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

24 May 2024

Zsolt Törőcsik: NATO troops must be sent to Ukraine to replace non-combatant Ukrainian units, so that the latter can go to the front – this is what was said recently by French president Emmanuel Macron’s party spokesperson. And yesterday the Polish foreign ministry spokesperson said that Warsaw was considering using its own air defence equipment to shoot down Russian missiles over Ukrainian territory. Western leaders argue that Russia cannot win this war – but that if that does happen, Moscow won’t stop at the Ukrainian border. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Good morning. 

Good morning.

In the West in recent decades the main line of development has been about downsizing armies, tolerance, and the acceptance and empowerment of minorities. What we’re seeing now is the complete opposite. How successfully can Western societies be conditioned to accept war, and what’s the aim of this? 

Several questions are intermixed in the simple sentences you’ve just said. The existence of armies is necessary, and doesn’t lead to war. Strangely enough, it’s the absence of armies that leads to war, because wars are most often caused by weakness: not by strength, but by weakness. If one sees – now perhaps with reason – a country, the territory and economy of which is coveted by others, but which isn’t capable of defending itself, then another strong country may be ruled by the instincts and desires to take over that country’s territory and economic resources. The only remedy for this is for the country targeted as a victim to be strong enough to defend itself – in which case anyone who wants to attack it must take into account that they’ll pay a higher price to achieve their goal than if they hadn’t even tried to start such a war. Therefore, strength – an army – is necessary to avoid war. This is why it’s said that if you want peace, prepare for war – not in order to go to war, but to maintain peace. So this is a strange correlation that perhaps people who aren’t involved in military politics find difficult to understand. Because most people think that peace will come when everyone just experiences a moment of enlightenment and lays down their arms, their firearms, their knives, everything – and then some sort of ethereal peace will descend. Such a thing might happen one day, and we’d like it to happen, but it won’t happen tomorrow morning – and in the meantime we need an army, soldiers, preparedness, self-defence. It’s quite a big problem that Hungary hasn’t had this capability for a long time, and we still don’t have it, even as a NATO member country, because our national army isn’t strong enough yet. But we’re on our way to strengthening it. So much for the link between the army and war. If Russia defeats Ukraine, will it stop there? This is one of the most important questions. According to some, not those you quoted earlier. Here’s how I see it. Today the Russian army is fighting a major, difficult war with the Ukrainians, and it’s unable to defeat them. So it’s a protracted war. If the Russians were strong enough to defeat the Ukrainians in one fell swoop, they’d have defeated them already. Ukraine’s strength isn’t comparable to that of NATO’s, which is a hundred times – maybe a thousand times – greater. So I don’t think it’s logical to assume that Russia – which can’t even deal with Ukraine – would suddenly come in and take on the whole Western world, just like that. It might engage in provocation. In the history of international diplomacy and relations we can see how nation states cause difficulties for one another, but today the chances of anyone daring to attack a NATO member country – and I’m not talking about the Russians, but anyone at all – are extremely slim. This is especially so because we in NATO make it clear that this is a defensive alliance, and we won’t tolerate any military action that would violate the sovereignty of any NATO member country. NATO was created so that, in the event of an attack on the territory of a NATO member country, we’d line up as a defence alliance – as one country – behind the country that was attacked. Therefore I interpret this reference to the Russian threat more as a preparatory manoeuvre for the Europeans, or the West, to enter the war. After all, in such a situation leaders like myself not only have to look forwards, but also backwards. For very many months now, I’ve been reading about and studying the history of the psychological build-up to the First and Second World Wars. Essentially I’m reading memoirs and diaries about how it happened. And the similarities are alarming. So before the first two world wars there was quite a long period of preparation for war in the media and in statements by politicians. And I think that what’s happening today in Brussels and Washington – perhaps more now in Brussels than Washington – is a kind of preparation of the public’s mood for the possibility of direct military conflict. We can confidently call it a preparation for Europe’s entry into the war. This is what’s happening in the media, and it’s also happening in the sphere of statements by politicians.

But meanwhile we see the pictures coming from Ukraine: the destructive power of war in the economy, in society, in human destinies and lives. Why isn’t the first priority the prevention of this destruction, or of further destruction? 

This is incomprehensible! The question is as simple as the way in which you’ve put it. A blindingly simple question without a blindingly simple answer – and indeed no answer at all. So I haven’t received an answer – not even once. For two years I’ve been trying to get someone to say that instead of what’s happening we should isolate this conflict, to say what we Hungarians say: this is a war between two Slavic peoples, there’s a historical background to it; we can talk about justice, and all the arguments may be on the side of the Ukrainians, but even so, this is still a war between two Slavic peoples. And it’s in the interest of everyone else who isn’t part of this conflict to isolate it – exactly as has happened before, more than once. But we’re not doing that; instead we’re jumping into this war. We haven’t sent troops yet, but we’ve sent weapons. And we’re drifting in. We see this war as our war – we Hungarians don’t, but Western Europeans do. At first the Germans only wanted to send helmets, and they said that it was impossible for Germany to send equipment for deadly purposes. Then, of course, they sent firearms, then ammunition, then armoured vehicles, then tanks, and now air defence systems and aircraft... So you can see how, month by month, the change in the German position, for example, is a good measure of how, month by month, we’re moving closer, we’re drifting into war – to the point at which we’re now talking about how some countries will destroy Russian warplanes in Ukrainian airspace, or how some countries would like to do that. And another leader is talking about how we won’t intervene on the front line, but we could actually enter the territory of Ukraine. I repeat: seen in the light of European history, this is a communication operation aimed at preparing us for war. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll tell you about my adventures related to the war at the international negotiating tables. I say that if it’s OK for the European strategy to be that the Ukrainians fight on the front line and we provide them with money, weapons and technical equipment while the Russians are conducting their own operation, then I’d like someone in Europe or America to tell me – or the Hungarian electorate – what the estimate is for how many more weapons we need to supply and how much more money we need to spend in order to achieve the goal of driving the Russians out of the territory they’ve occupied. Do we have some kind of estimate? So this is the strategy that we’re following, which President Macron sums up with this simple sentence: “Russia cannot win the war.” By this he means that they must be pushed out of Ukraine, because the Russians keeping the territory that they’ve occupied would obviously mean that they’ve won the war. They’ve occupied about one fifth of Ukraine. So how much money and how many military assets are needed in order to push the Russians out? Give me an order of magnitude! But there’s silence. So we’re in a strategy for which no one can tell us the length of our strategy’s route to success, its cost, or its weaponry. So the worst that can happen is that we’re engaged in a war without any estimate – let alone an agreement – on the scale of the means required to achieve the war’s goals. So how long are we going to do this for? How much more weaponry are we going to send? And how much money are we going to send? And such a calculation must include how much the Russians can produce. Where will this end? The end of this will be a clash between NATO, the European Union and Russia, which is a nuclear power. So a military clash between actors who have nuclear weapons invokes our darkest visions, or gives grounds for them.

Since you’ve mentioned NATO, and you said earlier that it’s basically a defence alliance, there are ever more statements – and perhaps actions – suggesting that it’s trying to step beyond that role. This applies to NATO member countries as well as NATO itself at the institutional level. As a NATO member, what can Hungary do to stay out: to stay out of either the mission that NATO is organising, or to resist the kind of pressure that NATO members are putting on Hungary?   

We’re in a very difficult position at the moment because, after all, we’re the country that’s adhering to the NATO Charter and the common understanding that defines NATO’s mission. NATO is a defensive alliance that we’ve created so that if any of us is attacked, we can be sure that the others will all come to our aid. Why was this necessary? It was necessary because the previous military alliances didn’t work. I’m not going to recite high school history textbooks here, but even though some countries – say Poland – had military assistance agreements with the French and the British, when they were attacked it suddenly turned out that help wouldn’t come. So the experience of the European countries is that we have to assure ourselves well in advance that if we’re attacked by any of our potential adversaries, we can count on all our other friends, our partners in a military alliance. This is what NATO is about. It’s not about NATO taking military action outside NATO territory and going to war with non-NATO countries outside NATO territory. So that’s our position. But, as if everyone were already in an alternative future, these arguments are simply not being taken into account – beyond being given a polite hearing. And war planning is underway. So today committees are working at the NATO headquarters in Brussels: there’s a finance committee and there’s a training committee. I don’t want to publicise NATO information now, of course, but the NATO Secretary General has already said all this. So there are working groups there trying to determine how NATO can participate in this war. We’re on these committees, as we’re members of NATO and we must be there, but we’ve indicated in advance that we don’t approve of this and we don’t want to be involved in either financial or weapons support – not even within NATO. Therefore our situation is a strange one: we’re there and we’re not there. I don’t know how long this can be maintained, but a new term has now been invented in NATO to describe the Hungarian position: it’s called “non-participation”. We’re now a non-participant party. In international politics there’s the term “opt-out”. We can play now, we’re not participants now, but we’re not yet opt-outs. If we were opt-outs, our participation in the NATO military structure – our position – would change. There’s rarely been a situation in NATO’s history when a member country has so openly and clearly adhered to NATO’s basic concept as Hungary is doing now, and therefore its situation within the military alliance should be redefined. Our lawyers and officers are working on this, so there’s quite a lot of work being done on how Hungary can exist as a member of NATO without taking part in NATO action outside NATO territory. This is what Hungarian diplomacy has to resolve. It’s often said – not without reason – that politics is the art of the possible. This is certainly a question of art, because here what we need to do is not simply come out with old schemata, but create something: a new approach, a new description, a new definition. So innovation is needed on the Hungarian side.

How will the 9 June elections affect the pro-peace strength that Hungary can present in these situations – whether in NATO or in the European Union? 

We’re now on the eve of the elections. We Hungarians think that these elections are about war and peace – because what else could they be about? Of course, so that they can also understand us in Brussels, we add: “no migration and no gender”. So of course it’s also about migration and the protection of traditional families – which is currently being threatened by all kinds of European nonsense and incomprehensible ideological trends. But the issue of war is being pushed ahead of all these otherwise important issues. We all know this, because we’re involved in a campaign. What concerns me more is how we’ll interpret this European election in a few years’ time. Or to be a little more grandiloquent, how will posterity judge it? I think it’s quite possible that posterity will say that this was the European election that decided the question of war and peace in Europe. Perhaps the stakes in this election are easier to understand if we go outside the usual routine of campaigning and say that we’re facing an election that posterity will see as a defining decision on war and peace – perhaps for decades to come. In European military history there have been many events that weren’t given their due weight at the time, but later emerged to have been decisive moments. And I think that these European elections are like that – and, to go further, not only the European elections, but also the American election in November. This is because European security rests on two pillars: one European, and the other American. 

If the Ukrainians are suffering in this war and the Europeans are suffering, at least economically, and the situation that we’ve just talked about continues, then in whose interest is the continuation of this war?

The most difficult question. Because what I understand, what we’ve learned, what we know, what we’ve seen in the world in our adult lives, is that war not only has losers and not only causes suffering, but also generates profit: war also leads to windfall profits. We’ve all read – or heard from our parents – about Hungarian soldiers who were sent to the front in “paper boots”. So we all know about the knavery of suppliers who saw war as a business rather than as a means of defending the country. This has its own cultural history – and in Hungary, in particular, this cultural history is painted in strong tones. So the situation now is that those in the war industry – the arms manufacturers, the arms dealers – are obviously making money hand over fist. And as the war has an impact on the economy, clearly those who have inside information about the war – people who tend to speculate rather than produce in the economy – have the earliest access to information, and can use it to make good risk analyses and thus speculate reliably. Well, these speculators, whom we now call venture capital funds or venture capital speculators – not an accurate description, but the tone of the phrase gives a rough idea of what it’s about – are backing up the pro-war forces. There, his figure appearing – or looming – at the very front of the line, is our compatriot George Soros, who’s also distinguishing himself. So it’s obvious that all these forces have an economic interest in the war. I also understand that there are politicians who can be bought. There are people here among us, for example: there’s the Hungarian Left, which can be bought by the kilo. We all understand what this is about. In every election campaign they get money from the West, the dollars are rolled in, and obviously he who pays the piper calls the tune: pro-war financiers are funding the Hungarian Left. No wonder the Hungarian Left is pro-war – contrary to what I think left-wing voters want. Something I don’t understand is why the same is true for European leaders, whom I otherwise respect and hold in high esteem. I’m talking about large European countries, so I assume that, due to the size of their countries, these leaders can’t be bought by the kilo, as the Hungarian Left is bought by Westerners. If we look at our recent experience, at the problems of life in Europe today, and pick out the most serious ones, such as demographic decline and migration, and look for the reasons why Europe has come to this, then the root of most of the major problems can be found in wars. Of course one side defeated the other: the Germans lost, say, and the French won. But on the whole everyone lost, because every European war fought between nations is in fact a European civil war, with white Christians killing one another. And it’s no wonder that the European Christian world, which used to have a decisive influence on the rest of the world and used to be able to defend itself in the past, against migration for example, is now unable to do so, because it doesn’t have enough people. So why on the European continent are there tens of millions of people fewer than there should be? This is also true in Hungary, for example. It’s because our soldiers died in wars. So if you look at war, at the wars in Europe, from a proper perspective, let’s say from a proper historical and Christian perspective, then you can say that every war in Europe over the last hundred and fifty years – regardless of who considered themselves the winners and losers – has resulted in losses for everyone.

Yes, but if so much power is concentrated in the hands of those who have a vested interest in the war and are profiting from it, how can one compete with these vested interests? 

In politics there’s always one last resort: the people. This, of course, must now be classified as populism. So on the European stage anyone who does something that’s good for the people is immediately labelled a populist – which I don’t understand. Because what in the world is the point of politics, if not to do our job and manage the action taken in a country in a way that’s good for the people? But nowadays that’s somehow depicted as a crime, because politicians in Brussels are expected to represent some kind of ideology. And reality is considered secondary to ideals. So if you ask a European politician why he or she is in politics, not many of us will answer that it’s to help our own people, our own citizens, our own countrymen. Most would rather answer that they represent some lofty ideal in politics. That’s fine, because we need lofty ideals, but lofty ideals can’t be more important than the people themselves. So the lenses mustn’t be mixed up. It’s always worth looking at politics from the point of view of ideals and concepts, but that’s not lens number one: it’s lens number two. First you have to look at what’s good for the people – in our case what’s good for the Hungarian people; and only then you can make arguments in all sorts of other contexts. So because, after all, Europe is a democracy, I have to say that the ultimate factor is the weight of the people’s voice: their vote and their opinions. This is why elections are important. So if there’s a real issue that people can decide on, then that issue is war and peace. So I’m also basing our strategy – Hungary’s strategy – on the fact that now, in the European elections, the number of people who want peace and don’t want to support their own governments in marching further into war will increase; and so will the weight of their voice. Now, the question of war and peace is not a static question, so it’s not black and white; because we can see that the drift towards war is a process. I’d be happy, or satisfied, if we could at least stop the drift. We still have a lot of work to do if we want to go back to the starting point: to reduce the support given to Ukraine. But at least we shouldn’t be racing towards our own destruction, planning – as stated in one of the excellent proposals you’ve just quoted – to shoot down the aircraft of a nuclear power in Ukraine’s airspace, and giving Ukraine the hardware with which it has said it will attack one of the world’s nuclear powers. So at least let the people of Europe use their votes to stop the drift. We have the opportunity to do this. But this is only half the job, because then the other half has to be done, so that this can happen in America too. And then the Western world can perhaps stop short before it reaches the edge of the abyss.

Since you’ve mentioned the representation of ideals, one of the ideals that the Brussels elite represents is that of inclusion, the ideal of uncritical inclusion. But this has practical implications. Yesterday Gergely Gulyás, the Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the EU would fine Hungary six million forints a day because of the legal barrier to crossing the border. What does this tell us about the attitude towards migration – or towards Member States in general?

We’re not talking about whether it would fine us: it will fine us. So it’s a fact. So the European Court of Justice has made its decision, and it’s said that since Hungary isn’t willing to accept migrants, we’ll have to pay six million forints a day to Brussels. How anyone can come up with the idea of telling the Hungarians who they should let into this country is in itself beyond outrageous – not just outrageous, but beyond that. I cannot imagine any player in world politics who could have the right to say to the Hungarians: “Dear Hungarians, it’s not you who will say who can enter your country’s territory, but we shall tell you.” This is impossible, absurd, nonsense! I’m so incensed that I won’t say any more about this. But there’s an even more absurd element to this: while we’re defending Europe, while we’re building a fence at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros, while we’ve now spent billions of euros on border protection, while we have our soldiers, our border guards and our police officers down there, taking risks, defending Europe against an increasingly violent wave of migrants, they’re shooting us in the back. So not only do we have to fight migrants, but Brussels is also shooting Hungary in the back, not giving us a single penny for protecting them, but taking six million forints a day out of our pockets because we’re not letting migrants into Hungary. So the whole situation is nonsense as it is. We have only one answer: we must drive out the European leaders who are making such decisions.

In the last half an hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán questions about the Russo-Ukraine war, the stakes in the upcoming elections and migration.