Katalin Nagy: In the past few days we’ve had some reassuring news on the diagnosis and treatment of the disease caused by the coronavirus. According to the latest news, the new Hungarian coronavirus test provides a result within just two hours. The Hungarian pharmaceutical company Richter is manufacturing the drug remdesivir, which in severe cases can be administered as an injection; and patients in Szeged are already being given another antiviral drug. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Does this mean that all the money that’s been directed to research facilities for drug research and development has borne fruit?
There are indications of that, but we’ll only pass a final verdict once the virus is behind us and the time comes to review what we’ve experienced. That’s a process that will take several months. We’ve always known that Hungary has some of the best medical minds in the world – after all, this is the country of Albert Szent-Györgyi, and Ignác Semmelweis was also Hungarian. We’ve produced some legendary medical figures and, as tends to be true in most disciplines, the greatest of them could justifiably attribute their achievements to being able to stand on the shoulders of the giants who went before them. So behind any great figure, any world-renowned scientist, there is always the hard work of thousands of lesser known minds – who were nonetheless brilliant. So we have nothing to be ashamed of. When I look at the Hungarian universities chosen by students from abroad, medicine is always at the top of the list. So we’re doing well in this department, and now we can see the results of this. Naturally the greatest achievement would have been for us to have discovered a vaccine, but for that hasn’t happened yet. The last time I was in Brussels I asked the President of the Commission when we can expect a vaccine – given that the European Union is investing billions of euros in research, and we Hungarians are also contributing to that investment. We’re investing billions of euros in research. What happens, incidentally, is that we’re giving money to pharmaceutical companies – to large European pharmaceutical companies. We have agreements with six of them, and a seventh will be concluded in the next few hours or days. In return for our money we expect results. The companies are taking advance orders from us Europeans for hundreds of millions of vaccines, so if any one of the six manages to discover a vaccine, it can be made available to European citizens. The President was unable to give me an answer, however. She said she’d be the world’s happiest and richest person if she knew and was able to place a bet on what day the vaccine could be released. But as things stand now, this won’t happen before the middle of next year. What does this mean? Perhaps those who served in the army will better understand what I’m saying, but this means that now we’re on our way out: seven months are behind us, and seven months are ahead of us. So from now on we’re heading out and not in. And – as we said to ourselves as young men a long time ago waiting for our military discharge – in a month or two we can start the countdown, because there will be a vaccine. I calculate that we Hungarians, too, will have to hold out until the middle of next year, until June or July. The winter of our discontent, the oppressive shadow of this wretched virus, will last until then. It sits like a fog shrouding the landscape, our lives and our spirits, and we want rid of it. Freedom will come, and it will reach Hungary sometime around May, June or July.
At a conference yesterday Finance Minister Mihály Varga said that now we’re past the low point in economic terms. According to the Ministry of Finance’s calculations, the economic protection measures which were adopted and enacted by the Government have reduced the economic downturn by about three to four per cent. Therefore it’s been possible to ensure that the recession in the Hungarian economy is milder than the European average. The latest economic protection or housing support measure announced by the Government is that VAT on housing construction projects will be 5 per cent all the way until the end of 2022. Can we expect any further measures?
I also lift my spirits with such good news: I select news items from the newsfeed which suggest that things might start improving sooner than we thought after all. And it’s reassuring if the Finance Minister says it, because I know him: he’s a hardy fellow from Karcag, he doesn’t talk much, and exuberance isn’t in his lexicon. We’re talking about a cool-headed financial expert who never gets carried away, always has his feet on the ground, and what he says can be taken seriously. So if Mihály Varga says that there are promising signs, we can confidently multiply that by two. What he says shouldn’t be downplayed – as Hungarians often do – but instead should be emphasised. Therefore I’m also hopeful. But I think that the next few months will bring truly important experience. What, after all, are we talking about? We’re talking about the fact that six or seven months ago an unknown phenomenon emerged – let’s stay with Europe for now – which everyone responded to in one way or another. I’m continuously monitoring the responses of every country, every government. Our response is different from that of other countries. The basis of our healthcare response was that already in March and April we took the view that there would be a second wave. So we knew we wouldn’t simply need to survive the spring, after which it would all be over and the summer would be here, with beaches, bikinis and bliss. Instead we prepared for a second wave. Already back then our medical scientists told us that the situation would ease somewhat in the summer, and that then there would be a second wave – as there usually is in global pandemics. Therefore we used the summer to prepare the country for the second wave. The first pillar of our defence operation was the national consultation, politically preparing people, launching production capacity and plants which enable us to manufacture everything we need. This means that [Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade] Péter Szijjártó won’t need to wait at Ferihegy airport in the early hours of the morning to see if planes are coming over with consignments from China. We did all this. Through the European Union we’ve been taking part in vaccine research projects which we hope will provide therapeutics or a vaccine. In the meantime we’re enacting the economic measures that we need to. This has been the second pillar of our containment effort. In most countries they distributed what’s called “helicopter money”. Huge amounts of money were distributed, as they said that people’s incomes were inadequate, and so they should be given money; then they could start shopping, they could consume, and if they consume there would be customers to buy businesses’ products. This was the focus of their measures. This is a good idea, incidentally, and in two or three months’ time we’ll see how efficient it’s been in aiding recovery from this crisis. We set out in a different direction, because our economy is different from those in Western Europe. We have a workfare economy, and for us the top priority is jobs. We’re creating as many jobs as are killed by the virus. Jobs come from investment, and so investment is at the heart of our defence operation, our economic defence plan. This means two things: investment by businesses and investment by families. However surprising it may sound – and after some digression I’ve arrived at your question – this 5 per cent VAT rate is logically linked to our way of thinking, because some investment is coming from businesses and some from families. And housing – the construction or refurbishment of a home – is always a family’s largest investment. This is why we’re now launching a crisis management element, which will boost investment by families. We’re giving them an opportunity with this 5 per cent VAT rate, and quite a few other measures which Minister Katalin Novák is currently working on – such as home renovation allowances and yet more allowances for families. So we’re kickstarting the engine of the construction industry, the housing industry, which has the capacity to stimulate investment by families. And we hope that this will be a second step, a second boost for management of the economic crisis. I repeat, to our minds this differs from the Western European mentality: we don’t see declining consumption as the biggest economic threat. That’s also a serious threat, but the greatest threat is delay: if businesses and families postpone their purchases, their investment, their home creation plans and so on, then the economy will grind to a halt. Therefore we must act against delay: I must tell people with enterprising plans not to wait – I must tell them to go ahead. This is why we’ve given very large amounts of money – I have the figures – to more than nine hundred businesses for investment. This represents additional investment of one billion euros: around three to four hundred billion forints. This measure has saved between 150,000 and 155,000 jobs. So the home creation support, the 5 per cent VAT, is not simply a good measure, but the next step in the logic of crisis management.
In light of the numbers, can you confirm that in the coming three weeks there won’t be a need for further restrictions, and that the healthcare system will be able to cope with the load? Seven hundred people are in hospital, and fifty or sixty of them are on ventilators.
One can look at the world in one of two ways. There are people who believe that the world is going to hell in a handcart: everything that happens is bad – or if something good happens, it pales in comparison to all that is bad. And then there are those who believe that of course there are many problems in the world, but that we’re moving forward and, on the whole, the world is finding one answer after another to its earlier problems and challenges. I’m one of the latter, and perhaps a prime minister should be; this may not be true, but I don’t think I’m wrong. I need to see possibilities in every situation: not possibilities of decline, but of improvement, of progress. And in the spring I saw that we succeeded in that: Hungary was among those countries that best defended themselves against the virus – thanks, above all, to our doctors and nurses. And as we’ve already done it once, having conquered the first wave – as the Hungarian football team did in Sofia yesterday – we’ll also be able to conquer the second wave. This is how I see it. What does victory mean? In this situation, victory means our healthcare system, our hospitals, our paramedics and our general practitioners being able to cope with demand until there’s a vaccine. It means delaying for as long as possible the point at which we need to postpone scheduled operations which are unrelated to the virus. It means life continuing as normal while we’re caring for coronavirus patients. The longer this period, the more successful we will be. This is what I’m pinning my hopes on, and I’m getting my ministers to work on measures which delay the moment – if it must come at all – when, as in the spring, we again need to postpone planned operations because we need those hospital beds for coronavirus patients. At present we’re able to plan three weeks ahead, the Minister has said that we won’t need such measures in the next three weeks, and I haven’t planned on such a decision.
Less than a week ago the Government announced that it would award significant, unprecedented pay rises to doctors. The majority of people accept this: they understand that such a large increase is necessary, even though they feel that over the past ten years doctors have received recognition, with a pay rise of 100,000 forints in 2016 and again in 2017. Did you think that Parliament would pass this bill unanimously?
We’re living in times when one can imagine anything, both good and bad. And why not? I’ve been a Member of Parliament for thirty years, and I remember being among the first democratically elected Members of Parliament in 1990. Such things were not unknown in the past. It only seems surprising after the Left’s behaviour in the past few years, but it has happened before. It seems surprising now. I don’t know how closely people follow events, but in the defence operation we have daily problems not only because the Left aren’t assisting in defence, and not only because we can’t rely on them, but because they’re actively working against our efforts. They’re attacking key figures in the defence operation, including the Chief Medical Officer. They don’t just say that we could do a better job – because then one would just shrug one’s shoulders and say that at times like this what’s needed is not the “best advice”, but help from people who will roll their sleeves up and get down to work. But they’re not just saying that we could do a better job: they’re producing fake videos in order to give people the impression that the healthcare system is about to collapse. So in an atmosphere like this, in an environment like this, Parliament voting unanimously on a healthcare issue does indeed seem unusual. But only for that reason. Otherwise this should be normal: in normal circumstances the Left, who happen to be in opposition now, should be the opposition to the Government, not the country. Not supporting our joint defence operation in a pandemic means that they’re acting against the country. And this is what the Left are doing now on a regular basis. So in this context it was a surprise. The problem for doctors and healthcare workers in general was not only low pay, but the truth is that looking back – and the thirty years I’ve mentioned are the basis for my saying this – the healthcare system has continuously drifted away from the type of system we should have. And while debates were swinging left and right, doctors had to live off something, and no one was properly answering the question of what kind of healthcare system we should have, how much money doctors should earn in the state system, how many of them would move to the private sector, how many of them should provide for themselves, and how many could hope to earn sufficient income in state employment. There were no answers to these questions. Drift and disorder were the norm. Ten years ago we drew up a plan for how we should move forward. The truth is that already ten years ago the biggest problem was not a shortage of doctors, but a shortage of nurses. By 2018 there were some serious manifestations of this. In 2018 we had to adopt a decision giving healthcare workers and nurses a very significant pay rise, because I saw that they were leaving the healthcare system in unprecedented numbers. So first we decided on a pay rise for nurses. Next we decided on the refurbishment of hospitals. Outside Budapest we achieved major results, and in Budapest a hospital refurbishment programme worth around thirty to forty billion forints is currently underway. We then decided that we need new hospitals – particularly in Budapest. In some places we only need to build new wings, but in other places entire new hospitals are needed. For instance, the planning of the big South Pest Centre Hospital is progressing at full speed. This will be an enormous project, involving a very large amount of money. And finally we arrived at the most difficult part: the question of doctors’ pay. In the meantime both doctors and the public had adapted to the existing chaotic state of affairs. Life must go so, so they adapted: gratuities were paid; doctors would say “I also have a private practice, but I’ll treat my patients partly in the state system, so the costs will be borne by the state, and I’ll take the profit”. But no one thought that this was a moral problem: if there’s no order to provide a moral yardstick, then nothing anyone does can be judged immoral. This was the real problem. I’m glad that the Medical Chamber had the resolve to take this step, because here the Chamber is in the front line, not the Government. The Medical Chamber took a deep breath and said that doctors don’t feel comfortable in this situation, that they want to change it, and that this will require cooperation with the Government. They put forward two proposals: one on pay rises, and the other on gratuities. They asked us to accept them, and we did – word for word, to the letter. Naturally there are details that need to be resolved: general practitioners, private practice, state employment, the freedom to choose doctors. There are at least ten such important areas of detail, which are not only written down, but which are being worked on by entire task forces. We’re making headway. We’re relying on the opinions of doctors, and we’ll settle these issues by the end of the year. Then finally the situation will be orderly. I’m not claiming that it will be perfect, because it will have to be tested; but at least there will be an order to which matters can be related. Honest doctors and decent patients will be able to develop a moral relationship in solving the problem of people’s illness, and the help they need in order to recover. This is why people pay their state healthcare contributions, or a fee in a transparent manner in a private facility. So there will be an order which will enable people to act morally and find solutions to the difficult situation of illness.
You mentioned that during the first wave the Left didn’t help in the defence operation. It seems that these fake videos and fake news reports have fallen on fertile soil in Brussels, for example. We see politicians in Brussels queueing up to attack Hungary, the Hungarian government, or you personally. The latest example is Ms. Barley, the left-wing Vice President of the European Parliament, who said that corruption is indeed characteristic of Hungary, and can even be seen in the Prime Minister’s family. This is incomprehensible when one considers that another German politician – Ms. Barley’s somewhat better-known compatriot Angela Merkel – was here in Sopron in 2019 on the anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic, and said that Hungary is using EU funds in an exemplary way. So which politician should we believe?
Your question has a personal aspect, so let’s deal with that first. This has been happening for I don’t know how many decades: if the Left see someone they regard as dangerous – I don’t want to brag, but this is how it is with me – they try to hunt them down. In 1989 I attended a public forum in Zalaegerszeg, and the previous day the communists of that time held a public forum in the same place. Even back then, a communist on the stage said that Hungary didn’t need young leaders like me coming home from Oxford in their white Mercedes. In fact when I was in Oxford my grant was so small that I used to eat bananas for lunch that were past their sell-by date. Already back then you could see this knee-jerk reaction from the Left, who knew that politicians on the right had to be attacked with these accusations. It was like that already in 1989, and it’s been the same ever since.
They haven’t come up with anything new?
No. This is effective. Because what do people think? People naturally always approach the subject from their own experience; and while they don’t actually know whether or not any corruption took place, it certainly could have. There’s the joke about an old Szekler who’s asked if he thinks fish drink water. The old man replies: “I don’t know if they do, but they surely have the chance to.” People approach the subject from this direction: “Power, decisions being made on money. Well, it’s proven beyond doubt!” The Left are well aware of the effectiveness of attacking politicians on the right with accusations of corruption. Then you naturally stand up for your integrity, you defend yourself, and in the end you may even win an election. This, after all, is why I’m sitting here now. So this isn’t divine punishment, but a tried-and-tested method. Now when Germans do this, without spoiling friendly relations between our two countries we should remind everyone that in the German-speaking countries corruption is higher than in Hungary. We’re not perfect either, but accusing us is an example of the pot calling the kettle black. Let’s take a look at Austria, or the Germans, for that matter: today the media is full of reports – perhaps the Hungarian media less so – about a scandal, which we could call a global scandal. This is a series of massive, corrupt, global money laundering incidents, with a giant German bank at the centre of it. I won’t have anyone telling me that no one over there noticed that! But the Scandinavians, who preach about corruption, are no better: over there two or three large banks have gone under, taking with them a number of smaller ones – also in other countries: money laundering. So I don’t like it when Westerners pretend that they’re beyond reproach and that in corruption, for instance, they have a better record than anyone else in the world – or at least better than Central Europe. I don’t like it when they claim that we Central Europeans are corrupt. That is untrue. None of us are without fault, but none of us are automatically guilty. So you can’t say that just because you’re German or Western you’re not corrupt, and just because you’re Central European you are corrupt. We must reject this. We must investigate each case calmly, in turn. Even though Hungary is not without fault, if we follow Mrs. Merkel’s logic on the utilisation of funds invested in the economy, we can say that in Hungary these funds have been used well. Naturally these international attacks have a common denominator. We’re not proud of it, but these, too, are linked to one of our compatriots: George Soros. Now that we’re talking about corruption, the fact is that George Soros buys Western European politicians. Of course, one could argue that this speculator – who, incidentally, makes money from ruining others, from ruining millions of people and makes money in this way – stalks the corridors of Brussels institutions in pursuit of noble causes, trying to force good decisions out of the European Union for reasons of principle. But the fact is that he wants to make money, he wants to increase his influence, and he buys people. These are Members of Parliament, but some of them are also there in the Commission. One way or another, directly or indirectly – through conferences, scholarships, through civilised Western European forms of corruption – George Soros has these people eating out of his hand. Now that’s what I call corruption! As long as George Soros has such influence in the EU, we must clearly state that the EU is corrupt. We can say that we’ve taken a major step in the fight against corruption when they finally show George Soros the door and end his influence.
So are you saying we shouldn’t take seriously the threat from George Soros, when he called on the European Union to punish Hungary?
He has his people on the inside, and there’s an open battle. His people are on the inside, and he’s issued the command. Apart from anything else, we must take this seriously, because the Left have had some training in this, or have an ancient instinct, taking pleasure in turning against their own kind and siding with foreigners who attack us – in this case these fine Germans and this Czech lady called Jourová. For us nationally-oriented people on the right this reflex is difficult to understand, but it’s been present on the left for hundreds of years. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but it’s been clearly observable for at least a hundred years: instead of uniting with Hungarians and trying to overcome difficulties, they side with foreign forces. If there’s any truth in what those foreigners are saying, let’s correct the problems together. But this is not their instinctive reaction; instead they side with the outsiders. Well, this is the hand that we Hungarians have been dealt.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.