Zsolt Törőcsik: These days we often hear the phrase “We’re living in an age of dangers”, and almost every day there are events that prove the truth of this statement. This week we now know for certain that German Leopard and American Abrams tanks will be sent to Ukraine, because German chancellor Olaf Scholz has given in, bowed to growing international pressure and authorised the sending of heavy armour to the battlefield. And there are reports that Ukraine is already demanding fighter jets from its Western allies. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is our guest in the studio. Good morning.
One diplomat speaking to Politico put it very graphically when he said that sending fighter jets is a red line. But then again, sending air defence systems and heavy armour used to be a red line. What will be the endpoint of this process that we’re now seeing from the West?
How did it start? It started when the Germans said that they were prepared to send helmets, because they wouldn’t send equipment to kill people in a war – because that would mean taking part in the war. That’s where we started from. Now we’re on tanks, and they’re already toying with the idea of aircraft. So it’s clear that if you don’t dig in your heels at the outset and take a clear position, a position that defines your own national interest in relation to a conflict, then you’ll be dragged into it. I don’t know whether it was through luck or God’s help, but at the beginning of 2022 the start of the war and the Hungarian election campaign roughly coincided with each other. One can say a lot of bad things about election campaigns, and in the media a lot of bad things are said. But they also have their benefits, because they’re times when we have to speak openly and directly; and therefore Hungary was forced – we Hungarian leaders were forced – to state very clearly and directly what we want in a way that all Hungarians can understand. The Left has said that it will do what the international community says. So if the Left were in government today, we’d be, let us say, up to our necks in war – just like the Germans are. We’d have already sent our tanks, our decommissioned former Russian weapons, and we’d be in the war as arms suppliers. The Hungarian left has said that if they win a mandate to govern, they’ll swim along with – they’ll travel with – the international community. They’ll do what the others do – or, to put it crudely, they’ll do what they’re told. We’ve said that there’s something called the Hungarian national interest. And we have a very strong national interest, because the country has an interest, and the Hungarians living in Transcarpathia also have an interest; and this national interest means that Hungary should stay out of this war. And so in the Hungarian election people were in fact choosing between war and peace. And they chose peace. This meant that the Hungarian government was able to dig its heels in. From the beginning we said that this isn’t our war, that we don’t want to get caught between the Russians and the Ukrainians, that this is a war – a conflict – that should be localised, not internationalised; and that Hungary will do everything it can to bring peace. In doing so, we’ve hammered down the pegs which we then tethered our horse to. This is why Hungary isn’t being dragged into the war. Even if the Hungarian government were to take steps in that direction, which is out of the question while I’m Prime Minister, it would still be confronted with the manifest will of the people; because a few months ago the people clearly expressed what they expect from Hungarian leaders. Well, this is why we’re not in danger of being dragged in; but the others aren’t only in danger, but have already been dragged in. And then there are statements about whether or not they’re at war with Russia. This is a ridiculous situation, because being at war with someone isn’t a question of declarations. If you send weapons, if you finance the entire annual budget of one of the belligerents, if you envisage new arms deliveries, increasingly modern ones, then you can say what you like: you’re at war, no matter what you declare. What’s more, no matter what you say, it’s the other side – against whom you’re supplying arms and supporting one side – which actually decides whether or not to see you as being at war with them. So, I repeat, when there’s a war one has to very clearly and very firmly define the position of one’s country. This is what I’ve learnt over the past year, and I’m glad that what we’ve done has so far been in Hungary’s interest.
By the way, anonymous Western diplomats have admitted that they don’t know at exactly what point Russia will consider them to be part of this conflict. And it’s clear that there’s enormous pressure on those countries that are reluctant or trying to stay out of it – and we’ve seen this in Germany. How long can Hungary maintain this position? Because I think the pressure directed at us is also being felt.
The pressure we’re under could certainly be expressed mathematically. The word “pressure” itself is an elegant description of the situation. Well, to put it quite precisely, they’re punching, beating, kicking and biting us, and they’re using every means at their disposal to force us into war. And the Hungarian political actors financed by the West are also representing this position: there’s a pro-war political tendency in Hungary, and the Left is doing this, constantly attacking the Hungarian government for staying out of the war. But we’ve made it clear that Hungary’s security comes first, and therefore Hungary isn’t at war with anyone. We want a ceasefire and peace negotiations. In addition, there’s a dimension to all this that goes beyond and above politics: this is a war after all. There are estimates, and we don’t know the numbers for sure, of course, but the number of lives that have been lost and irreparably disfigured on both sides in this war could be more than one hundred thousand. We’re talking about tens of thousands of widows, orphans and mothers grieving for soldiers killed in battle. So our elementary humanity and sense of morality – I won’t even say Christian, but elementary humanity – also demands that we do everything we can to freeze the frontline, for there to be a ceasefire and for negotiations to start.
We’ll see what chance there is of this in the upcoming period. In addition to arms supplies, the West’s other response to the war has been a policy of sanctions. In Hungary there was a national consultation on this, the results of which we now know. We know that 97 per cent rejected these sanctions. What does this give you or the Government a mandate to do at a forthcoming EU summit, say, where new sanctions might be discussed?
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to say that the whole national consultation as a method, as a form of political participation, is a Hungaricum: something that isn’t done elsewhere. So in the Western world, what we could call the general democratic reflex is that after there have been elections they say: “Good, and if there are very large demonstrations, then let’s have a little talk with each other, the elected representatives and the people. But on the whole, leave it to us for now, and then come back in four years’ time to vote again, and then tell us what you think. Think well of us if you can.” The Hungarian character is different. To put it even more precisely, the situation in 2010 forced a different kind of politics out of us; because in 2010 there was an economic crisis, when the country had fallen – to its knees. The thirteenth month’s pension had been taken away, a month’s pension had been taken away, one month’s salary had been taken away, there were austerity measures, and the IMF had to be called in. So Hungary was on its knees and praying. Of course it was clear then that the Gyurcsány style of government would be sent packing in 2010. That seemed quite logical. The question was rather what method would be used to at least maintain national unity or a majority that was necessary to deal with the crisis. You can’t manage a deep economic crisis well without the support of the people. And in 2010 the key issue was to ensure that the new government had the support of the majority – not just for one night, for one election, but on a continuing basis. And ways had to be found for this. And then there was the amendment of the Constitution. Hungary’s great deficit was that after 1990 it was the only country that hadn’t been able to replace its old communist constitution with a completely new constitution – we’d just had to patch up the old one. Every other country [in the region] had done that task between 1990 and 1994. So in addition to crisis management, we also had to make up for a historical shortcoming. And that’s when we came up with the idea of the national consultation, to come up with a form, for it to be serious, to be in writing and not be about simply pressing a button: to be about getting a letter with questions in it, sitting down at the kitchen table or however you do it, being kind enough to read it and telling us what you think – and if you have any more opinions, even writing them down and sending them back. There have been regular consultations, which, by the way, have been on the pension system, the handling of the economic crisis, the Constitution, migration and gender – the most important issues, in other words. And the fact that these have been held and that over a million people have been willing to take part in this dialogue and make their voices heard is, in my opinion, a major democratic achievement on the part of Hungary. It’s unique, we can be proud of it, and it’s a living embodiment of democracy after elections. Now, what is this good for? First of all, in the life of a country, when faced with difficult issues, it’s important to have points of agreement – so that we know what we agree on and what we disagree on. Now, of course, there’s a question, and I see that the Left is also arguing that there are 8 million voters in Hungary, but those returning the consultation questionnaire number 1.4 million. I’d like to thank everyone for this, but as to whether it’s too much or too little, I think it’s worth reflecting on the fact that those who felt it was important were able to give their opinion. Because the important thing is that everyone should get the chance to have their voice heard, to have a voice and to have their voice count. And if they’ve had the chance and taken it, that’s good; if they haven’t taken it, that means that they’ve left it to others. So these 1.4 million people are exactly enough to understand what Hungarians want. And from this consultation it’s clear that Hungarians think that sanctions aren’t helping the Ukrainians and aren’t bringing the Russians to their knees, but they’re doing terrible damage to us: to ourselves, to Europe and the European economy – including Hungary. The Germans have made a calculation – which I’ve written down for myself here somewhere – of the losses that the war and the sanctions will cause Germany this year, in 2023. They’ve chosen some interesting methodologies, but in the end they’ve come to the conclusion that in 2023 the German economy will suffer a loss of 175 billion euros – somewhat less than Hungary’s GDP. So because of the sanctions Germany will lose a whole “Hungary’s worth” of economic output. I asked our people to use a similar methodology to calculate what this means for Hungary, and we came to the conclusion that this year Hungary will lose 3,764 billion forints. This lost growth is 4.8 per cent of Hungary’s gross domestic product. So we can now quantify that the sanctions are costing the Hungarian economy almost as much as the personal income tax paid by all Hungarians. There’s a difference of a few hundred billion, but the two figures are in the same range. So it’s clear that this is causing serious damage. People know this, they understand this, and they reject the sanctions. In addition there are points in the sanctions that are causing serious losses for Hungary, and there are points that are causing smaller losses. It’s not possible to paralyse the entire functioning of the European Union by constantly saying “no” and using one’s veto on both big and small issues. We don’t support sanctions at all, and we won’t vote for them, but we’ll allow them to be imposed wherever they don’t hit a nerve or affect vital Hungarian interests. So we won’t block them. We don’t support them, and we don’t block them. And there are points that clearly run counter to Hungary’s fundamental interests, and which we must veto. This was the case with oil, and this would be the case with gas, which they can’t impose because of us. And now there are new plans for sanctions: now they want to extend them to the nuclear industry, and this obviously needs to be vetoed. This will be a big battle. For my success or my achievements at the negotiating table, it’s relevant, it’s very important that it’s clear that it isn’t the Hungarian prime minister who has a problem with sanctions, but a whole nation that stands united against sanctions. So for me it’s a great help – and perhaps the number one precondition for success – to have such a successful national consultation.
And could this also be taken account of in Brussels? Because, as you’ve mentioned, there’s a debate about whether or not 1.4 million people is too few or not. And the Commission spokesperson in Brussels also said that they thought the number of Hungarians who took part in this consultation was low…
It’s an honour that they have an opinion on Hungarian domestic politics, but fortunately what they say doesn’t count. And they might even be right in that it isn’t 1.4 million people at the negotiating table, but the Hungarian prime minister. He’s the one that needs to be beaten. So the question is whether the Hungarian prime minister will allow himself to be defeated or whether he’ll stand up for the national interest. And the more forcefully and clearly the Hungarian people express what’s in their own national interest, the more difficult it will be to defeat the Hungarian prime minister.
By the way, very many European surveys show that the thinking of European citizens is similar to that of the Hungarians, and an increasing number of them reject these sanctions. Seeing this and seeing the EU sanctions policy, and in addition the corruption scandal we’re seeing now in the European Union, is the European Union able to defend the interests of its own citizens?
The Hungarian position is clear: the Hungarian people want their voices to be heard in Brussels too. I’m not in the habit of judging the democratic performance of other countries. Of course they’re not so gracious in return, so they regularly interfere in Hungarian domestic politics. But it’s good if we Hungarians distance ourselves from that: we don’t have to reciprocate, but we can be gracious and chivalrous. But on this issue I have to say this: in Western Europe there’s no room for the voices of the people. So what I see in Western Europe today is that wherever the voice of the people is contrary to the official, pro-war position, they try to somehow negate it, to suppress it, and to regard it as non-existent. The media in the Western world is monochrome, so it’s safe to say that the infrastructure of publicity – the media – is more than 90 per cent globalist and liberal, let’s say; and whatever it negates and ignores is essentially non-existent. The situation in Hungary is better, since our media sphere is much more diverse than theirs. So in Hungary, if someone tries to measure this with some kind of gauge, they’ll find that in relation to a given problem, to the war, for example, in the Hungarian media they’ll have no difficulty in accessing the liberal, globalist approach provided by the left-wing media; and they’ll also have access to the nationalist, conservative approach, as provided by media with a conservative, Christian democratic orientation. So we live in a world of media freedom and diversity. This isn’t the case in the West. In Germany, say, I’ll open a newspaper that says it’s left-wing and a newspaper that says it’s right-wing, and I’ll find myself reading the same thing about the war. So the fact is that in Western European countries they’re trying to steer through this wartime period in a way that enables them to experience the least possible disturbance from the voices of the people. The Hungarian reflex is the opposite: we want the voices of the Hungarian people to also be listened to in Brussels.
You’ve mentioned the media, and you’ve also mentioned the activities of the Hungarian left. Now, in the “rolling dollars” affair, it’s been revealed that the amount of money that was spent on the Left’s campaign before the election wasn’t 3 billion forints, but 4 billion. Some of this went to NGOs, and some to media companies. What does this show you about the Left, and how should their activities be assessed in the light of this?
The biggest lesson here is that there’s not only a dollar-fuelled left, but also a dollar-fuelled media. Here we’re getting the answer to a very important question. I think that not only those who are involved in politics, but everyone has noticed the fact that on the most important issues – and particularly on the most important international issues – the Left constantly takes positions which are bad for Hungary. One such example is migration. They want to bring in migrants. This is obviously bad for Hungary. Or on the gender issue, where they want to let activists with such strange orientations into our schools, among our children. Or on the issue of war, where they’re pro-war. Or on the issue of sanctions, where they’re pro-sanctions. So for a long time there’s been this question hanging in the air: why do they do this? In these matters the Left’s position is always bad for Hungary. And now we have the answer: it’s because they get paid to do this! They take these positions because they’re paid to do so. This is a brutal statement, and I’m trying to frame it in a friendly way. Because there’s perhaps nothing more brutal than representing the interests of a client in politics for money instead of the interests of your own country – but that’s what we’re dealing with here. I think it’s time we all faced up to this. Perhaps it’s also good for voters on the Left to understand what’s happening in their own backyard. It might not hurt us on the Right either; because if the Left stood on national foundations and didn’t represent the interests of their financial backers, then on some important issues it might be possible for the Left and the Right to work together. And we on the Right mustn’t abandon the hope of striving for full national unity on important issues. So I think it’s important for us to also understand this phenomenon. And it’s particularly important for people to know what news, what information, what arguments are based on what considerations or financial reasoning. At the end of the investigations I hope that it will also become clear exactly who it was that provided the money. We already know the techniques through which it came in. This is a Soros-style network, a Soros system, using the same techniques. And we’ll obviously find our fine Hungarian compatriot George Soros at the source of the money. But let’s wait until the end to see from exactly where – by person or by company – these funds came into Hungary. It’s important to confront this. So this is a very serious matter. At the end of the investigations, when the facts have been established accurately and in their entirety, I hardly think that we can just walk away from this without building up protection systems, laws and regulations enabling us to defend ourselves against politicians who have been bought with money.
Let’s stay with domestic issues and talk a little more about the economic outlook. You mentioned that the war and its consequences will cost Hungary 3,764 billion forints this year. And of course another very serious consequence is the high inflation across Europe. It seems, from the figures at least, that last year the value of pensions and workers’ wages was protected. In these circumstances, with the losses that the economy’s suffering, is there any chance of this happening again this year?
Well, there’s no doubt that last year we significantly increased the minimum wage, we gave back the thirteenth month’s pension, and we gave back a year’s worth of tax to families. This is good news for people, and I’m sure they’re happy about it, but it’s not everyday reality, it’s not everyday experience. Everyday reality is the reality of the shops and the prices of goods on the shelves. So today our thinking, our emotions, are dominated by price rises and inflation. And although left-wing economists keep saying that we shouldn’t have given people so much money in 2022, if we hadn’t given people so much money, how could they have survived this high inflation? So I think it was the right thing to do. And this year it’s right to give help, but the help won’t change people’s feelings, their perception or their reality; because after all the reality is still high prices. So the only task the Government can set itself here is to bring down inflation: we mustn’t look at it, explain it or quibble about it, but we must bring it down. Inflation is a public enemy. And we’ve taken the necessary decisions. So I believe that the Government has already given the Hungarian economy the antidote, the remedy, the anti-inflation remedy. And it’s working. And I think we’re going to beat this affliction. I expect that sometime around February or March, the fever – if we consider inflation to be a fever – will start to subside, and we’ll be returning to normal; and by the end of the year – by the end of 2023 – on a December-to-December basis inflation will be in single digits. This is a battle, but I repeat: inflation isn’t something to watch and suffer, but something to be fought. The National Bank and the Government are trying to coordinate their efforts, and I believe that through this joint effort we’ll achieve results. I ask people to hold on for a little longer. At the end of February, and in March, I think they’ll see that the injections – the vaccines that the Government has given to the Hungarian economy – will be producing encouraging results.
Even if, say, new sanctions come from Brussels?
We won’t allow any sanctions that would further increase Hungarian inflation. The most important thing here is the price of energy, so we won’t allow implementation of the plan to extend sanctions to nuclear energy. So 5 February, for example, will be an interesting day, because on that date some of the sanctions previously adopted by the EU on oil will come into force. Products derived from Russian oil, such as diesel, won’t be allowed on the European market – apart from in those countries that have fought their own battles and have managed to avoid being affected. One such country is Hungary. This battle was led by us Hungarians. We’ve managed to include two or three other countries in this circle, so we, for example, won’t be affected by this sanction on 5 February. And I won’t allow nuclear energy to be included in the scope of sanctions – that’s out of the question.
In the last half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the war in Ukraine, the Brussels sanctions and the prospects for the Hungarian economy.