that to this day we’ve still been unable to recover from these human losses. The root of the problem facing us is an unnatural situation and an extraordinary occurrence: the two world wars, or the two European civil wars. Therefore in a sensitive issue such as demography there can be no doubt that politics must intervene. If the population decline had not been caused by political conflicts and wars, governments would perhaps be better advised to exercise more caution in how they approach demography: this is, after all, an extraordinarily sensitive area. But politics itself caused the problem: state leaderships caused the problem, in the form of two world wars, or European civil wars. Therefore it will be impossible to rectify or even ameliorate these problems without robust state intervention. Hungary and the Government of Hungary therefore decided that we must pursue robust demographic policy. This is a goal of the state and a task for the Government.
When we talk about the theoretical foundations of our family policy, as a starting point we must of course reject two counter-arguments, about which our guest from Australia, the Honourable Prime Minister, has already spoken. The first one is migration. We must reject the argument that on a global scale migration can solve the problem of population decline in Europe. If we accept this, then there’s nothing more to be done. If, however, we refuse to accept it, then there is. If in the future Europe is to be populated by people other than Europeans, and we accept this as a fact and see it as natural, then we will effectively be consenting to population replacement: to a process in which the European population is replaced.This is not a subject for this conference, but in my view there are some in Europe who see this as the basis for policy: there are political forces which, for a variety of reasons, want to see population replacement. These reasons range from the utilitarian and political to the ideological; but discussion of them is not a subject for today’s conference. At any rate, we must firmly point out that if we want to create demographic policy, we ought to steer clear of the migration-based approach. The second counter-argument – and former prime minister Abbott also mentioned this – is a “green” argument. It is a novel one, the shock of which has only just come home to me recently: it states that it’s possible to think about children and life as being hostile to Nature, and to conclude that the Earth would be better off if fewer children were born. It is possible to argue against this, but instead I suggest we discard the whole thing as pure nonsense, and reject it as such.We should only point out that, according to the order of creation, humanity is also part of the ecosphere which some people want to protect from children. Humans are part of it: not an enemy, but part of it. Therefore one should not set one against the other; instead the place for an ever-increasing human population must be rationally designated within the ecosphere.
This is the right approach, rather than seeing Nature and humanity as opposites. I would like to mention two more positive things about the intellectual and spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy. One of them is this: Hungarians believe that every child has the right to a mother and a father. This means that when we talk about family and family support we’re supporting traditional families, and we’re protecting the traditional family model. We’re also thinking in terms of the nation, because we believe that families and children are in themselves the precondition for the biological regeneration of our national community. If families are not functioning, if there are no children, then a national community can simply disappear. This is perhaps not so obvious to Australians, because they belong to the large world family of the Anglosphere. A German would not understand how a nation could disappear from the face of the Earth either. But for a national community of the size of the Czechs, Serbs or Hungarians, it’s not too difficult to mathematically predict that with a continuation of negative demographic trends, sooner or later there would be just one survivor left to turn the lights off: we would face potential extinction. This vision is not some feverish nightmare or imagined threat: the dwindling of these nations’ populations to a level that eventually renders the maintenance of national identity impossible is a real, mathematically provable danger. We think that if the world loses a nation, then it loses something that cannot be replaced by anything else. It loses something which is irreplaceable, because we cannot be Serbs: only Serbs can be Serbs. Only Hungarians see the world from a Hungarian point of view: Czechs cannot see the world in a Hungarian light. And likewise only the Czech people are able to create Czech culture – no one else. So if a nation disappears, something irreplaceable is lost to the world. This was expressed in the beautiful words of the poet János Arany. Therefore the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy feature his two lines of poetry: “If the storms of time sweep us away, Never more will God have Hungarians.” So our family policy also has national foundations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
So much for the spiritual and intellectual foundations which form the basis of Hungary’s family policy. Now for a few other aspects. The Hungarian model – the Hungarian family policy model – is extremely rich, and it’s almost impossible to describe it exhaustively, but let me draw your attention to one or two important aspects. This is not advice or any kind of lecture for anyone, because there are as many nations as there are countries, and as many ways of thinking as there are nations. Instead let me offer you the Hungarian experience as a stock of good practice, so that you can then consider which elements you might use in your own countries. The first point is that the basis of the Hungarian model is constitutional in nature. I’ve already spoken about the spiritual and intellectual foundations, but there is also a constitutional foundation, which is extremely important. If the essence of demographic policy and its most important elements are not laid down in the Constitution, then it is impossible to pursue long-term family policy. We need constitutional foundations, because these constitutional foundations protect us from anti-family court rulings. The courts are a separate world which doesn’t belong to the life of the state that is overseen by the Government. They are part of state life, but are independent of the Government. The criteria for their functioning are different from those for the functioning of the Government. Therefore there can always be judicial rulings – and the United States is the best example of this – which are clearly anti-family.The only safeguard against this is a clear constitutional foundation. Another reason we need a constitutional foundation for family policy is that without it the life of the Hungarian state and the Hungarian decision-making structure could be penetrated by international organisations, NGOs, networks and centres which are very often anti-family in outlook. For instance, if our Constitution didn’t protect us against them, regrettably there could be EU decisions which – let’s face it – are anti-family. If we want to defend ourselves, if we want to pursue solid family policy, we need constitutional foundations.
The second aspect that I’d like to draw your attention to is that good family policy also needs economic foundations. Perhaps this is not the case in some other parts of the world, but as I see and understand the current state of European civilisation, I have to say that for successful family policy in Europe you also need money. Without money we will not be able to reverse the negative trends. This is my experience, whether we like or not. This is why in Hungary over the past ten years we’ve doubled the level of financial benefits to families. When we talk about economic foundations, from a family policy point of view also it’s important for us to appreciate the importance of a secure and stable financial situation. Here I’d again like to raise my hat to Mr Babiš. The basis of family policy is trust:do families believe that the measures introduced by a government will be maintained in the longer term? Commitment to having children is not achieved in a moment: children must be brought up. Families need a predictable family support system over a period of many years. But if finances are not sound, if financial problems emerge, austerity measures ensue; and sooner or later every budget cutback will take money from the family support system. Hungary is an example of this, and I could talk about it, but we’ve not gathered here to talk about previous governments. I could tell you how, under the pretext of crisis management, families lost the benefits without which stable and predictable planning for the future of a family is not possible. So I want to tell you that, in addition to the spiritual and constitutional foundations, stable and successful family policy also needs sound finances and a growing economy: economic foundations. Hungary’s experience – which may not be as valuable elsewhere as it is here – is that family support allowances must always be linked to employment. People are only human, and if they realise that they can live off welfare benefits, then a great many of them will easily go down the path of choosing to live off benefits rather than working. As a result, the country’s economic performance will start to decline, financial problems will emerge, and these will lead to austerity measures. So if we want stable long-term family policy, then as many family support elements as possible must be linked to employment. There are techniques for this, and Hungary will gladly share its experience in issues ranging from its system of tax allowances to child care allowance. We similarly believe in the importance of linking benefits for children to the fulfilment of parental obligations. If parents fail to meet their obligations, they will not be able to receive child benefits from the central budget. For instance, parents in Hungary cannot expect to receive family allowance if their child is of school age and they do not send him or her to school. The reasonable and humane linking of benefits to behaviour is another important element of our family policy.We similarly concluded that a further important element of our family policy should be to make nursery care accessible and mandatory from the age of three – naturally with the possibility for exemptions in certain circumstances. Hungary is a country where the schooling of children in fact begins at the age of three or four. We don’t see a nursery school as a place for childminding, but a place where children are prepared for their later school years. We’ve thus extended the period of children’s integration into society, and the period of their preparation and education. Naturally, crèche facilities are also available alongside nursery schools. In Hungary full provision of crèche places will be guaranteed by 2022.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Excellency, Honourable President,
This is what we’ve already done, but unfortunately we’ve not yet reached the turning point. We’ve already done a great deal, but what has been happening is not yet irreversible. An important question is the location of the point – if such a point can be identified at all – at which we can say that our family support system has achieved this much, and thereafter it will be certain, or almost certain – if that word means anything in politics – to yield results: more children being born. What I’m talking about is the Hungarian experience, and in my view it’s also true of Europe – but perhaps not further afield. I believe it’s true of Europe – and it’s definitely true of Hungary – that we’ll win if we manage to build a family support system that ensures that those who’ve decide to have children are guaranteed better living standards than if they’d decided not to have children. This will be the turning point: if deciding to have children contributes to an improvement in your standard of living – not because your children will look after you when you’re old, but here and now, immediately, when you’re a parent still raising children. If by deciding to have children you find yourself financially better off than if you’d decided not to have children. This is the point we’re seeking, this is what we want to reach, and this will be the tipping point for the Hungarian family support system. But we’re not there yet, and it will need quite a few more years of persevering work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finally, I’d like to answer one last question: can we succeed in this at all? If I ask anyone in Europe whether we can succeed in what we’re doing, whether it’s possible to reach that fertility rate of 2.1, nine out of ten people from the elegant salons of Europe’s political elite will say that it can’t succeed. And if nine out of ten people say that something cannot succeed, then one has to give that consideration: eight might not be enough, five definitely not, but nine is too many. And we should consider whether what we are undertaking is impossible. Do we have any chance at all of achieving the goal that we’ve set? I can’t give you an exact answer to that, but I can tell you that in other areas I’m very familiar with this opinion.When we decided to send the IMF packing, nine out of ten such people said that we couldn’t possibly succeed. When we said that banks should be involved in our crisis management efforts and should be taxed, nine out of ten said we couldn’t succeed. When we decided to reduce household utility bills and impose taxes on multinational companies, they said we couldn’t succeed. We said that we would introduce a flat-rate income tax rate instead of the progressive income tax first introduced with great fanfare in the Communist Manifesto. They said – and they’re always the first to speak – that this would be impossible. When we said that we would create one million new jobs over a period of ten years, they said it would be impossible. When we said we would halt migrants at the Hungarian state border, that we would stop them no matter how many of them came, they said it was impossible. When we said we would build a fence that could not be torn down, they said it would be impossible. So I don’t know the answer to the question of whether it’s possible to achieve the goal on the issue of demography that we’ve set, but I do know that we’ve achieved every single goal that we’ve set that was important for the Hungarian nation. Nine out of ten declared the impossibility of these goals, but in spite of all that we achieved them. This is the truth of the matter.
Furthermore, I’d like to tell our guests that although in one sense Hungarian politics is very complex and difficult to understand, partly because of the language, in another sense it’s very simple: it has a key word that must be understood thoroughly. The history of Hungarian politics hangs on the word “nevertheless”. In other languages, the word also translates as “in spite of everything”: we’ll strive against the whole world if needed, and then we’ll snatch victory with the bravura of a hussar. This is one of the key aspects in understanding Hungarian history. But of course this doesn’t mean that we’ll necessarily succeed. There are conditions: there are certain conditions attached to the success of Hungary’s demographic policy, the policy of the Hungarian government. I cannot identify all of them with absolute certainty, but there are three or four that I can. And I can tell you that the fulfilment of these is necessary for Hungary’s aspirations to meet with success.
The first precondition for the success of Hungary’s demographic policy is that Christianity must regain its strength in Europe. If Christianity fails to regain its strength in Europe, then as a solitary island Hungary will hardly be able to achieve results. The second precondition is that we have partners: we cannot do this alone. Now we have partners. We have here President Vučić and Prime Minister Babiš. We have partners, and we have partners in Europe. We’re rooting for the Austrians, and we also hope that the Italian upheaval will come to a resolution that is also good for us, and we can find partners there as well. We need partners in Europe, and we cannot do this alone. I’m also certain that, because we need economic foundations, another precondition for the success of our family policy is that during the period ahead, a period of around ten years up to 2030, Hungary’s gross domestic product should exceed the European Union’s average rate of economic growth by at least 2 per cent every year. If it exceeds that average by 2 per cent, the funds generated will be enough to create stable financial foundations and to finance economic and family policy extended to incorporate new elements. And finally, the fourth, the last and most important precondition is this: we can succeed if we persevere. Let’s go for it!
Thank you for your attention.