Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Republika Srpska – Hungary Business Forum

5 April 2024, Banja Luka (Бања Лука)

Honourable President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that this is the first time that this event has been held, and so it is appropriate to ask this question: What are we doing here, why are we here? Why are Hungarian businesspeople here? Why is the President of Republika Srpska here, and why is the Hungarian prime minister here? Of course I can only answer these questions from the Hungarian point of view. If I had to do so in one sentence, I would say that we are here because we believe in the future of Republika Srpska. And also in the future of Bosnia. The latter is a little more complicated, but this visit very clearly expresses the fact that we believe in the future of the Serb-inhabited part of Bosnia. We have a very good opinion of this corner of the world – for two reasons. Firstly, history did not begin yesterday. After our marriage we spent our honeymoon in Yugoslavia, because we thought it meant going to the West. And if you look at the map, you are indeed further west than Hungary. I used to joke to the President that I like to go to the West, which is why I come to Banja Luka. The map does not lie. And if you look at the map you see that Baranya is up north, Pécs is there, then there is Slavonia, and then we arrive here. We used to be separated by two borders, one of which has been removed: there is no Croatian-Hungarian border, Schengen is in force, and I can come and go without any barriers. The construction of the Hungarian motorway, which brings our motorway down southwards, will soon reach the Croatian border. The Croats are also working their way up, and we will soon be connected. Republika Srpska and Hungary will soon be connected by motorway. Let us look through the eyes of Hungarians and take a walk around Banja Luka – not only in the centre, but also in the outskirts or the surrounding villages. I like to go to the villages in the area, for example, and I tell my Serbian friends that Hungarians can see for themselves that the houses in which people here live are bigger than those in Hungary. They have bigger front gardens, and they are well-kept. So if you look not at the statistics, but trust your own eyes, you will see that you are in a country with a future. Because the future of the economy always depends on the quality of people. And human quality is expressed in the environment. 

Coming here and looking around, if our Serbian friends could speak Hungarian – but that skill was not given to them, and it would be almost hopeless – then we could almost feel at home, because it is a world like ours. And if we believe that politics will be able to stabilise this region, as you know from 1 July Hungary will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and we have a specific programme for this region. So if we can stabilise it, and I think we will succeed, and if this decentralised structure is maintained in Bosnia, then there will be – and in fact there is – a stable and predictable economic environment. If you add to this and look at the forecasts for the economies of Western Europe, you will see that the economic potential, the growth potential in Western Europe is at an extremely low level. Germany is struggling with recession. With our planned growth of 2 to 2.5 per cent this year, we classify as majestic. And 2.5 per cent growth – when last year it was –0.9 – is not much. So the question is, where is the dynamism in the European economy? Of course the Western countries will probably recover, but at the moment the dynamism is in the Balkans. This is the home of people who want to work. This is not common in Europe today. They know how to work, they have a developed culture of industry and agriculture, like ours, and they want to cooperate – because they believe that nothing but work will help. So there is a great potential for growth here. 

There is always a counterargument against Bosnia and Herzegovina from the corporate world: that it is the most complicated state in the world. This is true for Sarajevo, but not for Banja Luka, which is clear, simple and transparent. It is a decentralised country, you can see where the authorities are, who they are, the procedures are known, and – as in Republika Srpska today you have a cooperative leadership – to operate here you can settle your affairs. So fears related to politics and bureaucracy – complicated bureaucracy – can be put aside.

Having said this, I would also like to say a few words about the fact that the reason we believe in this region in economic terms is also because it was not so long ago – fourteen years – when the Hungarian economy was in bad shape. If we were not in such elegant company, I would say that for us 2010 was the pits. There were 3.5 million people in work in 2010, while today there are 4.7 million! The size of our economy was 50 per cent – or rather 70 per cent – smaller than it is today. In fourteen years we have increased the size of the Hungarian economy by a factor of between 1.5 and 1.7. Our exports account for 85 per cent of our GDP, so we can sell our products abroad. So in fourteen years we have made a journey that others can make. And if you project that dynamic onto Republika Srpska, you can see the progress that can be made. Such growth is possible here too. When asked why we are here, we must also give the other half of the answer. 

Honourable President,

We are here because we can afford to be here, financially speaking. Fourteen years ago, if we had invited Hungarian companies here, not many would have come – and not because of Bosnia or Banja Luka, but because of Hungary. Fourteen years ago Hungary was an extremely capital-poor country. Apart from the two or three largest Hungarian companies, there was virtually no capital in the economy to invest abroad. Today we have reached the point where we have regional champions and we have companies that are able to invest abroad. Estimates vary, but we have about 1,500 strong medium-sized companies that are able to invest abroad, and we will double that number. So, Mr. President, we are here because there is accumulated capital in Hungary that is now looking for business opportunities outside Hungary.

I would like to say one more thing to the Hungarians and to the Serbs. As a country, we Hungarians are proud of our history, our culture, our language and our nation. Hungary belongs to the Hungarians. And I hear that the Serbs are also of the same opinion: the Republika Srpska belongs to the Serbs. Therefore we expect foreigners to behave as they should. We expect it at home in Hungary, and they expect it too. What does this mean in economic decisions? It means that I have an agreement with the President that he and his government will tell us clearly in which sector we are welcome. We will not come where they do not welcome us because they do not want competition, or because they have other ideas. We will not debate, we will not bully, we will not talk about free competition: this country belongs to the Serbs. We are here, and our companies are working in precisely the areas that the Serbs have designated for them, because they are happy to work with us in those areas. This is very important, because otherwise we will not feel comfortable, and businesses will not feel comfortable. It is important that the local people accept us, that they do not feel that we are taking opportunities away from them, but that we are bringing them opportunities. So we are here, Mr. President, in the areas that you have identified for all these companies; these are the areas where the Serbs need capital, investment and development. We are happy to set up joint ventures, and back home I also like the idea that when foreigners come, they should preferably look for partners in Hungary and try to do things together. Then the results and profits are shared fairly. So I encourage Hungarians to find joint venture partners here in Banja Luka.

And finally, I would like to assure the President that we understand this to be a two-way street. So we are waiting for you. Right now it is our turn, but as I said, we believe that there are prospects here, there is economic strengthening. Capital will be looking for investment opportunities outside Republika Srpska. Think of Hungary, come to us, come as workers and come as entrepreneurs. Look for opportunities, and cooperate with us. The more you are in our country and the more we are here, the more we will feel that cooperation does not take away opportunities, but creates opportunities for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With this hope, I wish President Dodik and Republika Srpska every success, and I look forward to Hungarian businesspeople engaging in good negotiations and agreements. Minister Márton Nagy is here because he manages Hungary’s outward investment programme, through which subsidies can be obtained for investments that Hungarian companies wish to make outside the country. So I would like to signal to both Serbian and Hungarian entrepreneurs that the Hungarian government is ready to support this economic cooperation between the two countries, both politically and financially.

God bless you all!