Katalin Nagy: The Government has announced that on Tuesday it will submit a proposal to Parliament for the repeal of the special legal order. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Are we so good at disease control that after two months there’s no need for this special legal order?
A short, laconic answer.
We’re doing so well – if one can have anything positive to say in relation to a pandemic – because the country has undoubtedly defended itself successfully. Indeed, in terms of the quality and effectiveness of the defence operation, we’ve performed far better than materially wealthier and more fortunate countries. We can be proud of this, but all the same people have died. So it’s difficult to call such a successful defence operation “a success”. We could call it a success if we had destroyed the virus and no one had died. In those circumstances we would be happy now. As things stand, however, with compassion and aching hearts we look to those who have died and to their families. Here also I express my condolences to them. After all, the figure will be almost five hundred people, and very many have suffered, because this is a disease which torments those with underlying conditions who have been infected. So tens of thousands of people have been through a difficult period, and thousands of bereaved families are in a distressing situation. So overall we can talk about success, but in light of this the word leaves a strangely bitter taste in one’s mouth. But still, if we can overcome this, then as I see it the key has been discipline and unity. So I can say that everyone in Hungary has joined forces – with the exception of the political Left, who absented themselves from this joint defence operation. At every turn the Left has picked quarrels with the hospitals and the professionals in charge of the defence operation. Well, now they’re reaping the reward for that, and they should be slinking off in shame down the backstreets. But except for them, the country’s citizens have all done everything they can to bring about complete unity and disciplined cooperation, and to somehow bring us through this crisis together. So this has had its own exalted beauty. The special legal order was one of our best decisions, primarily because we were able to make every subsequent decision in good time. So if you look at countries which are usually considered to be better than us – say Austria, the Italians or the French – you’ll see that in every case here we enacted the first protection measures a week or two earlier than the other countries. For this one also needs luck, but maybe that wouldn’t have been enough on its own; and here the merits of Minister Kásler have proved to be of historic importance. It’s an advantage having a doctor dealing with health care, because it’s not only a matter of him being able to cure a patient, but his instincts also operate appropriately. And when even the European Union’s disease control organisation said that this wasn’t dangerous, and when everyone was still snoozing, his instincts led him to immediately convene the first specialist disease control body. This was the step – his decision and instinctive feeling – that then offered me the opportunity to make the decisions a week or two ahead of everyone else and to defend ourselves better than they did. And we avoided the worst situation that they went through. This is why there was no mass infection in Hungary. Here every week I’ve been saying that when one reads the studies and listens to the scientists, everyone says that there are individual infections, group infection and mass infection, and that it’s unavoidable that sooner or later we’ll reach the stage of mass infection. In that event, hospitals would need to be prepared for it, because it would be a major burden. And this is what we worked on. But the defence operation in Hungary was so effective that in the end there was no mass infection, the epidemic did not cross over into mass infection. I repeat, this was mainly due to the timely work performed by the healthcare team led by Miklós Kásler, and the hospital directors, doctors and nurses working under them. The special rule of law was a great help to me, because if something happened in a care home, in the economy or at a border crossing, I didn’t have to go to Parliament with a decree to quarrel and engage in a tug-of-war with this left-wing opposition; instead I could react as the situation required – within an hour, if necessary. So at times like this, in a pandemic, speed is a golden virtue; this is what the special legal order gave me. And I’m sincerely grateful to the public, who coped with this situation really well. Now it seems out of the question that the threat of pandemic will remain with us through the summer, and it seems that there will be no mass infection. Instead of that we see a declining trend, and so there’s no further need for this special legal order. But this doesn’t mean that the danger has passed; this is because there is no vaccine. This means that even though there is no special legal order and we’re returning to the normal parliamentary procedure, we must maintain disease-control preparedness: I will not dissolve the Operational Group, Minister Pintér must continue to lead the Group; it must meet every day, and it must follow and monitor the situation so that we can react immediately if there’s a problem.
There’s been some visible confusion on the Left, where there have been continual accusations of there being a dictator and a dictatorship. But it’s interesting that neither President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, nor the Swedish government thinks that they should surrender their special powers now that the epidemic is in decline. Perhaps that is no longer what is so important, but the fact that the reopening of normal life can finally begin – and it has done so, even if only gradually.
Yes. We can see how the Left is jostling. There’s some excitement in this, but it’s more important that kindergartens are able to open and that crèches are able to open. One shouldn’t be focusing on the left-wing opposition, but on people and on restoring life to normality. The provinces are progressing well, Budapest is following them with a time lag of two weeks, and this caution is justified. We’re also following Austria, so Austria is going ahead, the Hungarian provinces are following it with a time lag of two weeks, and Budapest is following on after them. For example, in Austria schools are already open again. We don’t want that: we want to make it possible for children to be taken to school from the beginning of June, but we don’t want to start compulsory school attendance and we don’t want to end the online teaching that we’ve successfully switched over to. But the kindergartens and nurseries have been opened with the aim that we must return to the earlier normal order, with everyone being able to take their child to the same place, where they’ll meet the same kindergarten teacher: the same kindergarten teacher will greet them in the morning, and life will return to normal.
Not only are there centrally directed measures for the easing of restrictions, but local governments also have the ability to act. What’s your opinion of how mayors – who in principle are already strong – have performed in practice over the past week?
The defence operation has been a collective effort. For every mayor, the question has depended on whether the priority has been placed on serving people or on satisfying party headquarters. We’ve seen poor performance from those mayors who gave preference to instructions from left-wing parties, who indulged in confrontation, in attacks, in sniping, in discontent, in creating an atmosphere that hindered the general defence operation, and who accepted the central party instructions in this regard. But there were others who said that the pandemic is not a party issue, because when an elderly person is in danger, the virus does not ask “Who do you vote for, dear grandma?” It simply attacks her. And in such circumstances it makes no sense to follow party political instructions. One thing is needed: unity. Unity and collective defence. The mayors who took decisions on this basis – regardless of party affiliation – performed well, without exception.
Aren’t you afraid that this relaxation, this incremental progress, will still come at a price? As they’ve started to ease restrictions in Western Europe, we’ve seen examples of people feeling that now anything is permissible, and indeed the number of infections has risen.
This danger is a real one: I see that life has almost burst out again. I’m talking about the need to return gradually, carefully. But then one goes out onto the streets and the whole city looks like a joyous, emotional outburst – at least here in Budapest. The situation is the same if you go outside the capital at the weekend. So I ask everyone to think not only about this sense of joy, but also to continue to focus to some extent on the fact that the danger has not passed, and to maintain a distance from one another. So far the main weapon has been staying at home, but now it is keeping at a distance from one another. If we keep at this safe distance there will be no problem; if we don’t abide by this, the pandemic could restrengthen. This is why we’ve decided against disbanding the Operational Group. If the pandemic returns, the elderly – the elderly especially – will be put at risk again. The fact that we’ve saved the lives of so many elderly people is something we can be glad of. So unity is not only a theoretically fine act, but it has been expressed in saving real human lives. If the defence operation had been unsuccessful many hundreds or thousands of elderly people would have died. They didn’t die, they’re here with us, our parents are and our grandparents are here among us. Elsewhere this is not the case. This a huge joy. But now we must not let our joy lead to grief. So let’s continue to keep our distance. There will be a time for evaluation, and I look forward to the analysis from the professors and the experts, that the very strong defence operation has also contributed to reducing the influenza epidemic, meaning that it has spread more slowly or not at all, enabling the survival of people – especially the elderly – who would otherwise have died in a flu epidemic. Because every year I see statistics of how many people have been killed by influenza. But now, due to defence against the pandemic, the devastating effects of influenza have also been reduced. So we can confidently say that successful defence has saved the lives of thousands of our elderly compatriots and relatives.
Hungary has not only been attacked on account of the special legal order, but indeed because of its policy preventing the flow of migrants into Europe. The European Court of Justice has now ruled that in their view the transit zone is not legal. The Hungarian government reacted very quickly to this, saying “Very well, we’ll close the transit zones”. Why? In order to save Brussels the effort of launching infringement proceedings?
Evidence that life is beginning to return to its normal path can also be seen in the revival of the Brussels bureaucrats and the decisions they didn’t want or dare to make during the pandemic – either because in that period what was needed was to help the Member States rather than attack or bait them, or because the bureaucrats themselves weren’t able to work. In any case, many judgments were not handed down. But now that life is returning to its normal course these judgments will be delivered. And there’s a historical or long-running debate between the Brussels bureaucrats and Hungary over who decides whom the citizens of Member States will live alongside – in this instance, over who has the power to decide whom we Hungarians live alongside in our own country. The bureaucrats in Brussels are demanding this right for themselves. Incidentally, the left-wing opposition supports them in this. And the Hungarian government – and the vast majority of people, I think – say that we Hungarians will say whom we want to live alongside in Hungary, and whom we will live alongside on the territory of Hungary. Therefore we’re admitting whom we want to admit, in compliance with international law. But here we will not see what in Brussels they are saying should happen: people applying for asylum being allowed to stay in Hungary without screening. This is what they want: they want to circumvent the Hungarian rules. How do I interpret this decision? This is a dangerous decision – not only for Hungary, but also for the security of the whole of Europe; because we’re not only defending the borders of Hungary, but we’re defending the borders of Europe, given that the Greeks cannot do this where it should be done, and that therefore the external borders of the EU are not at the borders of Greece, but at the borders of Hungary. By the way, right now on this Balkan route there are 130,000 people who want to get into Europe. Most of these will put pressure on our borders, so we have some difficult months ahead. And my interpretation of the decision is that the European Court of Justice has said that it’s not possible to operate a transit zone: that anyone who wants to submit a request to enter Hungary must not wait in a transit zone while that claim is being considered. Okay, then we’ll close the transit zone. They can wait outside the fence, and that’s the case now. Within moments we will issue the decrees that make this clear. So if someone wants to come to Hungary, they should go along to our embassy in Belgrade, or any other Hungarian embassy, and submit their request there. When they arrive in order to enter Hungary, they can wait somewhere outside the fence – but under no circumstances in the territory of Hungary. Then the Hungarian authorities will make a ruling and we will notify them. This is the new order. I think this is worse for migrants than it was earlier, but if the Brussels bureaucrats want it that way, then we will satisfy that demand.
Don’t you think that they’ll take objection to this too? This is one question. The other is what the reaction to this will be in Belgrade.
Of course they’ll attack this judgment, and they’ll say that their aim wasn’t to make waiting in the transit zone impossible, but to force us to let them wait outside. What they wanted – and will continue to want – is for us to make it possible for them to wait in Hungary. This is a huge debate, which we’ve been fighting for years in our conversations among the prime ministers. This is called an “external hotspot”. This is a technical term, which means that the migrant has to wait for his or her application to be processed outside the territory of the given country. Some European countries agree with us, while other countries – and the Brussels bureaucrats, especially – want to let them in, so that they can wait here. If someone is left waiting here, I hardly believe there will be the strength of purpose to take that person back out of Europe – even if his or her application has been rejected. So we believe in having to wait outside for a decision. Of all our relations with our neighbours, perhaps those with Serbia are far and away the best. And of course I only mentioned Belgrade now because most migrants are coming here from the South. But such a situation could arise in Romania, and then applicants will have to go to the Hungarian embassy in Bucharest; and those in Croatia will have to go to our embassy in Zagreb. We don’t want to cause trouble for our neighbours. We would rather help our neighbours, and we don’t want to defend ourselves at their expense. So if the Serbs ask us to go and defend Serbia’s southern border together, then we are ready to do so, and we will go tomorrow morning. If the Croats or anyone else asks for such help, even if the Romanians ask for help, then we’re ready and happy to help; because this difficult migrant situation needs to be resolved – not at the expense of one another, but rather through Central European unity.
Yes, but it’s strange that they don’t see it like this at the European Court of Justice, or European bureaucrats don’t see that by preventing the existence of transit zones, they’re endangering the security of Europe. Or is this of no interest to them?
They sit in the pocket of a man called George Soros, and in one study after another it’s being made public how in the various European decision-making bodies – including the courts, but now most recently in the Facebook censorship committee…
Oversight Board, yes.
…there, too, how they’re eating their way in, how they’re somehow worming in, taking advantage of the gaps, and how we see the appearance of a succession of people belonging to the same network who have a very clear directive: they need a migrant crisis. If there’s a migrant crisis, governments will find themselves in trouble. If governments are in trouble, credit is needed, and these people have the money, and want to provide credit – preferably at a nice interest rate, because that’s what they like. And this is the reason they do everything they do: no matter what it’s about, a pandemic or migration, their first thought is how they could provide the money they have at a high interest rate to those in trouble. And if there’s no trouble, they even help to cause the trouble, just to get interest on their money. This is a relatively uncomplicated mechanism for the ransacking of one country or another. In all this, there are some very simple financial considerations behind Grandmaster George Soros, behind his policy of supporting migrants, and behind the operation of his network. This also has an ideological dimension, of course, but I won’t bore your listeners with that, because I don’t consider it to be decisive. This ideological dimension is about what kind of world we should live in, whether we should abolish nation states, mix peoples together, and force traditional European peoples to change. One can hear various evaluations of all this, with some saying that life would be better in a mixed, multicultural world. We Hungarians say that “Thank you very much, we’ve been mixed with others quite enough times, no good has ever come of it, and so we are the ones who will decide who we mix with and who we don’t mix with.” We shall maintain control over that. So we don’t want a multicultural society: we want a Hungarian Hungary, a country built on Christian cultural foundations, and we want to live in this alongside those we ourselves have accepted among us.
At what stage is the economy protection action plan? I’m also asking this because the European Union has recently issued a forecast indicating that Hungary will restart from a much better base than other countries: unemployment won’t be as high, the unemployment rate won’t increase as much.
We’re in the midst of a huge undertaking. If I may use myself as an example, so far 90 per cent of my working day has been spent on disease control – hospitals, care homes, management of professionals carrying out the defence operation – and 10 per cent has been left for other matters. Now the working hours I spend on disease control are falling below 50 per cent, and the amount of time I spend on economic matters is rocketing up, the proportion is increasing. This is focusing primarily on jobs, because the essence of Hungarian economic policy thinking – and this is something I identify with personally – is that we need to help people and revitalise the economy not through welfare assistance, but through jobs: not through aid, but through work. That is exactly what we did in 2010; it was effective in dealing with the mass of bankruptcies we were confronted with after the departure of the Left. So now, too, the approach is work, work, work. I will be glad to be able to debate about the level of wages, how much they should increase and in what way; but in order to be able to discuss the subject of wages we first need jobs, and the virus has attacked jobs. Our watchword is that at least as many jobs must be created as the virus has destroyed or crippled. But my secret ambition has been to do more than this. This is why we’ve launched the measures we have. Now I can say that every other morning I receive a flash report from Minister Palkovics, one of which I received early this morning; and we can say that in Hungary we’ve already managed to provide some form of government assistance to more than one million working people in order to save their jobs, to enable them to keep their jobs. There’s another figure I look at, which indicates how many people turn to us for assistance after they’ve lost their jobs. There are all sorts of complicated statistics, but for me the most important thing is who is turning to us. We know the situation: if you don’t ask… So we’re in a better position to help those who say they’re in trouble and need help. The situation now is that yesterday there were 101,447 people receiving unemployment benefit – which more elegantly should be called a job-seeker’s allowance, but which is actually unemployment benefit. So 101,447 people. And there are 71,235 people who lost their jobs more than three months ago and haven’t found other work, and who are therefore asking us for money to make up for their lost income. This is a very small amount, and it’s very difficult to make ends meet with it, but there are 71,235 people in this situation. This means that there are 173,000 Hungarians who want to work but haven’t been able to find a job and have turned to the Government. There may be more than that, but they haven’t turned to us. This many people have turned to the Government, and we need to offer them a solution. We’ve increased the number of jobs in public work schemes to 200,000: I’ve increased the limit by 100,000, so that if necessary we can give a job in public work to anyone who needs it. We stand prepared to recruit an additional 3,000 soldiers: young people who we welcome if they think they’d like to weather this more difficult period by receiving training – a military training, for which they’ll also be paid – and make the commitment to serve their country during this transitional period. And we’ve launched a great deal of support in order to create ever more jobs. You can see news about this every day, as I do. I’ve entrusted Mr. Péter Szijjártó to sign the agreements on this, one after another. We’re giving money to those who are willing to invest and thus create jobs. These are our tools now. If you ask me what will happen, because everyone asks me that, my answer is that up until now I’ve been more cautious than I am this morning. I’ve had faith in this working, as after all we’ve launched the biggest economy protection plan in Hungary’s economic history. We’re grateful to the Minister of Finance, who’s providing the financial framework for this, to Mr. Palkovics, who’s developed the concept, and to Andrea Máger, who’s ensuring that state-owned companies are in a position to accommodate jobseekers. I could also list the other ministers dealing with economic issues. But the truth is that now I not only have faith in this, but I also see how it will happen. So now this Friday morning I’m more confident, bolder and a little more macho – if I may put it that way. So I have a relatively clear picture of what’s going to happen. I’ve read a lot of analyses, I’ve talked with Chancellor Merkel, I’ve talked with the prime ministers of the V4 countries, and I’ve been to Belgrade. So I think that things are in hand, and we’ve made good decisions. We’re going to see a very difficult April, especially statistically; because although we’ve already put it behind us, we’ve been through it, when we see the figures on what happened in April, they won’t be heartening. The data for May won’t be pretty either.
Even the GDP figure for the first quarter of the year was good, because it was 2 per cent. I think it came out last week.
Among European countries there were hardly around three or four of us with economies that grew in the first quarter instead of declining. This is one of the reasons I’m speaking so boldly on this issue now; but I see that our sense of hope is entirely legitimate. I’ve talked with several business people, and I’ve seen that they are also determined: they want to protect jobs, their employees’ jobs, they want to protect the capital they’ve invested up to now, and they don’t want to lose their markets. So I see vitality, the situation of Hungarian owners of capital has not been drained of energy, and they’re really ready for action. So if we divide up these measures, we see that we’ve already given 100 billion forints to fund 50 per cent of the cost of new investments, with businesses needing to provide the other half of the funding. This means we’ve provided 100 billion, and they’ve raised the same amount, meaning that the total is already 200 billion. And soon Minister Szijjártó will come to the Government for more, because the demand is even greater than this. This shows that there is vitality, and I think that we’ll return to our former level of economic performance much faster than we previously thought. I can see the steps to be taken towards that end. I’ll also set up an expert body similar to the Operational Group which has been dealing with a pandemic. I will probably manage the work of this new body, but that aspect will be clarified at our Cabinet meeting on Monday. In the coming months we’ll devote all our energies to protecting jobs and relaunching the economy. The thirteenth month’s pension will also be rebuilt. So now I stand on the border between well-founded confidence and enthusiasm.
Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.