Zsolt Törőcsik: Last week saw the publication of a report by the intelligence services on the links between terrorism and migration at Hungary’s southern borders. Among other things, the document reveals that the activities of people smugglers in the area are now being controlled by the Taliban secret service, and that various terrorist groups are recruiting members near the Hungarian border. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is our guest in the studio. Good morning.
What are the most important conclusions for Hungary’s security, or what conclusions should be drawn from this report?
It’s a report which outlines a horizon full of fear, and which confirms to us that what we’ve been doing to date is what we must continue doing. This is what the report means for me. There’s been a big debate about this in Europe. It had been forbidden to say it, and we were the first to do so, but today ever more people are following our example, and saying that migration and terrorism go hand in hand. This report confirms that. It’s clear that there’s a phenomenon whereby migrants are becoming more aggressive, more often using violence against one another and against our border guards, and using increasingly violent means to try to get through the border fence. And, in reality, behind this radicalisation are agents and activists from terrorist organisations. So the situation at our southern borders isn’t becoming radicalised, aggravated and violent automatically, but is being fuelled, shaped and organised by trained people. This is the most important message. When people think of migration, there’s a difference between those who have children and those who don’t have children. This is my conviction. If you don’t have children, you think of migration as a personal matter – as whether one would want to live in a country where there are migrants. But for those who have children, and there are more of us in that group, I think we look forward to what kind of country we’ll be leaving to our children. There are also parents who don’t care about their family being in debt, about chaos, disarray and disorder in the family, and about their children somehow finding their own way forward in life. And then there are parents who think that we should at least pass on some order and some chance of a good life to our children. The latter is what I always think. I won’t yield an inch on that. So I’m adamant on the issue of migration, because, at the age of sixty, the question isn’t whether I’ll be bumping into migrants in Budapest over the next twenty or thirty years. The fact is that once we’ve let them in, we won’t be able to get them out again. And this means that our children, our grandchildren and generations to come will live their whole lives – not just their old age, like me – in a world that will not be good, that will be uncertain, that will be full of terrorist acts, crime, and Gaza-like mini-ghettos. And those of us who are adults now are still able to prevent this. We must do this – not only for ourselves, but for our children. So there can be no excuse. So from this point of view I don’t understand the Left, the Left in Hungary; because although we may not agree on specific issues, something that I cannot understand is the fact that they’re pro-migration, that in Brussels they constantly vote for everything that promotes migration, and that they’ve no idea what kind of country their children will live in. I think that on migration there should be very broad national unity, saying that the experience is here before our eyes, and there’s only one remedy: they mustn’t be allowed in. Because any kind of admission of illegal migrants and acceptance of their continued presence here will lead to a situation in Hungary too in which it won’t be possible to live in safety, in calm, in prosperity and peace. This is already the case in many Western European countries. They, for example, started out from a more difficult position. Because in essence history is striking back at former colonial countries, or is demanding repayment from them, because they derived their economic advantages from colonialism – which is also why they’re richer than we are. But this has come with consequences and a price. They had to – and have to – live with those who were subjected to colonialism, because to some extent the latter had to be allowed into their countries. The great migration wave of 2015 came on top of this. They mishandled that, they let them in, and from then on there was no going back. So from this point on it’s just a mathematical question of knowing how the proportion of people from different civilisations living in one’s own country will change mathematically in terms of reproduction, of population and of childbearing. And that’s where those countries see the end of their own history. There are countries where the people living there today can think that when they die their country won’t be the same as it was when they were born. This is something that must be avoided at all costs. And this is where I’d like to see national unity emerging. But unfortunately because of the Opposition – or rather I’d say the Left, but I’d also include Jobbik, whose leader votes for every pro-migration motion in Brussels – unity has so far not emerged. Therefore we, the majority, must stand up for Hungarian interests.
When we spoke in Brussels two weeks ago, you said that ever more EU leaders are beginning to recognise what problems immigration brings. But what can be done? Because on the one hand we can see that they’re continuing to come, and obviously, this pressure is also the cause of the situation that’s developing at the southern border. And on the other hand, as you yourself have pointed out, if we think of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations and the acts of aggression against Jews, tensions are also becoming increasingly apparent. So, for example, can the Migration Pact that’s being considered for adoption in Brussels be a solution to this, or should border defence be strengthened?
I thank God that I don’t have to think about what to do in a country that already has a migrant population or community making up 10 to 20 per cent of the total population. Because I don’t know if I could find the answer – or if we could find the answer together, collectively – to such a situation. We should be grateful that our heads and hearts were in the right place when we needed them: when all of Western Europe was talking about how migrants are beautiful and how living with them would only bring good things, that there really are advantages to it, and that all moral and enlightened people argue in favour of migration. I even heard these arguments made on Christian grounds. That was when our heads and hearts needed to be in the right place. And that’s where they were. Because otherwise now we’d be in the same boat as the West. I don’t know what the solution will be there, but that’s none of my business, and it’s none of our business. If they have any good ideas, we’d be happy to help. Our job is to make sure that we who didn’t make that mistake don’t end up in the same situation as them. In other words, it means not allowing them to impose on us the policies that have ruined them. Because the truly vile aspect of all this is not that they did it badly and we did it well, but that they want to impose on us what they did badly. I always say that we’re making an offer of tolerance. I tell the Germans, the French, the Brusselites, “Do it like you’re doing it, do it the way you’re doing it. We don’t want to tell you whether that’s right or wrong. We ask only one thing: that you tolerate the fact that we’re doing it differently. This is our country, and this is our concern. Leave us alone, don’t try to tell us who can reside in Hungary. Don’t seek to send here migrants who were wrongly allowed into your countries, and who you now want to get rid of by sending them here. Don’t do that! Tolerate the fact that this is another country. We didn’t make the same mistake, we have a different position, and we don’t want to become like you. We don’t want mini-Gazas in the districts of Budapest, and we don’t want terrorist attacks and gang wars and all the things we see in the cities of Western Europe.” The problem is that they don’t accept this. So Hungary’s offer of tolerance is rejected on a regular basis: they say that there must be a uniform migrant policy throughout Europe, and that it must be the same as that in the western half of Europe. This is why they now want to send their own migrants here, they want to force us to build migrant ghettos, and they want to create the right for Brussels to send any number of migrants to Hungary at any time, justifying it on the grounds of a state of danger. Now we have to fight against this. This is a big battle, and I’ve been fighting it for a very long time. In this battle I think the country’s in a good position, but it’s a recurring battle. This will be the biggest struggle in the months ahead, and among those things that are at stake in the European elections being held next June is whether we can bring about change in Brussels; because in Brussels we need change, leading to the abandonment of this misguided approach of trying to impose a bad migration policy on us. If in the national consultation we get the positive feedback that we received earlier in the referendum which we held on this subject, then I think that the Hungarian government can hold out. This isn’t simple. Now, I don’t want to spoil the morning for the listeners with my own problems, but the fight’s going on under the table – or under the water, like in a water polo match. Everything imaginable is happening, with every political tool being used to force the acceptance of bad migration policy on those countries which don’t want it: on Poland and Hungary. On this we must hold out. I’ll be glad if I get help in this, and the national consultation represents a great help.
So, as you’ve mentioned, migration is also one of the topics in the national consultation. And, of course, you’ve repeatedly stressed that change must be achieved in Brussels – by next year’s European Parliament elections at the latest. Can the national consultation – the questionnaires for which will be sent out soon – be a means of achieving this?
We have two tools. First, there’s the national consultation and national unity. There’s a two-front conflict: we have to literally defend the fence at our southern border and the country’s borders; and we have to defend our position, our position in Brussels. This is one of the battles. The other is that we must also constantly examine Hungarian legislation, because as the pressure increases, the pressure of migration, the Hungarian legal system must also adapt to it. The legal situation that’s existed up to now, and that still exists, has been suitable up to now. It handled the 2015 crisis well and it was a good tool in the battles with Brussels; but migration pressure is increasing, and in such times we need to tighten up the law. So we need a tightening up on immigration control. So far we’ve always done this by tightening up the old Immigration Act – which is, I think, seventeen or eighteen years old – with amendments to it. But now that would be a patchwork task, with more patches than original cloth. So this is why we need a new Immigration Act, which is stricter than the old one, which clearly defines who can reside in Hungary with what status, and which is also backed up with strong immigration enforcement provisions, so that it’s possible to know the status and the permitted duration of residence of everyone who’s in Hungary. Otherwise the country will be taken over from us. So Hungary belongs to Hungarians, Hungarians have a right to employment, and the rules of how we live in this country must be determined by Hungarians. And to serve and support this we need new immigration legislation, which we’ve submitted to Parliament, and which we’ll adopt this year.
If we can come back to the national consultation, what specifically does the Government expect to be confirmed? We already know the issues, with all the issues gradually becoming clear; but what specific objective will this achieve?
Unity. It’s called unity. This half hour isn’t for failed philosophers, so I don’t want to delve into philosophical arguments, but the essence of power and the communal life of a state is the capacity to act collectively. So the purpose of power, and the reason it’s given to certain people through elections, is so that they can try to use these instruments of power to enable the emergence of unified positions on the most important issues, and then enable the appropriate emergence of joint action in the light of those positions. The essence of power is the capacity for collective action. Referendums, parliamentary elections and national consultations all give Hungary the ability to act collectively, and strengthen the country. This is the meaning of the consultation.
Now, if we take this idea further, does this also mean that at the moment Brussels isn’t using its power well?
Well, there are several dimensions in which to measure whether a complex international organisation like Brussels is exercising its power well. There’s a historical dimension: why did we create the European Union in the first place? We created it to bring Europe peace and prosperity. Today there is war in Europe, there is unrest in Europe, and we’re lagging behind in the race with the world’s great economic blocs: China, Asia and the United States. So what’s happening today isn’t the outcome for which we created the European Union. Therefore we have a historical argument for why change in Brussels is absolutely necessary. But the leadership in Brussels is also making specific decisions that are so bad that we’re all paying the price. One example of this is migration. But there are a few others – right now we’re talking about Ukraine’s membership of the European Union, and we’re talking about the relationship with the Ukrainian-Russian war. And on all of these bad decisions are being made. The leadership that’s in Brussels today is doing the bidding of a globalist elite. So they’re not our people: when we see the Brussels bureaucrats in the news, no Hungarian should think that they’re the ones we put there and that they’re serving our interests. These are people who aren’t doing what we want them to do. And they’re not only not failing to do what the Hungarians want, but they’re not doing what the people of Europe in general want. People don’t want migration. They don’t want war, and they don’t want unrest. They want a well-planned green transition, and not one that destroys their industries. I could give you many examples. So I can say with certainty that the leadership in Brussels today has been captured by a globalist elite, by financial groups, by large economic power blocs, and their decisions are motivated by the interests of these groups, and not by the interests of the peoples of Hungary, Germany, France, or indeed Italy. This is why we need to effect change. It’s not that the EU needs to change, because we are the EU, and that would be self-contradictory. What we need is a change in the world of the Brussels bureaucrats, so that they finally do what’s in the interests of the people of Europe.
You’ve mentioned Ukraine, and the national consultation will also be about support for Ukraine; because one of the things that Brussels wants is to ask Member States for a further payment of 50 billion euros to support Ukraine. At the same time, in a recent interview the former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schröder said that a peace plan was already in place in Istanbul in March 2022, but the Ukrainians didn’t sign it – as a result of pressure from the Americans. If we go back to 2015, the Minsk agreements were signed as a result of proposals by the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France. In March 2022, was there a lack of will or strength from the Europeans to achieve something similar?
In the world of diplomacy, what the former German chancellor has said is a well-known fact. I haven’t seen it confirmed by the current German leadership or by anyone, but this is what’s been said by the former Chancellor. And, let’s face it, he’s not a lightweight: I worked with him for four years, I was his counterpart from 1998 to 2002, and I well remember Gerhard Schröder as being a heavyweight. So he’s not talking nonsense. And from all kinds of reports and intelligence sources we also know that indeed in 2022 in Istanbul, where all kinds of covert negotiations took place, there was essentially an agreement, which – as diplomatic rumour has it – the Ukrainians didn’t sign as a result of instructions received from the US. It will be worth finding out – as one day historians will – the nature of all the details surrounding the truth in this matter, but it’s certain that back in 2015 – at the time of the Crimean crisis – Europe’s policy was that the conflict must be isolated, that it must be contained. It’s not in our interest for it to turn it into a large pan-European conflict. It’s in our interest for it to be a local, Russo-Ukrainian conflict between two Slavic peoples, which we offer assistance in dealing with. This was the Minsk agreement. The Americans entered this game, and since that point the policy hasn’t been one of isolation, localisation and containment, but of expansion. Ever more people are getting involved, ever more weapons are being supplied, ever more money’s being spent, ever more credit’s being taken on by Europeans and sent to Ukraine, to the point at which I’d say that the conflict’s becoming globalised. I don’t think this is in Hungary’s interest. What is in the Ukrainians’ interest is for them to decide, but I’d also venture to say that it’s not in Europe’s interest either: it’s destroying us. The Russo-Ukrainian war is destroying Europe. What we’re doing now is unsustainable. It mustn’t be allowed to continue, which is why Hungary hasn’t supported sending arms, and I don’t support sending Hungarian taxpayers’ money to Ukraine now. We’re happy to give humanitarian aid, because we’re also human, we have hearts, we’re a Christian country, and we help where we can and must. But for us to maintain the Ukrainian state and for them to fight with weapons bought with our money would have very serious consequences for Hungary: consequences that would be tantamount to economic bankruptcy. Therefore I shall not consent to this, and for as long as there is a national government it shall not happen.
Last time, when we talked about the Hungarian economy, you said that now we should concentrate on kick-starting economic growth for next year, because by the end of the year inflation will be below 10 per cent. And at yesterday’s government briefing [Minister leading the Prime Minister’s Office] Gergely Gulyás said that from January there could be a significant increase in the minimum wage. Could this also help to kick-start growth?
Well, to talk about 2024 plans in a meaningful way, we need to finish 2023 well. And we still have a month and a half to go. It will be an extremely difficult month and a half in Hungarian politics. Perhaps not for the Hungarian people, because I see that since September there’s already real growth in wages. And I was surprised to see a report from the OECD – which is after all the community of the world’s most developed countries – which said that in Hungary in the second quarter of this year there had been an increase not in wages but in real incomes. I have my doubts about this; but since it wasn’t us who said it but one of the most prestigious international organisations, I can’t ignore it. But in political terms the next month and a half will be difficult. This is because we have the difficult issues that we’ve just talked about: the issue of war; the issue of migration, where there are attacks from Brussels that need to be repelled; and the issue of negotiations with Ukraine on its ambition to join the European Union – which I don’t think should be launched, because Ukraine is in no way ready to negotiate on its ambition for EU membership. I could say that Ukraine is as far from EU membership as we are from Timbuktu. The clear Hungarian position is that we shouldn’t start negotiations. And here in the air, of course, there’s the news – which is causing us political dilemmas – that the European Union owes Hungary money, a lot of money: 3 to 4 billion euros, or perhaps even 5 billion euros. They owe us this, because this is money that’s due to us. For a variety of reasons they don’t want to give it to us. This would need a separate programme to deal with it, and with your permission I won’t go into the depths of it now, but this dispute exists. And I’d like to make it very clear that the Hungarian rejection of Ukraine’s membership of the European Union and the opening of negotiations is not a business issue: it cannot be linked to any financial question. What is owed to us must be paid to us. It’s possible to come to an agreement on this, and it’s possible to conclude some kind of agreement in a budgetary context, but this whole issue of funding the Ukrainians, the money sent to Ukraine from the budget, and the opening of negotiations with Ukraine cannot be linked to the issue of the money owed to Hungary. I’m vehemently opposed to any such linkage. We’re not initiating anything like that, nor shall we – and nor shall we accept it from Brussels. It’s on a separate track, and it has to be treated differently. The issues of Ukraine and the future – our children’s and grandchildren’s future – are in the historical dimension, and cannot be linked to tactical and financial issues. Now, once all this is done and resolved in the remaining month and a half of this year, then we come to the economic issues. And how do I see 2024? Well, in 2023 there has been war, an energy crisis caused by sanctions, sky-high inflation and the burdens of all this on the country and on the people, on families. In times like these you have to decide what you’re going to commit to. On principle I don’t like the term “promise” in politics, because it’s so suspect: a politician shouldn’t make promises, but should commit to things, set a deadline and then we’ll see what’s been delivered. Perhaps Hungarians prefer this approach. In the economy we’ve committed to three things for 2023: that the value of seniors’ pensions shouldn’t lose a single forint, and we’d protect that; that jobs would be protected; and, because the demands made by the fight against inflation now exceed the Central Bank’s resources, the Government pledged to cut inflation down to single digits by the end of the year, and to do this instead of or alongside the Central Bank. Let’s be polite, and say “alongside the Central Bank”. On the economy we’ve made three commitments, and we’ve delivered on all three. The question now is what are we committing to in 2024? For 2024, what we can commit to and deliver is to rebuild economic growth, because in 2023 economic growth has shrunk to zero – or perhaps even below zero, but we’ll see exactly how much at the end of the year. So in 2024 we need to rebuild economic growth. Economic growth is good news: economic growth means job protection, growth in employment; and economic growth means wage growth, it means rising living standards. This is why in 2024 we need to give families substantial assistance through growth. And the increase in the minimum wage, the increase in the wages of skilled workers, and the launch of the “Csok Plus” Family Home Creation Allowance are all matters for the year 2024; and they’re all about how Hungary’s position and the Hungarian economy – and, through it, the position of Hungarian families and the Hungarian people – can be expanded and improved in 2024. There’s a realistic chance of achieving this, and I – and we – undertake to rebuild economic growth in 2024.
We don’t have much time, but how will the situation of families be affected if – as the Government warns – Brussels tries to abolish the cuts in household utility bills, the interest rate freeze and the windfall tax?
Brussels does have a tool in its hands, which has an unpronounceable name in complicated Eurocratic language. But the point is that if they see that certain economic indicators – in particular two of them, the level of public debt and the budget deficit – aren’t going well, they can propose certain measures; and if these proposals aren’t accepted by a Member State, they have the means to force it to accept them. Now these poor Brusseleers, who are so far away that they have no idea about Hungarian life or the laws of the Hungarian economy, know only what they can read in the numbers and from papers – and that’s not the same as our life. We have an economic history, through which we know exactly how to, say, rebuild economic growth, reduce state debt and budget deficits, and so on. They look at us from afar, they pull out numbers, and they make proposals. Now, sometimes some of these proposals are good and we welcome them, thank you very much. And then there are some that ruin the lives of Hungarian families. Now they have three such proposals: to abolish the windfall tax, the support for utility bills, and the interest rate freeze. But this will ruin the lives of Hungarian families. We must resist this. So we’ll also have a big debate on economic policy. This will be a long debate, which won’t be a matter for the next month and a half: it will be a big issue for the period between January 2024 and September 2024, but it’s linked to the European elections in June. We can agree on almost all issues with a good, sensible European leadership which has both feet on the ground; but this isn’t the leadership we have now. It needs to be replaced, and we need a new EU leadership in Brussels that has a more favourable, better and friendlier relationship with Hungary.
In the last half hour I’ve asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about migration, the national consultation, Ukraine and the state of the Hungarian economy.