Acceptance speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after being awarded the Order of Republika Srpska

5 April 2024, Banja Luka (Бања Лука)

Mr. President, Dear Milorad, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Awards are usually an honour. Of course this award is an honour, but – as my friend Milorad said a few minutes ago – even more than that, it is also an expression of fellowship, an expression of friendship. This is not a simple award, and I do not see it as a simple intergovernmental act; but I feel that in it there is sentiment, there is trust, and there is optimism for our mutual future. 

I am an old man, and I have been observing the Serbs for a long time. I remember the Serbs when this world was still called Yugoslavia, and when, Milorad, your country was richer and more developed than we were. And then I remember in 1992, in the Hungarian parliament, where I was present when we passed the parliamentary resolution on Bosnia, on the recognition of Bosnia. I was observing the Serbs when the Dayton talks were being held – although if I remember correctly, to me it seemed that they were in Paris. And I also remember when NATO bombed Belgrade. And then I watched how the Serbs struggled to find their place in the new era in which we still live today. And I have always looked on with understanding, goodwill and compassion; because when the framework of a people’s existence changes, and not to its advantage, and it has to find its place in the world, it is very difficult work – and it gives leaders a special responsibility. And so I have always observed with appreciation as you Serbs – both in Serbia and here – have searched for and finally taken your place in this new era.

Now, no matter where the borders are, wherever they live, Serbs and Hungarians are neighbours; because the point is not whether our states are neighbours, but whether our peoples are neighbours. We Serbs and Hungarians live alongside each other. In international politics I have always stood up for the Serbs, because over the decades I have developed the conviction that international policy towards the Serbs has been unfair and unjust. No people is faultless, but proportions matter. As we also say in Hungarian, there are people who can see the speck in the eye of another, but cannot see the beam in their own eye. And I see Serbia as being unfairly treated and not getting the recognition it should – and I definitely see Europe failing to recognise that Europe needs the Serbs.  

Without the Serbs there is no European security. Without the Serbs there is no healthy European Union. Without bringing in the Serbs there is no stability in Europe. And of course, Mr. President, Dear Milorad, there is a lot wrong with the European Union – I fight there every day. But today there is no better framework for our nations to strengthen themselves than the European Union. And so I will do everything I can to ensure that, if you wish, you can come as close as possible to the best international framework available today. This matter is not looking good. A long time ago the decision should have been taken to make you Member States of the European Union – and now I am talking about Bosnia and Serbia at the same time. Decades have been wasted; and now, all of a sudden, the fever of enlargement to the east has pushed back the enlargement of the EU to the south. And this is not good news for Hungary, Bosnia or Serbia. Our firm position is that the enlargement that has started – the southern enlargement – must be completed first, that our resources must be focused on this first; and then we can deal with the much more difficult and complicated task of eastern enlargement. Neither do I want to hide the fact, Mr. President, that we have fought hard to get negotiations on membership started between Bosnia and Brussels. This has been achieved. It is only fair to mention that, in addition to Hungary, others – the Austrians in particular – have also stood up for you. We had hoped that the start of negotiations would open up a period of consolidation, and we were preparing for sunnier days. By comparison, what I now see is that – with such stupid provocations as external interference in the electoral law – we are losing the dynamism that we have worked so hard for, and that the opening of negotiations would have given us. And instead of dynamism, here we have a political crisis. This devalues our work. I am not speaking for Hungary: it devalues the work of Europe. We have been working for years in Brussels for this, and now suddenly a provocation simply devalues our work.

The only lesson I can draw from this, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that here foreigners only cause trouble. It is time for the people living here to realise that they are capable of arranging their own affairs, and for the international players to return all the powers to Bosnia and Herzegovina as quickly and as dynamically as possible: give those powers back to the entities, and let us have faith that the peoples living here can solve their problems. We do not want to interfere, but to help. Our job is not to tell you what to do, but to ask you what we can do to help. This is where we should be going. And I see this award as a mandate to work towards that goal. In Hungary we tend to think that awards are given for two reasons: the first is for what one has already done; but the interpretation I would like to make is that I did not receive it for that, but for what I will do in the future.

Mr. President,

You can count on Hungary’s friendship.

God bless the Serbian people and God bless Bosnia!