Katalin Nagy: In 2010 – exactly ten years ago today – Viktor Orbán swore the prime ministerial oath of office in the Hungarian parliament. This was not the first time he had done so: this would be the second government he formed. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Did you know you needed to take a different course?
Good morning, and a very good morning to your listeners. We’ve had so many years of governance that it’s hard to keep track. I knew that I needed to do something else, of course – and for two reasons. First of all, leaving aside lengthy historico-philosophical explanations, one must recognise that the changes that could have renewed the country were not successfully implemented in Hungary in the 1990s. Everyone remembers that there had been a dictatorship, and then we flattened the communists – to put it bluntly. We forced the Soviets out. Now we can enjoy looking back on those moments in history, but at the time the stakes were high. So we arranged matters as we needed to. And then we – we Hungarians – took the country’s future in our own hands. But unfortunately the struggle that at such times arises between the representatives of the old regime – in this case the communist world – and the representatives of the new world did not end with the government formed under the leadership of the first non-communist – or anti-communist – prime minister, József Antall, God rest his soul. It didn’t end there, and opponents launched a massive attack. So, without even denying its past, the Left reorganised itself, and a long struggle began. In the other Central European countries, of course, this had been brought to an end with the victory of the anti-communist forces and the rapid creation of new constitutions – either with or without the agreement of the remaining left-wing groups. And, from the Poles to the Bulgarians, every country formulated its identity with the creation of a new constitution, and this struggle was over and the matter settled within three or four years: the past lost, and the future won. But this wasn’t what happened in Hungary: here sometimes the future won, and sometimes the past won. And this is how it went on for twenty years. After we won a two-thirds majority in 2010 I was sure that this struggle had to be brought to an end. A people cannot live in such a decades-long political struggle. The future must win: that was my vision. We won a two-thirds majority. We created a new constitution. (Former) President Pál Schmitt has unassailable merits, and he is the president of our Constitution. Parliament drafted the Constitution, the President signed it, and we promulgated it. We conducted a national consultation on the issue. It was the first, fantastic experience. So the Constitution contains everything that the majority of people thought at the time; we approved it and declared that from then on we needed to deal with the future. The second reason I knew that I had to do things differently was because we were in the very midst of a crisis, as a severe financial crisis had shaken Hungary in 2008–09. Millions of families were on the brink of ruin, and something had to be done about this situation. The reason we were elected with a two-thirds majority was not our beautiful eyes, but because in 1998 Hungarians had seen that when there’s a problem, we can be counted on. In 2002 we lost the election because things had been more or less restored to normal, and in an open political struggle a majority of people found our opponents back then to be more appealing. But – as is usual in Hungary – as soon as trouble strikes, even those who don’t particularly like us will vote for us, because they know that someone must take matters in hand: the problems must be described as they are, a crisis management programme must be declared, and it must be implemented to the fullest. This is not a theoretical question, but a practical one, which is why we won a two-thirds majority. I didn’t want to deal with the crisis in the way that the Socialists and previous governments had done, by bleeding the people dry and loading all the burdens and consequences of crisis management onto families. They had taken away one month’s pension – it was a long time ago, more than ten years ago, so it’s not certain that everyone remembers it, but they took away one month’s pension – and one month’s salary. They had increased taxes, terminated the family support system, and millions of families who had taken out foreign currency loans were being driven into debt slavery. In 2010 this was the situation we found ourselves in; and I thought that we could do things differently. Incidentally, there weren’t very many of us who thought this: at a time when liberal economists were still in the ascendant, 90 per cent of Hungarian economists thought otherwise. It was thought that only they knew what the truth was, only they knew the world, and there was only one way of thinking. And then György Matolcsy, whose name I must also mention, knocked the liberal economists off their perches, declaring that there was a different economic path and a different approach to economic policy, saying, “Let’s do things differently!” So I thank God for sending Pál Schmitt here to us as the president of our constitution, and for enabling me to rediscover the camaraderie – forged over many earlier years of cooperation – of György Matolcsy, with whom we implemented this economic management programme. But if I were to put all this in parenthesis as events that were current ten years ago, then I would have to say that of course I – and we – also had a higher goal. I don’t want to waste useful airtime, but I’ll tell you honestly that I was a village boy, and when I was being raised, everyone in my world – not just my parents and grandparents, but everyone I met in the village – made it clear to me that I was the child of a great nation. All of us there in Felcsút and Alcsút thought that we were part of a great nation. At that time things were going badly, and there we were, as we said, with the Russians and the communists sucking our blood; but in reality we knew that we were a great nation, and that sooner or later the moment would come when we could show this. So when I govern, my ultimate goal is for all Hungarians to feel that we belong together, that we are one nation, and a great nation; and thus we can be proud to be Hungarians. And if this is in place, the rest will follow on from it. So that’s an impromptu summary of more or less what, ten years ago, I thought our destination could be. Looking back, one can never be satisfied, because everything can always be done better, and one has moments when one doesn’t always make the best decision. But overall we’re still going towards where we wanted to go. I think every Hungarian feels more comfortable in their own skin, and more naturally Hungarian than earlier. There is no need to continually try to prove this. There’s also no need to continually try to prove that Hungary is a great nation, because I think that throughout the years every day has brought ever more evidence of its successes in the economy, as well as in sport and the arts. And finally Hungary has adopted the fundamental law – and now I’m not talking about the Constitution, but the basic law of life – that only work can lead to prosperity, that work must be honoured, and that work must be provided for everyone. Therefore today Hungary is perhaps the only work-based society in Europe – not just a work-based economy, but a work-based society. This is what defines our thinking, and I think that this is why we will continue to be successful in the years ahead.
Ten years ago we needed to deal with a crisis. In fact that’s still what we need to deal with: a crisis. This is a different kind of crisis; the coronavirus pandemic has brought a different crisis. The Cabinet met twice this week, and a proposal to revoke the special legal order has been submitted to Parliament. Now we need to learn another concept: disease-control preparedness. This is what the Government wants to maintain, if it receives the consent of Parliament. What does this mean? In such a period, what powers – what special powers – will the Government have?
If we’re talking about special powers, it’s no exaggeration to say that one of the best decisions of the last ten years was the introduction of the concept of the special legal order. This is because in a pandemic – a viral pandemic, a global pandemic – the most important factor is speed. Calmness is also important, as are good decisions and intelligent medical opinions; but the most important element relates to time. Every decision must be made in the moment. The special legal order made this possible. A special legal order is a grave and weighty matter. It is provided for in our constitution, and so it didn’t create an unconstitutional situation, but we enacted a special legal order as described in the Constitution, established alongside the normal legal order. So we remained within the framework of the Constitution. The special legal order is grave and weighty because it gives the Government the power – the exceptional power – to amend laws by decree. We Hungarians have long lived in a parliamentary system, which means that fundamental decisions having a decisive effect on our lives may only be made by the representatives we elect to Parliament. Within this framework the Government can issue decrees, but the major issues and the framework are designated by Parliament. This is as it should be: ours is a parliamentary system, we’re conversant with this, and we’ve been operating it for a long time, well or badly – but perhaps well rather than badly. A special legal order means that we break with this rule, enabling the Government to issue decrees which either amend existing laws, or create new rules that would otherwise only be possible with new laws. And in such cases this is necessary, because even if one has a two-thirds majority in Parliament, one normally still needs to submit a proposal, it needs to be debated, there’s a set procedure, and so on. But in situations such as these, every hour counts. So if, let’s say, I had to make a decision at 5 or 6 in the morning – there have been instances when I’ve had to make decisions based on overnight developments – and we want swift action on it, then we can’t afford to wait until the evening for Parliament to vote on a decision made in the morning. So it was right for us to create this special legal order. Although the danger is still present, because there’s no vaccine against the virus, we have won the first battle against the pandemic, and a special legal order is no longer needed to deal with the situation. Therefore, if Parliament passes the relevant legislation, the Government will no longer be able to create decrees on matters for which laws must be enacted. This is the difference between the two situations. So let’s say that now we’re returning this power – or that it’s being taken from us by Parliament. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, and the professors, advisors and doctors say that – as has always happened with such pandemics throughout history – it’s highly likely that a second wave will return in the autumn. But it won’t be able to affect us in the way we were affected when the first wave hit in March. So we need to grasp the opportunity to gather information and knowledge about the nature of this pandemic, and we need to prepare for the second wave. This is called disease-control preparedness. Incidentally, as regards making decisions in a timely manner, I’ve always looked at how many days after its first infection it has taken each country to initiate decisions on controlling the pandemic. And we’ve defended ourselves better than the Westerners; we can safely say that Hungary has defended itself more successfully than the Western Europeans, because we made every decision earlier than they did – or probably in a more timely manner. For example, in Hungary a state of emergency was declared on the 7th day after our first infection; and in Italy it was declared on the 38th day after their first infection. In Hungary restrictions on school attendance started on the 12th day after the first infection, in Austria on the 21st day, and in Italy on the 34th day. I had to order closure of our borders, which occurred here on the 13th day. The Austrians only closed their borders on the 24th day, the Spaniards on the 45th day, and the French on the 56th day. So I think that the qualitative difference in the success of the defence measures – the qualitative difference between us and the West – can be explained by the fact that we made all our decisions earlier and more rapidly. And we made them more rapidly precisely as a result of the special legal order. Well, now – even with the pandemic in decline, and quite apart from a possible second wave – we also need to be prepared for infections multiplying in a localised area, say in a care home or a hospital. So yesterday I instructed the Operational Group to create a deployment unit for this eventuality. So we have a central unit with all kinds of specialists, from chemical protection specialists to doctors. And if we observe such an increase in cases anywhere in the country, in one institution or another, the deployment unit will go there immediately and will be able to locally contain the infection. So the fact that we have such a special unit can give us more security – even as we return to life as normal.
At the “government info” press conference, Gergely Gulyás said that in this particular state of disease-control preparedness the Government will retain extremely modest powers. But even before the Government has publicised or submitted its proposal – and I’m no longer sure whether this is interesting or to be expected – Soros’s rights organisations are already saying that the Hungarian government will continue to have the same full powers as it has had up until now. It’s true that they don’t give any examples, they don’t give a single specific example, but this is what they’re saying.
Well, a philosopher of epistemology would find this extremely entertaining. What, after all, are the Left complaining about? They say that since 2010 there’s been a dictatorship. But that’s nothing, because with the special legal order we’ve reintroduced a dictatorship. And now that we’re giving back powers, we’re introducing an even stronger dictatorship.
And now this is the third?
So there on the other side there’s intellectual confusion. What I want to say is that some powers are being retained. There are three important things related to pandemic emergency and disease-control preparedness: the first is that the Operational Group will continue to function; the second is that hospitals’ disease management system will be maintained; and the third is that the Chief Medical Officer will receive strengthened powers. This is how our lives will be different in, say, the summer compared to earlier. These are the three factors which enable us to define disease-control preparedness; this is what it means.
What conclusions can be drawn here for the period ahead? Do we know what Hungarian society thinks about these measures? Let’s say that the public didn’t consider the measures to be very bad, as they complied with them. You and many others have said that this was one reason why the worst passed quickly, or we didn’t reach a stage of mass infection.
The fact that the pandemic in Hungary did not result in mass infection was due to three factors. The first was that decisions were made in good time. The second was the sense of unity, which in the media is usually described as discipline. But there’s more to this than people simply being disciplined in taking care of themselves; they’ve also been looking out for each other, which I think is a fine example of unity. And, between ourselves, I can say that the third factor is that Hungary has outstanding healthcare professionals: our epidemiologists are brilliant, and the doctors I’ve met in our hospitals are superb. And our nurses have always done everything their jobs have demanded of them. So everyone has done their job. I think that this is what has brought success. Well, now this means that people are willing to join forces and jointly implement a measure if they agree with it or see that it makes sense. After 2010 we introduced an institution which we call national consultations, the first of which we used when drafting the Constitution. I think that perhaps there have been a total of eight of them so far, and in my experience they provide a good opportunity, because everyone can make their opinion heard. Everyone can make their own voice heard, they can put it down on paper, they can send this to us by filling in a national consultation questionnaire, and this gives me and the Government the chance to create points of agreement. And the more points of agreement we have and can agree on, the more support a particular measure can enjoy. It’s more likely to be complied with; and the more it’s complied with, the more effective it will be. The pandemic is a serious matter, something which cannot be played with. And so I think the time has come to make use of the instrument of a national consultation. If it’s true that we’re entering a quieter phase of the pandemic, then this is an appropriate time to announce a national consultation. Most of the content of the questionnaire has been completed. I’ll be dealing with it this morning. And if things go well I’ll be able to finish that task, and this afternoon we’ll be in a position to launch a national consultation on the coronavirus and the relaunch of the economy: on what measures to retain, what new ones to introduce, and the whole question of how we should approach economic crisis management. And I will ask people – because this is something which we must ask – what they think about George Soros’s plan, which would see us issuing perpetual bonds with no maturity date, resulting in debt slavery. We must ask them whether or not we should issue such bonds and pay out on them throughout the rest of our lives – and even commit our grandchildren to paying on them for the rest of their lives. So we’re facing some very challenging questions. These are all serious questions. I ask everyone who receives the national consultation questionnaire – you’ll receive it in the mail – to be so kind as to complete it and send it back to us.
Is this last question – people’s opinion on perpetual bonds – important because the Hungarian government must formulate its position on the EU’s upcoming seven-year budget and the supplement to it presented by the President of the European Commission this week?
We have so many of our own Hungarian problems and difficulties that there’s little time to form an accurate view of events unfolding outside Hungary. Here at home just this week, for example, there was a fatal stabbing incident in Deák Square in Budapest. This has shaken people, and I send my condolences to the relatives of the victims. The perpetrators were apprehended immediately, but this will not bring back the lives of their victims. Yesterday there was a demonstration in relation to this. So in Hungary life is in full flow, and one pays more attention to these events than to news from outside. But important things have been happening out there as well. On Wednesday the Commission announced its plan for the upcoming seven-year budget. This is the usual debate about the distribution of money, but now it’s so much more than that: around 750 billion euros has been clamped onto the budget. Converted into forints there are so many zeros in this figure that I can’t even say the whole sum, and the amount of time we have left on air wouldn’t allow me to do so. So a package of 750 billion has been clamped onto it, which partly comprises loans and partly subsidies, that must serve to alleviate the economic damage caused by the virus. So now this is a major issue. And this EUR 750 billion is not being created through work, because what normally happens is that people work – we all work – and we pay a sum into the European Union. Over there it’s all well mixed up together, we set ourselves common goals, and we distribute it. So there is work behind every euro or forint that’s distributed. Now, however, in the EU they’ve come up with the idea that this shouldn’t be the case, but that we should collectively take out a loan of EUR 750 billion. And at this point a red light flashes in a Hungarian’s head. What’s more, this proposal also states that it’s not enough that we collectively take out this loan, but also that we collectively guarantee to repay it. So we could say that you, as a Hungarian citizen, must take responsibility for repaying Greek, Italian or French debt. And if in the future they aren’t able to repay it, then you’ll have to repay it. In brief and simple terms, this is how things stand. I clearly remember that when the Greeks went bankrupt, possibly around 2012, the Slovaks – who were already inside the eurozone – and the other countries of the eurozone all had to stand together. We weren’t part of that joint effort, because we weren’t part of the common currency zone. At that time the Slovaks had to throw in about 400 million euros – around 150 billion forints at today’s exchange rate – in order to repay the debt taken on by the Greeks. So now European history is stepping onto a path that we’ve never taken before, one that’s unknown to us. This is called the eurobond debate – and although later we’ll be talking about coronabonds, in fact it’s the fulfilment in reality of the eurobond. And this means that, because they want to take on this debt for thirty years, even our grandchildren will have the possibility hanging over their heads that if others cannot repay their loans it will be Hungarians who have to repay it for them. Although I instinctively bridle at this, I don’t reject it out of hand. I suggest that we study this coolly and calmly and decide whether we want to take such a path, which could determine the future of Hungary for decades to come. Another point in this proposal, which is important for us Hungarians, is that money is also distributed among the Member States. The purpose of allocating money is usually to be able to encourage or help the less developed countries to develop faster. And this usually happens when everyone pays a sum, a certain percentage of their gross national income, which we then distribute to the poorer countries for the achievement of certain goals. The situation now is that the new distribution system that has been presented to us is an absurd and perverse solution, because it gives more resources to the rich than to the poor. So what’s the point of all this? It’s not right to fund the rich with money from the poor; I don’t think that’s a good idea. Today Hungary is still a poor country – although in terms of GDP per capita I’d like to add that I think we’ve already overtaken the Greeks, and we’re pulling up alongside the Portuguese, and we may also be able to overtake them. Between the two world wars, before communism, Hungary’s per capita gross national product was higher than that of five other countries in Europe: the Greeks, the Finns, the Spaniards, the Portuguese and the Irish. Now we’re doing a good job of narrowing this disadvantage. In the centenary year of (the Treaty of) Trianon I must add that this has been achieved by a dismembered Hungary, and not the Hungary which, through healthy development, was one of Europe’s leading economic powers throughout the 900 years before World War I. But still I can say that the Hungarian economy is moving forward on the right track, at a good pace. If we can now implement the measures we’ve planned for relaunching the economy, which are based on the crisis management of 2010, we’ll not only be able to survive or emerge soundly from 2020, but we could have a fantastic year in 2021. And this is underpinned by the budget we’ve presented.
We’ll see. By the way, are many people saying that this budget stands on solid foundations? We still don’t know this year’s numbers. We still have a minute for you to answer that.
Well, the budget is always based on forecasts of the future, and so it always contains all the uncertainties within it. We know what happened in the previous year. So we know what happened in 2019 and 2020, and we have an idea of what will happen in 2021. This is why politics is art: it has to be felt, it has to be somehow read from the air, it has to be drawn from the world of instinct, from the system of instincts. One must read very widely, one must study many international examples, and one must listen to many people. In order to understand the country’s prospects and opportunities, a significant amount of my time – and this is the better side of my job – is spent satisfying the need to continuously meet and talk to a lot of smart people. This is what I’ve been doing. And we’ve submitted the budget on this basis. So, with full responsibility and to the best of my knowledge, I can say that this budget is well-founded. We have an economy protection plan, and next year’s budget will be about protecting the economy. And I repeat, if we fully implement this, not only will we have a good year, but something indicates that in 2021 we will have a fantastic year.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.