Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

17 May 2024

Zsolt Törőcsik: It’s been thirty-eight years since the last assassination attempt was made against a head of government in what’s now an EU country. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico has been in a life-threatening condition in the intensive care unit of Banská Bystrica hospital since the attempt on his life on Wednesday. Yesterday the Slovak interior minister said that one of the motivations for the attack may have been opposition to his government’s withdrawal of military aid to Ukraine. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is our guest in the studio. Good morning.

Good morning.

It’s been decades since we’ve seen such images in Europe, and yesterday Slovakian president-elect Peter Pellegrini said that we’ve crossed a red line. What do you think has led to this?

I remember when Zoran Đinđic was shot dead in Serbia. It’s true that Serbia isn’t a member of the European Union, but it’s part of our neighbourhood and part of Europe. So this part of the world, Central Europe, is a much more dangerous hunting ground or region than Western Europe. Everyone’s stunned by the assassination attempt, everyone’s shocked and appalled, people – including me – are asking if this is what Europe has come to. Of course the fact that there’s been an assassination attempt is always surprising, but I don’t think that anyone’s surprised by the fact that in Europe the level of violence is increasing. Europe suffers from different types of violence, but ultimately violence comes from the same source. There have been terrorist attacks in Europe over the past decade. Hundreds of innocent people in several EU countries have lost their lives – not politicians, but innocent European people. Then the war came, and with it started the transformation of Europe from pro-peace to pro-war. It wasn’t like this in the beginning: if I compare the opinions and political decisions that dominate European politics today – which are pro-war and talk about a strong war build-up – with the words we heard when the war broke out two years ago in February, March and April 2022, then the comparison is like day and night. It’s only because we live our lives here in the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we fail to notice how radically Europe’s position has changed from how it was initially. I remember that two years ago the Germans were saying, “Yes, yes, we’ll send helmets, but we won’t send lethal weapons.” This meant no firearms or ammunition. Then, of course, they sent firearms and ammunition; then tanks, then aircraft; and now the sending of troops is being negotiated by European leaders, and even by NATO itself. So in Europe the amount of violence, of thinking related to violence, of preparation for violence or the possibility of violence becoming part of our everyday life, is a tangible process. This is a big problem. And in your reflections you’re right to distinguish between countries inside and outside the European Union. This is because – beyond the human aspects – we’re also shaken by this attack politically; and also because, after all, the European Union was created – has been created by us – in the interest of peace. So the European Union’s first mission is peace, and its second mission is prosperity. Those two things should be available to the countries that have joined. This is why we joined, this was the point. If it had been said that the European Union wouldn’t bring peace and prosperity, as is the situation today, then probably a lot of countries wouldn’t have joined; but we believed – and we still believe – that Europe equals peace and prosperity. After such an assassination attempt it demands strong faith to maintain that conviction. But our task is to try to limit the amount of violence in everyday life, and the risk of war in political life. This is the situation. We pray for the Prime Minister, our hearts are with him – and, of course, with the Slovaks. We wish him the speediest possible recovery and return to work. At the moment Robert Fico is fighting for his life, he’s between life and death. But if we can look beyond the human aspect and see this situation from a political point of view, then it’s a great loss for Hungary. Because even if the Prime Minister recovers, he’ll be unable to work for months – and precisely the most important months, when we’re facing an election in Europe. This election won’t simply decide who the Members of the European Parliament will be, but I believe that, together with the US election, it will or could decide – I believe it will decide – the question of war and peace in Europe. We really needed Robert Fico now. We really needed a pro-peace Slovakia, because after the recent Slovak parliamentary elections, which resulted in Robert Fico becoming Prime Minister of Slovakia, his country set out on the road to peace. This was a great help to Hungary. And now we’ve lost that support.

How does this change either the stakes of the 9 June elections or the way in which current goals are achieved?

We must understand that there aren’t many of us who have spoken out in favour of peace. I can mention the Holy Father in the Vatican, but that state doesn’t have a vote in European politics; there is us and, of course, Slovakia – which has been catching up with us in adopting the pro-peace direction. Now one of these has dropped out, which means that we have to work twice as hard. My job in Brussels is also made more difficult when I have to fight in debates with pro-war politicians. The important thing is not to be afraid: the advocates for peace mustn’t be afraid. We know that the perpetrator was a pro-war person, because the Left is pro-war. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that we’re dealing with a perpetrator who’s left-wing, progressive, left-thinking and pro-war. Although the intelligence services are still working to establish the full circumstances and it’s difficult to be certain, this is something we can say with certainty. It’s not unreasonable to link the assassination attempt to the war. Great forces stand behind the pro-war politicians, and behind the pro-war stance in general: from the Soros Empire to the arms industry and the lenders; in other words, the big dogs and the great centres of power, who have an interest in seeing this war continue – and even expand. 

Yes, it’s interesting to note that within a few days, both Alex Soros and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have visited Kiev/Kyiv – the latter promising to deliver new air defence systems. Meanwhile the Council of the European Union has finally approved the payments in the 50-billion-euro package for Ukraine. It therefore seems that now there’s renewed intensification of support for Ukraine, or the will to do so. What could be the reason for this?

There is indeed a coincidence here: the fact that a would-be assassin has shot at the Slovaks’ peace process coincides with some other developments that indicate preparations for war. The pro-war people are negotiating with one another, which is why the head of the Soros Empire and the US Secretary of State have gone to Kyiv/Kiev, and they want to hand over ever more money. And it’s true that what we decided earlier – the decision we made earlier – has now been legally finalised. Hungary fought to prevent Hungarian money from going to Ukraine. This is a great success, as we’ve been given a guarantee on this. But we’re still sending money to Ukraine through a joint debt construction, which is also wrong. We haven’t even finished this, the ink on it isn’t even dry and the money’s still a long way from arriving there, but we’re already talking about another round of borrowing. In NATO, for example, a mission is being organised for Ukraine, a NATO-Ukraine mission. One gets goosebumps when one hears the term “NATO mission in Ukraine”; because NATO isn’t a charity or a peace corps, and so when it starts thinking about a mission somewhere, it doesn’t usually end well. It’s a defence alliance, and it shouldn’t be thinking in terms of missions. A defence alliance is for those who have joined together to defend themselves and one another, to concern themselves with defence; it’s not for thinking about military missions outside the territory of the NATO countries – and especially not for planning them, as is happening now. [Hungarian foreign minister] Péter Szijjártó and I must make a serious effort not to allow Hungary to be dragged into NATO’s Ukraine mission. To return to what I said at the beginning, there’s a proposal within NATO, within the framework of this mission, to throw together 100 billion dollars and continue to finance the war. This will ruin us. The most important thing now, of course, is human life, and the Hungarian position is that there’s no solution to this war on the battlefield; because the prolongation of the war equals the prolongation of the suffering. A solution can only be found at the negotiating table and in a ceasefire. Politicians must take back control of events from the generals. Let diplomats replace the soldiers: that’s the solution, in our view. What’s at stake in the European Parliament elections is the voice, the weight, the influence of this opinion. So this is where we stand at the moment. And in addition to human life, the economy is also suffering; because people in Hungary know that war not only takes human life, which is of course terrible, but also destroys the meaning of generations of work. This is because it also destroys the economy, and when that happens everything is lost. But we don’t need to think about such dramatic prospects: you only have to go into the shops and look at the prices, and you’ll see that they’re all war prices. What we see throughout Europe aren’t price levels that are characteristic of peacetime. When there’s a war, everything goes up in price, credit becomes more expensive, the cost of energy goes up, the cost of transport goes up, and businesses work with larger safety margins; and the price of all this is paid by the people of Europe. So I think that we must confront the Soros Empire and, if necessary, we must also make it clear to US foreign policymakers that it’s in Europe’s interest to return to the negotiating table rather than force a solution on the battlefield – something which I think is hopeless. 

You mentioned that you and Peter Szijjártó must make a serious effort to ensure that NATO cannot drag Hungary into this mission that’s being prepared. How much pressure is there now on Hungary to give up its pro-peace stance on this – or indeed to give up its pro-peace stance as a whole?

It’s difficult to give a yardstick in this area, but if I say that the NATO Secretary General is coming to Hungary before the European elections, then perhaps that’s a good symbol of the situation.

After all, one of the most important experiences of the drift into the Second World War was that, despite the fact that for a long time the will to keep Hungary out of the war was there, the strength needed to do so was in constant decline. What’s needed now to send this message?

Good question. I too went to school, so I studied history, and I like it. But now I’ve gone back to the literature of the time. I see that in the lead up to the First World War, Prime Minister István Tisza wanted to stay out of the war: he wanted to keep Hungary out of it. At the Imperial Council in Vienna he argued for this, right up to the last moment, making it clear that Hungary was risking something that no one in their right mind would risk: the very existence of the state. Because if we lost, Tisza said, then there would be a huge problem. Perhaps even he didn’t know how big a problem it would be, with two-thirds of the country lost, and one third of the Hungarian population ending up outside our borders, outside the lines of the new borders. During that war we suffered terrible losses – both in terms of lives, wealth, territory and population. So it was a tragedy for Hungary, despite the fact that Tisza and his associates tried to keep our country out of the war. Another thing was that in the autumn of 1918 the Left smashed up the remaining power of the state – but that could be the subject of another interview. And then Regent Miklós Horthy tried to stay out of the Second World War as long as he could, or as long as he had the ability to. But eventually the Germans pushed Hungary into the war. Of course situations today are never the same as situations in the past, so the situation now isn’t the same as it was in 1918 or in 1939, 1940 or 1941. But there’s no doubt that the great powers surrounding us today have an interest in pushing Hungary into this war, and we must resist them. Our predecessors failed to do so. I have set myself the goal that we will succeed.

But what is needed? Do you see a force that can help us?

The most important thing is national unity. And I think that the current European elections are a good opportunity to show and prove that this exists. So if a country is clearly on the side of peace and gives its leaders and the government of the day its support, then that government certainly has a better chance of keeping its country out of the war than if there’s a background of chaos, confusion, uncertainty, instability and political rivalries that weaken its international position. So I think that in the European Parliament elections – which are here, which are just over twenty days away – it’s important for Hungary to show pro-peace unity. This isn’t easy, of course, because the Left in Hungary is pro-war. This is because it’s precisely those who hope to make a profit from the war that are funding and giving money to the Hungarian Left. I don’t think their voters are pro-war, but the leaders of the Hungarian Left are pro-war, because they receive money from people who have placed their bets on war profits. Therefore there’s inevitably a domestic political debate, but the way in which we conclude it is important: whether Hungary comes through this election with a strong pro-peace stance, or with an uncertain position. And today all I can say is that anyone who votes for Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party is voting for peace. And the more of us who do so, the better the chance we have of Hungary staying out of this war. This is the first thing that’s needed. The second thing is that it’s important that our leaders don’t succumb to fear. This must be reinforced every day. One is not generally brave, but there are situations in which one has to be brave. We have to make an effort. The Foreign Minister’s doing well, I’m holding the line for the time being, and we have to find allies. We’ve just lost Robert Fico temporarily, but I’m looking for new allies everywhere. Even if I cannot win them over to support the Hungarian position against the war in general, I can still find partners and allies in certain specific matters which prevent certain specific steps towards war. For example, in the matter of sending soldiers, the Italians’ position is no longer the same as it is in the arms issue – because they’re sending weapons, but they no longer want to send soldiers. So I feel that the Hungarian government has the diplomatic leeway to ensure that the anti-war, pro-peace policy gains some traction. But the most important thing is that our sovereignty must be defended; and in matters of war and peace no one can decide on that except the people and their elected representatives in the Hungarian parliament. We must stand by this and try to maintain national unity.

Speaking of diplomacy, last week the President of China arrived in Hungary for a three-day visit, and several important economic agreements were reached. He told a joint press conference that China is bringing the world’s most advanced technologies to Hungary. Why is it necessary to bring these technologies from China to Hungary?

There’s huge competition in the world, and competition brings change. Twenty years ago a Chinese president visited Hungary. I took out the figures from that time, and it’s absolutely clear that in those twenty years China’s share of the world economy – let’s say its economic power – has doubled. Meanwhile the European Union has lost about 20 per cent of its power. In figures, this means that twenty years ago the Chinese accounted for 9 per cent of world output, and now they account for 19–20 per cent. We in Europe used to provide 19 per cent, and now we’re at around 14.5 per cent. But it’s not just the quantities that have changed: the quality has changed. So today there are some technologies in which it’s not the West that’s leading, but the East. To my mind, by the way, this isn’t simply a China issue, but the latest stage in a longer historical process. I remember that in my childhood we used to laugh about the “Made in Japan” label on our little toy cars, and we thought that this was a sign of something that wasn’t serious. In comparison with then, Japanese technology is now world famous or world leading in many ways. Then the South Koreans came along. And now the Chinese are here. And behind the Chinese, by the way, are the Vietnamese, who nobody’s talking about today; but if we’re both sitting here in a few years’ time, we’ll have the opportunity, I think, to talk about that. So this is where the world economy stands today, with competition really turning the worldwide economic system into a world economy. It’s no longer just a Western economy dominating the East, but the whole world can participate in production and economic activity driven by the most advanced technologies. Recently China has been leading the world in some areas – not everywhere, but in many areas: rail technology; electric cars; green energy production and storage, and the whole battery culture; and in IT, Huawei and ZTE are big telecoms and IT companies that are used and known all over the world. They’re the best in these areas today. And I don’t want to subordinate the interests of the Hungarian economy to ideology or geopolitics. The economy is the economy, and it’s in our interest to bring the best technology to Hungary. And money, of course: investment and the best technology – and you can get the best technologies in the world from the Chinese. The ideal – and this is what we’re working towards – is that the world’s best Western technology and the world’s best Eastern technology should meet in Hungary. I have to be honest and say that I really dislike the metaphor of us being a bridge between East and West. I’d like to see Hungary as a bridgehead, not as a bridge that stretches between two points – and, when times get tough, is either bombed or collapses. So we need to be a bridgehead with a stable basis. This is why, rather than using the metaphor of a bridge, I prefer talking about a meeting point, which is a more accurate description. We want Western technology and Eastern technology, as we see in the industrial park in Debrecen, for example: a large Chinese battery factory on one side, a German factory – BMW – on the other, and cooperation between the two. So this is what we want to see in Hungary. Of course the most important safety rules must be complied with. The Chinese are bringing very serious technological know-how to Hungary; and now we won’t only be manufacturing, but also conducting research and development, and we’ve also come to an agreement with them on a university research centre. I feel that we’ve succeeded in freeing our relations with the East from ideological and historical captivity, and so for Russia, China and Vietnam I don’t attach any importance to their current political systems. That’s their business. Essentially the relations we need aren’t ideological but economic – with both the East and the West, in the high technologies of the future. Because if Hungary doesn’t want to be left behind, and doesn’t want to be second rate but one of the best countries in the world, then we also need high technology. In some areas we have our own developments, but these are restricted fields, because a country of ten million people cannot dominate industries in the world economy. Yet in certain technologies we have licences, knowledge and even production technology that is at the forefront in global terms. And with the investment coming in we can bring the latest technology here. So I think that the President of China’s visit to Hungary is a milestone for the Hungarian economy. We’ve taken a huge step forward.

At the same time it seems that the world’s moving rapidly towards the formation of separate blocs. Under these circumstances, what will it take for Hungary to remain a meeting point in the long term?

The most important thing is to see what’s happening around us. And let’s not believe that the formation of blocs is a foregone conclusion. Because while those who argue for some form of global economic isolation, decoupling or “de-risking” are more vocal, the reality is different. So while they’re trying to put pressure on Chinese telecoms companies and question why Hungary’s cooperating with them, Germany’s happily cooperating with such companies. So in fact when it comes to money and economics, reality points towards more cooperation. The statement that the President of China delivered here in front of us all included an invitation to Hungary to participate in the modernisation of the Chinese economy. This is a huge opportunity for Hungarian manufacturers and for Hungarian-owned companies in Hungary, who can and will acquire markets and economic opportunities in China – and are already acquiring them. Every country in the world is doing this. In fact we’re competing for contacts. So I think that the fact that the Hungarian government favours connectivity, cooperation, free trade and investment means that we’re not part of the minority in the world, but in the majority. Let’s not be suckers! While others talk about the need to be cautious, in reality they’re pushing forward economically in the most aggressive way. So let’s not allow ourselves to be taken in by what they say. We have to watch what they’re doing. Don’t just listen to their voices: look at what they’re doing with their hands.

I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán questions related to the assassination attempt on Robert Fico, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and last week’s visit by the President of China.