Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the jubilee celebration for the weekly magazine Weltwoche

22 November 2023, Zürich

The Americans say, "If my father had heard all this, he would have been proud of me – and my mother would have believed everything." But today we are not here to talk about me, Ladies and Gentlemen. We are here to talk about Weltwoche. This is a great honour!

I also greet the guests who have been mentioned by name. It is a particular honour for me, Editor-in-chief, that President Václav Klaus is also here at this meeting today. Perhaps not everyone in Switzerland knows it, but he is the intellectual paragon of European conservative politics. We all want to reach the level at which he represents this form of politics. And there is another man among you of whom we Hungarians are very proud. With us here is Dr. Ferenc Krausz, who two weeks ago was awarded the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize in Physics.  That was a great week for Hungarians, because in a single week two Hungarians received Nobel Prizes – one in Biology and one in Physics. From this you can see that I am not from the back of beyond.

First of all, happy birthday! Happy birthday to you! Thank you to the Editor-in-chief, Roger, and the editorial staff at Weltwoche. I do not know who was more surprised that this meeting came about – Weltwoche or me. After all, there is something strange about the prime minister of a far-off Central European country of ten million people giving a speech on the birthday of the largest conservative magazine in the German-speaking world. The truth is that an Adenauer or a Helmut Kohl should be standing here. But today you will have to settle for me. 

Let’s be clear about how I came to be here. There are several reasons. The first is that I am an admirer of your magazine. I am one of those who believe that European politics would be poorer without Weltwoche. In Europe today, the general intellectual trend in European politics today is the progressive liberal direction. It is reassuring that there is still a German-language journal representing conservative values. For me it feels rather therapeutic to be here with you now. It is definitely good news that there is still a place in Europe where one can speak freely. And Switzerland is undoubtedly such a place. The rest of Europe is progressive, there is liberal hegemony, and conservative speech and agendas are instantly stigmatised.

Perhaps the other reason I can be here is what is expressed in Latin as “similis simili gaudet”: “like rejoices in like”. Weltwoche does not resemble a mainstream media outlet, and I do not resemble a mainstream politician. I hope that the interest is mutual. I am also interested in what you here – hundreds of kilometres to the west of my home country – think; and perhaps the readers of Weltwoche are also interested in what people a few hundred kilometres to the east of them think about Europe.

The third reason is that there is Swiss-Hungarian friendship. Neither nation is overly sentimental, and we do not usually talk about it, but it exists: 1956 is something I do not need to explain here. In Hungary ’56 brought great suffering. We thank the Swiss for taking in our refugees, and we thank our refugees for the respect and esteem they have earned here. Hungarians enjoy a good reputation because of the ’56ers who fled here. We thank them for that! And Neumann, the father of the computer, also went to university in Zurich. Ábrahám Ganz was the greatest Hungarian industrial magnate, who created modern Hungarian industry in Hungary, and he was also Swiss.

And I do not think there is another European country where the names of supporting characters in the story of William Tell are known. But in Hungary we know who Hermann Geszler was, we know who Rudolf Harras is. We know Kuoni the shepherd, Walter Fürst and Itel Reding. And you know how we know this? I won’t even mention Stüssi the Ranger. We know it through Hungarian playing cards, because these characters feature on our most popular cards. When I was learning this game, which is worth playing for money in small stakes, I learned from my father that the reason Swiss freedom fighters and the main protagonist in the freedom fight are on the cards is because when these cards were printed after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, it was forbidden to depict Hungarian freedom fighters. So on the Hungarian cards instead of Lajos Kossuth there is William Tell, and so on. This is how we know about the Swiss fight for freedom. We know who the characters are, and this is how we know that Switzerland is a freedom-loving and martial nation.  And, Ladies and Gentlemen, we know the Swiss legends, and we also possess a certain romanticism. We know about the Hun tribe that supposedly went astray here: on their way back with the other Huns they somehow lost their way here, and have been living in a valley here ever since. We know that the creation of the Swiss state was similar to that of the Hungarian state, involving a pact similar to a blood oath, except that in our case there were not four tribes but seven: the seven tribes who concluded the blood oath and thus created the Hungarian nation.

More topically, but importantly, nine hundred Swiss companies are operating in Hungary. More than 30,000 families in Hungary are sustained by Swiss companies. Our trade is growing continuously. Perhaps this was the third reason you invited a Hungarian to this event. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

But perhaps the main reason is that – despite appearances, I hope – I am the doyen of European prime ministers. As the longest-serving premier in Europe, I am in my seventeenth year as prime minister. It follows that I have seen a lot, having started out in politics in the mid-1980s, in the anti-communist youth resistance at university. Then I became a Member of Parliament in the first election in 1990: thirty-three years ago. I have spent sixteen years in opposition and seventeen in government. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have my own vision of Europe. Perhaps this is why I can stand here now. This is why I have accepted this invitation: because I see European politics from a perspective that is different from the tactical dimension of daily events. When I started out in this profession, my counterparts were called Chirac, Kohl, Blair and Aznar. That was how it was.

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, what I want to talk about now is a shared problem. It is a problem shared between Switzerland and Hungary, and it is called the European Union. You are not members of the European Union, you are not members. You are not members of the EU, but you are still European, and Brussels is about you. The decisions taken there also affect you, as I was able to learn in detail yesterday in talks with your President. And the 2024 elections to the European Parliament – in which you are not participating because you are not members – are also about you, because the circumstances that will emerge will affect your involvement in the single market. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conservatives in Europe today agree that Europe is not in control of itself. Its share of world GDP is declining. By 2030, Germany is projected to be the only European country in the world’s ten largest economies – ranking tenth. The others will all drop out of the top ten. Enlargement is clearly beyond our capacity to cope with, and Europe is also unable to handle regional conflicts – be they in the Balkans or Ukraine. So today I am going to give an unvarnished account of Europe’s problems. The subject is serious, and the language I speak – Hungarian – is a robust one, full of powerful verbs and expressive images. I do not want to provoke you, but as it is morning perhaps this will be acceptable. And if someone has missed their morning coffee, I guarantee that they will be shaken up by what they hear. You did not come here in vain. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Right at the beginning I would like to state my theme, and foreshadow the conclusion of my presentation today. My thesis is that Europe has lost the ability to govern itself. This means that it cannot define what its objectives are and it cannot recognise the means it must use to achieve them. In other words, it is incapable of autonomous and sovereign action. I say this with some bitterness, and for a Hungarian this is a painful feeling, because we are talking about the cradle of Western civilisation. And it is true that Western civilisation has also established itself on other continents, but its core, its heart, is still here in Europe. What we see today causes us pain. Let’s go back in time, to see how this situation came about.

Before the Second World War Europe had the capacity to control its own destiny. Unfortunately, it could not make use of this. Between the two world wars, the peoples of Europe used their strength to fight one another. And in the process they weakened – perhaps permanently weakened – one another, creating a civil war within European or Christian civilisation. It was important who won and who lost, but on the whole – in a European dimension – we all lost. Because the end result was that powers outside Europe were strengthened. I am talking about the United States and the unlamented Soviet Union. The western half of Europe came under American occupation and American influence, and the eastern half under Soviet occupation. That was the first time we lost the capacity for self-determination.

It is important not to think that both occupations have the same balance sheets. I do not need to say much here about the balance sheet of the Soviet occupation, which was clearly dictatorship, inhumanity, cruelty, economic backwardness, intellectual hopelessness and impoverishment. That was on the negative side, while on the positive side there was almost nothing. But for a long time the western half of the continent benefited from American dominance. First of all, there was the Marshall Plan, which put Western Europe back on its feet, and this was undoubtedly to the credit of the Americans. During this period, however, European leaders were faced with a very great intellectual challenge: to define Europe’s place in this new world, in which the two halves of Europe were occupied from two sides. The intellectual challenge was how Europe could remain itself, how it could maintain its own quality, while still adapting to the balance of power that had been created. Was that possible? Personally, I have a great deal of respect for the European leaders of the time, because they met this intellectual challenge: Adenauer, Schumann and de Gaulle devised a way of preserving the quality of Europe in a world dominated by Anglo-Saxon customs and norms in Western Europe. Because it was clear that the US expected Western Europe to have democracies and for the economy to adopt the functioning and structures of capitalism. It was obvious to the leaders of the time that simply copying American models would lead to disaster in Europe, because the Anglo-Saxon political and economic models were not native to Europe. So, in order for this new system to be successful in Western Europe, democracy and capitalism had to somehow be given a specifically European face and quality. This solution became Christian democracy.

If you think about it, Christian democracy was the answer to how to bring the concept of the common good into a purely competitive democracy. The contractual approach to democracy that was characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon world was complemented by the idea of the common good, thus creating a distinctly European political quality. It is safe to say that what was called “liberal democracy” in the Anglo-Saxon world was called “Christian democracy” in Europe. The same thing happened with capitalism, because what we could call the “cowboy capitalism” of the United States is alien to Europe. Here we have a greater sense of responsibility and solidarity: some kind of responsibility for one’s neighbour. And so the whole deep Christian tradition is within our economy. And Christian democracy managed that well. It succeeded.

In a spiritual sense, Western Europe – which then was Europe – was able to remain an independent factor. This means that the leaders of Europe at the time – if you read their speeches – were keenly aware of what the difference was between them and the Americans. And knowing that difference, they were able to articulate and represent European interests even within a system of American hegemony. This is why the history of Europe – East and West – diverged. In the East, there was a violent change of model: the Soviets – the Russians – imposed their Soviet model on us. But the channels through which American power was built up were different from those of the Soviet system. They rather built up positions in Europe, gaining a foothold in decision-making centres, in background institutions, in lobby groups and in the cultural space. This was, as they say nowadays, more soft power in comparison with brutal Soviet hard power.

Everyone can personally recall what happened from then on. In 1990 the West won the Cold War against the East, against the Soviet Union. We were liberated and the Soviet power structures quite simply disappeared from Europe, from the eastern half of Europe. The fascinating question – and this brings us to today – is what has happened to the American structures over the last thirty-three years. This leads us to the provocative question of whether it was a problem that the Americans stayed on here after 1990.

Let’s examine this question. There is a logic to this, because we are talking about the most powerful state in Western civilisation, and it is logical that this alliance should be led by the most powerful member: the United States. It was therefore acceptable – and even useful – for Western Europe that such an arrangement was created: a Christian, Western, Europe, and a Christian, Western, United States. This is how it was in 1990. This is no longer the situation today. This is the big difference between 1990 and 2023. The last time a Christian Western Europe and a Christian Western United States worked together was in the era of Ronald Reagan, who spoke of his country – and I quote – as “One nation under God”, “city on the hill”. Back then Europe was still under Christian democratic leadership. So the whole American presence had not caused any problems, any intractable problems. But since then the situation has changed, because in the meantime Christian political forces in the United States have been replaced by progressive liberal forces with decisive weight and power. Everywhere in Western Europe and America conservatives were late to catch on, and now if you look around you at the important positions, they have all been filled by progressive liberals. This means that the American positions in Europe today are essentially progressive and liberal, and they have taken over the direction of our continent. And everywhere in Europe today the Americans are working flat out to spread these progressive liberal principles.

The big question is whether, under these circumstances, it is possible for Europe to re-establish its own autonomous quality, to after all retain its autonomy within the great Western alliance system with what is nowadays politely called “strategic sovereignty”. This is what it is called by the French, and this is why it is such an elegant strategy, this autonomy. In fact the meaning is the same as what I am talking about, but they are not allowed to say it so openly.

The most striking manifestation of this whole phenomenon is that Europe has lost its impressive politicians, who could remind us of the former greats. It is not by chance that we felt such a great contrast when I listed the old leaders and we all thought of the current ones. This is no wonder, because political insight and the ability to act are like any other human ability. It is the same in our profession: if you do not practice something, it atrophies – just like the muscles of an astronaut in a state of weightlessness. And then, after 1990, after the great generation of Kohl and Adenauer – sorry, Chirac and Kohl – left the scene and a dominant progressive-liberal American hegemony arrived, we in essence stopped using the skills needed for there to be great European leaders. What I am saying is not a personal criticism and not directed against anyone, but a structural description; because with such a structure it is difficult – or perhaps even impossible – to expect leaders reminiscent of the greats of old. If we look at it from this angle, the fact that the Americans have such a strong position in Europe is a problem. It sounds brutal, but I am not exaggerating when I say that today it seems that the fate of Europe is chained to America. This means that if they lose ground, we will also feel the effects. And this is the main trend in world politics today. American retreats and losses – loss of position – are replicated in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the Americans’ strengths is their ability to present what is really an American interest as a universal value. This seems such a small trick. But it has serious consequences in intellectual terms, because if you base foreign policy on values while hiding your interests behind it, then you have erased the possibility of meaningful dialogue. After all, one is not trying to align interests, but one has to accept the high values postulated by the other side. You cannot mount a defence against what you know are actually the unspoken American interests behind them, because then you would be arguing against those values. This is the game that goes on day and night. The Europeans have also mastered this: when they talk about European values, the interest of one of the big European countries is usually behind them. In both cases the essence is the same: we cannot have meaningful discussions on major foreign policy issues, because no one is willing to commit themselves to representing their interests. Interests can be aligned, values cannot. The nature of disputes over values is completely different from disputes over interests. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

After 1990 the United States began to westernise not only Europe but the entire globe, and tried to export progressive liberal principles. We all know this, we have lived it, we have all read it in the daily press over the past thirty years, and we know that the plan has backfired. On the one hand, it has caused a great many wars around the world. On the other hand, the non-Western part of the world has started to look at the United States with hostility. On top of this, we have brought the Chinese into the free trade system, they have grown much faster than anyone expected, and today we have a situation in which China has become the representative of the countries that reject – or let’s say are saddened by – the West. What has happened is what was written back in the early 1990s by Huntington, in a fantastic book pondering the future of the world. He wrote that if the US continued to westernise the world, it would cause the whole non-Western world to turn against it. And, through China, this sentiment is finding strong representation in international politics. Having tied ourselves to the United States, as the latter is pushed out of ever more places in the world we Europeans are also continuously losing ground. This will have serious consequences. You can see that all it will take is one conflict somewhere in the world – the Middle East, which is current, the Pacific region, ditto – where the United States has a vital interest, and suddenly the rest of the world will become more important to the United States than Europe is.

This raises serious questions. And not only are there no answers to these questions in Brussels, but they do not understand them. To be more specific, I will highlight just one problem here, to show what I am talking about. This is the Russo-Ukrainian war. Let’s ask this question: What happens if there is a change of policy in the US? Let’s say that the Republicans – who are more sceptical about Ukraine – come to power. Then America will regroup its forces, and perhaps even turn its back on the situation. And the Europeans – we Europeans – will be left with a huge geopolitical conflict. This neighbour to the east – Ukraine, that neighbours Hungary – is important for us. We will have to find a political solution to an almost impossible issue, and we will have to bear all the financial burden of a settlement. Seen from Switzerland it may be hard to believe, but Europe is impoverished, and it has no money for such an adventure, for such an undertaking. I do not want to answer this question, but – given the realignment taking place throughout the world – I just wanted to outline the consequences of Europe chaining itself to the United States instead of representing its own interests – what the consequences are now, and what they could be in the future. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Perhaps I have a few more minutes. This problem leads us to the problem of political leadership. I mean in the European Union. The European Union is a special creation. It is sui generis. So there is no such animal in the encyclopaedias. But in reality there is. The leadership of this thing – the political leadership of this conglomerate – should be provided by a body called the Council. The latter comprises the leaders – prime ministers and presidents – of the twenty-seven Member States.

The reality that I see is that ever more decisions are being taken by the Brussels institutions instead of the Council and national leaders. Of course there is nothing wrong with the institutions in themselves, because without institutions there is no civilised life. But it is a big problem if the institutions are not doing their job. The institutions are always bureaucratic. They are there to implement the decisions of politicians, not to take decisions for politicians. Rather than analysing the European structures at length, just think about your daily experience of the press – of how often it seems to the public that Europe is being run by the Commission and its President. We think of her and we read her words as if a leader of Europe was speaking – when in fact she is our employee, our paid employee, whose job it is to carry out what we decide.

I was there when this change happened. Earlier, under Barroso, under President Barroso, the Commission was an executive, a bureaucracy. The change came with President Juncker, who announced his programme to turn the Commission into a political body. But that is a different discipline, which the Commission does not understand – whereas we do. This is why we have a situation in which bureaucrats can manage things only when the sun is shining. It is not even apparent that Europe has no political leadership, as everything is done peacefully, there are tried and tested routines, and familiar procedures. But when trouble strikes, there is a crisis. Now that is when you need a leader. Then you need politicians. The most characteristic quality of a politician is the ability to overrule things. A true politician’s greatest strength is not in keeping things within an existing framework, but realising that new frameworks need to be designed. To put it simply, a politician is someone who can say, “We’ve been doing things this way, but that’s no longer good. From tomorrow we’ll do it differently.” We cannot expect this from any bureaucratic institution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests at this birthday party, the situation is that Europe today lacks politicians and is full of bureaucrats. And if that were not enough, there is also the problem that in intellectual terms the administrative institutions have been taken over by the progressive liberal hegemony imported from the United States. We are dealing with a very unusual concoction. Instead of politicians, in leading positions there are bureaucrats; but these bureaucrats are not neutral in their worldview, as a bureaucracy should be and as their profession would require, but are committed adherents of the progressive liberalism that started overseas and has taken over the whole of Europe. I did not come here to make you feel sorry for me, but after this I really do deserve some sympathy from you. This is the reason that there are no strong national leaders, and in Brussels the very term “strong leader” has negative connotations. So if anyone dares to say in Brussels that a strong leader is needed, they will get the most negative assessment imaginable. Saying that strong leaders are needed is not allowed. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

After this, perhaps the last question I should answer is this: in such a situation what can Central Europe do, and what can Hungary do? Because of what I have said, I have always thought that in this situation there is a special responsibility for Hungarians. First of all, because we do not have a liberal hegemony: we broke that it in 2010. There is no hegemony: there is pluralism. There are no coalition battles, because we have a very strong mandate from the voters. There are no riots on the streets, there is no migration, and the number of migrants in Hungary is zero – there is not one. 

So Hungary has time – it has the time to think about the future of Europe. And this gives us a sense of responsibility. We have tried to meet this responsibility by developing a different model. What I have talked about so far is what we call a Brussels model of Europe. When we look at what is happening in Hungary, leaving aside the liberal insults – let’s somehow strip them away, even though that is not easy because they form a thick layer – and looking beyond these political battles to examine the substance and the nature of the structures, we will see that in Hungary there is another model. We call it a Hungarian European model in operation. Of course we know our place. We are a country of ten million. I tend to say that we can say interesting things, but not important things. So now we are saying something interesting, because we have developed a different social, political and economic model from the one on which Brussels is based. Now I will briefly and sketchily describe some of the pillars or elements.

The first is that we do not accept the economic concept of a welfare state. In Western Europe the welfare state is something whereby the state has to guarantee some level of welfare to its citizens. We do not agree with this. We have a workfare state. So first you have to work. And if one has worked, the result will be prosperity. Not the other way round, it does not work the other way round. So we want prosperity for Hungarians, of course, but the state cannot guarantee it. It has to be produced, created, worked for. Performance is needed. Of course this means a completely different type of social system in Hungary, a much tougher and colder system than is usual in Western Europe. Distinguished Audience, the reason migrants are not coming to Hungary is not simply because we are stopping them at the border with a huge fence. This year alone, our border guards have prevented 270,000 illegal border crossing attempts – 270,000. But one of the reasons they are not coming is because if they want to be somewhere, that will not be in Hungary; because, according to Hungarian law, a migrant arriving in Hungary can only receive the social benefits that a Hungarian citizen can receive. And since here everything is tied to work, in this area our attractiveness is rather limited.

After the work-based economy, the second pillar of this Hungarian model is that we want to tackle demographic challenges with family policy instead of migration. I do not want to talk about this now, as it is a topic for a separate conference. In Hungary we have achieved a turnaround in family policy, but we have not achieved a demographic turnaround. A big question for the future is this: Will we succeed? As a proportion of GDP, in Hungary we are spending more on family policy than any other country in the whole of Europe. The question is whether or not we will manage to maintain the level of our population through our own efforts. This will be decided in the next ten years or more. Another pillar in our model is called “flat tax”: very low taxes, with everyone paying 15 per cent. Those with children can pay even less, and this amount can be waived. There is no inheritance tax, corporation tax is the lowest in the whole of Europe at under 10 per cent, and there is a flood of foreign direct investment – all of which we support. Part of this strategy is to promote family values rather than gender. Part of our strategy –and in this sense Hungary is a paleoconservative place – is that the Constitution says completely banal things. For example, it says that marriage is between one man and one woman. Or it says something so completely banal that one feels a little ashamed: it is written into the Constitution that a father is a man and a mother is a woman. This sounds primitive, but I can give you this excuse: we are not primitive – the world is.

Well, another part of this Hungarian model is that we do not want to create another economic dividing wall between East and West, but we have an economic strategy of bringing together in Hungary the best technology companies from the East to hook up with the best technology companies from the West. We have industrial sites where there is huge German and Chinese investment side by side, producing joint products. This is a different strategy from the decoupling, de-risking that you hear about so often in Europe.

As far as political life is concerned, we have pluralism instead of progressive liberal hegemony, and in our debates within the European Union we represent a sovereigntist position. 

This is what we call the Hungarian European model. The good news is that it works – although it has been written thousands of times and in thousands of places that this wasp does not fly. Or this creature does not exist. I always bring up the experience from my biology studies that there is a description of the wasp made by mathematicians, according to which a body of such size and with such small wings cannot possibly fly. But the wasp flies. Consequently we must not believe that this model does not work, because it does work. 

In 2022 and 2023 the world has been turned upside down. Remember that in ’20 there was COVID, then war. And despite the world economy being turned upside down in ’22, Hungary had record investment, the highest in the European Union, a record employment rate, and record exports. And in ’23 we will again have record investment, record employment and record exports. Just think: Hungary is ranked 96th in the world in terms of population, but 31st in terms of export volume. In certain technologies we are second, third or fourth. And this has happened, Ladies and Gentlemen, while we are under financial sanctions in the European Union. The European Union is refusing – unlawfully refusing – to transfer the financial resources that Hungary is entitled to. This is 3 to 4 billion euros a year. In difficult years we have been record-breakers, even though we are not receiving the 3 to 4 billion euros that is due to us. Despite this, our model is capable of achieving these results.

To sum up, what should the European Union do after all this? I promise the Editor-in-chief, that now I really will stop. In Hungary there is a Calvinist joke in which a little child asks his father when the preacher will finish the sermon. “Son he’s finished”, says the father, “he just can’t stop talking.” I will try to avoid that. So what should Europe do in this situation? First of all, we need a scenario and we need to be prepared if the United States leaves Europe – partially or completely. Moreover, we need to seriously look at creating European security and military guarantees. For this, political leadership skills must be rehabilitated, and such postmodern follies about leadership must be forgotten. The Frankensteinian theories which have been released from the sociology department into politics must be forgotten, and we must return to classical European political and leadership culture. And, most importantly, we need to educate a new generation of politicians who will enter politics. But today politics is not attractive. The most talented young people are not coming into politics, which could be a problem – especially on the conservative side. We need to educate a new generation of conservative politicians, and we cannot accept the excuse, reminiscent of scholastic philosophers, that they will not go into the water until they have learned to swim. We need to throw young people in the deep end, so that they can swim and learn. Otherwise there will be no generation of young conservative politicians in Europe. I am convinced that in the debate about decoupling, detachment and connectivity with the rest of the world we should take the position of connectivity. Europe needs to regain control of its own borders.

And I will make one last cautious comment on Christianity and Christian culture. I believe that Christian culture needs to be promoted, and it would be fine if it were accompanied by evangelisation – but that is way beyond my political remit, and is a different world. But if we do not regain our faith that following the path proposed by Christ is the way to a freer, more human and more liveable world, and that is where we will find the ultimate question and the answers in human life, if we do not regain that faith, it will be very difficult to make Europe independent and successful again.

Summa summarum, what I wanted to say to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that I wish you a happy birthday, that Hungary is not the black sheep but the first swallow, and that we look forward to the others!