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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Kossuth Radio’s “180 Minutes” programme

Gábor István Kiss: It’s seven thirty-five. A global compact on migration is being drafted by the UN: a series of negotiations is underway, and we’ve just recently got to know about the document, which in its current form is unacceptable to the Hungarian government. At first sight it certainly seems to stand in diametric opposition to the states and approaches for which immigration policy is based on border protection. This document says that everyone has the right to choose the surroundings in which they live. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is in the studio. Good morning.

Greetings to our listeners. Good morning.

The United States has already quit the negotiations, saying that the provision of help and resettlement – compulsory admission – are two separate things. Is that also the basis of the Hungarian approach?

I would like to make a distinction between us and the Americans. Obviously they have their own considerations. But I belong to a generation which grew up in the days when if Moscow did something on the international scene, let’s say in the UN, then it was clear that Hungary would follow its lead. So I look at this issue from a perspective which is solely that of Hungarians and the Hungarian national interest, and which is completely independent of the US. It is undoubtedly a sign – and a disturbing sign – that the country with the greatest military influence in the world and which makes the largest financial contribution to the UN has left such talks. But we must not let this influence our own thinking. What is this all about? It is about two compacts, about two draft pacts. One of them is a pact on refugees, and the Americans are still involved in that: negotiations are ongoing, and it will be easier to reach agreement there – because anyone in need of help must be provided with help. The details of this are quite well regulated in international law. This pact can be renewed, and that can be the subject of negotiations. The other compact – the one that we are talking about now – is about migration. So it’s not about refugees, but it’s about migrants: it is about mass population movement, as we refer to it in our own language. It is about what the world should do about the fact that there are great differences in development, and that in certain parts of the world tens of millions of people decide that they want to live in another part of the world: not where they were born and raised, but – mainly for economic reasons – in another country offering better and broader prospects. How should we approach this global phenomenon? This is the subject of the draft compact for migration.

Have we argued for our own standpoint? As things stand we, Hungary, could also quit the negotiations, where a consensus is in prospect. Wouldn’t it be better to influence that consensus from the inside by being present, rather than being absent?

It’s a valid question, which has also involved us in some head-scratching, so I wouldn’t rush into giving a final answer. The UN is an important organisation. There are always arguments about its effectiveness, and while it’s clearly not the world’s most effective organisation, it is still an important organisation: I’ve attended UN talks, and there is no other forum where so many member states from all over the world could meet and hold discussions with the intention of reaching agreement. We must acknowledge its worth: the UN is a worthy institution. However, we should not let the UN formulate principles and draft plans that are contrary to Hungary’s interests. So on the one hand there’s this respect and acknowledgement of its importance, but on the other hand we must take a firm stand on protecting Hungary’s interests; because, based on the currently available information, what’s being prepared now can be described as being in conflict with Hungary’s interests. But fortunately there will come a point at which we see which way the cat jumps, and everything will be clearer and more intelligible; because soon – in a day or two – the draft text will be published and available to read, and it will be a reference point for our approach. At the moment everything is a bit hazy, but if a proposal is in writing we’ll see if there is any chance of us accepting it, because it’s good for Hungary; or if it isn’t, we’ll see if there’s a chance of modifying its content. But this requires cool-headed, calm and thorough analysis. Once the text is available, the Government will deal with it; I’ll do my best to make it widely known, and then the Government will make a decision.

If we’re looking for a single thing that from a practical viewpoint is important to Hungary, and we take into consideration everything that UN Secretary-General Guterres – former President of the Socialist International – has said about immigration in the European Parliament and elsewhere, then can we say that what is at stake is the right to defend our borders?

That’s right. Such principles are being formulated which, for example, raise the possibility of lighter penalties for illegally crossing borders, or propose that every country in the world simplifies and accelerates administrative procedures – in other words that we reduce the screening of foreigners who want to enter into our countries – or that NGOs should participate in these procedures. Well, Hungary has had some rather bad experiences with NGOs: the bogus civil society organisations dealing with migration all eat out of George Soros’s hand. By the way, what we know about the text today – as it hasn’t yet been officially released – looks as if it was copied from the Soros Plan: in spirit it’s exactly the same. For example, a major part of cooperation activities in the field of migration is seen as being diverted to civil society organisations. God preserve Hungary from that! So debates are unfolding on a number of specific topics. And so again I emphasise: restraint, self-control, composure and calm.

Do we have partners on our side in this series of negotiations, in addition to the Visegrád countries?

We’re seeing the formation of an alliance of countries which stand on the bedrock of common sense, who are saying that we mustn’t lose sight of common sense. What will become of our world if we recognise migration as a fundamental right? The global organisation [the UN] sees it as its task to organise a flow of people to and fro all around the world, instead of raising awareness of the inherent dangers in this. We think that this is a dangerous phenomenon: I cannot recall any account of a mass population movement in the history of mankind that did not represent a grave danger to many countries – even we have experience of that. So instead of issuing a warning, it is promoting the organisation, implementation and simplification of migration. There are countries that, like us, think that the global recognition of migration as a fundamental human right is extremely dangerous for many countries. We know which countries have strict immigration policies, and indeed they’ve provided us with many examples to follow. Personally I admire these countries. They are not soft, permissive countries which renounce their own interests at the first opportunity. They are the tough guys, and are all highly developed and civilised: Australia, New Zealand and Japan. And of course here we have the Visegrád Four. As you’ve said, the V4 countries are also opposed to the drafting of global documents and the assumption of global standpoints which could be used later to act against our national interests.

And then there’s Austria, which, according to this morning’s news, seems to be stepping away from its earlier pro-immigration – or more pro-immigration – attitude. It will admit another fifty people from Italy, and then it too will end its participation in the quota-based distribution of migrants. You had the chance to discuss this, for example, with Chancellor Kurz this week. You had talks in Vienna…

The talks were exciting: intellectually and in terms of Hungary’s national interests – indeed in that respect they were important. There are two different ways to look at these talks. The first is in terms of Austrian-Hungarian relations, and the other is in terms of European issues. Regarding Austrian-Hungarian relations, we can say that in Austria the wind has changed, and thus the wind has also changed in Austrian-Hungarian relations. Let’s not mince words: in recent years there was an anti-Hungarian government in Austria. There’s no point in dwelling on past grievances or scratching ourselves and continually growling like a flea bitten-dog. We don’t want to be in that sort of situation, but the truth is that in Austria things were said about Hungary and the Hungarian government that I think have never been said about us by the Austrians at any other time in our history. They said some extremely abusive things. All right, back then they had a socialist government, and that made the situation a little more understandable, but all the same certain things happened which were not easy to acknowledge without reacting to them – or without reacting to them in a way which would damage relations. This guided my action, and I think Hungary bore this very well; because we knew that there was a dispute at that particular time, and there was history – part lying behind us and the other part lying ahead of us. Historically we have had a good relationship with Austria, and that is how we want things to remain: the two countries need each other, and so we can only afford to respond harshly in exceptional circumstances. We preferred to wait for the wind to change. That has now happened, and in Austria now there is a government of the right: the makings of a fair, honourable, Hungarian-friendly government, to replace an anti-Hungarian government. This doesn’t mean that we have no conflicts, because those have remained; but the attitude, the approach and the relationship is far more likely to be based on the positive traditions of historical experience, and, although it is a far richer country than Hungary – smaller, but richer – we all see that in the future Austria will also need Hungary. Austria is a fortunate country, because the Soviets withdrew from it in 1955, and though we tried to achieve something similar in 1956 – for them to leave our country – we were unsuccessful. They succeeded, and so they gained an advantage over us of more than thirty years, which is visible in their level of development. Therefore they became part of the West, while we were absorbed by the Soviet Empire. This meant that the Central European mentality which bound our two countries together was marginalised for a period of time. Now Austria is in the process of redefining its place and its role, and it is saying that it belongs to Central Europe, while having a special relationship with the West: it wants to play the role of a bridge between Central and Western Europe. Meanwhile we are at the very heart of the Central European world: Hungary is a Central European state, through and through.

However, there is a conflict situation in relations between Austria and Hungary. This is the question of Austrian family allowances; that’s not exactly what they’re called, but let’s refer to them like that. Hungarians working in Austria who leave their family members here in Hungary do not receive the same welfare benefits as their Austrian counterparts. You have said that you will fight for these Hungarian workers – of whom, by the way, there are tens of thousands. Where will this question be decided? In the European Court of Justice? In Vienna? In Budapest?

Well, first of all, alongside the conflicts it’s important to identify our basic alignment of interests, so that such conflicts don’t damage the chances of cooperation in questions which are of vital importance. As we’ve learnt over the last three years, Austria and Hungary can only be defended together. This is why the Austrians sent border guards to the Serbian-Hungarian border – for which we have thanked them; and this is why when we closed the Balkan migrant route we were also protecting Austria. There will be a continued need for this cooperation in the future, because Austria and Hungary can only be defended together. We don’t yet know if Italy can remain a member of the Schengen agreement – if it will be able to protect its borders over the long term. In the past year we’ve seen encouraging signs on this, although earlier we only saw things which were reasons for concern. As far as the dispute is concerned, we’re talking about just over eighty thousand Hungarians, so this is not child’s play, but something which affects a lot of people. Of course various figures and conflicting estimates exist, but on the whole I reckon that tens of thousands of such Hungarians are working in Austria and paying contributions into the social welfare system – which Austrian law requires then to pay. They are paying into the system in exactly the same way that Austrians are, but then they are told that the family allowance due to them will be less than that paid to Austrians. The Hungarian standpoint is that this is discrimination: this is negative discrimination against Hungarians. Within the European Union there have been similar attempts, but so far these have been successfully blocked by the European Commission and the European legal system. As I see it, this dispute is not an Austrian-Hungarian dispute, but a debate centred on the interpretation of European law; and it will not be settled between us, but in the European Court of Justice.

The main theme of your meeting with the Archbishop of Vienna was the persecution of Christians. Here it is worth highlighting that there really are communities which have existed in the Middle East since the time of Christ, and which are now in extreme peril. And if the world does not pay more attention to this problem, our generation may live to see the disappearance of these communities, which have survived for thousands of years.

Indeed, there is a piece of wisdom which says that everyone will sit under their own fig tree. This means that everyone in the world has been given a country where they were born and where they must make their way in life. Christian civilisations have existed in the northern section of today’s Muslim world, stretching north from the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as Christianity came into being as a world religion earlier than Islam became a world religion. So if anything at all lifted people out of barbarism, then that is where that world started. First there was Christianity, and then the world saw the settlement of a world religion which was established later: the world religion of Muslims – or Islam. So, starting from sometime after 600 AD, there has always been a mixed population there. They have tried to live alongside each other and the Christian communities have managed to survive, even in this sea of Islam. Different states have treated Christians in different ways: some have butchered them and have sought to drive them out; but there have also been periods and rulers which have seen the desire to co-operate with Christians, as well as with Jews. So the Islamic world is a colourful one. We want the indigenous Christian community to remain as a valuable patch of colour in this mixed world. The situation there is different from that of Europe, where the European continent has always had a Christian culture, and where interestingly this aspect is now strengthening. From various surveys, discussions and analyses I can see that now for very many Europeans Christianity is not primarily a question of religion. Of course there are many of us for whom it is a religious question, as we are bound to the Christian faith that we form part of; but there are very many tens – or hundreds – of millions in Europe whose ties to the Christian faith have changed, weakened, or perhaps even broken. Every individual is a unique case, but we all think that we have a pattern of life which is rooted in Christianity: our everyday pattern of life based on Christian culture, which is ours and in which we feel at home. It determines how we think about freedom of religion and freedom of expression, how we think about personal responsibility, about the family, about our responsibility to our parents and our children, and about equal rights for men and women. All this can be called Christian culture. Now that certain countries are allowing masses of Muslim people into Europe from the South and the East, mixed populations are coming into being where earlier such mixed populations never existed. Therefore we feel that we are losing ground, and that our pattern of life based on Christian culture is in peril. We have not left our countries, and yet the feeling that we are at home has begun to disappear. This is not the world in which we previously lived: in Western Europe this feeling about life is now extremely strong, and we do not want Hungary to meet the same fate. Therefore protecting Christian culture in Europe and calling for the survival of indigenous Christian minorities to the south of us is consistent: it is a policy which is sound in principle and without contradiction.

This consistency can be seen in the unity of the Visegrád Group. Last week the prime ministers of the Visegrád Four were here; and in essence these four politicians, these four political programmes, these four countries have opened a new debate over the future of Europe – because, as you’ve said, the earlier versions of that future have not been realised. What are the main points, what are the most important few sentences of this new politics founded on Visegrád?

The most important is that the European Union has lost sight of its earlier strategy. This is not the most elegant way to say it in Hungarian, but several years ago, in what were called “the Lisbon objectives”, the European Union summarised what it thought of itself and what shared goals it had. We expressed three things. The first was that we would create a European currency which would compete with the dollar at a global level and would eventually become a world currency. The second was that we not only wanted to create a free trade zone within the European Union, but we wanted to extend it – as the text in the documents of the time expressed it – from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The third point was that in Europe we would promote the development of our technology at such a rapid pace as to make Europe the world’s most competitive region. These three goals united us. So if one had asked a European leader about what goals we were working towards together, then that leader would have spoken about these three long-term strategic goals. This, however, has been lost, it has disappeared from the horizon, it has evaporated. The euro is happy to still exist, and now we are trying to restore it to viability, so that it doesn’t become a byword for crises. Not only are we not cooperating with the Russians across an area extending as far as Vladivostok, but we have introduced sanctions against them. In terms of technological development, the Asians have gained ground on us, and in one or two areas they have already caught up with us. We have been unable to close the gap between us and the United States. It follows from this assessment of the situation that the European Union must be given new goals, otherwise there will be nothing to hold us together. For this reason there is a debate – not only in the V4 but in the European Union as a whole – on what vision for our Europe we can share. The issue of migration has burst into this debate, because while we need to debate these issues the European Union has suddenly split in two. It has emerged that within it there are immigrant countries, which have already become immigrant countries; and there are those like Hungary, which do not want to be among them. In essence the issue which has arisen is that the continent comprises two parts, with characters which diverge along these lines. There is the V4 and a few others, which do not want to become immigrant countries, and there are those who have already become such countries. And the question is how these two groups can express any kind of shared goals. This is what lends both risk and excitement to the current situation.

It also seems to be true that the four countries will be more dependent on each other, because one can read about plans for a development bank, which is being called a “Visegrád Bank”.

I was very much in favour of this idea, but I have been persuaded otherwise – particularly by the Czech prime minister. After all he is the one among us who can claim to have produced the most outstanding economic results, because as Minister of Finance he worked wonders in the Czech Republic – and furthermore he is one of Europe’s richest men. I’m talking about Prime Minister Babiš. He said that we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse, and he convinced us that first of all we should identify and develop large-scale joint economic initiatives for which the money will be needed. And if it turns out that some kind of financial institution is needed for these large programmes – about which I will say a few words in a minute – then we can establish such an institution. But not the other way round. We accepted this, and indeed his approach is more realistic. But, for example, we spoke about the possibility of constructing a high-speed rail link between Budapest and Warsaw. Today the journey time is twelve hours, but if we can realise our plans then that time can be cut to four hours. Similarly, today we cannot take a motorway all the way to Prague, and that is an absolute impossibility when travelling to Warsaw. So North-South links within Central Europe have not been created. We are living with the legacy of the Cold War, in which there are East-West links, but no North-South links. If no North-South links are built then Central Europe will only remain an intellectual and spiritual entity. Central Europe exists: there is a shared mentality, historical tradition, community of fate, culture, and attitude towards life. It is no coincidence that we have empathy for one another and that we understand each other so readily; but the economic foundations do not yet exist at present. I believe that we are creating the economic foundations for Central Europe, and that is what I am working towards. The starting-point for this is connections: the linking of energy, gas and electricity supply lines, the linking of motorway and rail transport. With the aid of these there will be a significant increase in trade and economic cooperation between our countries.

My guest on “180 Minutes” was Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Thank you for being on our programme today.