Dániel Bohár: In uncertainty the most important thing is stability. And if we look back over the past thirteen years, we can see that Hungary has had to face quite a lot of challenges. The situation is no different today. But how can one cope with these situations? This is what we’ll be discussing in the next hour. I welcome you all here at Tranzit – those watching on television, and also those following our stream online. I’m Dániel Bohár, opinion leader at Megafon. Now I’d like to invite Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, to the stage. Well, first of all, thank you very much for accepting our invitation and coming here to Tranzit – after eleven years, if I’ve counted right. In 2012 Tranzit was in Kőszeg. And straight away I’ll quote what you said then, in similar economic circumstances: “The two-thirds majority stands like An immovable stake.” Is it still standing like a stake?
Well, that’s all right, it’s been standing ever since, which is important, because from here you can’t even see the end of it.
But joking aside, is the two-thirds majority a guarantee of the unity of the Hungarian nation?
We could say that. There are big debates about it. So if you look behind the political events and follow the debates, which are often quite high-quality debates crossing the traditional thematic dividing lines of Left and Right, you can see a debate about whether it’s unnatural – whether it’s contrary to democracy based on elections and free decision-making – for a collective political force or party to be in power for a long period of time, or whether this has nothing to do with the quality of democracy. This is an ongoing debate. A book has been published on this – I’m trying to recall the title, but it’s evening, and I can’t. It’s a serious book of analysis, which has shown, and I share this view, that – probably because of Hungarian geography, history and the size of Hungary – in Hungary there’s a historical phenomenon whereby in every era sooner or later a great national governing party is formed. So if we look at the post-Compromise world, after 1867, there’s the turbulent period of ‘71 – 72, and in ‘75 Kálmán Tisza arrives, and from then on he’s the party leader for fifteen years, and he has control over the governing party. Then before the First World War this was repeated with his son, István Tisza’s National Party of Work. And then, if you look at the period between the two world wars, when the tempestuous years following the war are over Bethlen comes in, sets about consolidation, and again the same force governs for ten years or so. And I think this is what would have happened after the Second World War, when the Smallholders’ Party won the parliamentary election by a landslide. If the Soviet Union and the Communists hadn’t jointly abolished party democracy in Hungary, I think the Smallholders’ Party would have settled into power for a long time in the same way. Now I remember that the author’s name is Csizmadia. I see a kinship between the events of those times, the natural course of events in those times, and the situation now. Hungary has to stand its ground in the face of very great forces, we’re fighting against huge external forces, and when there’s such a great struggle against external forces people instinctively organise themselves in the direction of unity. They look for a party that’s not organised on ideological grounds, but rather along the lines of loyalty to the nation, of service to the nation, of serving national interests, and of giving people the best chance of being able to defend everything that’s important to them. Let’s assume that this isn’t an unprecedented phenomenon in Hungarian history; but the second part of this debate is about whether it has an international counterpart. And then we see that it does. So there have been several political forces in European politics that have been in office for a very long time, and have been able to win several elections in succession. There’s one that’s still there after forty or however many years, and that’s the CSU in Bavaria. So the Hungarians have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and have no need to explain the fact that politics in Hungary is organised in such a way that sometimes large national parties are formed which receive mandates in elections over longer periods of time. We can safely call this a European phenomenon.
Earlier, maybe four or five years ago, you spoke about a duel between David and Goliath. I meet left-wing politicians relatively often – as you often do in Parliament. Well, how shall I put it? If I look at the political array, the domestic political array at least, when I look at their intellectual or whatever other abilities, “Goliath” isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind. So if we’re talking about Goliath and the Hungarian left, how do these two concepts come together?
Well, not everything is what it seems. So now I don’t know, do we want to talk about the Opposition? On a beautiful summer evening? Okay, if we want to talk about them, without wanting to hurt them more than is necessary...
As much as is necessary…
Yes. So there’s really this phenomenon – and I agree with the image that we’re using here – that in football, let’s say, there’s a very clear line separating the amateurs from the professionals. You have the amateurs, you have the children: you throw a ball into the middle of them, and then everyone runs to where the ball is, forms a pile and then they kick each other all over the place. Sometimes they connect with the ball, but essentially they’re in a big pile, trying to play the game in a way that defies understanding. There are the professionals, who you can recognise from the fact that they run and move to where the ball will be. So, if I want to illustrate the difference between the current governing party and the Opposition in a way that’s understandable, this is the difference. I’d perhaps say that there’s a difference of perspective. So they swoop down on an issue like a duck, and then suddenly they make a fuss, something happens there...
They kick each other around.
The governing party, the big national governing party, has a perspective, short-, medium- and long-term, tactics, strategy, history, and its movement is coordinated. It knows that a question is relevant, it seeks an answer, it links it to another question, and I can connect the two. In the same way, in any team sport you need a battle plan – because politics is, after all, a team sport. So to this extent it isn’t unreasonable to ask who is David and who is Goliath. But every team – even a team that plays football in a childish way – has owners and financiers. So what needs to be looked at today isn’t only the condition of the Hungarian left, but also who are behind it. And the Left represents world trends in an intellectual and ideological sense, and it represents great world powers in sociological and financial senses. And those are the big shots, who don’t usually run together in a pile like that. So Uncle Georgie Soros won’t run headlong at Facebook, and there won’t be any such accident. So there are big financial groups with clear intentions for the world, for Europe and for Hungary, and they’re looking for agents. And they find them in the Hungarian left, whose attachment to national interests and ideas is historically not very strong. They think about politics in a different dimension, they think much more in terms of how Hungary can become part of the world’s great powers, what world powers are making moves, what world trends and intellectual tendencies exist, and how – and they call this “progress” – Hungary can be integrated into them. We, on the other hand, don’t think about such things. We say that the big questions are that here we have a community of ten million people or so, with clear interests, with talents, with goals, and we ask how we should organise our politics and our relations in the light of this. And obviously we won’t come into contact with international forces, because we’re their enemies, because what they want to do to Hungary – and in a certain sense how they want to use Hungary – is precisely what we don’t want. And so they turn to the Left. This isn’t just a Hungarian phenomenon: it exists elsewhere, and so it isn’t a Hungarian curse, this form of treason or national surrender isn’t an exclusively Hungarian phenomenon. I can name such parties in other countries. And in that sense, if I compare the balance of power in this international space, they’re Goliath and we’re David. And in recent years we’ve dealt them four good shots to the noggin with our sling, and we’d like to maintain this habit.
So what you’ve been talking about here is essentially a serious global battle.
Well, I haven’t seen all the data yet, but I’ve seen the partial reports on campaign financing for the last election, and I can’t say exactly how financially dominant those we were fighting against were; but there’s no doubt that the dominance of the other side could be measured in multiples. The media and financial strength of the other side was a multiple of ours. This is quite apart from the wider media context. The audience here are obviously well-informed people, I assume you speak foreign languages, observe the world press and the world media. So I’m not even talking about the drive to create a context, a consensus, an interpretative framework around Hungary, which has sought to exert pressure on us. So if I add that in, then in the last election the resources on their side were an almost incalculable multiple of those on our side.
Prime Minister, give us some advice. Every year we gather here at the Tranzit Festival and, as you can see, there are quite a few of us here now. But I can tell you that every year there are more and more of us, and so if you come here next year there will probably be even more of us. What can this younger generation – the Tranzit community, the community of communities – do in this battle? What can they do in this fight? What can we do for our country?
Well, the first thing is to make it clear that they have a homeland. This is important. The question is whether you think you have a homeland, or whether you live in the wide world, in the West, in Europe, say, in attractive civilisational surroundings, and it doesn’t much matter to you that you’re Hungarian. This is the first thing that needs to be clarified. Do we think of ourselves as being Hungarian by biological accident? Well, this can be the case: someone else was born German, a third Polish, a fifth whatever – Dutch. This can be the case. Or do we think that by being born into something, by being born into a situation, into a context, into a system of dependencies, that we’re in what you could call a flow. And once you’re in it, you have to understand what it is. And if we’re in it, then we also have to understand that apart from answering whether it’s good to be in it – and I, for example, like being in the Hungarian flow – we also have to decide whether this fact involves some obligation, some duty. And if you’ve clarified this within yourself, then you have a firm footing on the ground, and then you can talk about gathering like-minded people together to form a great national army; now I’m speaking in an intellectual and political sense, not just in a military sense – that’s another story. So this is the first thing that needs to be clarified. And I think that every generation should clarify this for itself, and every person should do the same. And once you’ve clarified this question there are different ways of approaching the answer. Some may do this in a more dramatic way, realise that they’re Hungarian, that this involves obligations, stand to attention and click their heels; but it can also be done in a humorous, witty and light-hearted way. The question is whether we know about one another, about us being the ones who know that we’re Hungarians. This isn’t an accident, but a task. In fact, I’d say it’s a mission. It’s probably one of the most beautiful missions in the world, because we’re talking about a culture based on a language that’s not understood by anyone other than those who were born Hungarian. Others cannot preserve this, and left to them it could disappear. There’s only one circumstance in which we won’t see the disappearance of the Hungarian language, the Hungarian culture, and with it the history of Hungarian statehood, which goes back at least eleven centuries, and the opportunity looking forward for our children to be Hungarians for hopefully many millennia hence. The only circumstance in which it won’t disappear is if we preserve it. It won’t preserve itself, as there are only ten or so million of us. Anglo-Saxons might think that their culture will preserve itself. They have no such mission. Germans have no such mission, because they’re Germans, and there are so many of them. But this isn’t the case with Hungarians, so it is we who have to preserve it. In order for there to be a Hungarian language, for there to be Kosztolányi, Babits, János Arany, and to be able to read what’s written there, to help people find the right path in their lives, you have to be Hungarian. In addition, there’s one area that we – like the heart – sometimes contract and sometimes dilate. We should perhaps put this aside for the moment, but now we’re in a state of contraction. So there’s an area in the Carpathian Basin that we cultivate, that we’ve literally cultivated for eleven centuries, that we’ve settled. One has a duty towards one’s own land or garden, even if one hasn’t bought it but inherited it – say from one’s parents. One has a duty, and must act accordingly – whether one understands it or not. This is a task in our life, it adds to our life, it adds to the importance of our life. Or is it a bad obligation that we want to get rid of? Don’t give me all that poppycock, because we can go to the liberals to get that. So this is the first thing that must be decided. There will be many of us, and the stake will not just be standing after eleven years but even longer, as more people are born and grow up in Hungary who think that being Hungarian is: one, good; two, fantastic; three, exceptional; four, a duty springs from this. Seeing that it is good to fulfil this duty, and good to serve the country, there will be many of us, and the stake will not just stand for eleven years, but even longer.
There are many of us who feel that during the communist era the authorities of the time did everything in their power to eradicate a sense of normality from the people of Hungary. And if you go around in today’s world with open eyes, you can see examples of this – except that now the equivalent of those communists can call themselves the Western mainstream, the elite, or whatever. Do you see any difference between the communists of that time and the Western mainstream of today?
Let’s take a step back. Everyone here has either been to university or is at university, and the ability to think is required in order to understand these complex questions of how what we have now can be analogous with another period, and whether what we see now is a new transformation of earlier formations. The first thing that comes to my mind in response to this question is that I’m sometimes asked by my children and others what they should study, and what university they should go to. I usually say that it almost doesn’t matter: you’ll find the subject that you’re interested in; the important thing is to go somewhere where you can be around lots of clever people all day. That’s all that matters. Whether you end up with a medical degree or a degree in economics or law is a secondary consideration; the important thing is that in your life you seize the opportunity of being around a lot of clever people and that you can answer the difficult questions of what environment you’re living in, how to understand it, and whether it can be compared to some previous period. On my own I couldn’t have done that either. I understood this. I was very lucky, of course, and I understood that the point of university is to be continuously among clever people. And I was lucky, because at that time, in the early 1980s, there was such great dynamism in the university world. Talented young teachers were coming up who loved us and wanted to teach us. And there was the Opposition, the democratic opposition, which later became the SZDSZ – certain parts of which were already on the fringes of public life, or at least could be met there – and those later great “national buffaloes” of the MDF, if I can put it that way, who were moving from literature towards politics. So in Hungary at that time there were plenty of clever people: you just had to go to the lectures, you had to go to the seminars, and you had to go to underground seminars in private residences. That’s the point, I think. And then you’ll understand what you’re in, what it is, who you are in a political sense, what you stand for, what that can be related to in previous decades, and who your opponents can be related to. Now, with the liberals and the communists we have a difficult task, because at first glance these are two worlds that are very far apart. So if you read communist literature – the Communist Manifesto, say – and you read a liberal manifesto, you’ll feel that they’re as different as night and day. But then you’re surprised to find that, say, after the collapse of a communist regime, most communists become liberal – even though you’d have thought that was impossible. They’re so far away from each other, and yet there’s something there. So is there a connection there worth thinking about and talking to clever people about, and what’s the explanation for it? And then one realises that the dividing line is really in the understanding of what an individual human is. So, however surprising, it’s about the essence of the individual, about what makes a human a human. In that the communists and the current liberals are together. In this I wouldn’t include the liberal Lajos Kossuth, the Ferenc Deák school within the Hungarian liberal tradition, but the left-liberal, progressive political philosophy that emerged after the 1900s. You’ll see that there’s a similarity in these questions, in what you think about the individual, about yourself, which then leads to your response to every political question. In today’s world there’s a similarity that mightn’t have existed so sharply before, but now it does. The liberals, and the Left with them, are emphatically saying that the only important thing in life is you yourself: that there are other things in life, but the most important thing is you; this is the key to understanding everything, and the things that matter are your freedom, your well-being, your time and your lifestyle. And in the Western world a big political camp supports this. This includes all the leftists, from communist to liberal. And this other camp – let’s now call it the Right, conservative or whatever – has a different conception of what a person is as a being: it says that of course after all we’re in the world to be happy, but after a while we realise that there are some things in the world that are more important to us than simply ourselves. Such as our family, especially if we have children. Such as our country. Such as God and our relationship with God. All these things existed before us. And if these are more important than you, then when planning your personal life the question to answer is how you want to serve those things that are more important than you are. And from this comes a kind of politics which is very different from the previous description. And this is why the Left can all be in the same camp, and we – in a very diverse way – are all in our camp. But the dividing line isn’t ideological, it isn’t political. I don’t know if it’s the right term, but it’s anthropological in nature. We’re on this side and they’re on the other side based on our divergent views of the human individual. And in this sense we can say that it’s no accident that what we think of as communist, left-wing, liberal and progressive has been put on one side and conservatives have been put on the other. The problem with the conservatives – and it causes some confusion – is that basically, if I look at the conservative political and intellectual forces, there are two schools, which despite their differences are still in the same camp. There are some who will draw together the things that are more important than you – your family, country, religion, belief, relationship to God, your views on this, or these ideas – as being rational responses. So, as the English say, “Common sense: I’m conservative because I have a rational approach to things.” Let’s say I respect human dignity because it’s much better to live with respect for people, for other people, than not. This is a conservative viewpoint. And then there’s the other branch of conservatism, which says that there are sacred things in the world that life or enemies are constantly trying to turn into profanity, and that this must be prevented at all costs. This is the Christian democratic branch of conservatism. It also supports human dignity, not because it’s more reasonable to live that way, but because it says that man is made in the image of God, and if God made man in His own image, then that is something sacred, and man must be given dignity and respect. It says the same thing, but in a different way. So what I’m trying to say is that on both sides of the great map I’ve described, divided down the middle, we find extremely diverse worlds. But, after all, the answers to the question of human existence – and thus to political questions – do converge on both the Left and the Right, and therefore it’s still relevant to speak of an opposition between Left and Right, progressive, liberal and conservative. I don’t know how much time we have left, but I’d make a digression on intellectual history which I find interesting, and which leads me to today’s politics. So I’ll say more about that if I can have two minutes.
I’ll give you that.
So if you read historical works from the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, you’ll find the most exciting debates, the most divergent anthropological concepts and political programmes, with liberals in the green or blue corner and conservatives in the red corner. And all of a sudden we see these camps start to converge, and as fascism and communism emerge, they form alliances with each other. And that dividing line disappears, and you actually enter into having totalitarian regimes on one side of the divide in European political philosophy, and democracy and freedom on the other side: a conservative-liberal alliance on one side and fascists and communists on the other. The fascists were liquidated in the Second World War, the communists were defeated and in 1990 the Soviet Union collapsed: the crutch or the hand manipulating the puppets disappeared, and the whole thing imploded. And the liberals – who are generally quicker than us – realised that this traditional division was about to end, and that the world that existed before the totalitarian intellectual trends was about to return, and that the dramatic, really serious debates would once more be between liberals and conservatives. After 1990. And they settled into this very quickly. They occupied all the institutions they needed, they developed the linguistic framework for how to describe what happened after 1990 in a way that was favourable to them. This is where the term “liberal democracy” comes in, in which democracy is necessarily liberal. This couldn’t be said before, and it was invented then. Other kinds of democracy may have existed in the past, but now they’re forbidden, and there is only liberal democracy. And they reached a position – in fact a hegemonic position – with regard to the use of public discourse, language and the means to form ideas, in universities, foundations and the media. Meanwhile conservatives rejoiced that communism was finally over and that finally we could live freely. And by the time we realised that the other side – which represented a different view of the future of humanity than that represented by us – had long since organised itself at home and abroad, we were left scratching our heads. And we’ve been a decade behind ever since, and we haven’t been able to catch up. Therefore I must say that internationally what we could call the liberal democratic forces are still far ahead of us in the formulation of political themes in an attractive, mediatised format, and in the development of linguistic frameworks. Meanwhile the conservative democratic forces are lagging far behind. We should make up for the work on this that we’ve neglected to do, but the problem is that there’s a powerful ascendancy on the other side. On the conservative side the only stable majority is in Hungary. For this a great deal of background infrastructure is needed, a lot of people who think and write, universities where they teach, and foundations where they think. So I think that internationally we’re still at a disadvantage in terms of size and quality. I wouldn’t say this about Hungary, because here what I said earlier applies: now the Hungarian left is running to where the ball is, something for which intellect isn’t needed. But internationally the conservative worldview is still at a disadvantage.
What’s the reason, by the way, for the real majority and strength of the right that you’ve mentioned, which – and as you pointed out – essentially only exists in Hungary?
Because in other places the Goliaths are able to win. So if you go to Germany, for example, and look at the German press, and pick a topic that structures the political space, that gives it a structure, if you look at what the German press is writing about the war, then essentially the entire German press is writing the same thing about the war. The only difference is that the left-wing press thinks the war has already been won by the Ukrainians and they’ve already buried Putin. According to the right-wing German press this will only happen the day after tomorrow. This is the difference, more or less. And there are no other voices: they’re not allowed to emerge, and even if they emerge, they’re not allowed to be heard. But I can give a more extreme example. The fact that this kind of thing happens in Germany is something we see and we’ve seen, so it doesn’t hit you as hard as it does in, say, America. Isn’t that right? Well, you may or may not like a presidential candidate, but to persecute him? A former president who wants to be president again? And this is happening. So the truth is that there’s no internationally competitive, organised conservative force, because its opponents are very cleverly exploiting their ten-year positional advantage, their lap advantage. And unfortunately we international conservatives, or internationally organised conservatives, aren’t talented enough, we’re not persistent enough, we’re not putting in enough work, and we’re very slow in making up for this disadvantage. In Hungary we’ve been lucky in this respect, so let’s not deny that. So to have your hand raised at the end of the match and for you to win, you need two things: to be good, and for your opponent not to be good. And that’s what mattered here. So I won’t say where they kicked themselves, but in the history of the world there’s never been an example of someone getting an opportunity to govern for eight years and ending up with practically everything falling apart – right from taking away pensions. But everything fell apart, with the leading actor eventually running out of the theatre. I don’t know whether you remember this, it was a long time ago, and I see that the audience is quite young, but in 2009 there was a casting process, the Left used a casting process to decide on who the new prime minister should be. Look back at it! Well, even Charlie Chaplin couldn’t compete with that! So the whole casting thing… And people remember that. And then, on top of that, since the Left has a gift for language, it’s also very talented at communicating its own balderdash. So in world history the sentence, the longstanding insuperable world record is “We lied at noon, in the morning, and night.” Or how do you say it? “We lied morning, noon and night”, as the Prime Minister said of himself. The only question is, what did he do in the afternoon? So this is something that the Left never did to itself in the West. So we’ve organised ourselves well and put in a lot of work, a tremendous amount of work, let’s not underrate our own talents; but beyond that fact, for this to result in a stable, strong, long-term majority, because it’s a duel, we need such an opponent. And so it is, up to today. Now earlier we started from David and Goliath. So there were certainly people on the other side.
So this is a country. It’s a country, and so one can’t fool around. This is about running a country, taking responsibility for running a country, including its tax system, its economic affairs, its administration, its foreign policy, and its military – because of the war. So responsibility for running all of these will fall on our political community and the ten or so people drawn from it who form the Government, and leading that the person who’s the Prime Minister, which is a powerful position in the Hungarian constitutional system. So there’s a lot at stake. And we really look at the other side and say, is this serious? Really, is it serious? So, before we praise ourselves too much, I just wanted to say let’s be humble, because we’ve been lucky with our rivals. We’ve been very lucky. God paid us back for the forty years that they took from us.
We’ve talked about it a lot, and as you mentioned earlier, if you look at the global situation, the liberals have overwhelming numerical superiority. I’ve brought a popular quote with me from Winston Churchill. I think those watching on television, online and here in this room have heard it before. As a matter of form I’ll read it out: “Any man under thirty who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over thirty who is not a conservative has no brains.” My question, however, relates to the fact that, as we’ve already said here, nowadays the real rebellion is to be a nationalist, a conservative, to be on the right. What happened? What’s changed in the course of the world?
Well, as we’ve mentioned that great British spirit, Churchill, let’s salute – or not pass over – the Anglo-Saxon ability to adopt, or change, whatever position suits them at any time, and still claim the moral high ground.
So the content of the idea itself is an interesting question, but if you look at international politics, you’ll see that the Anglo-Saxons are the most developed examples of a political approach in which they don’t simply establish an international position in relation to another country, whether it’s about trade policy or about war or peace. So they’re not content to simply say what their interest is, declare it and say they’ll act accordingly in the spirit and within the framework of Christian humanity, international law, or whatever. They’re not satisfied with that. The essence of the Anglo-Saxon argument is, “I am right morally. Well, the fact that this is the opposite of what I said yesterday is irrelevant.” They’re the best at this kind of somersault. And if you look at how the Anglo-Saxon media covers the Ukrainian war or whatever other international dilemma right now, you’ll see that the first thing they do is declare that their position is the morally right one. And this pretty much shuts down rational discussion; because if their position is morally right, then other positions are morally wrong. So it’s important that this culture that European politics received from the Anglo-Saxons is still very much alive today. Essentially they have liberal educators, and this thing called virtue-signalling, which is based on a natural human instinct, because we all want to be good people. But they’re the ones who predetermine what being a good person means and who is a good person. And if your position doesn’t coincide with theirs it can’t be good, and you can’t be a good person. Not only are you wrong, not only have you miscalculated, not only do you have insufficient knowledge; no, you’re a bad person! This is the logic of international discourse. So much for Churchill. Sorry, what was the question?
Today rebellion means being on the right.
Well, it’s because of 1968. You know, there are some interesting books on this that I recommend to you. And in ‘68 – or maybe a few years later – the ‘68-ers popularised the slogan of “marching through the institutions”. And they occupied the institutions – the institutions where ideas are expressed, produced and formulated. NATO was also to blame for this, by the way. After the Second World War there were some countries where there was a serious danger that, with the support and funding of the Stalinists, communist parties could come to power in Western Europe. And wherever there was this threat, the Americans made a historic agreement that the military and the government could remain in the hands of pro-NATO conservatives, while the judiciary, intellectual life, publishing and the universities could go to the Left. Italy was a typical example, but it wasn’t the only such country. What’s more, they knew that they had to march in there, but the conservatives didn’t know that this would have huge consequences later on. I’m fortunate to have gained an insight into this when I wrote my thesis, entitled “Political Movement in the Political System”. When I was writing it, the topic seemed to be completely unimportant and boring. In fact I was investigating how and what transformations could be brought about within the political system by anti-communist movements, and in particular the Polish Solidarity movement of 1980 – 81. The latter couldn’t become an institution, as there were no parliamentary elections and it was just a movement, a community of action and a system of links between people. My tutor, for whom I wrote my thesis, was a young teacher called Tamás Fellegi. He said that if I wanted to do this, I would definitely need to read Gramsci. Well, Gramsci’s work is the Holy Scripture for lefties. And so, admittedly in the context of the history of resistance movements in Eastern Europe, I got my hands on a true leftist Bible of power. And incidentally what Gramsci describes is what the Poles did in 1980 – 81, but theirs was a right-wing Christian version. What he wrote was that if your opponent has political power in its hands and you can’t take it away, just as, say, in communist regimes in Poland, for example, where the communist party had power in its hands and it couldn’t be deprived of it, then you shouldn’t aim to seize the sceptre from its hands, because that can’t be done. Instead you should change the cultural context within which power is exercised. And if you can change that, if you can say what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly, what’s practical and what’s impractical, if you have the ability to say that, then sooner or later you’ll take over institutional power. This is Gramsci. Now I’ve described it very simplistically. He spent a major part of his life in prison, where he wrote these letters. In emotional terms he had good material, being in a prison under the control of the Right. But he developed this theory, and later it appeared in one form or another in Central Europe, and in Poland around 1988. I don’t know whether they read Gramsci in particular, but what Gramsci proposed in the 1930s was what the Christian Right in Poland was doing in the 1980s. So the lefties read all this, they know all this, and they work from all this. And the Right must read the literature of its opponents, we must read it and understand it, because from that we can understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and then we can develop counter-strategies or tactical countermeasures. How did we get here?
Conservatism is rebellion, but we understand the task.
Oh yes. And then the ‘68-ers took over the institutions, they know why it’s necessary to keep them, and that’s why they’re in power today. There was a saying in Fidesz that wasn’t entirely accurate, but that got the point across. In 2002, after we’d lost the election, in Fidesz it was said that between 1998 and 2002 we’d been in government, but we hadn’t been in power. Now this is the point. This is why we’re the rebels: because power is in the hands of the Left, and the rebellion against power occurs when power wants to do things to us that we don’t want. And the Left wants to use power to do all sorts of things – from migration to gender to national identity – that we don’t want. And we must rebel against that. And of course we don’t want to be plundered either, because in the end there are always leftist business actors who in passing will plunder a country. In a Gramscian sense they’ll have transformed its cultural context, but they’ll also bend over to pick up loose change along the way. So if we don’t want to be plundered, we have to resist and fight, to rebel.
Well, next year Hungary – and indeed the European Right – will have the opportunity to rebel. There are elections to the European Parliament. I honestly expect this to be no ordinary European Parliament election. What are the forces that will clash next June?
The truth is that we’ve so often had false hopes for European elections.
But I can still be enthusiastic.
Yes, you’re younger, Dani, so you can still be enthusiastic, yes. I’m a bit too used to it. But anyway, you can be old without being past your sell-by date, so we’ll launch ourselves into it. But there are European elections every five years, and every time I always hope that there’s a chance to put pressure on this certain left-liberal force that wants to build an empire out of Europe. Our problem is that the force opposing this which is best placed to stand up for nation states and national independence in the face of European empire-building – let’s call it the largest European right-wing alliance, the European People’s Party – isn’t doing its job, it’s not fulfilling its mission. It’s shirking, if I may put it like that. Instead of building this real alternative – the other possibility, which can only be built with blood and sweat and great effort – and offering it to the people of Europe, it’s constantly collaborating, forming coalitions, copying, and accepting the themes, descriptions, phraseology, linguistic frameworks and so on that are defined by the Left. And this is why we on the Right, on the right side of the Right, must first try to force the moderate Right not to seek cooperation with the Left, but to stand up for its own values and realise that it mustn’t cooperate with the Left, but with the Right. Well, the Right isn’t faultless, it has its fair share of wildlife in the undergrowth, and of course not everyone is presentable, but on the whole the truths for which we’re in politics are here on the Right. If I may say so with due modesty, what we did in Hungary after 2002 was to build up this large, united force on the Right. It’s a very heterogeneous, diverse and exciting Right with a lot of internal debate. Various intellectual currents run through it, various historical traditions exist side-by-side, and there are people with different styles. Well, before me there were people whose style was different from mine, I think. So it’s a colourful world, but we have to be together, because I think that our own convictions, programme and truth is right, and we won’t be able to win if we don’t cooperate, but if we keep ogling at the other side. Especially if we also pander to the media, because we think that the democratic quality and presentability of our position depends on what’s written in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in the mainstream media. Well, we constantly want them to praise us for being such good democratic fellows, and that can only be a victory for the Left. Of course it’s uncomfortable to have to accept that they’ll write nothing but bad things about us. But the right way of looking at it is that if they write nothing but bad things about us then we know that we’re on the right track. Well, we can’t expect our opponents to write good things about us. But what I want to say is that we’re not doing well here, we don’t have unity in the European Right today. Fidesz had to leave the European People’s Party because it was already so left-wing. I’m only exaggerating a little when I say that we might as well have been in the MSZP [Hungarian Socialist Party]. So it no longer made sense. But the point is – and the question is the same now in the elections coming up next June – whether this unity on the Right will come about, and if it does, if it will have a majority over the Left. That’s the big question. I think there’s a better chance of that today than there was five years ago, and a much better chance than there was ten years ago. So I’m not pessimistic, despite my disappointment after expecting this turnaround to occur sooner. There’s a chance, it’s worth doing – in fact we must do it, because the greatest dangers stalking our country come from Brussels. Here, too, just to avoid confusion, let me take a moment to put what I’m about to say in context. So when the Roman Empire fell, I’m going back quite far now...
And in a minute.
When the Roman Empire fell, it wasn’t toppled by another empire, but by various tribes, the various tribes settled in different parts of Europe. Therefore Europe is inevitably home to nations. Spain is therefore different from Hungary, or different from the Germanic, Frankish or Gallic world. So Europe is inevitably made up of nations. But there’s always been the memory of the Roman Empire, of how good it would be if the many different nations could somehow work together in such a way that they all prosper as one, together being better able to repel external dangers, and together perhaps being able to shape the world according to our own convictions, because together we’re very strong. So Europe has built into its history the concept of nation states, and also the harsh imperial concept of a conglomeration of nation states And this battle is in progress. And we are Hungarians, and in this battle, Hungarian national interests define for us the place where we have a chance of a good life, a Hungarian and good life, in a Europe of sovereign states. To remain who we are and meanwhile to be successful. This is why this unity is important – the order should be national, of nation states coming together, and not an imperial order. The other side, the Left, necessarily and continuously wants an imperial order. This is not an idea contrary to European traditions, but another European tradition. And as long as a balance is maintained between imperial thinking and nation-state thinking, the European machine will work quite well. When it slides in either direction, there’s trouble. And now I’ve arrived back here, because the cause of the problem is that the British have left. So as long as the British were part of the European Union, the British and Central Europe together represented the sovereigntist concept of nation states with roughly the same weight as that of the Franco-German axis, and there were never any such problems. There were always problems, but never of a kind that would tear the structure of the EU apart. Now, by contrast, the British have left, and at that very moment we saw the appearance of the “rule of law” process, economic governance, and the appearance of things that are cleverly packaged in Anglo-Saxon fashion and presented as good, wrapped in the cloak of European unity. But in fact they’re continuously depriving nation states of important elements of our sovereignty in the economy, in migration and in health. And this is because the whole construction has swung from a position of equilibrium towards an imperial position. And we must defend against that. And if we can’t defend ourselves within the European institutions, we’re in trouble, because we’re now defending ourselves on a nation-state basis. And in these elections what is at stake is the potential to move the battlefield to Brussels. We must win this battle in the European Parliament, we must win it in the European Commission, and we must win it in the European Council. So after the elections the arena of the battle will be the world of the European institutions. This balance must be restored, because otherwise we’ll create an empire like a United States of Europe. And in that the Hungarians won’t be able to do well, because there we can only lose.
At the same time I think that in next year’s elections the issue of the war will also be an important one. So if we look at the last year and a half, we can see that the European Union has made a series of strategic mistakes. Will, or could – and again I’m being optimistic – the European Parliament elections have an impact on the outcome of the war, or will that come from the US presidential election?
Now I’ve been preparing for this, and I’ve got some notes. So let’s get something straight: the first thing in connection with the war is that hundreds of thousands of people have died. So, before all the rational analysis, let’s take note of the fact that hundreds of thousands of sons of the opposing nations have died, there are hundreds of thousands of orphans, widows and parents who have lost their children. Terrible things are happening, and they must be stopped by any means possible. The most important thing is to stop this. It can’t be stopped in the way proposed by the international community, the liberal community which wants to continue the war: by first having a peace plan, followed by the war ending. This won’t happen. First we need a ceasefire, and when there’s a ceasefire we’ll have time to draw up a peace plan. And then the peace plan can be used to usher in a new era of stability. So first of all we need a ceasefire immediately, unconditionally, as soon as possible. Even as we sit here, in the last two minutes that I’ve been speaking a dozen people have died. There are different reports, and I don’t want to quote statistics from either side, but there’s one statistic from one side which indicates that the survival time of those sent to the front line is four to seven days. You’re drafted, you’re trained, you’re taken out, and seven days later – or maybe four days later – you’re dead. And then the next one comes. So a horror is happening there that we don’t even feel. We might have sensed it at the beginning, but somehow I see that the fact that there’s a war in progress has become part of our everyday life here. And here we are, debating all the ramifications of the war, and while we’re sitting here talking, over there dozens of people are dying. We’re talking about something horrific! This is the first thing I want to make clear. Now let’s talk about the mistakes we’re making. Number one, I want us to start putting our own house in order, the house of the Europeans. So the first mistake was that we decided to globalise this war. If a conflict breaks out, as an external actor – especially if you have the power to act – you have two options: you can localize it, or you can globalise it. You can limit it, or you can expand it. And the day after the war broke out we were the only country that said – I said it myself in Brussels – that the most important thing was to immediately localise it. And the good Anglo-Saxons said “Right, justice must prevail.” And they told us what their justice meant, and they globalised the war. And they came up with a construction, which has determined how the war progressed up to the present. It’s a very strange construction. Someone who doesn’t observe it every day might not be able to identify it. In summary, the strategy that’s being pursued today by the West is that the Ukrainians are fighting and dying, and we’re giving them money, information and weapons. And – without our direct involvement – we think that this combination of giving money, information and weapons, and the Ukrainians giving their lives and blood, will result in the defeat of Russia. This is the essence of the strategy. And over the past year or more it’s turned out that this isn’t how it works. So you can’t defeat the Russians with this strategy. It may be possible to defeat them with another strategy; I have my doubts, but let’s never rule that out – although it wouldn’t be a sensible course of action. But we can be quite sure that this present strategy certainly won’t lead us to any kind of victory, and will simply result in the killing continuing. Either peace must be brought about immediately, or a new strategy will be needed. But there is no new strategy. The reason for this is probably that the central element of any new strategy would be that, because the Ukrainians are suffering in terms of manpower because of their losses, soldiers would need to be sent in. And no one wants that – or at least at the moment no one who wants it will admit that they want it, and they simply dare not say so. So now we stand here, time is passing, and every day four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, eight hundred people are dying – today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on. So I think this is a strategic mistake, a planning mistake, a military, planning, political-strategic mistake on the part of the European Union and the United States. We’re paying a huge price for this, but the highest price is being paid by the Ukrainians. Of course we’re also paying a price for it, because we’ve sent – and I’m just talking about the European Union – 70 billion euros; now we’re debating about whether to send another 50 billion, and then God knows how much. Meanwhile the European economy is in such serious trouble that it needs every penny in order to regain its competitiveness. So I can only talk about the war – I mean the European political relationship to the war – in the very worst terms.
In such a situation…
What was the question?
Thank you for the answer, I think it was exhaustive,.
Sorry, but it’s forbidden to talk about this. If I say what I’ve just said in any Western European newspaper or in any European institutional forum, I’ll be shouted down, I mean politicians will shout me down, they’ll jeer, they’ll ridicule me, I’ll be diagnosed as morally insane, and everything you can imagine. So the opinion that I’m putting forward here isn’t even present in the Western European world. It can be heard, because President Trump will go on X [formerly Twitter] and give an interview that will have 240 million viewers. So now there are bypasses, modern bypasses, but this position can’t battle its way onto the main media channels. The reason that we Hungarians need to be discredited in advance is that when we put forward this position, they can say, “Aha, a fool is known by his speech, that’s not relevant, it’s irrelevant.” And so we march on, into the unknown.
An important thing, the most important thing, is to keep Hungary out of the war as far as possible and with as much vigour as possible. At the same time, there are also economic implications, both in this region and in Europe. Is there any Hungarian plan, solution or way out that can prevent us from suffering the same fate as Europe, for example, the direction in which it’s heading?
It’s difficult, because we’re part of the European economy. There’s a big debate about what kind of independent action is possible. So, say, if the whole of Europe’s in trouble, is there the possibility of a local exception? It’s a bit of a complicated, philosophical debate, but if the whole of the EU is losing competitiveness, it’s about whether there’s a possibility for any Member State to avoid losing competitiveness, and to increase it. We believe that there is such a possibility. But I wouldn’t even approach it from that angle: I’d answer the question affirmatively out of instinct. So of course what I’m saying will sound populist and simplistic, but it’s still true. So in the end what do we want? For a start, we want Hungary to be rich. Then we want Hungary to be strong. And Hungary can direct its strength toward running a secure Hungary. So we want Hungary to be rich, strong and secure, so that every country in the world will give us the respect we need in order to feel at ease in the world. That’s what we want, that’s all we want. There must be a plan for that. Well, if there’s no plan for it, then why do we have politicians? So of course there’s a plan. Just as there was a plan in 2010. Thirteen years have passed since 2010, and Hungary is richer, safer and stronger today than it was thirteen years ago. We can argue about the extent of it – nothing else happens in Hungarian politics, and there are sometimes childish debates about the extent of it; but there’s no denying that this is the direction in which the country’s heading. And I think that in the changed circumstances, which have now also changed because of the war, this plan is still working. So, from demography to industrial policy, from agricultural policy to military policy, we have the plan for building a strong, prosperous and highly respected Hungary. And for this we need another ten years. And if we get them, this is what will happen. Not, of course, by us doing it, and you just sitting there and saying that you can’t do it.
So the work won’t do itself. But we’ll lure you in, or invite you in, and we’ll do it together. Let’s not forget, however, that Hungary has become strong – or to be more modest, stronger than it was – because in 2010 there were 3.6 or 3.65 million people in work, and now that figure is from 4 million up to 4.8 million. And there are no forced labour camps. The fact is that people wanted to work. So we’ve managed to involve Hungarians in the plan to make Hungary strong. And we cannot do this without work. We’ve been able to involve a million more people, and for this we weren’t driven out at the polls, but were told that it was the right thing to do. So I think that a large part of the country is now participating in this grand plan from 2010 up to 2030 or ‘35 to have a rich, strong, secure and respected Hungary. Of course we rarely talk about it at such an abstract level as we’re talking about it now, but in our everyday lives Hungarians have children, we raise them, we build houses, we work, and we go forward. And, to be modest, we’re trying not to run the country badly, so that their work can show results as much as possible and as soon as possible. It’s well put together, I think. It’s not flawless, and unfortunately I don’t think it will ever be flawless. So I’m not arguing that. But the fact is that the machine has been assembled, it works, it’s set in the right direction, it’s pointed in the right direction, and it’s worth working on. Of course there is a war, and we should stay out of it, because if we’re drawn into it we can say goodbye to the whole thing. So we have to keep this plan on track, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be cut off, say, from the economies of the East, cut off from Russian energy sources, or cut off from the markets of the East. We need connectivity, not blockades, sanctions and disconnection. Otherwise, we have to fight every day to keep it up, but we do it all with one direction and one big plan in mind. These are not haphazard, sporadic, scattered fights, but battles fought as part of a grand plan, and I think the whole country is involved. I think that this is why we’ve been elected. This is why we’ve once more gained the trust of the electorate, and they understand that something is being made: something – with all its faults – is taking shape, something is evolving. And I believe, or I’d like to believe, that this is the reason why – in addition to our opponents’ weakness, which is a very beneficial circumstance – we gain the people’s trust. So there is a plan.
We’re running out of time, but I’d like to ask one more question, if you’ll allow me. There’s a film in the cinemas called “Oppenheimer”. I think that many of you – even in this room – have seen it. And in this film there are Hungarians, the period is the Second World War, and many of the scientists of that era are Hungarians in the United States, people of Hungarian origin. And there’s a saying from that period that “If a Hungarian goes into a revolving door behind you, he’ll come out ahead of you.” Now, do we still have this ability today, or what do we Hungarians need, what do we have to be much better at than, say, others who are in a more favourable position?
I presented that idea on this morning’s radio interview.
Everyone should watch it at home.
So what I’m trying to say is, I don’t know how I got into this there, but whatever.
But at least here it was a good question.
Yes, that’s true. So it really helped a lot. The task is to climb up to the top and look down on world politics from there, because you can’t see everything from the bottom – you can only see the posterior and the lower legs from there. So you have to go up, you have to get a good perspective from which you can see the terrain and see what’s happening and understand it. Right? Our job, in principle, is to climb up to this high point, look around and understand what the future holds. In our profession there’s no such thing as certainty. So this is why you need a very good nervous system and a special kind of psychology in politics, because there’s no certainty: you can’t be sure that a decision you make will lead exactly where all reasonable arguments say it should. So we work with probabilities. Here’s a problem, here are the possibilities, the solutions are hastily arrived at, this one’s probably the best, but you can never be sure. This is why persistence, for example, is important in politics. You have to persevere, even if at first it seems you won’t succeed. And you have to know how long you can keep going, and when you realise that, oops, it’s not good, we haven’t set off in the right direction, we have to stop and try something new. So in order to be able to carry out this operation, this intellectual operation, you need perspective. And you go up there and look around, and then you’ll see that the nations of the world are jostling, living their lives and in a ferment. You see the smaller and the larger, the richer and the poorer, and you see your own. And you’ve got to find an answer to this question: If there are a lot of people down there who are bigger than you, who have better weapons and more money, how are you going to achieve your goals? And if you can’t say what specific advantage your national community possesses that you can use to your advantage in the current competition or struggle, in order to open up a space for it so it can prevail, if you can’t say that, then you’re a lost man, and your country is lost with you. Then at best you’ll be there with the others, bleating and bellowing, and then later you’ll get somewhere. So everyone thinks differently about their own kind. So we could do an interview, and many people would think different things about Hungary. I think that the Hungarians have some strengths that can be directed towards victory, towards success. I think one of these is our specific cultural identity: our language, our culture, our 1,100 years. It would be a long story, but I’ll just digress a little. Professor Nemeskürty explained it to me once – obviously I must have said something stupid, and he wisely felt that it needed to be corrected. So Professor Nemeskürty once explained to me that when a Hungarian says “homeland” and “nation”, and a German or a Slav says the same thing, these don’t mean the same thing. This is because for others a nation is a modern formation, while for Hungarians it’s more than a thousand years old. Hungarians came here, they’re among foreigners, and they have an insular consciousness, a national cultural consciousness. The French and Germans, who were fragmented until the 19th century, had no such thing: they had regional senses of identity. There such local consciousnesses came together to be drawn into the common denominator of French or German identity. But it was never like that with us: we’ve been one nation for a thousand years. This is a huge competitive advantage. A huge competitive advantage. I was once taught by a teacher, Mr. Granasztói. Sadly he passed away without having published his study, but I think it’s still somewhere in his manuscripts. He once explained to me how Hungarians think about their children and families. Although we use the same words in the West and in Hungary, they have a different cultural content in Hungary; and he proved this to me from the rules of inheritance and the rules of child-rearing. We experience the family as a much stronger emotional community. This is a huge competitive advantage. The nation is a competitive advantage, and the family is a competitive advantage. The other thing is that our language is closer to mathematics than other languages are. Hungarians don’t notice it, because this is part of how we live, but when a Hungarian speaks – for example me here – there’s continuous construction work in progress. There isn’t a strict order to my discourse that would provide what I have to say in set patterns, but instead I have to generate the word order, everything. The Hungarian language has tremendous possibilities, enabling me to say one thing – like what I’ve just said to you – in ten other ways. My brain’s constantly working and building, as are your brains when you talk to one another. Even if we don’t know it, we’re creative, you’re creative, because the language necessarily makes you creative. So you can look at something in a way which is different from the established patterns. If you look at it from a different angle, you notice something another person doesn’t see. Now that’s a competitive advantage. And then you might find a solution. So in this sense we’re creative. And finally, we’re fast. So Hungarians are quick thinkers: they’re not only educated – well, the level of that varies – but also insightful. So not only are we clever, or many of us are from this large national community. But now I don’t want to talk about intellect or education, but I want to talk about insightfulness. Insightfulness is how you can make a connection between things that seem to be different from one another. And I think we’re doing well at the level of the national community. I don’t want to disparage anyone, but this is one of our great strengths. If you put all these things together, from the high point you can see how to move ahead from behind, and which route is the one that the others haven’t noticed, because you can see it, and then you’re on your way. And then comes politics. If we don’t have more time, I’ll stop here. And then comes politics. Because what is politics? So these are the attributes that we’re talking about. In politics, politics is about power. And there’s a library of literature written about what power is, with different politicians having very different approaches to this question. I too have my own interpretation. I think that power is the ability to act collectively. I might have said somewhere that there’s a biblical basis for this. I’m paraphrasing, but in essence, “He spoke as one who had power, and not like the scribes.” I understand this to mean that he didn’t make people act by external, legal coercion, as did the scribes, who were jurists, but by persuasion – that is, by real power. Well, this is the task of politics: to facilitate the emergence of collective action from explanation of the situation, from understanding of the future and of the past from where we come, from recognition of our grievances, our disadvantages and our sins, from pointing out our advantages, our talents and other things. And in the meantime the country, of course, and everyone is free to live their own lives; yet somehow through collective action it all moves in the same direction. And if the attributes that I’ve just mentioned, which are part of our national attributes, are combined with such political direction, then bingo, we’ll see the kingdom, and we will win it. We’ll restore everything that was broken by those who went before us, we’ll repair everything. We’ll be great, we’ll be strong and we’ll be respected.
It would be hard to end on a better note. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being here, and thank you very much for the conversation.
Thank you very much.