István Lékó: In the global identity war, the West’s dominant politicians, corporate giants, media and the so-called celebrity world are using their power to place tremendous global pressure on all three levels of identity: the family, the nation and the culture of white European Christians are under attack. Anyone who tries to defend this traditional identity is immediately branded as homophobic, transphobic, nationalist, populist or racist. The V4 [Visegrád 4] cooperation derives extraordinary strength from the fact that the majority of people in all four countries cleave to their traditional identity. How can one fight against such overwhelmingly powerful forces? Is there even a chance of success?
Viktor Orbán: This isn’t a sprint, but a long-distance race, a marathon. The winners will be those with greater endurance. Education, family policy, school education and media regulation are all matters of national competence. No one can take that away from us. The question is whether we are brave enough and persistent enough to regulate these issues in a way that’s good for our nations. If we have greater endurance we will win; if they have greater endurance, they will win.
How do you see the incredibly rapid and powerful rise of cancel culture – or the woke movement – in the Western world?
What we elegantly call “woke” is in fact neo-Marxism. The vocabulary it uses differs from that of Marxism, but its conceptual schemata are the same. Marxism is successful or popular if it’s preceded by a few decades of liberal governance and preparation. Neo-Marxist seeds can never sprout from conservative soil, only from liberal soil. According to liberal thinking, everything can and must be regulated by reason, by rationality. It ignores those things that are important but beyond the realm of reason – such as culture, tradition, history and the religious impulse. It treats these factors as non-existent. Their elimination forms part of its quest for the solution to society’s problems. We in Central Europe are inoculated against neo-Marxism, because here Marxism reigned for 45 years. We have our vaccine, our anti-woke vaccine, because over the course of 45 years we saw what Marxism leads to. We lived in that world and we don’t wish it on anyone. Westerners aren’t vaccinated. For them Marxism is an intellectual issue. But we know what the world is really like when the economy and society are organised according to Marxist principles. We know that it leads to dictatorship, because Marxism and democracy are incompatible. Westerners still “know” – or believe – that the two can be reconciled. There’s a library of literature on that – but to no purpose. They should come to Central Europe, look at the reality, and they’ll immediately see that it won’t work. So we’re protected from that, but they aren’t.
So in the West there are two viruses, and there’s a vaccine for one but not for the other?
Yes, a COVID-19 virus and a woke – or cancel culture – virus; but vaccine for the latter has only been provided in Central Europe. You have to come here to get it.
How would you describe the philosophical and social reasons for this movement?
The essence is that their thinking excludes anything that cannot be apprehended through reasoning. Reason, however, contributes only half of a person’s being; the other half comes from emotion, history, tradition and upbringing. These things cannot be ignored – they are as real as rationality.
In a recent speech you said that the West is paralysed. What did you mean by that?
It suffers from historical paralysis. Today the West has no answer to the question of what its mission is in the world. In fact it is precisely neo-Marxist thinking that has led to the belief that the achievements brought to the world by the West over the past four hundred years have been negative rather than positive. Therefore the West today doesn’t know what it can contribute to the world. Is there something that only it is able to contribute? The West was a special form of existence growing out of Christianity, and embracing rationality. Christianity is its foundation, but the Enlightenment and rationality has also become an inseparable part of it. We combined these and created a world that was the most competitive and successful on earth. Now we’re losing that, because we’re abandoning the historical Christian foundations. But the West is also paralysed in another sense: in ever more countries we see the end of political stability. Since President Trump left office in the US, we don’t know what American politics is. Now that Merkel is gone in Germany, we don’t know what German politics is. And we can only hope that after the French election we will still know what French politics is. Historically and in the short term, the West is characterised by the inability to act.
What do you think about statues of historically important figures being brought down?
One of the most important experiences in my life was visiting the birthplace of George Washington, the first US president. There I could see that he was a slave-owner, and that the building where his slaves were kept was part of his estate. We hold slavery in contempt, but George Washington remains a great statesman. We cannot stand in judgement over a man who fails to meet our modern standards and claim that he couldn’t have been a great statesman in his own age. Now, three hundred years later, are we imposing conditions and then knocking down his statue? Winston Churchill played a major role in the Czechs and Hungarians finding themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain; after all, he and the Americans threw us to the Soviets. And that’s something about him that we’ll never forget. But Winston Churchill was still a great statesman. He doesn’t deserve to have his statue toppled. In cultural and historical matters, propagandistic simplification always brings trouble.
On the other hand, other statues are erected in Western Europe – for example of Marx, in the presence of Jean Claude Juncker, then President of the European Commission; and also of Lenin. Will the communist revolution win in the West?
Illusions persist in those places where they didn’t experience communism. I had hoped that the Central European countries’ accession to the European Union would being an anti-communist, anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist dimension to contemporary culture across Europe. We’re willing to provide it, but they’re not interested in it.
One manifestation of progressive ideology is the theatrical kneeling at the start of football matches. What’s your position on this issue?
Hungarians will kneel before their sweethearts to propose, before God, or perhaps before the greatness of the nation, when inspired by the moment. So we don’t understand what’s going on in the minds of people who kneel as often as we change our shirts. But if they see fit to do so, then let them kneel. The problem is that they expect us to kneel as well. Perhaps it has something to do with their conscience related to slavery. It’s funny when Anglo-Saxons lecture us on racism: they had slavery, we didn’t. It’s like the Germans trying to lecture us on anti-Semitism. These are absurdities. Moreover, if the fight against racism is framed as being against covert but systemic white supremacy towards non-whites, then in the end it will lead to precisely the same kind of racism against whites.
Hungarians and Czechs don’t kneel when they play for their national teams, but when they play for their clubs – which are mostly in Germany and the UK – they do kneel. What should a fan think about this?
That employers call the shots!
Currently the prevailing trend is that if you’re accused of being racist and you dare to deny it, then that denial is automatically assumed to be an admission of guilt. What do you think of the increasingly aggressive actions of activists in the BLM movement?
I think that it all needs to be reversed. If we’re accused of racism and we start defending ourselves, then we’ve already lost the match. We quite simply need to demand proof from whoever is attacking us. We shouldn’t be expected to prove that we’re not guilty of their accusations. This is absurd.
Most recently, Brussels has criticised Hungary over its anti-paedophile legislation. The accusation is that the Hungarian parliament has passed a homophobic law. What’s your response to this?
Hungary has passed a law which clearly states that parents have the exclusive say over education in schools – education on sexual matters. In relation to this, no LGBTQ activist or representative of any other ideology has any authority. Brussels wants to countermand this. Its position is that LGBTQ activists should be allowed into schools. By the way, this Hungarian law doesn’t apply to people over 18: it’s purely about the protection of children.
The other issue is that, with the decline of the United States as a world empire, the Eurasian system of cooperation between the European Union, Russia and China is being seen in a new light, as an alternative. On this there is a slight divergence of opinions among the V4 countries; but on this, too, it would be good to reach a common position. The President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, has recently proposed that the EU should rethink its relations with the United States, Russia and China, in order that we can pursue an independent line of foreign policy. Do you agree with President Macron?
We’re waiting for President Macron to expand on his exciting and interesting idea. We turn to him with a desire for understanding. We’re also happy to participate in debates on strategic autonomy and sovereignty. Indeed, the V4 doesn’t speak with one voice on the Russian question, but this is something that can be bridged. The Poles and the Baltic states have special security needs looking eastward. This is understandable. So we need to give guarantees to the Poles and the Baltic states. One of the European Union’s most important tasks should be to give Poland and the Baltic states a European security and military guarantee, and then everything would be simpler.
What policy direction should the EU – and within it the V4 countries – pursue in relation to Russia and China? Only one that satisfies the interests of the United States?
First of all, it’s very important to make a distinction between propaganda and facts. As regards the facts, last year the United States engaged in more trade with China than with the European Union. At the same time, it’s being suggested that we should be less active in our relations with China. Despite all the controversy, US-Chinese cooperation is growing continuously. Why should Europeans miss out on the economic benefits of trade with China, and leave it exclusively to the Americans?
If not, there will be accusations that the European Union is going against the interests of its biggest ally – as in the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. How can this situation be resolved?
America has finally approved the deal and isn’t threatening sanctions against companies involved in the construction and operation of Nord Stream 2. Why isn’t it continuing to threaten them? Because if things go on like this, there won’t be any gas this winter. We can shake our fists, but today the reality is that Europe cannot function without Russian gas. It seems to me that the Americans have also acknowledged this fact.
You think that the current Franco-German axis should be replaced by a Franco-German-V4 axis. What do you see as the advantages of such an alignment?
Imagine Europe as a network of regions. The biggest economic growth is in the Central European region: the Baltic states, the V4, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. Without us, the European Union today would have hardly any economic growth – it would be a stagnant continent. In the past it was thought that we couldn’t run our economies without the West, but today it’s the West that can’t run its economies without us. The situation has been reversed. If this is the case, then Central Europeans must also gain more influence over political decisions. The European Union can no longer be run solely through the Franco-German axis. The most dynamically developing region – Central Europe – must also be involved in strategic decisions.
Isn’t it just a pipe dream to hope that the V4 countries can successfully shape the future of the EU?
Not at all. This is what I call the new reality in Europe: the European economy cannot function without Central Europe.
Instead I see progressive politicians, institutions and journalists working to break the V4 apart. They have a well-organised network, with almost military discipline and billions of dollars backing them up. The conservative side has no such network. Why not? Is that alien to the Right?
We are building this network, and it’s gaining ever more elements. But we’re at a disadvantage, and the reasons for this can be found in intellectual history. For almost a hundred years up until 1990, liberals and conservatives formed an alliance with each other against fascism and communism. In 1990 we overthrew communism and the liberals realised that the political contest would once again be between liberals and conservatives – just as it had been one hundred years earlier. And they were quicker to act. We missed a step, which means that we’re at a disadvantage.
Left-liberal politicians – not only in Hungary, but globally – say that this idea will tear the European Union apart. And in general, for them Viktor Orbán has for some years been the embodiment of a politician who wants to break up the EU and have Hungary leave it. Would Hungary be better off outside the European Union?
Hungary must stay inside the European Union. We need the markets of the European Union, and the single market is in our interest; and the single market is the European Union, so we have to stay in the EU. But it’s also true that we want to change the EU, and we want to see Central European interests and viewpoints taken into account more than they have been so far. We feel that our influence on EU decisions is disproportionately small compared to our true economic performance and weight. This must change.
In Brussels the trend is that if someone disagrees with a decision or plan – or, God forbid, opposes it – they’re told to keep quiet; because the EU isn’t only good when it’s giving out money. On several occasions you’ve expressed the opinion, for example, that more money flows from Hungary to the EU than from the EU to Hungary. Could you explain your position?
Let’s draw up a balance sheet, and on one side let’s write how much money comes from the European Union to Hungary, the Czech Republic or Poland; and on the other side let’s see how much profit is taken out of our countries. It turns out that the Germans and the French have made a lot of money out of us. We haven’t done badly either, because in the meantime our technological level has risen, our industrial culture has developed, and jobs have been created. If you look at who’s giving money to whom, the fact is that they’re making money out of us. Therefore it’s hypocritical to argue that they’re giving us money, when in fact they’re taking our money.
You recently launched your own project, called “Samizdat”, in which you periodically express your thoughts on certain current affairs in Hungarian, English and German. Why did you give the project this name? The term “Samizdat” was originally used to express opposition to the totalitarian system that ended more than thirty years ago, of which you had experience...
This is why I started it. Samizdat is an anti-communist genre, developed during the era of underground resistance. I myself read and distributed a lot of samizdat pamphlets back in the 1980s. Samizdat is justified in times when we feel that our opinions aren’t reaching people without distortion. Today whatever I say is distorted by the liberal media. I publish short pieces with this title to draw people’s attention to the fact that they shouldn’t read the commentary but the text itself. The liberals have gained a huge advantage in the media, in universities, in public administration, in the courts; they’ve built up a position of what I call “hegemony of opinion”. Liberals no longer seek to have pluralism of opinion and to allow all opinions – including mine – to be heard, but have created a doctrine; and only those things which are in line with their understanding of the world and of politics may be heard. The only way to combat this is to address the reader directly. That is why I write in a samizdat style.
When you met Pope Francis in Budapest a few weeks ago, you asked him not to allow Christian Hungary to be lost. Could you explain what exactly you meant by this?
There must be unity among those who believe that Christianity isn’t only part of our past, but also part of our future. Today there are many powerful groups that want to move the European continent into a post-Christian era. This idea is particularly popular among the bureaucrats in Brussels. The greatest Christian power in world politics today is the Vatican. I therefore humbly asked the Holy Father to help us to remain Christian.
In the context of the Pope’s visit to Hungary, which lasted a few hours, the Western mainstream media focused on three main points: one was expressed by the BBC as the Pope meeting Hungary’s populist leader; another was that the visit would show whether or not the Pope was in good health; and the third suggested that there is anti-Semitism in Hungary – despite the fact that this isn’t borne out by even the most malicious interpretation of what the Pope has said. Is it possible to become accustomed to such reactions?
This shows that even the Vatican isn’t immune to fake news. But the Holy Father came to Hungary, and a sea of Christians gathered here – not only Catholics, but also Calvinists and Orthodox Christians. This was because we felt that together we would experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And indeed we did.
What do you think about the introduction of a 15 per cent global corporate tax rate? This wouldn’t be good for Hungary, where the rate is 9 per cent. Do you agree?
In general, I don’t support any international decision that interferes in the tax policy of a state. I don’t think it’s any business of the Germans or the Americans what kind of tax system there is in Hungary. We have no say in the German or American tax system.
Have you received apologies – either publicly or privately – from the politicians and public figures who in 2015 and thereafter so often described you as xenophobic – or sometimes even Nazi – for Hungary’s construction of a fence against the flood of illegal migrants coming into the European Union?
Generosity has died out in Brussels, and so has the ability to apologise.
A few months ago, when thousands of illegal migrants tried to enter the EU through Belarus, the Member States concerned were quick to build fences – and even Brussels immediately supported this, instead of condemning them in line with the previous Hungarian example. Does this mean that a migrant who wants to enter the European Union across the Hungarian border is a good migrant, but one who wants to enter across the border of a Baltic country, for example, is a bad migrant? And is the Hungarian fence a bad fence, and a fence in the Baltic countries a good fence?
There’s a double standard in Europe. If a liberal government does something, it’s always good, and if a conservative government does something, it’s always bad. Even if those things are the same.
The migration pressure on the EU up to now has been high, but due to the situation in Afghanistan that pressure is set to increase. Should the EU accept Afghan refugees?
There’s no need to. Afghan migrants must stay in their region. We should help the countries in that region to cope with the burden of people coming from Afghanistan. But if the Germans wish, Hungary would be happy to open a corridor and Afghan migrants could go to Germany through that corridor. If the German chancellor makes such a request, as Angela Merkel did in 2015, then we’ll consider it.
In relation to Afghanistan, I’ve also heard someone say that “after the export of democracy from the West, now comes the import of terrorism to the West.” Do you see any truth in that?
We should always start with the facts. After the great migration invasion of 2015, there was an increase in acts of terrorism. So there’s a correlation: More migration, more acts of terrorism. This is the reality.
Will Brussels again try to impose the distribution of migrants on Member States? Or will it again blackmail countries which resist that by withholding EU funds due to them?
This is a never-ending story. They’ll try again and again, and we’ll have to veto it again and again in the Council meetings – as we did some years ago together with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. In the coming months, we’ll again have European Council meetings in which we’ll have to jointly block the EU’s plans for the distribution of migrants. It’s like an underground stream: it disappears, then it springs up somewhere else, and we have to keep diverting it back underground. EU money is our money. Sooner or later they have to give it, but they can slow down the decision. This is why we Hungarians have borrowed enough money from the financial markets to launch all the developments needed to recover after the coronavirus pandemic. And we’ve launched them, despite the fact that not a cent has arrived from Brussels. The Hungarian programmes are already up and running.
How big is the loan we’re talking about?
We’ve borrowed €4.5 billion, at an interest rate of less than 1 per cent. This was a good deal.
People in Hungary are now thinking back to the infamous “Őszöd Speech”, given at an in-camera party event 15 years ago by the then Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. The speech revealed that the Socialists had won the election by lying and misleading the people; and once in power they ruined the country economically. People took to the streets in reaction to the speech, and demonstrations which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Revolution were bloodily crushed by the Socialist government. Several people had their eyes shot out, while others were crippled for life by their injuries. How was it possible that the politicians of the European Union were silent, as were the famous rights organisations?
It’s because the rights organisations and the European bureaucrats are left-wing, and will always forgive a left-wing government for any wrongdoing. This is neither nice nor right, and it leads us back to the need for Central Europe to exert more influence over politics in Brussels.
How could it be that the Socialist billionaire Ferenc Gyurcsány, who plunged the country into the greatest political and economic crisis since the fall of communism, has now become the true leader of the opposition?
In Hungary the current government is fighting with its predecessor. For us the challenge now is to prevent the return of the Gyurcsány government. This is what is at stake in the political struggle in Hungary. We know the communists: they’re a tough breed, and they’re highly skilled in the art of power. They can’t govern, and unfortunately for us neither could Gyurcsány and company; and they bankrupted Hungary. But they’re very good at practising the art of power, at organising, at setting up secret procedures, at underground movements, at building invisible networks. The socialists are essentially ex-communists, and these abilities have been preserved. This is something we have to reckon with throughout Central Europe.
Has the Left bet everything on voter amnesia? Have people forgotten?
No. That’s why we’ve won three times in a row. That’s why we’ll win a fourth time.
How do you explain the fact that, just as in Hungary, where the communists and the far right have formed an anti-Orbán bloc, also known as “the pigswill coalition”, a similar anti-Babiš bloc has been formed in the Czech Republic – albeit without the far left and the far right. Is there any chance of such bizarre coalitions? In the Czech Republic this would mean the conservative right and the Czech Pirate Party coming to power.
We must understand that the processes are the same in all Central European countries: in Poland, in the Czech Republic, in Hungary. When one of the great powers doesn’t like a government in Central Europe, they try to bring to power those groups that are sympathetic to them and that serve their interests. When someone says that we – Babiš and I – mustn’t be allowed to break up the European Union, what they mean is that Brussels rather than the Czechs and the Hungarians should decide the fate of their countries. Those who protest in favour of Europe are actually protesting against Czech and Hungarian sovereignty. This is supported from outside by the Soros network, and by the Brussels bureaucracy. Instead of leaders who fight for the independence of their own countries, they want obedient left-wing governments. Today, unfortunately, Brussels needs servile governments.
In Hungary some members of the anti-Orbán coalition are proposing that if they come to power they’ll change the Constitution even without a two-thirds majority in Parliament, despite the fact that a simple majority wouldn’t be enough. Is such a scenario conceivable?
Why are the European Commission and the European Parliament remaining silent? This would be a textbook example of the rule of law being trampled upon. What would the reaction in Brussels be if your government wanted to do this?
They know it’s just a bluff.
You’re good friends with Andrej Babiš, but you can’t say that he pursues conservative, Christian politics. What’s the essence of your mutual rapport?
Andrej Babiš is a great fighter. You know, Hungarians are more attracted to Christian spiritual traditions than Czechs, and Hungarians have more radical national sentiments than Czechs; so there’s a difference in character between the two peoples, which is also reflected in the manner of the two leaders. But no one can deny that Andrej Babiš is one of the greatest fighters in Europe – not just on the international stage, but at home too. He fights for pensions, and has raised pensions in the Czech Republic. He fights for higher wages. It takes character to successfully implement economic policy, and Andrej Babiš is a leader with character. People in Hungary appreciate that.
In response, left-wing and liberal critics would say that you share a dictatorial tendency, that you both want to build oligarchic systems, and that you want to privatise the state...
We both submit ourselves to the decision of the electorate, and we accept it. Dictators do not submit themselves to the decision of the people, so such criticism is just political propaganda.
What’s your assessment of the German election?
Something new is happening in Germany. We’re used to iron chancellors: Bismarck, Helmut Kohl, even Angela Merkel. We’re used to decisive German leaders. We’re used to Germany knowing what it wants. Even when there’s a dispute, a leader can always sum up those disputes, bring them to a conclusion and then create a predictable Germany. Now the big question is whether this election will result in a predictable, reliable Germany led by a great Chancellor. We don’t yet have the answer to that question.