Jaromír Soukup: – Good evening to TV Barrandov viewers. Welcome to a special edition of “Duel” with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. Welcome to you, too, Prime Minister.
– Good evening.
– Prime Minister, I would like to devote the first half of our interview to Hungarian-Czech relations. What does our country mean to you?
– Things like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “I Served the King of England”, or “The Firemen’s Ball”. To us, to my generation, it means culture, Czech culture: the high-quality, yet entertaining Czech culture which our generation grew up with in the seventies and eighties.
– Then naturally Czech culture thanks the Hungarian prime minister for his appreciation of a few decades of Czech literature and cinema. What about politics?
– In politics the Czech Republic means alliance. The Czech Republic is a close ally of Hungary. We both belong to a region which has a great future ahead of it, which suffered much in the past, and which in the past few years has proven its vitality. The Czech-Hungarian alliance within the V4 is the future of Europe.
– Your minister Péter Szijjártó thanked the Czech Chamber of Deputies for criticising the European Parliament’s proposal to launch a procedure against Hungary on the grounds that it is violating the values of the European Union. Do you also see the Czech Republic as an ally in this respect?
– It is more than that, more than an alliance: it is a friendship. And we have good reason to have friendly feelings for each other, as when we have had to help each other out, we have always been able to rely on each other. But this Czech gesture is one that stands out, and one which will remain in Hungarians’ memory for a long time; and we are grateful for it.
– As you know, similar criticisms are levelled against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and President Miloš Zeman by the liberal media and their political opponents: that they aren’t pro-European enough, and that they don’t protect European values strongly enough.
– We think that the exact opposite is the case. We think that we are the ones representing and protecting European values. We believe that if someone stands on top of a hill looking down on a city – Prague, say, or Budapest – one knows that here we are in Europe. So in fact we are being attacked by the liberals not for the reasons they state, but because there is a power struggle in Europe, and this power struggle also has a cultural dimension: the approaching end of the current era will displace the liberals. A new era is about to start in Europe, and the liberals can sense their defeat. It is a stroke of political irony that your prime minister belongs to the group of Liberals in the European Parliament. This clearly demonstrates that words have one meaning in Central Europe, and another in Western Europe. But the end is approaching for the mentality and form of politics which has no respect for Europe’s traditions, which seeks to build the future not on the foundations of Europe’s past but on the invention of all sorts of complicated rootless things, which shows no respect for Christianity, which shows no respect for the nation state, which rejects the laws of Creation in relation to men and women, and which has no respect for the family. In Europe the positions of power associated with this mentality have been shaken to the core. We can see the approaching end of the era of those who want to culturally transform the continent and who want to use migration for that purpose. They are the ones who are attacking your president and your prime minister – and me also. This is more about politics and power than actual criticism.
– I agree with you on a great many things, Prime Minister. A large number of Czechs – I would describe them as Czech patriots – agree with you, and personally I find it natural that there is this kind of polarisation of the European political arena. What I don’t find natural, however, is that people who were unsuccessful in elections and failed to address their own voters – not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Hungary – very often immediately start accusing those who were successful in elections of being undemocratic, extremists, un-European, et cetera.
– The truth is that what we like most about the Czech Republic is that it’s inhabited by the Czechs. The main attraction of Hungary is that it’s inhabited by Hungarians. So we don’t want to surrender our identity and our history, and voters support us because we want to defend our respective countries and the values of our countries. Those who lose elections find themselves up against the majority of voters. At times like this they run to Brussels. Regrettably, the left-wing opposition in Central Europe often looks upon Brussels as a last redoubt, from which they can launch another attack on Prague or Budapest, on the national government in Prague or Budapest. This is a bad approach, and I’m not happy that the bureaucrats in Brussels accept this kind of attitude, because the bureaucrats in Brussels are actually your employees – our employees: there would be no Brussels without the Czech Republic, without Hungary, without the nation states. It’s not right for it to be possible to launch political assaults against nation states from Brussels.
– Let’s continue with a topic which occupies public discourse both in Hungary and the Czech Republic: migration. In Hungary you remain very popular, you’ve maintained a very high level of popularity, and in part you build this on making anti-migration policy tougher. In 2015 you ensured that a fence was built on Hungary’s border, in order to halt illegal migration heading for Hungary; you created transit zones; and indeed European justice agencies are considering a procedure brought against Hungary due to your anti-migration laws penalising those who facilitate migration. Have these measures worked?
– It’s true that liberals hate me, because they dream of a Europe which will escape its own history: a Europe which will free itself of nations and nation states; a Europe which will free itself of citizenship; a Europe which will free itself of national character; and a Europe which will mix with those arriving here in order to create some new kind of quality. They don’t want to see Czechs, Poles, Hungarians or Germans: they want to see a new race of Europeans resulting from their process of importing people from distant parts of the world, from different civilisations, and mixing them with us. They believe that this will result in a nobler, greater Europe than our Europe of Czechs, Hungarians, Poles – or, indeed, Germans. I do not agree with this idea at all. I was perhaps the first to openly and directly address this issue, and we not only spoke out against this kind of policy, but with my border protection measures and construction of the fence we Hungarians also sought to take action against it. Therefore in Brussels we are the black sheep.
– Well, black sheep. On the one hand, you are being severely criticised, while on the other hand your measures are successful, and are supported by the public. You really were the first to dismiss the plan for migration quotas as sheer madness, and you were the first to very bravely point out that the Hungarian people must defend their Christian values – whether or not they are believers. Do you seriously believe what you’ve just said: that Christian culture and nation states will gradually disappear if the current Brussels approach you’ve just described prevails?
– Yes. Furthermore, the issue of migration is in fact also a question of democracy. Clearly the characters of countries change with migration, and our lives would also change. This is such a profound transformation that no political leader could agree to it without asking the people. Adopting pro-immigration decisions without asking voters – Hungarians, Czechs, Germans or French – will sooner or later lead to deep democratic crises. Because people will feel that their country and their lives are being changed without them having been given the chance to state their opinion on the matter. So I believe that you Czechs, we Hungarians and the Poles, we are all democrats. We are doing what voters want. Those who oppose us want to force something on us that our peoples don’t want. It is another matter that people in Western Europe were not asked whether they want the changes which are taking place now; but that’s their problem and not our business. We are only asking them not to try to force something on us that our people, our nations, do not want. The migrant quotas are ridiculous, because if you have a burst pipe in your home, one shouldn’t be discussing how to share out the water that’s flooding in, but one should be mending the pipe. We should be talking about defending our borders, so that we can put an end to the problem.
– Prime Minister, I’m very pleased that I’ve been able – and our viewers have been able – to hear your European vision in its context like this for the first time. What you are saying seems logical to me. Did you speak to Andrej Babiš about migration policy today? Did you agree with each other?
– I’m a great admirer of your prime minister, and I’m very happy that someone from outside the sphere of politics has entered the European political scene. I’ve been in international and Hungarian politics for thirty years, and I see that the same issues reappear from time to time. Sometimes we need new people who’ve come from outside with their own approach, who are brave and who shake up those things which otherwise always follow the same boring and unsuccessful course. And Prime Minister Babiš is undoubtedly such a man. In Hungary he’s highly respected for his work as finance minister, as he achieved economic results which we Hungarians greatly admire. We are pleased to see that as prime minister he continues to have his feet on the ground, and whenever it comes to clashes with Brussels on the issue of migration I can always rely on him – and he, too, can rely on me. It is often the case that the two of us together need to firmly represent one standpoint or another. Both of us could recount several stories of that kind: stories about political battles waged in the small hours, in which the Czechs could rely on us and we could rely on the Czechs.
– You are known as a hard worker, as is the Czech prime minister. I believe you when you say that you often only succeed in reaching agreements in the small hours. They say that Andrej Babiš only sleeps for three hours a night. Given your workload, how much time do you have for sleep?
– Not much. I don’t want to compete with Prime Minister Babiš in this, but this is without doubt the sort of job that is very demanding. I am a great believer in catnapping: deep sleep for ten to fifteen minutes, after which you can continue your work. Everyone has different methods, but this is undoubtedly hard work, and you have to press on. If you’re not at your post on the bridge, sooner or later you’ll stray off course, and you’ll lose track of events. So this is what one takes on. I like this work and I don’t complain about having to work hard. I’m happy to work hard, I like this work: it’s splendid, and when one sees success one can work with real enthusiasm. In my thirteen years in office I’ve experienced very many exhilarating moments. I’m now in my thirteenth year as prime minister.
– One can sense that energy in you. Prime Minister, another area in which you are criticised is the legislation relating to NGOs which support migration; the law has been referred to as Lex Soros, after George Soros, the American philanthropist of Hungarian origin. You’ve been strongly criticised on that score. I assume you’ll stand by the legislation.
– There is a Hungarian man – a talented man – called George Soros. We Hungarians proudly see ourselves as generally being talented people. He’s a talented man who has made a huge amount of money from speculating on the financial markets, and is able to skilfully organise matters in line with his intentions. He has created an impressive network across the whole of Central Europe, comprising paid political activists posing as representatives of civil society, casting their web across several countries as they conduct their work. My view on both this and Mr. Soros is that we can discuss the background philosophy and a few social questions. But there is a red line that not even Mr. Soros, not even NGOs and not even paid civil rights activists are allowed to cross: that red line is national security. This has become an acute question in Hungary, because migration is an issue of national security. And I shall not allow anyone in Hungary to endanger the security of the Hungarian people. Those who support migration also support terrorism; they support a rise in crime; and they want something which poses a threat to Hungarians. I have made it clear – and the Hungarian legislature has confirmed my stance – that this is a security issue, and that civil society organisations which want to pursue activities related to this security issue – with migration – must be subject to strict controls. They must not be allowed to pursue their activities as if they were dealing, say, with environmental issues, because this is a special national security area.
– I see. You’re aware that George Soros is also quite active in the Czech Republic, with several think tanks here financed by his Open Society Foundations. This has provoked debate, and naturally it also gives rise to some logical questions. How is it possible for these people to claim the right to engage in politics and to acquire political power – power in particular – without standing for election, and with foreign financial backing? This is one question. Then there are some controversial activities. Recently we’ve seen that there’s a journalist who is frequently at the centre of attention: a female journalist who is behind a major story related to Andrej Babiš. In this case, I believe, the health of the Prime Minister’s son was unethically raised as an issue, and it could even have resulted in the fall of the Government. This journalist is financed by George Soros, and this has provoked major debate in Czech society.
– First of all, we live in democracies. People must not – and indeed cannot – be silenced. Furthermore, we’re in a television studio now, but there are even more modern communication technologies – social media and the like. So today everyone is free to voice their opinions. Therefore, when confronted by these Soros-style networks we have only one chance. We cannot tell them to keep their mouths shut: that’s not possible in a democracy. We can do one thing, and that is to systematically uncover who they are, who pays them, why they receive funding, what networks they form part of and what causes they act in favour of; and to reveal this information to Hungarian or Czech voters. We can tell them that now they can see that these are our opponents, and when the next election comes along they can vote on it and make their decision. In truth Hungary has been a pioneer in forcing networks – and George Soros himself – to come out of the woodwork and reveal their entire networks to the general public across the whole of Central Europe. They have had to admit to this, because we have exposed them. Now, as regards the case related to your prime minister, I don’t want to pass judgement on specific cases. In Hungary family affairs are sacred ground, but this story demonstrates the emergence of a general phenomenon: that politics as a profession has become ever harsher. As I mentioned, I’ve been in politics a long time. Twenty years ago things were different: twenty years ago, if the Czech prime minister had been attacked on account of a son or daughter who was in difficulty, then I believe that the entirety of Czech public opinion – and also international public opinion – would have said that such a thing is not permissible, because politics is politics, and family is family. But over the past twenty years politics has become so harsh that our opponents – in particular our international, globalist, Soros-style opponents – are intent on serial character assassination. We can see signs of this in the Czech Republic. Politics has become like cage fighting. We – and I – must also adapt to this: those who do not fight, those who do not struggle will be trampled underfoot. And if we’re trampled underfoot, our peoples will also be trampled underfoot. So we must accept that the rules of engagement have changed, and we, too, must be tougher.
– In an interview once you said that in earlier times politics was practised by gentlemen wearing gloves and white shirts, while today politics is more like fist-fighting. This is how we should understand this. Prime Minister, let’s move on to the V4 cooperation. In your view, is the Visegrád cooperation still important?
– I’m convinced that the V4 group represents the future of Europe. Economic growth in this region is twice the average in the European Union, and it seems that this trend will continue. So the engine of economic growth is in the hands of Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak workers: we are pulling the locomotive of the European Union, and this will be true for a long time to come. So we’re a successful region, and this is how we should look upon ourselves. We’re not beggars turning to Brussels for money. We’re performing well, our economies are thriving, we let Western Europeans into our countries and we expect them to treat us fairly: to treat our people, our workers and our governments fairly. So I truly believe that the strengthening of this cooperation between the four countries is good for Europe, good for Central Europe, and good for each of the four states. What is missing – and on this I’m cooperating with your prime minister – is that during the communist era all the important energy and transport networks were built in an East-West direction, and there are no North-South networks: we have no high-speed rail lines; we have no North-South motorways; it’s difficult to transmit electricity in a North-South direction; and gas pipelines also run East-West, not North-South. So our four countries, the V4, must also make major economic investments to develop Central Europe as an economic region. This is a formidable task, but also the most beautiful one for the next ten years.
– I see. Should the Visegrád Group be extended to include Austria, as is sometimes suggested? Nowadays its political views are often similar.
– This is a very difficult question. If the issue of enlargement is raised, there is always one of our four countries which has a different idea, and the debate is never-ending. whenever we’ve held the presidency and led the V4 I’ve always suggested that we preserve our cooperation as a compact, and develop special relationships with outsiders on an individual basis: so we should have a V4+Austria arrangement, and have a policy on that; we should have a V4+Balkans arrangement, and for that, too, we should develop a policy; and we should have a V4+Baltic countries arrangement, and have a separate policy for that also. So in my view the future lies not in enlargement, but in the development of special relationships.
– Very well. Prime Minister, one last – extremely vague – question: what do you think Europe needs most?
– What Europe needs now is an election. Members of the European Parliament were elected five years ago, and countries delegated commissioners to the European Commission five years ago. Major changes have taken place over the past five years, and those who are there are no longer suited to the job. We now need a new European leadership, new MEPs, and a new European Commission. If we succeed in electing and appointing MEPs and commissioners who love their countries and are committed to their nations, then we’ll be able to launch an entirely new European policy programme. In the second half of next year, after the elections to the European Parliament, we’ll be able to start a modern and competitive new political programme for Europe which respects Europe’s traditions, which loves the continent for what it is, and which is sustained by its own roots. Therefore I believe that Europe’s future is now in the hands of the European people, and in the elections they must chart the direction for Europe.
– So if I’ve understood you correctly, in your view the fundamental impulse for the reform of Europe will probably come after the elections to the European Parliament in May. One further question: How deeply has this never-ending migration crisis scarred European relations and public opinion? And what impact will it have on these European Parliament elections?
– That alone would require a separate lengthy discussion. All I’d venture to say now is that European countries have been clearly divided into two distinct groups. There are countries which have decided to become immigrant countries, which have been taking in millions of immigrants, and which have embarked on the process of transforming themselves – which is an enormous adventure. It may all end well; but it may well end in tears. And there is another group of countries, which have not ventured to do anything like this. We are part of that group of countries: we do not want to transform ourselves; we do not want to mix with others; we do not want to mix with others without knowing how that adventure will end. So these are the two groups now. The big question in Europe is how these two groups – the countries transforming themselves into immigrant countries and the countries which seek to preserve themselves as they are – will be able to cooperate. This will be the biggest question for the period following the elections.
– Prime Minister, our time is up. Thank you very much for making time for our television channel, thank you for your answers and for your energy. It has been excellent. Thank you again.
– Thank you very much. I wish the viewers and the citizens of the Czech Republic all the very best. God bless the Czech Republic!
– Thank you, Prime Minister. And I thank our viewers for watching.