Interview with Viktor Orbán on the tv2 programme “Tények” (“Facts”)

7 June 2024

Gábor Gönczi: With us in the studio is Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. Good evening. Thank you for coming

Good evening.

My generation and those younger than me have one great good fortune: we’ve never lived through a war. And I never want to live through a war. Now, however, we’re hearing some very sinister statements from leaders across Europe, from people who are leading countries. They’re talking about weapons, soldiers, compulsory conscription. You say that this is a direct road to war. This sounds very, very bad, and you also say that perhaps this is the point of no return. Is it really possible to turn back?

Decisions have been taken. I’m not talking about who says what, what the European leaders say, but I sit where decisions are taken that, despite our protests, are taking us step by step closer to war. If we look back over the past two years, since the war started, I remember sitting there and the German chancellor saying that they’d only send helmets, that there was no question of the Germans sending the Ukrainians equipment that could kill people. He also said that, yes, yes, of course sanctions were needed, but energy was out of the question: one couldn’t impose sanctions on energy. This is how we started out. Now, in comparison with that, German tanks are scuttling around Ukraine, German and other Western European anti-aircraft missile systems are being deployed, fighter-bomber aircraft are being delivered, and sanctions have destroyed the European economy. So if we continue at the pace we’ve been going at over the last two years, it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re centimetres away from reaching the final and ultimate stage in which soldiers – Western European or American soldiers – will be on the territory of Ukraine. So at this moment we’re centimetres away from a direct confrontation.

And can’t anyone else apart from you see this? So everyone’s just sitting back and watching this thing happen, we’re moving forward, we’re sitting in a drifting boat... 

We want it...

We want war?

…that’s not the problem…

And you’re sounding the alarm, but they don’t want to hear it.

…the problem isn’t that they can’t see it, but that they want it. That’s the difference. So we don’t want war, but they want war. They think that Russia can now be defeated militarily. The thinking is that the Ukrainians will fight and the West will provide the weapons and the money. Up until now they’ve given the weapons for limited use, but now they think that this hasn’t been enough, and so now they’re letting them be used to target Russian territory. And they think that yes, they must go further, and they say it, but we’re not thinking seriously about what’s necessary, about everything that’s necessary. So they’re determined to actually walk into a direct military confrontation with Russia. They’re not drifting – apart, perhaps, from some Central European countries which have similar experiences to ours, but aren’t as independent and sovereign as Hungary, and aren’t saying what they think. But I have to say that they’re going towards war, bowing to the pressure from America, knowing what the consequences will be.

Going back to the first question, are we still at a point at which the process can be reversed?

We’re at the eleventh hour. This is a march to war, a war psychosis that has its source in two different places: one is Brussels, and the other is Washington. So in order to stop this war train, we first have to get change in Brussels, and then we have to get change in Washington. We have little say in the latter, because it says that the American people will decide which president they ultimately elect: a pro-peace president or a pro-war president. Where we do have influence, where we have the means to force change ourselves, is in Brussels. But there, too, we only have a chance because, fortunately, the European elections are approaching. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have those means. I never thought that a European Parliament election would ever have the weight, responsibility and potential to bring about change that this European election has. If we can win the European elections, if there are visibly more pro-peace MEPs in the European Parliament than pro-war MEPs, and in every country, because, after all, we elect on a national basis throughout Europe, then the pro-peace forces will be strengthened domestically. Then they’ll be able to put pressure on their own pro-war governments, then Brussels can be slowed down, perhaps even stopped, and there won’t be a problem before the US presidential election in November. Then comes the US presidential election in November. If God is with us, Trump will win, and there will be peace; if not, we’ll find ourselves in a difficult situation.

That would be a good scenario. What’s the situation in Hungary now? The Left is saying that it’s not as you claim, that this whole process isn’t taking us towards war, we’re not in such a difficult situation and we’re not in such danger either.

The Left’s sense of reality doesn’t always operate flawlessly. I clearly remember how in 2015–16, when the first symptoms of the migration crisis appeared and the first major migrant flows started to arrive at Hungary’s southern borders, we decided to build a fence and stop them. At the time, the Left said that this was a pseudo-problem, that in fact migration was a pseudo-problem. This was all over the media. Now, however, in recent years it’s emerged that – unfortunately – we were right: it’s not a pseudo-problem, it’s a real problem. Since then thousands of people have died in Western Europe as a result of terrorist attacks, which are obviously linked to migration. And to the west of us the migration crisis has been part of everyday life ever since. So when the Left say that something isn’t to be taken seriously, it’s good to start being afraid.

Here, for example, with the poster campaign, they’ve claimed that these billboards with the single word “HÁBORÚ” [“WAR”] were frightening people and harming our children.

Well, there must be some truth in the fact that it’s difficult for a parent to explain to a child what war is. The child isn’t threatened by the billboard, but by losing his or her father, and the billboard is needed to help prevent the loss of his or her father.

What’s the worst-case scenario if we fail to stop this process now?

After the US presidential election, the US president must say what direction things should go in, and how far. But the events of just the last day or two perhaps give you a sense of the speed at which this train is moving, and the forces we have to use in order to hold it back. Now there’s a proposal on the table from the Americans that they’ll provide another 40 billion dollars. Recently we gave 50, and they gave 60. So they’re providing 40 billion in a new package. They’re giving it to the Ukrainians as a loan, and we Europeans will have to guarantee that the Ukrainians will pay it back. So this is where we are.

On conscription, is there a real danger that they could actually reintroduce compulsory conscription in a way that would affect us?

You can certainly see that it’s on the agenda in every country. And there are those who are talking about the need to conscript young people from different countries into a European army, and to decide their fate, to train them and to deploy them – or not – in a pan-European army under a single European command. Hungary thinks that the issue of conscription falls exclusively within national competence. We Hungarians shall decide what we want. I’m confident that we can afford the luxury of not reintroducing conscription even in a time of war, instead training young people as reservists, teaching them about defence at school, and giving them defence skills without bringing back conscription. I’m confident that this is possible. And there’s absolutely no question of young Hungarians being conscripted into some other army, whereby we’d lose the right and obligation of control and responsibility, with others deciding on the lives of young Hungarians. That cannot be allowed, and we’ll certainly oppose any such initiative. What would be possible is something that happens in NATO: if Europe needs to be defended, if Hungary’s territory needs to be defended, then NATO members will offer certain military units for joint military defence operations. But even then, it’s out of the question for NATO to allow joint military units to carry out military operations outside the territory of its Member States. That’s strictly forbidden! That isn’t what NATO was set up for: it’s a defence alliance, the rules are clear, and we’ve joined together to defend one another if we’re attacked. But there was no question of us jointly carrying out military operations on the territory of a third country, and nor can there be any question of Hungary doing so – especially in Ukraine.

We’ve read that NATO is planning, or perhaps has already started, to create a land corridor, so that it can get its troops to the front as quickly as possible in the event of a Russian attack. Then again the question arises: can we cautiously – and of course as a member of NATO – stay out of this?

This is the big question for the next month. Next week, after the elections, the NATO Secretary General will come here, and we’ll also touch on this issue. And there will be a NATO summit in Washington in early July. This is where we have to fight the battle to ensure that Hungary wants to stay out of – and can stay out of – any military operation aimed against other countries that would take place outside Hungarian territory.

Is that possibility open to us?

It’s a question of strength. So to stay out of war, to stay out of joint NATO action, to stay out of action outside NATO territory, is a question of strength. Legally there’s no one who can force us to do so. The problem is that we have a thousand years of history behind us, and the last hundred years of that history has shown that there have been two world wars, both of which we wanted to stay out of: both the First World War and the Second. We had the will and the intention, but we lacked the strength – so we were pushed into them. A very similar situation could arise now, when whether Hungary stays out or is squeezed into a war will be a question of strength. Where does strength come from in a democracy? It comes from votes. So if the Hungarian people stand up for peace, then the Government can keep Hungary out of the war. If the people give the Government strength, the Government will be strong enough to keep Hungary out of the war. If not, then of course we shall stand our ground; I think we will do everything we can, and we will persevere unwaveringly – as István Tisza and his associates said. But truth without strength is worth little.

So what is very important now is that anyone who wants peace, and therefore belongs to the pro-peace camp, should definitely go and vote.

I suggest that everyone should now think first about the real question of whether there will be war or peace. Of course the name of the party they put their cross next to is important, and of course I’d be happy for them to put their cross next to the name of the governing party. So what matters here is not party affiliation, but whether we strengthen the Hungarian government. If we strengthen the Hungarian government in this election, it can stand for peace and will be strong enough to keep Hungary out of this conflict. If we don’t strengthen it, but leave the Government to fight alone, that could be a problem.

Earlier I asked about the bad scenario, but now I’ll ask about the good one: if everything goes the way we want it to go and we do everything we can to avoid war – and it would be good to end the war in Ukraine, which is still such a very big goal floating far ahead of us. How could this be done? So what would be the method, what would be the algorithm for this?

When looking for the answer to your question, our starting point should be the fact that all wars are the result of human decisions. So this isn’t a question of fate, divine retribution or inevitability. No, war is the consequence of human decisions. We know who the people are who can make these decisions. We have to influence these people to make pro-peace decisions rather than pro-war decisions. One such is the President of the United States, and another is the group of leaders of the large European states. They need to be persuaded, or put under pressure, so that when the decisive word comes from their mouths, it’s not “war”, but “peace”. And if that happens, the war can be stopped within twenty-four hours. So today if European leaders wanted peace, there would be a ceasefire on the front line within twenty-four hours. All they’d have to say is, “Dear Ukrainians, a ceasefire is needed, it must stop. We won’t give any more weapons, we won’t give any more money until there’s a ceasefire and peace talks begin.” Donald Trump can bring this about in twenty-four hours.

This sounds so simple, yet we haven’t made any progress in two years.

I repeat: every decision to go to war is the result of a human decision. We know the people personally who make these decisions. One has to send the right person to the right place. This is why I say that the European Parliament elections are also about sending the right people to the right place: about sending pro-peace representatives to the Brussels Parliament.

Prime Minister, on Sunday there won’t only be elections to the European Parliament, but also local elections. This also affects us directly – not only our future, but also our present, to a great extent. Why is it important to have the right answers there too?

Good leaders must be elected. So everyone can see that those towns and villages that have good, capable, action-oriented, committed mayors and councillors are better off than those that don’t. So now we’ll elect the leaders who will lead us in collectively shaping the lives of our towns and villages over the next five years. If we elect the wrong leaders, we won’t get anywhere. If we elect good leaders, then every town and every village has a bright future. So, in addition to the question of peace, I urge everyone to find the right local mayor and councillors to enable their town and village to thrive.

Here in “Tények” we’ve talked a lot about the big problems of Budapest and the agglomeration, and the future of Budapest. In this connection, one piece of news from this morning that we haven’t yet had the chance to ask you about is that Alexandra Szentkirályi has withdrawn her candidacy for Mayor of Budapest – in the final stages of what was otherwise a very successful and very fine campaign. How do you assess this?

She convinced me. I saw that she was right. She told us what the situation was, she saw this decision – her withdrawal – as the right decision, and we accepted it.

And go forward.

Well, if in a battle the general takes stock of the situation and says what they think is the right move, then the only thing that we who aren’t there personally on the front line can do – because we’re in a European Parliament election campaign and not in the capital – is to seek confirmation that the general is right. I listened to her, I saw that she was right, and I decided to do what she advised.

And another important piece of news – which we’ve talked about a lot and read about a lot – is that the Hungarian airport is back in Hungarian majority ownership. This was a very important step, and I’ve heard you say that it’s a strategic step.

Well, for a very long time I’ve been fighting personally to make this happen. In 2010, when the voters decided to drop the Left and call us back to the helm, we looked around the country and saw all the things that were in foreign ownership: most of the banks; most of the energy companies; most of the media, including you; most of the retail chains; and the one big international airport, in a monopoly position. We’re not in favour of large-scale state ownership. So personally, when I talk about national ownership, I’m mostly talking about Hungarian companies that aren’t state-owned. But there are monopoly companies for which state ownership is better than foreign ownership. For example, MVM [the Hungarian national electricity company] is better off in state ownership than in foreign ownership, and the airport is better off in Hungarian state ownership than in foreign ownership. Look at this airport and compare its potential with reality: it hasn’t developed, and so it’s more of a disgrace than something to be proud of. It’s time that we finally had a good owner, good management, and a fantastic, successful Ferenc Liszt Airport in Budapest. This was a precondition for this buy-back. We’re not communists, so we haven’t seized it from its owners, we haven’t just nationalised it: we’ve paid for it, we’ve paid a reasonable price under fair business terms. And we’ve found people who can run it; because I’m not telling you a big secret when I say that the state or the Government can’t run an airport, as that’s a different business. We were able to bring in one of the best airport management companies in the world, a French company. Our airport has its finest years ahead of it.

Prime Minister, there’s an election here on Sunday, a very intense election that we hope will decide the future of war and peace. We hope it will be a good one, but a week later we have the European Football Championship, which we’re also looking forward to, and our hearts will be with our players.

Glory is also important, yes.

What do you expect?

I’ve always been one of the optimists. We’re in a group, and we know our opponents. If we’re calm, if we give our opinion on our chances before drinking our spritzer rather than after it, I’d say that we can win all three games or we can lose all three games. It’s not a good idea to put too much pressure on our team, and we shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations. The only thing that I personally expect from the team as a fan – because here my being the Prime Minister is irrelevant – is to see us go into every game with the idea that we’re going to beat them, that we’re going to win, and that we’re going to get the three points. If I see this in the team, but the fortunes of war dictate otherwise, well, that’s how it will be. A fair fight can be expected in all three matches, and then the Hungarian flag will fly high.

So be it! Thank you very much for accepting our invitation.

Thank you.