President Novák: Hungary’s top issue is how it can survive as a strong and sovereign country

The president said her job was not to explain the government’s decisions, but rather to represent Hungarians and Hungary.

President Katalin Novák said Hungary’s most important issue is how it can survive as a strong and sovereign country “in this draughty part of the world”.

In an interview with news portal 24.hu, President Novák said the president is independent of the government, adding that her job was not to explain the government’s decisions, but rather to represent Hungarians and Hungary. “That is my job; that is what the Fundamental Law says,” Novák said. “What happens in Hungary, how we live here and what it is most people care about, in my opinion, are things that are worth talking about.” Novák said that in her talks with her foreign partners, she had found that few had factual knowledge about what was happening in Hungary because “they don’t necessarily get factual information”. She said she had not agreed with all of the government’s decisions during her time in office, adding that she would have welcomed if the ruling parties had ratified Sweden’s NATO accession. It is the sovereign authority of parliament to make a decision in this matter, Novák said, adding she believed that it would be “timely”, which she had told both the foreign minister and the prime minister. Novák said the prime minister had promised her that Hungary would not be the obstacle to Sweden joining NATO. She also said that she had not had to “explain herself” abroad in connection with the government’s decisions, and had answered any questions she could. The president said she herself had asked questions and received answers, adding that she was on good terms with just about all of her European counterparts, and had also met several of Europe’s heads of government.

On another subject, she said Hungarian-Polish relations had not cooled and were not in any worse shape than a year ago. Novák also said that she did not consider it a responsibility as president to criticise either the government or the opposition. Asked if there could be a domestic political decision in the country about which she felt she had to express an opinion, President Novák said: “Definitely.” The president speaks on special occasions like a national holiday or a New Year’s address, but they can also speak outside of those, she said. Novák said that those who kept track of when she has spoken and what she said could see what it was she considered important. President Novák said one of the president’s most important — “and perhaps most difficult” — constitutional functions was promoting the unity of the nation. “There are countless things along which we can divide ourselves, but there are values and situations that bring the community together rather than divide it,” the president said.

Asked how independent she considered herself from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, President Novák said she felt exactly as independent as the president needed to be from the prime minister. She said she had said no to the prime minister in several matters. Asked if she would seek the opinion of the left-wing prime minister as often as she did Orbán’s, Novák said this also depended on the people in question, adding that she would definitely strive for regular contact. Asked about her and the prime minister’s differing views on the war in Ukraine, Novák said there was a difference in how nuanced their positions were. “The prime minister and I agree on the essential issues,” she said. “My position is perhaps less nuanced than his, I accept that.” Meanwhile, she said granting a pardon to György Budaházy, a radical activist convicted on terrorist charges, had been one of her most difficult decisions. “In general, the clemency power is the most difficult power for the president,” she said. “There is no pardon that is not divisive, this is the nature of the matter.” She said she believed Budaházy was not innocent or a hero, but an individual who had been sentenced for a crime. The president said she respected the court’s ruling and that her decision had not been a political one.