Katalin Nagy: Let’s begin with the press conference following yesterday’s migration summit in Vienna, where the questions put to the Hungarian prime minister were not only about the quota referendum. As a matter of fact Viktor Orbán held another press conference in Vienna, almost exactly a year ago today. On that occasion he was subjected to fierce criticism because of the border security fence.Have events speeded up, Mr. Prime Minister, or are we still treading water? A week after the summit in Bratislava, how do you see things in Vienna?
Events have accelerated. One of the reasons for this is that autumn is drawing on and the migrant inflow that Italy has been suffering from will revert to the Balkan route, so there will be a transfer of people from one route to the other. The same thing happened last year, and the previous year. In addition, the people of Europe have raised their heads and are now also daring to voice their opinion. This is strange to us, because under forty years of communism we took it for granted that speaking, communicating and expressing one’s opinion with true freedom was only possible in those countries to the west of us. But now, interestingly, if someone west of us starts speaking about the migration crisis, for instance, then they first think through a dozen times what to say and what not to say. And if I take a look at the public media outlets and at what opinions reach them – official and more popular public forums – then I see filtering mechanisms in operation there. I must say that over the past year the attitude in many countries has been: “Trust in you leaders; you might find their decisions strange now, but they’ll sort it out. You don’t have to worry about that, everything will be fine”. And a year has passed and people are saying that first, there’s a problem, because everything is not fine. Second, no solution has been provided. And thirdly, the problems are getting worse and are in fact growing by the day, and are now encroaching on our personal lives through terrorism and deteriorating public safety. And how, in the space of two or three years, has the world in which up until now I have lived in peace suddenly changed all around me? Different kinds of people and cultures, different ways of thinking, different instincts, and suddenly even our own cities are changing. People are now daring to say this out loud. They feel that now so many of them share the same opinion that they can stand up for it. The public sphere in Western Europe has become much livelier.
Yes, but are the politicians taking note?
Yes, I think that today, when we talk about the change that is now in process, it is because not even the politicians can downplay this phenomenon. This is equally true here in Hungary. If the people think and say something, then we need to do something about it: to reply, reflect, understand, explain another approach or accept what they are telling us, or include them in the decision. You cannot run the life of a country by the elite closing its eyes and ears to a fundamentally important issue and ploughing ahead regardless of what the people are saying. Democracy has many weaknesses, but it also has some beautiful aspects: one is that if leaders handle democratic power badly then the people usually take it back. And this is something which nobody likes. Believe me, I am speaking from experience; everybody likes to do their job properly and to be acknowledged for it, and nobody likes getting sent off the pitch. This is a motivating force for all of us.
Following Bratislava, is there really any progress on decisions and negotiations here in Vienna?
There is. First of all, thanks to the agreement with Turkey, effective action by the Balkan countries and Hungary’s persistence, the Balkan route is better protected. It is not fully protected, because when the migration route moves from Italy’s waters to the Balkans we will see that we still have a lot of problems to deal with, but we are much better prepared than we were even just a year ago. We have also made decisions, and we prime ministers have come together on many occasions to discuss how we might take action together. So now there is a defensive and defiant alliance between the leaders of the Central European countries based on the agreement that, despite everything, we shall defend our countries, we shall protect our citizens, we shall protect our territories and we shall protect our homeland – not just for ourselves, but also for our children. In Central Europe there is unanimity that we do not want to end up like a good many European countries, who in a few years’ time could well have difficulty recognising themselves.
In a week’s time there will be a referendum in Hungary. Those who think that the question is a stupid one are campaigning, and so are those who believe that it has been a long time since there was such an important question, and that it must be put forward and answered.
Everyone has their own outlook on life, naturally. I find it difficult to imagine a more important question. The question of whether we should join NATO or the European Union, which we also held referendums on, were important issues, but to my mind they cannot be compared with the importance of this current issue. Who should be able to decide who we live with in our own country? This is more important than any institution. In terms of its historical significance, perhaps the referendum on dual citizenship, which was a national issue of similar proportions, is on the same level as the current question. So I am one of those who take this seriously, and I would encourage my compatriots to also take it seriously. Because now we can say the word and decide that only those who have permission from our elected parliament, government or some other official state body can enter the territory of Hungary, can settle here and live here with us; and we can say that we shall not obey anybody else’s word and shall not accept orders from anyone else who states that we must admit this person or that person. If someone believes that this is a crucial issue, then they should absolutely go out and vote “no” in the referendum.
Many here also posed the question of what will happen on 3 October, when we know the result. Will there be legal repercussions? What will the Hungarian government do?
A referendum is a serious matter. I am glad – and in fact I am proud of the fact – that Hungary is a country where the people have been asked their opinion on this issue. I don’t claim that a referendum is the only way of asking people their opinion. We have also devised national consultations and other forms of inclusion, but people in Europe are not being given the opportunity to voice their opinions on this issue. Only the people of Hungary are getting the opportunity to state their opinions on this issue. I think this is something we can be proud of. The legal repercussions are related to this. A serious matter like a referendum cannot fail to have legal repercussions. There will be a question there that we will decide. That decision must be transferred into the Hungarian legal system in some form. This is the least that will happen, although this will be one of the most important pieces of legislation in the Hungarian legal system following the referendum.
I wasn’t here at the press conference a year ago, but I suspect that you received many more expressly provocative and aggressive questions a year ago than you did now. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the space of a year, it seems.
I don’t like to whinge. I’m not like a spoilt brat forever complaining about being bullied here and bullied there, and that this hurts and that hurts. Of course this is understandable from a human perspective, especially in the 21st century with its modern technological achievements, which have also appeared in politics; there is no place for whinging now. They hurt you, of course. And they scrutinise you and people hit you over the head, they try to divert you from your original intention and also sometimes try to humiliate you in an attempt to cause emotional uncertainty. There are all sorts; if you’re a prime minister you live your life in an indestructible network of attempts to influence you. I’ve never taken any of this personally. When people have said that I’m speaking nonsense, I was sure they didn’t mean I was stupid, but that they were simply trying to discredit my standpoint. So it is important to be strong enough emotionally to distinguish between the issue and oneself. In politics attacks are not personal matters – not even if they are aimed at one’s person. When they were attacking Hungary I knew that they were not actually attacking Hungary, but were in fact afraid that the Hungarian way of thinking would spread within Europe. When they questioned the soundness of the Hungarian standpoint they didn’t do so because they were afraid that we might come to a bad decision, but because they thought that a way of thinking had appeared in Europe for which previously there had been no room, and which they didn’t sympathise with. That’s life, we live in a democracy and many kinds of opinion exist in parallel, and previously our opinion didn’t carry sufficient weight in the European way of thinking. But the past year has proven us right. I do not have a feeling of satisfaction, although it is of course good if time proves one right – much better than if it doesn’t – but this is not a personal matter. I am glad that the Hungarians and the Hungarian government have been persistent enough to courageously represent our own approach, our own way of thinking, our own perception of reality, our own proposals and our own mentality, and of the fact that more and more people are also identifying with the Hungarian opinion. I am convinced that with the debates we have entered into during the past year we have also benefited Europe outside the area of politics.
While we were waiting for you we had a chat with an Austrian journalist, and it was interesting when she found out where I am from – that I am a Hungarian journalist – because then she said: “Well, we understand what the Hungarian prime minister is saying and now we believe that everyone should think the way he does, but not everyone is saying so at the moment”.
Well, although Western Europe didn’t win its high standard of living in a lottery, over the past forty years life there has always been more comfortable and easier than in Central Europe. Prosperity there was successfully established and created and the people have rarely had to face dilemmas that threaten their prosperity. Yes, there was an oil crisis and there were economic recessions from time to time, but in itself this was always a comfortable and successful Western European and Western world. This has now changed. And it is not easy to leave behind an image of Europe which is guaranteed to be successful and which is seen by everyone as the best in the world, and to step into a world in which everything is called into question. Are we still the best? Why is Europe’s share of total global production falling? Why do demographic indices show Europe’s population declining? Why are we experiencing everyday co-existence problems while living alongside migrants? Where is terrorism coming from? Is it just something that our enemies are importing, or does it also have roots here among us within our countries? These are questions which the people of Europe – Western European people over the past forty years – have not had to deal with before. And, as Central Europeans with razor-sharp instincts, when we were the first to say “Hey, this could lead to trouble, because there are ripples on the water and what is coming isn’t something friendly”, then everyone said “You’re stupid, you’ve only just become members of the European Union, you have no idea about this yet, it’ll sort itself out. You don’t have to make such a big deal of it, everything can just carry on as it has so far.” And now it has emerged that this is not the case. There were ripples on the water, it wasn’t friendly and indeed it has led to dangerous waves crashing onto the shore; and now we need to hold on tight, so as not to be swept away. And now everyone can see this, and in fact they are saying, “Yes, sometimes even the Central Europeans can be right”.