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

Éva Kocsis: Twenty-six minutes to eight. Good morning, you are listening to 180 Minutes. In the studio we have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Good morning.

Good morning.

Could the EU fall apart as a result of the migrant crisis? Angela Merkel was asked this question in an interview, and in reply she said that those who consider separate national approaches should also consider that if each and every EU country acts separately, we will be much less able to move the world in a direction which suits our values and interests, because we are only strong as a united community. I think that the Chancellor’s message was directed at Hungary, among others.

Regarding this interview or opinion, for my part I believe that individual action is better than united inertia. But this is exactly the situation today: the European Union is passive. Hungary was the first nation state to act autonomously, and as a result Hungary today is the best-protected country in the European Union. And even those who waited much longer for a European solution than we did have finally embarked on the path of independent action, because it is better to do something individually than to do nothing together.

But if everyone acts unilaterally, at some point this will also result in a multi-speed Europe.

Well, that is another question. Regardless of the refugee crisis, there is another question on the table; it is just that the refugee crisis is casting a shadow over it, and we cannot see it. But this is an intense debate, an important debate, and it may also have a long-term impact on our lives. This debate is about whether the states forming part of the eurozone and using the euro should create a common policy and a common institutional system which they do not yet have today – say in the form of a common tax policy, common labour regulations or a common social policy – which would only apply to them. This would mean that Europe would not merely become a two-speed continent; I would not use this term, but, as they say, there would be a core Europe and there would be a peripheral Europe around that core. I think that this is not a problem for the immediate future, but we can expect some serious decisions on this issue before the end of this year. This will pose dilemmas and questions to be answered by Hungary, and to all other countries which do not use the euro. But I repeat, this is another question, another matter, and a complex one at that. The currency of Hungary is laid down in the Hungarian Constitution, and in order to introduce the euro, we would need a two-thirds majority. Additionally, the countries outside the eurozone are at present growing much faster than the countries inside it. The countries which are outside appear to be more flexible and have better means at their disposal than those inside. So the elected representatives of the Hungarian people will have to consider a great many things when this issue emerges. But I repeat that at present the migrant crisis has far greater priority than this question, because it is knocking on our door and crossing the threshold.

Let us talk about the solution. We still find it very hard to talk about the details of such a common European solution – which is a term we have been using for some time as a kind of iconic slogan – because for the time being the European Commission uses it to mean either the quotas, or an emergency refugee fund. The EU Member States are to set up an emergency fund of seven hundred million euros in order to help resolve the humanitarian crisis. Greece has already submitted its claim for 480 million euros. What will this solution, the emergency fund, be enough for?

Well, the finances of the European Union are far from transparent. From time to time one hears figures, which provoke utter disbelief and incomprehension. We have, for instance, what you just mentioned; but at the same time, Hungary has already spent 250, 270, 300 million euros on its own defence efforts – and if my information is correct, no more than 4–5 million euros has been refunded by the EU in compensation. And even that is only as part of the regular grants that we, too, are entitled to. So we can say that today Hungary itself is footing the entire bill of our defence against the migrants, and the European Union is not helping at all. Meanwhile, figures of this magnitude are cited in statements and press releases.

But would we want some of that money? The Greeks are asking for some.

We shall see what it will be enough for, and what we might need money for.

Does this money exist at all?

This question is if there is … EU funds are always a strange thing. I do not want to take our conversation in another direction now, but over there they have a different concept of money from the one we have. For us money is real money when we can touch it, put it on the table, see it, and when we have counted it. Over there the calculation method – particularly in economic development programmes – is that one puts down one euro, which moves another three, and another five and another eight, and eventually it turns out that, although we only have five euros, we claim that we will spend one hundred. This is a different world, with a different calculation method.

There was a time when European politicians and experts continuously rang the alarm bell, saying that someone should tell Greece to do something. This went on for a long time. And European politicians were not quite as loud as the European people expected them to be. And now Greece is sending out messages to everyone, to the Balkan countries and Austria, it is running to Germany for help, and it is reprimanding us. Shouldn’t they have started acting sooner?

Greece has been the biggest mystery of the past year. It is incomprehensible why Greece has tolerated the elimination of the Turkish-Greek border. Why did they tolerate refugees in their millions entering Greek territory, the Greek islands, without any controls? And it is completely incomprehensible why Greece as a state transported these people from the islands to the Greek mainland by ferry. And from there, they set them on the road for Europe, including Hungary. These are mysterious things. I still vividly remember when ferry captains called a strike for a few days, and the flow of refugees stopped for the duration of that strike. So this clearly demonstrates that back then the means were also available, but Greece chose not to use them. At the same time, no one wants to call Greece out on this. I myself am reluctant to do so. The Hungarian custom in football, as in other areas of life, is to root for the underdog; this is somehow a moral duty. So we are rooting for the Greeks, because they are at war with half the world, and are engaged in economic battles. And we would like the Greeks to retain their sovereignty, to protect their heritage, and not allow their creditors to exploit them. So there is a great deal of sympathy towards Greece, but this can no longer prevent us calling a spade a spade. The truth is that the people who are bringing trouble to the Balkan route, to the borders of Hungary and later to Germany are entering through Greece. And the most mysterious part of the whole Greek affair is the identity of the protector behind all this. Who could it be? Greece has continuously violated the Schengen Agreement, let asylum seekers in and sent them to us to cope with. And yet somebody, or some group…

Who?

… has been continuously defending them. The Germans have been doing well in this department, but I think that there are others, too, behind the scenes. There have been some – most probably due to NATO considerations – who have continuously offered protection to Greece. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but as a result they have also defended Greek infringements and their violation of the Schengen Agreement, which is not right.

You have just mentioned NATO. The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO’s European forces says that Moscow and Damascus are using the flow of migrants as a weapon in order to destabilise Europe. According to this line of thought it is the Russian bombing of Syria which is causing the European refugee crisis. And he also said that while earlier there was a flood of refugees, it has now become an everyday occurrence for criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters to enter Europe among the asylum seekers. There are two questions here. On the one hand, why are the Americans speaking up now? And on the other hand, is this in fact a message to the Russians? And I am sorry, there is a third one as well. If we know or they know – if the Americans themselves know, and NATO know – that criminals and terrorists are arriving, what are they going to do about it?

If you will allow me, I would rather not engage in an international slanging match.

Is that what this is?

You are young, you cannot remember, but we of the greying generation can clearly remember that this was also how things went in the past. Something happened in the world, and at the time the countries of the two opposing blocs blamed each another for having caused it. I am not anyone’s intermediary, but refugees and migrants were also pouring into Europe before the Russian bombing in Syria. So, based on the simple rules of logic, trying to blame the Russians for this does not seem to be a reasonable position. As regards terrorists, however, I would not call it a mystery, but another a consequence of European simple-mindedness. While European states are sending troops to Asian countries – which means that we are at war there and conducting armed operations – they are letting in, without any controls, migrants from the territories of those same countries. What have we been thinking of? Did we think that those who are at war with us wouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity? You don’t need the brain of a nuclear physicist to see the problem, and connect it with the bombings and attacks in Europe. Hungary has no choice here because we have to look after our own homeland. We do not let anyone in without controls: no terrorists, criminals, economic migrants or political refugees can enter Hungary without controls. And in Hungary we shall not allow the development of situations like those which we can see elsewhere. There will be no fence-breaking, immigrant riots or acts of arson in refugee camps here, and no gangs hunting Hungarian women, our wives and daughters. That is out of the question. That simply cannot happen here. I have instructed the Interior Minister that if we see even the slightest sign of this, any such attempt must be nipped in the bud before it happens, and the legal system must then consistently punish such attempts. From this viewpoint, we will not be transforming Hungary into Europe; this will remain a safe place to live.

We will talk about the Hungarian borders and the Hungarian situation in a minute. But let us talk a little about those who are responsible – let us talk about the Turks. The last Turkish-EU summit was cancelled, but I can imagine that when the Turkish question is raised at the European Union leaders’ meeting, those leaders will recoil somewhat. Do the Turks hold the trump card?

When we speak about the Turks, as we will on Monday at the EU summit in Brussels, many different opinions will be presented all at once. Given that Turkey is a sizeable power, everyone now agrees that we need Turkey; however, relations between Turkey and the European Union are not settled. The Turks would like to join the European Union, but most Member States – and in particular, the large ones – reject this. There are some who are quite blunt about it, others are more polite; some offer something else instead of membership, while others offer nothing. The question then arises whether, if they are not given membership, the Turks should or should not be allowed to travel to Europe without visas. We Hungarians are among those who say that this cannot happen. Here in our immediate neighbourhood we have Ukraine, with which we have all sorts of agreements. They are making moves towards Europe, but we do not want to admit them – and indeed cannot admit them. At present even the assistance we can provide is limited, and we have not granted the citizens of Ukraine visa-free entry into Europe. So if we Hungarians are to grant anyone visa-free entry in the future, it will have to be Ukraine – and everyone else can only come later. So quite obviously the Turkish issue raises a number of other issues as well. Now, as regards the agreement concluded with the Turks. Hungarian foreign policy supports this agreement. It is reasonable and wise to come to an agreement with Turkey, and it is useful – particularly as part of a carefully considered arrangement. But this is not enough. It is not enough on its own. Because no one, let alone a continent of five hundred million, can allow their security to depend on the actions of a country of seventy million or so. Europe is underestimating…

But it does depend on them.

Well yes, this is the situation now. But I do not think it is right. Europe is underestimating itself. We Europeans number five hundred million, and this means that there are more of us than the Russians and the Americans combined. We are one of the world’s most developed economic regions. Our technological means, state of development and financial strength enable us to defend ourselves. In that case, why should we beg a country of seventy million or so for our security, instead of protecting ourselves? No one understands. Naturally, it is good to have agreements with the states bordering the European Union – these are always useful. But they are no substitute for our own defence efforts, and cannot replace them.

Europe, Brussels does not understand why we need a referendum on the quotas.

Oh they do – they just pretend that they don’t.

Martin Schulz does not understand why a referendum should be held because of 1,294 people.

Politics is a thing of cunning, and there are plenty of cunning people in it. And from time to time they like to be crafty, instead of talking straight. Mr. Schulz, too, pretends not to know – and this is something that we have said everywhere – that the decisions which were adopted earlier are now a thing of the past. We have taken legal action against those decisions, and we want to have them annulled. That is one thing. The referendum is about the future. He knows perfectly well, as I do, that another EU summit will be held in mid-March; at that summit a proposal will be tabled to the effect that the former one-off decision to distribute 120,000 migrants across Europe should be replaced with a permanent and continuous distribution system. In other words, their intention will be to distribute millions of migrants across Europe on a legally binding basis – even if there are Member States, such as Hungary, which are opposed to this. It is against this that we are calling the citizens of Hungary to battle; it is this which Hungary is rebelling against, and it is this which we must stop. It is in response to this that I say that we Hungarians must stop Brussels.

So we went to court because of 1,294 people – which was approved in December and you signed off on in Brussels – while the referendum on the quotas is about all future quotas? Is that so?

First of all, I did not sign anything, and will not sign anything agreeing to compulsory quotas – be those permanent or one-off.

But the quotas are in that closing declaration.

Yes, but we never sign a closing declaration: that is about who thinks what. The text you mention refers back to the December meeting, at which Hungary and Slovakia indicated in no uncertain terms that they disagree with the content of the agreement, do not accept it and will go to court. So we, together with the Slovaks, officially announced in Brussels that we would go to court. Everything contrary to this is naturally binding on us legally, but we disagree with it from a political viewpoint, and we will take action against it. We, the Visegrád Four – and particularly Slovakia and Hungary – are vigorously representing our interests in Brussels. We are seeking to assert in court the Hungarian position on the distribution of 120,000 people, of which more than 1,200 would be sent to Hungary. We are inviting the people to state their position, in a referendum, against the new regulations tabled for adoption in mid-March.

With regard to the Hungarian referendum, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has said that on the refugee crisis some people are retreating from the fundamental principles of the UN declaration. He also says that this whole situation, this whole referendum, sets a dangerous precedent. Are human rights in real danger, or are they worried about a domino effect?

This statement draws attention to a very interesting question, as many share the view that the right refugee policy can be contrary to the will of the people. We must ask the question: can a refugee policy be right if it is contrary to the will of the people? Is it possible to change the future, the demographic composition, public security and cultural fabric of a people in the name of some abstract, higher ideal against the people’s will? This is where liberalism and democracy, the liberal and democratic ways of thinking clash. Liberals believe that of course it is possible. Societies are not enlightened enough, they are not yet modern enough in their values, and therefore it is our duty as leaders to enforce a few ideas – even in opposition to the people if need be. There are democrats – and we Hungarians belong to this camp – who say that naturally debates like this may emerge, but that on fundamental issues, which determine the very fate of a people, it is irrelevant what we think; what is relevant is what the people think. Therefore we must ask them, we must listen to them, and we must accept their decision. This is where the liberal mentality and the democratic mentality clash. Hungary clearly belongs to the camp of democrats, the camp of democratically-minded peoples.

You also refer to a clash in a situation when other countries also go against Brussels, but let us talk about the Hungarian situation now. So the Hungarian approach runs contrary to Brussels’ approach, and at times like this what happened in the past was that they tried to discipline Hungary in some manner. We have here, for instance, the country-specific report which points out that if competition in public procurement procedures in Hungary continues to remain limited, Hungary may risk a loss of funding. Don’t you expect that if Hungary goes against Brussels on the issue of quotas, there may be further infringement proceedings and we may see a withdrawal of funds?

When I ask the Interior Minister “How are you, Sándor?”, he answers me in two ways. One is that he is fulfilling his duties, the other is that he’s battle-hardened and strong enough to withstand punishment if need be. I am the same, and so is Hungary. So we are ready to fight the battles that we have to fight. We are ready to make proposals in Brussels in order to resolve the situation. And we are ready to withstand or repel punishment referred to in illegitimate threats against us. So I do not think that we should be afraid. If you are physically capable of withstanding such trials, you can endure any attack. And I think that Hungarian diplomacy is strong enough, in recent months we have repeatedly sought to assert Hungary’s interests, and as part of our duties we are able to take on the fight against the harshest threats. I believe that in the meantime it is very important that we should not forget why we are doing what we are doing. After a very long time Hungary has finally embarked on its own goals at a perceivable pace – though not with seven-league strides. After all, we have reduced unemployment from 11.5% to around 6%, retail sales have been on the increase for I don’t know how long, for about thirty months, and our economic growth is well above the European Union’s average. We are continuously increasing public sector wages as part of the system of career models; those concerned will never be satisfied, which I understand, but this is a fact, all the same. In five years we have managed to increase the minimum wage by fifty per cent. So I think that there is a nationally-oriented renaissance here. The strengthening of Hungarians is perceivable not only in Hungary, but also in the Carpathian Basin. This does not mean that we don’t have any problems, that there is no poverty, and that there is no demographic decline; we still suffer from many ills, but we have set out in the direction of a better future. This is what is being put in jeopardy by the migrant situation and Brussels’ incompetence, which is causing chaos. We are not fighting because we have nothing better to do; we are fighting because we want to protect Hungary’s prospects for growth, we want to protect the work we have done in recent years, and we want to protect the future prospects we have created for ourselves. This is why it is worth looking forward to the talks in Brussels and everything that may flow from this debate in a condition which is tough enough to withstand all the punishment that is thrown at us.

When you talk about reinforcement of the border fence, do you mean reinforcement of the current section or construction of further sections?

Both. As I see it, the Macedonians are fighting well, their performance is remarkable, and the united stance of the Balkan nations and the Central European peoples and the support we provide for each other are likewise remarkable. But if the Macedonians are unable to hold the line, the dam could burst all the same. But let me repeat that there is a chance this can be avoided, and that the people now gathered there on the border can be transported back to Greece’s interior. If there is a problem with this, however, it is the duty of a country’s government and prime minister to prepare their country not only for the best scenario, but also for the worst – and as part of this, we must protect the borders. The current physical barriers are good, and they have been effective. Earlier we had as many as around four hundred thousand people coming through Hungary, but since the erection of the fence last year we have had maybe three thousand. So before the construction of the fence ten or twenty times more people had come through than afterwards. This line of defence is obviously a sensible thing and is doing its job, but we must be able to protect it against the pressure of large masses of people. We were faced with this at Röszke. I believe that we must physically reinforce the network of fences so that it can also be protected across wider sections. And as we cannot rule out the possibility that migrants could also turn towards Romania, and we do not know whether the Romanians will be able to stop the migrants – one can only guess, but one cannot know for certain – we must also prepare for the eventuality that if there is trouble on the Romanian section, we should be able to physically protect the entire Romanian-Hungarian border section within two to three weeks. We are capable of this, we have the necessary materials, and the relevant ministers have been given the relevant instructions. So we are able to respond rapidly if trouble strikes suddenly.

Everything you have said about migration in the last twenty minutes leads me to conclude that next week’s extraordinary EU summit will not make a huge amount of progress.

We can hope for one thing. The summit of heads of government you mentioned will be held on Monday. The only thing we can hope for is that we may be able to strike a clearer deal with the Turks. I do not expect anything else from the Monday summit, as it is effectively a Turkey-EU summit, with its related series of negotiations. The real threat will not emerge on Monday. We have some nerve-racking weeks ahead of us, and the high point for this will be the EU summit on 17–18 March, when for the first time we can see in writing the European proposal on the compulsory and permanent distribution of refugees: the distribution of millions of people across Europe – including countries such as Hungary, which do not want this. This EU summit in the middle of March will be the real challenge for us.

Everyone in Europe is watching what impact the issue of migration has on the various elections in neighbouring countries. The Slovakian election concerns us in particular, because of the Hungarian community there. What do you expect?

In accordance with their laws, since midnight yesterday there has been pre-election campaign silence in Slovakia. So this also restricts my options. I can perhaps say that I would like to invite the Hungarians living in Slovakia – those hundreds of thousands of people – to be kind enough to vote. The future of Slovakia is important for the Hungarians living there, and it is also important for Hungarians living in Hungary. A stable and balanced Slovakia which we can work together with as allies – as we have done in the past few years – can give us the opportunity to take a joint stance on the European scene. An unstable Slovakia is also a great loss for Hungary. That would be a problem for the Hungarians living there, but equally for us Hungarians living in Hungary. So we have a vested interest in a stable, strong, uncompromising and consistent Slovakia and Slovak foreign policy – and recently Slovakia has pursued such a policy. Regardless of Slovakia, however, I must point out that in the past two to three months there have also been elections elsewhere throughout Europe, and these do not instil optimism in us, given that all the post-election situations appear to be unstable. Elections have been held, but in a number of countries there are no governments yet, or there have been protracted attempts to form governments, or wider coalitions have been formed which have brought instability rather than stability. So recently the internal political strength of European states has been compromised, and on the whole this has also debilitated Europe. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case in Slovakia, but a strong government will be formed with a strong mandate. We are rooting for the Slovaks, and we are rooting for the Hungarians in Slovakia.

We have very little time left. After the Oscars, on your social media page you posted a comment saying that it was a great day for Hungarian film, expressing gratitude to everyone. It is an amazing achievement, but at times like this what is the responsibility of a country’s government? Will there be more attention, more funding available for the Hungarian film industry? What will happen?

Well, recently the Hungarian film industry has been given so much funding that it cannot be increased any further. In 2010 we started from a very low point, and this is quite apart from the criminal activities that had been going on; in any case, the situation left to us was one of complete legal and financial chaos. Perhaps everyone can remember how negative the general atmosphere was. Everyone felt deceived, everyone felt that they were owed something, while they were not responsible for any of this. It was very hard to bring order to this chaos. We cannot ignore the name of Andy Vajna, who proved himself one of the bravest Hungarians in accepting the job of bringing peace, justice and a creative atmosphere to this hornets’ nest. There is many years’ hard work in this achievement, and I would like to thank everyone working for the Film Fund, and in particular Andy Vajna. It is, of course, not the job of the Film Fund to make films; it is its job to create opportunities for talented people so that they can fully explore their abilities in the career of their choice. This is exactly what happened, and so we congratulate the director of “Son of Saul”, the cinematographer, the film’s lead actor, and everyone involved in any way. Here in Hungary we have been following their work with the highest appreciation. As regards the Film Fund and the system of filmmaking, on account of “Son of Saul” I asked for a summary of the awards won by Hungarian films made under the new system, and the number is absolutely astonishing: Hungarian films have won more than 130 awards across the world. Among these “Son of Saul” has been the towering summit, and once again I would like to congratulate the filmmakers. We are delighted that there are such talented Hungarian people working in a global context.

You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.