Zsolt Törőcsik: The main message during Pope Francis’s three-day apostolic journey to Hungary was peace, and on his return to Rome the head of the Catholic Church is setting his sights on a mission of peace. How long it will take to get there remains uncertain, as another shipment of US weapons left for Ukraine yesterday, and a possible sign of the escalation of the war is that unknown persons have tried to kill the Russian president with a drone attack on the Kremlin. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is our guest in the studio. Good morning.
Good morning to you and your listeners.
Every day Western leaders are saying that Ukraine must win this war. Looking at the scale of the destruction and the images of it, what does a Ukrainian victory even mean? How do you see this?
Even at the outbreak of the war, the Hungarian position was that there was hardly any chance that there could be a winner in this war. It will have losers, but it won’t have winners. On the one hand, Russia is coming up against a brick wall, and as NATO is supplying Ukraine with weapons and money, it’s simply up to the West and America to decide how much it’s willing to spend, and for how long. It’s very hard to defeat modern Western weapons systems and a US budget that’s willing to spend almost unlimited funds on them. And on the other hand you have Russia: a country of 140 million, much bigger than Ukraine, with many more people, many more soldiers, much more powerful conventional weapons, and nuclear weapons – the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. My imagination isn’t vivid enough to envisage someone being able to defeat a nuclear power. So anyone who thinks that the Russians are going to sit back and wait for their defeat – to accept a military defeat, the collapse of their political system, the assassination of their president, a drone strike over Red Square – hasn’t yet outgrown their childhood. Such things exist in fairy tales, but not in reality. This is why it was clear from the start that, despite all the high hopes, this was going to be a war with only losers: terrible destruction, a large part of Ukraine razed to the ground, orphans, widows, hundreds of thousands of dead and people suffering life-changing, crippling and irreversible injuries. And their numbers are growing every day. The cemeteries are filling up, we see the reports, and we follow the Hungarian victims in particular, keeping track of the Hungarians who live in Transcarpathia who were conscripted and who died in the war. From this we can also see how the conflict is spreading and intensifying. So there will be no winners. Anyone who claims that there will be doesn’t know European history and doesn’t know the fundamental laws of military operations. We have only one option left. First of all, let us be glad that here there is no war, but peace. Let us be glad that we’re not letting it happen, that we’re strong enough to prevent ourselves from being pressed into this war. That’s what the Americans want. If you go out on the street you see that America is waging a war [poster] campaign on the territory of Hungary. This is worth a discussion in itself, by the way: here in our country, another country can conduct a propaganda campaign for an armed conflict, and it’s permitted in Hungarian law. End of story. We’ll have to think about this too. We shall not take part in this war: it’s not our war, and we’ll do everything in our power to bring about a ceasefire and peace negotiations as soon as possible – because unless we do, the lives of many tens or hundreds of thousands of people cannot be saved. In addition, everyone is now expecting the conflict to intensify, because everyone is talking about some kind of Ukrainian military action. So we’re entering some difficult weeks.
Yes, but then this question arises: If no one can win, in whose interest is it to continue fighting? As you’ve said, the fighting is even more intensive than earlier.
The nature of war is that there’s always a reason for it breaking out. Usually the warring parties interpret that reason differently. That is the case now. The Russians say that the war broke out because Ukraine wanted to join NATO. And the Ukrainians say that it happened because the Russians wanted to take their land, their territory, and they’re only defending their homeland. But there are always different interests attached to a war. Well, weapons can be sold. At such times the arms industry thrives. If you look at the stock market prices of the arms companies, you can see that there’s been a huge increase. So just because there’s a war going on, someone’s already made huge profits. This kind of thing is a speculator’s gold mine. War is a goldmine for smugglers. So there are a lot of business interests involved, and let’s not forget that there are big Western economic interests. Perhaps George Soros is at the top of the list of those who have always dreamed of somehow getting a foothold in Ukraine. They’ve managed to do that, and now they dream of getting access to Russia’s natural resources. I clearly remember the 1990s, when the West was very keen to invest in Russia and to acquire Russia’s natural resources on a commercial basis. In the Yeltsin era the Americans, in particular, took advantage of this opportunity. This came to an end with President Putin, who replaced Yeltsin, and who forced them out of the country and took back control of the country’s economic resources. This has caused resentment in world economic policy ever since, with many clamouring for a return to the days when they had access to the economic potential of a defeated Russia. It’s a big, rich country.
So the Hungarian government’s position is clear: there must be a ceasefire and peace. This is a position shared with Pope Francis. And perhaps one of the most important questions of his apostolic visit was where one can find the creative forces for peace. This is how he put the question. Where do you think these forces are, and – more importantly – can a route to a solution be found? What was the significance of the papal visit in this respect?
That was not perhaps the most important thing about the papal visit, although it was important, as you’ve said. I’ve been occupied with the country’s political affairs for quite a long time, but in the last thirty years I can’t remember such a joyful three days. Regardless of their religious denomination, everyone said that the Pope came here, and everything that happened was good. Not a single bad thing happened, and I’ve hardly ever seen someone who, by their very presence, could restrain us, could restrain the political forces fighting one another, so that we could forget about them for a few days. So the Hungarian opposition and pro-government, left-wing and right-wing debates, attacks and ill-will were all sidelined, they somehow lost their significance and were replaced by something else: something that the Holy Father brought here. So you don’t have to be a believer to feel that the country changed for those three days. And so we can be grateful to the Holy Father for coming here, for listening to us, and for being interested in what’s happening here. And to answer your question, in addition to the fact that we’ve received this great grace, he is counting on us. I have the feeling that the Vatican is determined – and will mobilise its strength, its connections and its influence – to try to put a stop to the bloodshed. The Pope himself has said this, that he’s ready for a peace mission. And obviously he must bring together those actors – and Hungary is one of them – for whom the voice of peace is strongest: those countries, leaders, social and political forces that want peace and are willing to represent this position and this stance on the international stage. Because there are many people in Europe who want peace; but today the political climate is such that American influence, which is being exerted through various channels, simply leaves no room for the voice of peace. So don’t let anyone think that people in Western Europe welcome news of the war. Maybe they did at the beginning, but as time goes by and it becomes clear that there will be no winner, that the losses will be greater and the financial burden will be greater, the people of Europe are not on board with the war propaganda. This isn’t apparent at the moment, because there’s a very strong diplomatic offensive from the American side – as I’ve said, it’s even on the Hungarian streets. Imagine what the situation could be like in other parts of Europe, where the entire mainstream liberal media is unanimously pro-war, in an almost orchestrated manner. This is why we’re not hearing the voices of the people. But the Pope is well aware that this isn’t the mood in Europe. There are no leaders – apart from the Hungarians almost no one – who would be willing to take on the risks associated with dispute that come with openly standing up for peace. Hungary is one such country: we’re a Christian country, and what’s more we speak our mind, we’re a straight-talking country. This often causes us problems, especially in international politics, so we have to be sensible. But we’re clearly and unequivocally in favour of peace. And I strongly believe that when we see the completion of this new Ukrainian military offensive, counter-offensive, or whatever you want to call it, then a completely different picture will emerge: the situation will become clearer, and to many people – including us – it will become clear what military options remain in this war. At present no one knows exactly what will happen, but if this is the last great opportunity – because I believe it is the last – for the Ukrainians to achieve some kind of military success, if this bullet is fired, if this happens, then we’ll see what the balance of power between the opposing forces really is. And in a clearer, more transparent situation there will be more opportunities for diplomatic action in the cause of peace.
What role can Hungary play in this, even in a Vatican peace mission? Because on the one hand, as you’ve said, the Hungarian Government’s position is clear; and on the other hand, here in Hungary we’re perhaps the closest to this conflict.
It’s safe to say that we have the greatest interest in peace. Firstly, because Ukraine is our neighbour; and everyone who owns property knows that its value is affected by the state of one’s neighbour’s house, garden and yard. So for us a prosperous and successful Ukraine is in our interest, as it would increase the value of Hungary. And a Ukraine in distress – at war, devastated, a risk factor, having lost hundreds of thousands of lives – would also diminish the attraction of Hungary. I could give all kinds of statistical figures on this, but perhaps they’re not needed now. Every human life lost is an irreplaceable loss, and therefore the Ukrainians’ losses are our losses. But beyond this Christian and humane position, if we consider our own self-interest we also see that we should have a successful Ukraine as a neighbour. So we’re affected by this. Secondly, there are Hungarians living there. Part of Ukraine is ancient Hungarian land, which now belongs to Ukraine. The Hungarians live there as an indigenous community: they didn’t immigrate, they weren’t blown there by the wind, they’ve always lived there, it’s their homeland and their land. And they’re also dying in the war. The suffering of Ukraine is also the suffering of the Hungarians living there. So we Hungarians are at least twice as motivated – more strongly than any other people in Europe – to bring peace to Ukraine. This is why we’re always looking for opportunities to contribute to peace, and we won’t distance ourselves from any peace mission – just as we tried to seek peace before the war.
Let’s deal with a practical consequence of the war. In addition to arms supplies, Brussels has tried to help Ukraine by making grain imports from there duty-free and quota-free, but this has caused serious market disruption in many countries, including Hungary. The affected Member States banned imports on an individual basis, and eventually Brussels took action. Do you think that the agreement that’s been reached will protect Hungarian farmers?
An instructive situation. So first of all, for Hungarians this is always a problem. We’re a well-intentioned people, aren’t we? We’ve been tricked five times, and somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to be tricked for a sixth time. We should have known – I should have known – that this would be the result. But since we want peace, and the Ukrainians are in trouble, and we wanted to help, and the Commission asked us to do so, we said, “Fine, let’s abolish the customs duties, and allow grain to be exported from Ukraine via Hungary.” This was even though we knew that this could cause disruption in Hungary if it got stuck here; but, “Fine, let’s do it”, because transport by sea isn’t possible due to the war, the Black Sea frontline. And the Commission has tricked us so many times and abused their power so many times that we really should have known that it would end this way again. But, well, we know ourselves, and from their family history everyone can recount such inexplicably positive situations that were based on trust. And we believed the Commission. “In that case”, we said, “let’s take the grain for those starving in Africa through Hungary, because it can’t cross the sea.” What happened? It didn’t go to Africa! It didn’t go to the starving! Speculators took it, brought it into Central Europe, sold it here, depressed prices, and ruined the prospects of Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian farmers. Meanwhile business and wheeler-dealing continued. And the Commission knew this perfectly well, but it did nothing. It didn’t say a word! If the Poles hadn’t sounded the alarm and launched this Central European uprising, if they hadn’t rallied five countries, including us, we’d still be watching the ruination of farmers throughout Central Europe – including Hungary. But fortunately the Poles are a country of 40 million, and at a time like this it’s their job to lead Central Europe; it’s our job to join in, and this coalition has come together and we’ve fought in Brussels to put an end to this immediately. And if Brussels refuses to act, and it did refuse to, then we – in our national capacity, in defiance of Brussels and the decisions taken by Brussels – shall physically prevent these goods from entering Hungary. We’re talking about wheat, maize, sunflower seeds and rapeseed, and the oil made from them. And the only thing that the Commission could do was come to an agreement with us. This shows that if the Central Europeans unite, as they did before the war, we can also achieve our goals in Brussels. Brussels has also said that it will give 100 million euros in exceptional aid to farmers. We don’t believe this, of course, because when it comes to money they don’t tell the truth: they promise it and then they don’t give it. I don’t think we’ll see any of this money; that’s how Brussels works. But at least we’ve protected our farmers, and the lesson of this is that you have to stand up for your own interests. However much you’d like to believe it, you mustn’t believe that somewhere in some part of the world – for example in Brussels – someone else will look after your interests and help you. No, you can only count on yourself, and you have to stand up for your own interests.
The consequence of the war and the resulting sanctions has been high energy prices, which have hit the whole of Europe. Now, after 30 April, the Government has extended the protection of reductions in household utility charges, so that from 1 May onwards families are continuing to benefit from reduced prices. What’s the significance of this? Because if we look at the gas prices on the energy exchange, we can say that there’s not too much of a problem, at least for the moment.
The economic consequences of the whole war – including in terms of energy – have become a separate field of study. We’ve just seen the impact of the war on agriculture. While everyone’s talking about admitting Ukraine to the European Union, it’s a warning sign that just one small abolition of a tariff on cereals has almost ruined farmers in five countries. So let’s be careful with talk of European Union membership for Ukraine, because if we don’t slow down we’ll get into so much trouble: if we’re not sensible, if we don’t think things through, we’ll end up in a desperate situation. So I understand that we want to help Ukraine, but it’s no help if we destroy ourselves, our own businesses, our own farmers and our own families in the process. Now as far as another economic consequence of the war is concerned, energy prices, this is a big problem for Hungary. Before the war, Hungary – and I’m talking about the economy as a whole – paid 7 billion euros for the energy it imported; and last year – after the skyrocketing prices caused by the war and the sanctions – we paid 17 billion euros. We’ve had to find another 10 billion euros from somewhere. As prices at source have gone up, the most obvious solution would have been – as the Left and also liberal economists have demanded – to raise prices for consumers. Now that would have meant that today every Hungarian family would be paying an extra 180,000 forints per month. Not per year, per month! If we’d done what the Left and the liberal economists demanded, millions of families here would have been ruined. So seeing how long we can maintain the reductions in household utility charges is a live challenge for the Government every day. And we always put a time limit on it, because we look ahead to a certain date. So we always have to look at whether we’re able to maintain protection of the reduced prices over the coming months. The Government has decided that we can still do it, and we’ll continue to do it in the coming period. So families don’t need to worry: prices won’t be set loose, and they’ll continue to be in the protected band up to the level of average consumption. Alongside the bad news of the war, today that’s the best news I can tell families. And we’re also working to help small and medium-sized enterprises, who stand to lose out from high energy prices. Last week we made a lot of decisions that will help them. Energy bills have halved for tens of thousands of micro and small enterprises: hairdressers, beauticians, shoe repairers, all small enterprises. Gas bills have been halved, benefiting 14,000 businesses, and electricity price reductions have benefited 17,000 businesses that had special, so-called “variable fixed contracts”. So we’re trying to help families in these times of war. And we’ve also introduced new season transport passes – the county transport pass and nationwide transport pass – which will save commuters and students tens of thousands of forints. It’s immediately apparent that a new minister – János Lázár – has taken over the Ministry of Transport. When the minister sets foot somewhere, something will happen there, and his first measures have had an effect: the support which up until now was only enjoyed by the people of Budapest is being equalised everywhere. This county transport pass essentially means that people across the country are receiving the same level of support as people in Budapest. The Minister rightly sees this as fair, and this is why we’ve been able to introduce these season tickets. So what I’m saying is that there’s a war, there are sanctions, we have to run a wartime budget, and next year’s budget will be of the same nature – because unfortunately the war won’t end this year, and all calculations suggest it will remain like this next year; but during all this we’re trying to maintain all the family protection measures, so that the war and the sanctions don’t sweep away and destroy families’ budgets. And as far as energy prices are concerned, the situation is that there’s a kind of time-lagged effect on the energy that [the Hungarian power company] MVM imports from Russia, which is part of what we could call a business contract. So the price of the energy that comes in is linked to the energy exchange price, but the price always changes with a two-month lag. So when the price goes down, it’s felt in Hungary two months later, and when it starts to rise, that price rise will also arrive in Hungary two months later. This is important, as it enables Hungarian energy policy to remain stable and give us time to react, if necessary. Prices now look better than they did earlier, but they’re still one and a half times – or rather twice – what they were before the war. So the “good” element is relative, and we need to feel apprehensive – as we approach the heating season again, as the increased filling of reservoirs and larger purchases start – about the price of energy rising; and it’s by no means certain that there will be enough gas and electricity in Europe this winter. This is an important problem, but for us the most important thing is for there to be enough in Hungary. And I can tell you that there will be. So we’ll solve this problem this winter also.
What we’ve been talking about so far – the protection of families, the pro-peace position – were also key themes at CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference], where in your presentation yesterday you said that the recipe for conservative success is “no to migration, no to gender, and no to war”. In one of our discussions in March you highlighted these three issues – on which, as you put it, there’s a seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinions between Hungary and the Brussels bureaucrats. Are these the main fault lines between conservatives and the Western mainstream?
To put it in concrete terms, today or tomorrow will see the public unveiling of an initiative from nine countries, with Germany taking the lead, of course; so this isn’t just any group of countries! They’re going to propose that in future we depart from the order laid down in the Treaty of the European Union, and that the Member States shouldn’t be allowed to pursue independent foreign policy. So if the European Union were to decide by a two-thirds majority to take a particular decision on foreign policy, no Member State would be able to opt out. This would mean the abolition of Hungary’s independent foreign policy. Today European legislation guarantees that every country has the right to pursue its own foreign policy, and that a common foreign policy measure can only be enacted if there’s complete unanimity on the matter in question. This is what they want to abolish. This particular case shows what’s at stake. All over the Western world – with the Democratic administration in America just as much as with the bureaucrats in Brussels – there are ongoing attempts to limit the autonomy, the powers and the sovereignty of nations, and to take as many issues as possible away from them to be dealt with elsewhere, over their heads. Today they’re taking away matters of criminal law, with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. And then they want European media regulation. And here’s this particular case: instead of unanimous agreement on foreign policy, a large majority could determine the foreign policy of defiant, dissenting countries. This is the fault line. We believe in a Europe of nations. The only remedy is to strengthen nations – not only Hungary, but nations in general. This is the basis of Western culture, this is the basis of Western competitive advantage, this – the nations – is what made the West great. And now this is what the globalist forces – which are partly the leaders and bureaucrats of international political institutions and partly global economic forces – want to eliminate. States that are weak and unable to assert their own interests are good for financiers and businessmen working on a global scale, who can subordinate countries’ legislation, rule-making and law enforcement to their personal financial interests. Nations need to be vigilant – especially nations the size of Hungary. If we don’t want to be trampled on, we must stand up for the concept of a Europe of nations. This is what we’ve done, this is why our conservative friends were here, why those who are united by this idea met in Pest, and why they’re prepared to fight the political battle against the world of global elites and speculators.
I’ve spent the last half hour asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about subjects including the Russo-Ukrainian war, support for peace, the grain agreement, and maintenance of the reductions in household utility charges.