Zsolt Törőcsik: Yesterday Poland’s Minister of National Defence announced that the first delivery of Leopard tanks for Ukraine has been assembled, with contributions from Poland, Canada, Norway and Spain. Meanwhile, Brussels has earmarked 1 billion euros to buy ammunition for the weapons being delivered to Ukraine. It’s clear, therefore, that we’ve entered an age of danger, with the West continuing to see arms supplies as the solution to the Russo-Ukrainian war, and fighting on the front line growing ever bloodier and claiming ever more lives. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Good morning.
You gave an interview to the Swiss newspaper Weltwoche recently, in which you said that no one can win this war, but that the stalemate could easily escalate into a world war. What do you think are the chances of that happening now?
My greetings to your listeners. Let’s think back to where we were one year ago, when we were perhaps all hoping that this armed conflict wouldn’t escalate into a real war – or that if it did, it would be geographically limited, only a few countries would be involved, and there would be the chance for it to end quickly. The opposite of all this has happened. So a year later the war is much more brutal and cruel than when it started. Of course neither of the opposing sides gives a reliable figure for the number of casualties, but there are estimates – and our intelligence services are also making such estimates – which indicate that the number of dead and irrecoverably wounded is already over 100,000 on both sides. Adding up the losses on both sides, this means that 200,000 to 300,000 people will never return home. This means that orphans and widows are being created every day, representing a multitude of the most extreme human tragedies. And instead of there being an almost unanimous international commitment to peace, world opinion is sharply divided: there’s the West, including Europe and others; and then there are the Turks, the Arabs, the Chinese and the Africans, who are calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations. It’s understandable why they’re doing this, because although they’re geographically further from the conflict than we are, they’re suffering the impact from it: primarily the war’s economic impact, through food supply disruption and inflation, with the war and sanctions driving up inflation and prices not only in our region, but also in more distant regions. In stark contrast to them is the position of the West. In the most restrained terms, what I have to say about the latter is that the leaders of the Western world are showing symptoms of war fever. When I listen to them, what I hear is motivational speeches in the calm surroundings of conference rooms, urging for victory in the war and calling for more sacrifices. And the consequence of this – which you also refer to in your question – is that ever more lethal weapons are being shipped to Ukraine. Let’s not forget that the Germans started with helmets, now they’re onto tanks, and it’s now a completely established – but previously taboo – talking point that the next task would be to send fighter aircraft. And I think that we’re very close to the tabling of a serious proposal for soldiers from allied countries – countries allied with Ukraine – to cross the border and enter Ukraine. So in summary, in answer to your question, I have to say that we’ve never been so close, the world’s never been so close, to turning a local war- because we’re talking about Luhansk and Donetsk, a local war – into a world war. The likelihood of this is growing by the day.
In such a context, is there any possibility for dialogue or negotiations? Because, as you’ve mentioned, one side – the pro-peace camp – is judging this situation on the basis of common sense or on principles and practice, while the other side is making it into a question of faith.
I’m sure that plays a role, but the Western position isn’t based solely on faith. It’s also based on interests. So we’re talking about many countries being involved in this war in one way or another, with essentially only Hungary [in the EU] being left out of it. We’re the only ones who can be described as pro-peace – alongside the Vatican. The latter, after all, is also a state, although it isn’t a member of the European Union – fortunately for them, as I think there would be interesting debates, on the gender issue, for example. So, apart from the Vatican, Hungary is essentially the only one that’s pro-peace, and everyone else is pro-war. But everyone has different interests. So we mustn’t believe what we read, or what the parties to the war say about themselves: that they’re embodiments of integrity and disinterestedness, and that they’re involved in this war solely out of a commitment to principles and faith. There’s certainly a lot of business speculation, military policy considerations, economic interests and speculation on the benefits to be gained from the post-war situation. People create wars, people run countries, so these kinds of vested interest can by no means be ruled out. One should never believe anyone who claims that such considerations don’t influence their thinking and their decisions: this world is, after all, built according to human logic, and we can’t be angels even if that’s what we want, because interests always float into view. The same is true with this war. Now I don’t want to go any further than that, because it’s difficult to discuss the issue in any meaningful way without naming countries in relation to their interests – and naming countries would, at the very least, be diplomatically tactless. And it would also be irrational, because it would open up unnecessary disputes, and Hungary has enough disputes as it is.
So, from what we’ve been talking about so far, what conclusions can we draw about Hungary’s situation or its security? You were in Székesfehérvár this week, at the headquarters of the Hungarian Defence Forces, where you said that Hungary is in favour of peace, but we must keep our powder dry.
The first thing is a situation in which one’s country is under attack and one has to defend it. So the army isn’t a luxury, and having it isn’t simply a historical custom: a country needs an army, and its actions could be needed. In fact, the smaller one’s army and the weaker you look, the more you’re exposed to the malice of other countries towards you or their plans against you. In the past Hungary has lost wars and lost territory, so we know what it’s like to be insufficiently strong. Therefore one has to be strong enough to at least keep what remains and what one has. For this one needs an army. And first and foremost, of course, for this one needs patriotic people – and I’m not just talking about men, because in general countries can defend themselves if their citizens love their country. If there’s trouble, their first thought isn’t how to escape, but how to protect their country from that trouble. Therefore patriotic thinking and this kind of education, national culture and patriotism are all extremely important if we want our community – the Hungarians – to have a future and to have our own country. Secondly, we must have the ability to ensure that everyone in the country knows what to do if there’s a problem. We aren’t perfect in this respect, because it’s been a very long time since Hungary had a coordinated practice, education and some kind of information for people about what to do if there’s a problem. This is understandable, because we’ve become unaccustomed to having to think about the threat of war. We thought that in Europe war was a thing of the past, that there would be no more wars here, and that we’d managed to build security systems that would rule out war. This is why today, if there were a problem and suddenly something needed to be done, it would be very difficult for a doctor or a teacher – or even for you here, in front of me now – to say exactly where one should go, who one should report to, what kind of work one should do, how one could help, how one could participate in the defence of the country. This knowledge, which we used to have but which has now been lost, will need to be revived. It’s called a national defence plan. We’re building it, and we’ll eventually get to the point where all ten million people – or at least the adults – know what they should or must do, if they’re prepared, in the event of trouble. The third step is to have people who will defend the country with force – with armed force, if necessary. This is the national defence force. This is why it’s important that the defence forces are battleworthy, and that they aren’t just a cockade on our chest, or a sprig on our hat, but a military force with real power to strike. Therefore we need to increase the number of soldiers, increase their commitment, their dedication to their country, their sense of vocation, increase their level of training, increase their esteem, and provide them with modern weaponry – because wars, modern wars and military conflicts, depend to a large extent on technology. If modern military development has completely passed you by, then commitment is useless – unless your country’s geographical conditions make it impregnable: sea, mountains, and so on. Hungary isn’t one of those countries. Otherwise you must have modern technology, because without it you cannot defend your country. So while we’re on the side of peace, Hungary mustn’t be defenceless. Our advocacy for peace isn’t rooted in weakness; we aren’t asking for mercy, we don’t want peace because we don’t have the strength to defend ourselves, but because peace is good and war is bad. But anyone who may harbour bad intentions towards Hungary should recognise that it’s impossible to harm Hungary – or if they do, they’ll suffer more harm than they inflict on us. We must have this capability. Being strong enough is one of the most powerful vehicles for peace. To have peace you need strength, they say, and there is a lot of truth in that. So, to come back to the essence of your question, it’s important for Hungary to be both militarily strong and pro-peace. In this respect Hungarian policy isn’t in a bad position, because most of Hungary’s leadership – let’s say the country’s leadership, which includes the Left, the country’s elected representatives – are pro-peace. The Left is pro-war, but since the Right/Left ratio is to the detriment of the latter and to the advantage of the Right, the peace party has much more weight and influence over the life of Hungary than the war party. The Left and the groups with international ties – because the international groups want war, they want to press us into it – represent the pro-war position in Hungary. The nationalists represent the pro-peace position, and fortunately the latter have a convincing majority. The Left is financed from abroad, and we can see that this is what’s happening – not only with the left-wing parties, but also with the left-wing media: not only are there “rolling dollars” in the parties, but also rolling dollars in the media. So as long as they’re financed from abroad, they’ll be expected to be pro-war. I could also say that the Hungarian pro-war community – the left-wing community – is pro-war in response to foreign influence. Perhaps they too, in their hearts, would prefer to stand up for peace along with the national side.
Yesterday, at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s opening event of the year, you said that Europe’s power structure is being reconfigured. What can our position be in this? I’m asking you primarily in economic terms, and primarily because yesterday you also referred to the fact that Hungary needs energy. But if they want to separate Russia from Europe, from where will we be able to get sufficient energy? And at what price?
This is a very dangerous question, and I mustn’t allow myself to be taken in. Because the restructuring of power relations in Europe – which is undoubtedly taking place, and war is a means of achieving it – is a high-stakes issue, and one that will have a major impact on our future. It needs to be thought about, and the electorate of this country rightly expects its leaders to think in such a perspective, because these are the issues that will determine our future. At the same time, the transformation of the entire European power system and the post-war conditions which we must be prepared for can only be foreseen and discussed if we also discuss the outcome of the war. And then we’ve already sunk into or slid into speculating about who wins, how they’ll win, whether or not Ukraine will remain intact, and what will happen to it. And from that point on, as the war’s still in progress, if we engage in such speculation in public we’ll be exposing the country to the worst kind of attacks. Of course everyone knows that we’re all thinking about what will happen at the end of the war, what the solution will be, what Hungary will have to do then, what our interests are, how they should be asserted, and where they can’t be asserted. We have a duty to deal with all that, but it wouldn’t be right for responsible national leaders to talk about that in public. It’s fine if intellectuals, research institutes and universities – of which there are many in Hungary – speculate about this, think about it, and draft scenarios, because we need to keep ourselves intellectually fresh. But as a responsible politician I mustn’t speculate about that in public – even though I do have some ideas about the possible outcomes of this war. One thing is certain: a great opportunity has opened up for those who want to change the traditional balance of power in Europe. The traditional balance of power in Europe has been built around a Franco-German axis, because those are the two largest states on the continent. The United States has been involved in European life only through its military. If it had vital economic interests it found ways to pursue them, but it wasn’t directly involved in European politics. Now, with the war in Ukraine, that’s changed; because behind the war in Ukraine, behind the Ukrainians, who are fighting heroically, are the Americans. This doesn’t devalue the heroism of the Ukrainians; but the truth is that Ukraine can only fight as long as the United States gives its consent. If the United States were to withdraw that consent, then we’d have a ceasefire. This is something which the United States doesn’t want now. Of course President Trump – who wants to run for re-election – wants that. So the US election, which will be in 2024, will have a direct influence on whether or not the war continues, whether there’s a ceasefire and whether there are peace talks. Put in a nutshell, the war means that today the Americans are directly involved in shaping the balance of power in Europe. It couldn’t be otherwise, since they’re behind Ukraine, leading the coalition in the war. And this will have all sorts of consequences for our future, which in due course I’ll be happy to talk about for your listeners.
And now let’s return to the present, because the inflation figures for February have come out, which show that the inflation rate has moderated somewhat, but that it’s still above 25 per cent. When will the measures that the Government has taken to reduce inflation have a tangible impact on people?
There’s only one fixed point I can talk about: by the end of the year, by 31 December, inflation will be below 10 per cent – it will be in single digits. Opinions differ on the timetable for achieving this. I’m among those who’d rather express the hope that we’ll achieve it quickly, while others say that it will only be felt in the second half of the year. We cannot decide that debate now. What’s important is that we insist that inflation should be below 10 per cent by the end of the year: that it should be brought down, forced down, beaten down to below 10 per cent. The Government has taken the necessary decisions to do this, and everyone accepts that these are good decisions. The Left don’t support the measures we’ve taken, including the price caps and the interest rate freeze, because that’s not usual in Hungarian politics. But it seems to me that even they are at least not savaging them or opposing them vehemently. So from the reactions to these twenty decisions, these twenty measures with which Hungary is defending itself against inflation and with which we want to protect the country, families, pensioners, small and medium-sized enterprises and so on, my impression is that these measures are widely accepted, and that there’s also a consensus that they’ll achieve the desired results. The question is at what pace – but certainly by the end of the year.
Could this target be altered if there’s a change in the EU’s sanctions policy, on whether new sanctions are introduced – or, say, some are withdrawn?
I’m certain of that, and my more than thirty years of international experience tells me so. I’ve been following the development of the world economy and the European economy over that time – and I’ve not only been following it, but I’ve also been involved in it from time to time. So in the light of my experience, or bolstered by it, I can tell you that if the sanctions were lifted tomorrow morning, the rate of inflation would be halved immediately and at a stroke, and would start on a steep downward path. So it would immediately halve, and start to return to the 2–3 per cent range, where it should be in a modern European economy. So the quickest and most effective way to reduce inflation is to reverse the sanctions, but in Europe at the moment there’s no chance of that happening. I’m calling for it, Hungary’s calling for it, but the influence we have is as large as our army and our GDP. This is the reality of the situation. This is why we’re unable to reverse the sanctions policy. But what we can do – because we have the right, and fortunately also the strength – is to veto those sanctions decisions that would cause the most direct damage to the Hungarian economy. We’ve already had ten sanctions packages, we’ve been through ten battles, ten politically bloody battles. Every time we had to stand up for Hungarian interests, and we did so under the leadership of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. And we won these battles, these veto-related battles.
There’s also another battle between Brussels and Hungary, on the Child Protection Act. Since we last spoke, there have been a number of paedophile scandals in schools, and we also know that the Government and the governing parties are preparing to tighten up the Child Protection Act. Incidentally, the law currently in force, which was adopted in 2021, is now before the EU court. If the law is made stricter, could this lead to new conflicts between Brussels and Budapest?
Yes. There are three major issues on which there’s a seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinion between Brussels bureaucrats and Hungary. One is the issue of migration. We’re in court, the ruling has gone against us, and we’ll soon be made to pay for not letting in migrants. This is a serious issue, which in the shadow of war is getting less attention – but it will be worth addressing. The absurd situation is that, while Hungary is defending its own and the European Union’s external borders, we’ll be fined unless we let in migrants. For a long time Brussels has been demanding that Hungary should capitulate and become an immigrant country. That we should be like them, and struggle with the problems, the difficulties, the irreversible historical processes that the countries to the west of us are struggling with today, after having let in migrants and having transformed themselves into immigrant countries. But we don’t want that, because Hungary belongs to Hungarians, we want Hungary to remain a Hungarian country, we want our grandchildren to live in a country like ours is now, and we don’t want to change its composition. So this is a dispute with Brussels that at the moment I see as being insoluble. The second question is the war. They’re pro-war and we’re pro-peace. The situation on the battlefield will change this, because at some point there will be a ceasefire, and then this conflict between the Brussels bureaucrats and Hungary will also cease. And then there’s the third issue, which again at the moment I don’t see as being resolvable: the issue of what’s known as “gender” – which is in fact child protection. In Brussels they’re demanding that we abolish parental privilege in the upbringing of children. Hungary, on the other hand, insists that the upbringing of children – including sexual education and preparation for life – is the responsibility of parents, and that no one can take that away from them. In school children must not receive education or be exposed to the promotion of ways of life which have not been consented to by their parents. And this includes not only national identity, but also sex or sexual identity. And the Hungarian view is that propaganda that creates uncertainty around this has no place in schools. We’ve excluded such things. Brussels wants to bring them back, because it believes that the primary responsibility for the upbringing of children lies not with parents, but with all kinds of activists who embody modern ideas and worship such strange practices. The end result of this will be that the standards that protect our children will be eroded, and suddenly we’ll see that there’s an increase in the number of paedophile crimes in Hungary. And that’s something we don’t want, because it’s the worst thing a parent can imagine their child suffering. Parents have the right to protect their children and their rights, and – at least in my view – they should expect the government of the day to help them protect their children. They should expect the Government to help parents ensure that their right to raise their children remains exclusive to them, and that no one should be able to interfere with their children – either physically or mentally. This is the dispute with Brussels. It’s such a gulf, such a chasm between the two positions, that I don’t see how it can be bridged. And since we won’t give way, in the end Brussels will have to give way.
In the past half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the Russo-Ukrainian war and its consequences, the fight against inflation, and the battles in Brussels over the Child Protection Act.