Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Hír TV daily news review “Napi aktuális”

21 December 2023

Zsolt Bayer: Good evening, Prime Minister.

Good evening.

I wish I didn’t have to start with what I have to start with. Just a few hours before we sat down to talk, an unimaginable tragedy occurred in Prague. As far as we know at the moment, fifteen people have been murdered in a shoot-out at Charles University, with two dozen injured. What can you say as a first response? 

We’re shocked. The lines, the phone lines, are burning, and we’re trying to gather the news and understand exactly what happened and why it happened. All I’ve had time to do so far is to immediately send our sympathy, our well wishes to the injured and our condolences to the parents who have lost children. One cannot understand how the world has come to this. 

Yes, and what’s more, all this in Prague. 

Yes, because it’s usually in America. Well, that also stops one’s heart. Things like that happen, it’s a different world there; but here in Europe, almost neighbouring us, in Central Europe, it shocks us all.

Yes. Then let’s get started! It’s customary for Hungarians to say, “We know what will happen, but what will happen before that happens?” I’ll go one step further: Why is what’s happening happening? And so let’s start with Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Let’s finally try to tell our viewers exactly what Hungary’s aim is in everything we’re doing, and have done, in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the European Union and the opening of accession negotiations.

Hungary’s aim was to convince other Western European leaders that Ukraine isn’t ready for EU membership, and that the EU isn’t ready to accept Ukraine. Therefore this decision – as yet unprepared, without important issues having been clarified – will inevitably be a bad one. Instead of this, since what Ukraine needs isn’t membership of the European Union in ten years’ time but rather something that can be used quickly and immediately, what we’ve suggested is that we should quickly conclude a strategic cooperation agreement with Ukraine – not over the course of many years, but quickly. Let’s conclude an agreement which makes it clear what we can offer them in various areas – security policy, agriculture, the financial system, the budget, economic cooperation, market opening – in a way that’s in line with European and Hungarian interests, as well as with Ukrainian interests. This would have been worth much more than what I think is the irresponsible adventure of embarking on a series of negotiations that are doomed to failure because they’ve not been prepared. This has happened before. We have an example of this, as this is how we got bogged down in our membership negotiations with Türkiye. 

What I don’t understand is why these twenty-six Member States needed to be convinced of this, when at the end of the summer the rapporteur in charge wrote it down in black and white. Of those seven points, Ukraine has done nothing on four and something on three. After this, why did they need to be convinced? 

Viewers should perhaps be aware that in order to gain candidate status in one’s relations with the European Union, one must have already fulfilled certain conditions. This isn’t because the EU wants to dictate terms, but because it only makes sense to talk about membership if the distance between the applicant country and the European Union can be bridged. Therefore there are usually very clear criteria. Eight months ago we dispensed with that, saying that there’s no need for it, and that they’ll have time to meet the c conditions during the process. Seven months have passed, we’ve looked at which of the seven criteria have been met, and it turns out that half of them haven’t. In fact we think that there are even serious doubts about the conditions that the Commission has declared to have been met. So, as the EU enlarges, in line with our standard procedures there was only one answer we could give: “Fine, we understand the Ukrainians’ intentions, but we cannot start negotiations, because certain steps still need to be taken.” But we didn’t do that. That would have been the logical thing to do, and that was my position. This is when the idea emerged that, if the Ukrainians are currently unable to deliver, we should give them a strategic partnership. But the majority – twenty-six out of twenty-seven – said that this isn’t important at the moment, because we need to make a gesture; this is a geopolitical signal, we’re not interested in the conditions, we’ll find a way, and what’s important now is that Ukraine doesn’t feel that we’ve abandoned it. To this I said that helping in the wrong way often causes more trouble than not helping at all. This is because Ukraine hasn’t yet joined the European Union in any way, but as we’re geographically close we can immediately feel that turmoil has already been caused in two areas. The mass quantities of agricultural goods coming from Ukraine are seriously damaging the interests of Hungarian farmers; and our hauliers are also in trouble, because Ukrainians have undercut them on price and have taken a considerable proportion of their business. And this will continue day by day if we don’t put a stop to it and say, “Well, friends, first there are conditions, first there are rules to be respected, and then we can start accession negotiations.” But I couldn’t persuade the other twenty-six prime ministers; and indeed there was a danger that they’d persuade me – or if not persuade me, then steamroller me, let’s say. And, if we honestly and seriously thought that this was a bad decision, then the only option left for Hungary was to stay out of it. We let them make it without us, and said that they can bear the consequences without Hungary. Let’s create for ourselves the legal basis so that – if this bad decision causes problems, and there will be plenty of them – Hungary can always step forward and defend its own interests, indicating that we’d said in advance that in this we’d defend our interests – even against Ukraine, if necessary. We’ve been able to create this opportunity. We can’t expect anyone to accept us protecting them from themselves. So Hungary, or the Hungarian prime minister, cannot protect twenty-six prime ministers from themselves. We can’t even do that with our own children, let alone with adult prime ministers, so we’ve had to accept that our options are limited.

We’re about to look at the other event which you’ve already vetoed; but I have to stay on this for a moment. I certainly don’t want to be a gossipmonger about what’s happening in the corridors of power, but here’s a fact: three days before the summit, while still in his own country, the Chancellor of Austria publicly stated that there was no way that Ukraine could be admitted to the EU at the moment; then he went to the summit and, without making a sound, he voted for it along with the others. How can this be explained? From this at least we can say that someone would say, at least in private, “We know that you’re right, but, my God, what can we do?” 

They didn’t see this issue as being as serious as we saw it. Because their position, and the position of the Austrian chancellor, was that it may be a bad decision now, although we cannot know that for sure; but, they say, since we’re facing a long process and there will be many points at which this process can be stopped, and there are quite a few people who insist on us making this decision, let’s offer them this gesture. This is what the Prime Minister of the Slovaks has said, by the way: he’s said that he doesn’t agree with all this haste, that it’s an overrated gesture, that it’s not necessary now, but if so many others are insisting on it and think that this gesture’s necessary, then he’ll give his vote to it. So I think those who shared the same view as us on the substance behaved well, but unlike me they didn’t have the confidence that a game that was 26 – 1 in favour of the opposition could be turned around. But I had that confidence, because it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened: it was exactly the same with migration. So if you’re sitting there alone, and there are twenty-six people sitting opposite you, and they’re on the same side as one another and you’re on your own, then the question is this: Am I the one driving on the wrong side of the road? And you have to constantly check yourself. And I pointed out that this was also the case with the migration issue: there were twenty-six of them, and we Hungarians were here. And in the end – as everyone knows – it turned out that we were right. They got to where they are, and we got to where we are. There was a big problem then, and we successfully defended ourselves and predicted that this would happen. So I said to them that I don’t want to come across as an amateur Cassandra predicting what’s going to happen, but believe me, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this decision will have consequences that will cause a lot of trouble. We’re not prepared. We don’t know the calculations. We’re talking about a country on whose territory Russian soldiers are stationed; are we going to take them on board too? So when we talk about Ukraine, how much territory are we talking about? How big is the population? And meanwhile the Ukrainians think that they’ve taken a decisive step. And when along the way we ask these questions, and the process slows down and it turns out that we can’t make progress, it will be a huge disappointment. It would have been better to have avoided this. Right, well…

We didn’t. Does – or did – the EU financial support to Ukraine seem a more serious, bigger threat? I ask this because you vetoed that. 

Let’s separate these things. Let’s start from the premise that Ukraine needs financial support. I think we can talk about this. So Ukraine has been attacked, Ukraine’s in serious trouble. They haven’t treated the Hungarians [in Ukraine] well, and have even persecuted them. But even in such a situation, we can discuss the question of giving financial aid to a country in distress. All twenty-six or twenty-seven Member States can collectively think this way. This is something that can be discussed. But it’s no longer clear why we should take a decision on 50 billion euros now, four years in advance, when we don’t even know what will happen on the front line in, say, two months’ time. Is that reasonable? Obviously not! Similarly, the proposal is also that the Member States shouldn’t just hand over the money that they intend for Ukraine, but before they do so they should pay it into the EU budget, the EU should use this money to take out further loans, and this will be paid out from the budget. Now this is where I said that we should stop for a moment. Because Hungary isn’t receiving the funds that it’s entitled to from the EU budget, but now we want to give Ukraine money that doesn’t currently exist, so we’ll end up with the Hungarians’ money appearing in Ukraine. So I cannot consent to an arrangement in which such a financial disbursement made through an opaque budget ends up with the Ukrainians receiving their money, while we find out that the Hungarians’ money has been used up. Thirdly – or perhaps fourthly – we don’t want to borrow collectively with the other states of the EU. We’ve already been involved in that adventure. There was a great debate about this in the Hungarian parliament, and I found it difficult to convince some of my fellow Members that we should try to do it; but during the COVID pandemic we came to the conclusion in the European Union that we should try to borrow collectively to set up a so-called “Recovery Fund”, and use this to give rapid assistance to those countries in distress as a result of COVID. We took out this loan, COVID gradually came to an end, but there are countries – including Hungary – which still haven’t received a single penny. So it’s turned out that this joint loan and jointly distributed money is actually good for the big ones and bad for the small ones, because somehow we’re being ordered to the back of the queue and we’re not getting the resources that are due to us. What’s more, we have to pay interest on money that we haven’t received. So I don’t think there’s anyone who can again convince the Hungarian parliament that we should take out a loan together with the other Member States of the EU. So what we can talk about is a much more limited, more sensibly defined amount: not a loan, not a contribution from Member States, not through the budget, and not for five years. But they didn’t want this, they insisted on their megalomaniacal grand idea, and so I had no choice but to veto it.

In addition to everything you’ve just said, hasn’t the whole thing taken on an even more interesting hue when, a few days before the summit, US Secretary of State Blinken publicly stated – before his country and the world – that 90 per cent of the money going to Ukraine ends up with US companies? 

This only surprised those who don’t know the nature of foreign policy. I, for one, wasn’t surprised at all. First, where there are Americans there’s money, and where there’s meat there are flies. So I don’t like retrospectively connecting events in a logical sequence that explains everything like a conspiracy theory; but I don’t rule out the possibility that certain aspects of these events are connected. Between you and me, the way I see it is that every day Members of the European Parliament, or a group of them, are blackmailing the other EU institutions to ensure that they don’t give Hungary the money it’s owed. If we look at who these people are, we see two groups: there are foreigners and there are Hungarians, who are working to ensure that, say, Hungarian teachers don’t get the money that can be used to raise their salaries. But both the Hungarian players and the foreigners have something in common: they’re all George Soros’s people. So today the people in the European Parliament who are controlled by George Soros are constantly blackmailing the European Commission so that it doesn’t give the money to Hungary. And obviously they’re doing this because they want to get this money to Ukraine. We’re not talking about a small amount of money. Hungary is owed a total of 32 billion euros. If they can send this to Ukraine and – as the US Secretary of State has said – 90 per cent of it goes to US companies, then it’s not such a bad deal. So here Hungary is surrounded: by Soros’s representatives; by the blackmailed Commission; and by the Americans, who want to get their hands on the 32 billion euros that Hungary’s entitled to. I don’t want to offend them, but the reason there’s so much shrieking or bellowing is that this 32 billion has been reduced to 22 billion, because the European Commission – having no choice, and with the whole situation turning out the way it has – had to give 10 billion to Hungary. That’s 10–0 to us, but 22 is still in the balance.

But is this in the past tense? Has the cash register already rung, or are we still waiting?

This is EU money. EU money is a mysterious thing, but I think it’s more than likely that we can see it as a sum we’ve collected.

Good. One last one, speaking of money. When the money that we’re owed has to be given, and you talked about this a moment ago, isn’t it a little strange that there are always objections? And most of the objections are, you know, that we can’t get this money because there’s dictatorship, autocracy, problems with the rule of law, etc., etc. But when we have to – or should – pay out untold amounts of money, say, to Ukraine, is the dictatorship’s money good?

Now the thing is that no one seems to seriously think this. So everyone knows perfectly well that Hungary as a country and the quality of Hungarian public life is not one iota inferior to the life in the political community of any other Member State of the European Union. There’s no doubt about that. The European Commission has just said that our judicial system, for example, meets all European standards. So today Hungary has the most up-to-date, most recently audited, best-quality justice system in the whole EU. But this is also true in all other areas. So no one takes this seriously. In fact what it’s about is looking for excuses to send this money elsewhere, and not to the Hungarians. We can tell you one thing, which is perhaps also behind your questions. If we look at the state of Western democracies, we see – to quote Sándor Petőfi – that they’re being gnawed at by some hidden worm. So in America they’re using the courts to bar – or try to prevent – the candidate with the strongest support from running in the presidential election. In Germany one of the most popular parties – or second most popular party – is under national security surveillance: it’s competing with the others while under national security surveillance. In Poland – the election results of which are being celebrated in the West – public television is being taken over with the use of physical force by the police. And I could give you a few more examples of political life in Western Europe that clearly show that no one can seriously think that the way we run this country – the way this country organises its own life – is any worse, any lower in quality, than the way things are run in Western Europe. This is a ruse, a political tool, and it’s not worth taking seriously. 

Let’s move a little away from Ukraine geographically. Why would it be important and good for the European Union – and particularly for Hungary – to see the accession of the Western Balkans? And if it’s good, why – unlike Ukraine – has the Western Balkans been put on hold?

If we look at this in a broader context, we see that in recent years the European Union has weakened, it’s lost competitiveness, and its citizens and its middle class are struggling daily to maintain their living standards. They’re finding it harder to live than earlier. On the issue of the war, the EU has shown, has proved, that it’s lost its capacity to make peace. In conflicts such as Kosovo, it’s clearly unable to act as a problem-solver. So for the European Union the whole of the five years that we’ve just been through has been a period of weakness and of lost capacity to act. Now we turn to the Balkans, and everyone knows that if you look at the map, you can see that Hungary’s southern border is here, with Romania next to us, then Bulgaria and then Greece lower down. And there’s a gap between the northern border of Greece and the southern border of Hungary. Our two countries are members of the EU, but between Greece and Hungary there’s an area that’s not been integrated into the European Union, which everyone knows should have been integrated a long time ago. But the European Union is an infinitely bureaucratic, cumbersome and divided institution that can’t fulfil its basic function of working to bring in at least those of its neighbours who want to join the EU – which is geographically justified, because, looking at [the space between] Greece and Hungary, it’s an unfinished enlargement. This is a sign of weakness. So it’s not will that’s lacking, but ability.

Not a day goes by without the Western media and Hungary’s disciplinary report journals carrying an article about Viktor Orbán taking Hungary out of the European Union and Viktor Orbán breaking with the West. Prime Minister, are you taking Hungary out of the European Union?

I’m taking it further in. So we’re going inwards, towards the centre. So our plan isn’t to leave it, but to occupy it. Our conception is that the basic idea of the European Union is good: it serves the interests of Hungary, and serves them well – or could serve them well. So cooperation between the peoples of Europe, the creation of a common market, the combining of our strengths, the joint correction of our weaknesses – these are all good ideas. We need to join forces. What we don’t need is to create a superstate in Brussels that continuously siphons off the powers of the Member States, blackmails them, punishes them, lectures them, and quite simply treats them as provinces. This is the practice in the European Union today. But this doesn’t mean we need to throw away the apparatus; it means that we need to restore its fitness for what it was invented for – what we invented it for. Because we all believe in European cooperation. But today this can’t happen, because those who are at the centre in Brussels think about the world in a way in which we don’t think about it – and indeed which for us is downright damaging. They think that the age of nations is at an end, and that instead of nations, Brussels and the European Union should exist as a new superstate, a new United States. They think that our concept of the family and our child protection system are palaeolithic, and that the world is now about same-sex marriage and conducting experiments with people’s lives by changing their sex. They think that it’s a good thing for Europe to have no protected borders, that it’s a beautiful thing for all the world’s poor to come to Europe and mix with the natives to create a new quality of civilisation. Now you think I’m joking.


But no, they all seriously think these things. And today these are the forces dominating Brussels. This is apart from the fact that the United States is able to assert almost all its interests in Brussels with no great difficulty. This isn’t the Brussels we want. What we need is a Brussels that stands up for the respect of nations, for the respect that must be given to nations, for national sovereignty. A Brussels that lets countries decide how they want to live, based on their own cultural traditions, that regulates the market, but doesn’t seek to tell a Pole how to live, a Hungarian how to live, or – horribile dictu – a Portuguese how to live. So it’s possible to make a good apparatus out of this, but – to put it simply – one has to win the next elections in Brussels and take political control of Brussels. That’s the task.

For many decades the guiding principle of mainstream Western politics has been to trade with the East, irrespective of ideology, and to establish economic cooperation on the basis of mutual interests. Now, for some reason, we woke up one Monday morning to find that this was forbidden. And we’re forced into a corner on this issue, too, because we’re establishing economic cooperation relations with China, for example, on the basis of mutual interests. What’s changed?

Firstly, let us not confuse talk with practice. So if I look at the trade balance of European countries with, say, China or Vietnam, or even with Russia, I can see that there’s a long line of EU Member States ahead of us: they trade with and invest in these countries in much greater volumes and in much greater value. What’s being left out of this is the reason we’re being attacked for it. The fewer of us there are over there, the more there is for them – and they don’t want competition. And this whole phenomenon – this controversy, which is in fact a bait – is immediately taken up by a large part of the Hungarian intelligentsia, because they feel that this is a fantastic opportunity to discuss Hungary’s identity. I’ve never been particularly fond of these debates, and I’ve never shared what I could call Endre Ady’s stunningly powerful images, according to which...

“Ferry country.”

…Hungary’s a “ferry country”. I’ve never thought that. Why would Hungary be a ferry country? Well, it can’t move here and there – it’s fixed. If we’re going to talk in those terms, I’d rather call it a “wharf country”.

Long ago Saint Stephen made a fairly serious decision.

Yes. So it is where it is. It’s in Hungary’s interest to always accept that what we call “the East” and what we call “the West” meet in Hungary’s culture and in Hungary’s territory. This is true even if we’re members of NATO and the European Union. This isn’t a history lesson, but it wasn’t by chance that Saint Stephen decided to adopt Latin Christianity in Hungary, while at the same time not persecuting Byzantine Christianity; because he was well aware that the East – to where he gave his daughter or the princesses of the Árpád dynasty in marriage – and the West were present in Hungary at the same time. And he knew that this wasn’t a disadvantage or a threat, but a source of strength. So we mustn’t deny this, we mustn’t dismiss it, we mustn’t play around at calling ourselves a ferry country, but we must say that we are the country we are. We have a cultural endowment. East and West can meet in Hungary. Both feel comfortable in Hungary. We understand both. We can cooperate and trade with both and invest in both places. Why should we give up the potential of this? So in the East-West overlap that characterises us alongside Western integration I don’t see a threat to our identity, but a huge opportunity on which to build a strategy.

At the end I have to ask you something which will bring us on to a lighter subject. We’ve had a lot of viewers bombarding us with requests to find out the following from you. What will be the fate of Főúr [“Overlord”, the horse Hungary presented to president Erdoğan]? How will he get over to Türkiye?

The fact is that Főúr is now the property of the Turkish Sultan, so he’s destined for Istanbul, like the princesses of the Árpád dynasty. And now the Turkish side is taking care of that, and one shouldn’t really talk about the property of others. That’s my understanding, but I can tell you that we know how he’ll be transported. They’ll put him in a container and he’ll go by plane. So in the end the idea that this horse can fly will turn out to be true. 

Prime Minister, thank you very much, and allow me to wish you and your family a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas.

Happy Christmas to you and to all our dear viewers.

Thank you very much.