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Viktor Orbán’s interview given to the Czech daily newspaper Lidové noviny (19 December 2015)

From today’s perspective, what you said six months or a year ago regarding the migrant crisis – as a result of which you were condemned by many Western Europe politicians at the time – has effectively proved to be true. Do you feel any satisfaction?

I am human and I have feelings, but to feel a sense of satisfaction or revenge would be a petty thing. Here, however, we have a very serious matter which cannot be regarded as personal by any means. It is a very serious problem, and we have been teetering on the verge of an enormous threat for some time now. This is not just the migrant issue itself; that merely demonstrates the underlying problem, which is that considerations of common sense have been removed from European politics. The European political elite is sitting in a closed, ideological shell, which means it has hardly any connection to reality. This is what we saw a year ago, when the first signs of the migrant crisis manifested themselves. There were very few of us who observed this from the viewpoint of common sense. We did not look for ideologies into which we could pack this problem, but instead we observed the phenomenon itself: namely that masses of people are flooding into the world in which we live in an uncontrolled manner. So I do not feel satisfaction; I am more pleased that Europe is slowing finding its feet and is beginning to regard this problem from the viewpoint of common sense. Not to do so would suggest suicidal tendencies. Europe must abandon its suicidal tendencies, and must stand on both feet.

So you are saying that these politicians were afraid of calling a spade a spade? Where do you think the roots of criticisms lie?

I think the answer is a complex one. First of all, we have here the problem of the mainstream European elite, which reacts to everything from an ideological stance. Given that “foreignness is beautiful”, “being different delights” and “tolerance is noble”, when the migrant crisis emerges they immediately respond in an inclusive and friendly manner, in the spirit of “Willkommenskultur”, and the basic survival instinct fails to alert them to the fact that this could be a source of trouble. And if the mainstream elite is eventually confronted with reality and someone says: “Listen up, this spells trouble”, they do not respond by disagreeing, they do not cite arguments, but claim that “You are the Devil incarnate, and therefore whatever you say doesn’t count”. There is also another side to the angry criticisms: studies show that – once they have been granted citizenship – more than 85 per cent of immigrants arriving in Europe  become left-wing voters.

Is this a deliberately controlled process then?

We have the suspicion that there is also a secret – or not openly acknowledged – importation of voters into Europe. The third problem is the idea that the nation is seen as a source of danger. They do not see the nation as an integral, indispensable, positive element in the evolution of European society, but as something which bears threats, because it is the hotbed of nationalism. These groups have done everything within their power to eliminate nations. And the followers of these internationalist traditions – which are now emerging in the guise of supranationalism – take the view that the ethnic foundations of European nations must be shaken, since if we replace the population, the problem of the nation will change. So in my view the current situation has developed for several different reasons, and in this situation the number of power groups which support immigration and regard it as a positive phenomenon is larger than expected.

Europe has undergone four major crises in the past five to six years: the financial crisis, which originated in the United States; the Greek financial crisis; the military crisis in Ukraine; and now illegal migration. Isn’t this too much for a Europe which appears to be sclerotic, and is unable to respond swiftly and adequately?

It is too much, and we must therefore ask why we have lost our ability to forecast the future. Almost all of these crises could have been foreseen. Why did we not formulate European strategies to address these phenomena? This is the truly worrying question, because it shows that we European leaders merely respond to events, we always only manage a crisis, but we have no vision or strategy for preventing the development of crises. This is why I keep saying that European politics must be renewed. And I would also mention a fifth crisis, which has become apparent as a result of the migrant crisis: there is a democratic crisis, because it is obvious that what the mainstream elite thinks and does is becoming increasingly detached from the thinking of voters – who at the end of the day are the source of democracy. This may destabilise the European Union.

This is what we observe when we read English or German language news portals, and take a look at the comments made in response to your statements. The vast majority of these comments do not agree with the European mainstream. And what’s more, I would not even call these comments radical.

We are not only faced with the problem of a gap between the political elite and voters, but the distance is also increasing between the Western European media and their readers and viewers. This raises the question of the criteria which currently guide the media in the western half of Europe. These are all very serious questions which require self-review and self-reflection.

You recently pointed out that Europe is rich and weak. Our newspaper organised a conference not so long ago in which the Czech head of state’s foreign policy advisor said that welfare and security are important for Europe. How can we reach a situation in which Europe is safe and strong, whilst also preserving its wealth?

Europe is dealing with questions which are not insignificant – fine, gracious things: human rights, progress, same-sex marriage, tolerance and issues of a similar nature. At the same time, Europe is not dealing with the roots from which these important issues stem: Europe is disregarding its Christian traditions, or traditions associated with nations. Europe has forgotten who or what it actually is, and what the truly important things are. Even if it realises every now and then that it does have such values, it does not fight for them. If, however, someone denies and fails to stand up for the roots of their existence, they will eventually lose their strength. It follows from this that in order for it to become strong again, we need a Europe which has self-esteem and a sense of identity. I think primarily this needs certain intellectual and spiritual preconditions; these must be created, and we shall then be strong again.

This reminds of me of the letter which David Cameron recently wrote to European politicians, in which he raises the idea that the whole of the European Union should be reconsidered, and a few important things in the Treaties should even be rewritten. What do you think?

The factors which provoked Mr. Cameron’s letter do exist, and these must be dealt with seriously. I, too, take the view that there has been a loss of balance. The European Union is based on a precarious balance: on the one hand there is a supranational element, which we can call Brussels, with all its powers and bureaucracy; and on the other hand there are the nations. Based on the principle of subsidiarity, the nation states constituting the Union may only yield to Brussels those issues which they themselves cannot adequately resolve on their own. This is where the balance has been upset, because the “headquarters” has been occupying territory by stealth and withdrawing powers, and issues have been transferred to its competence which should have been left with the nations. The British prime minister is advising us to stop and see where we have lost our way. He is also right in that this may even bring about a review of some of the important provisions of the EU Treaties. I support this line of thought.

Do you have any specific idea as to what should be changed?

What we have are not ideas: we have plenty of experience. In 2004 some major countries entered the European Union. Poland is a significant factor in terms of its size, but we Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks are also serious factors intellectually; we all have the capacity to think, to exercise self-reflection and to create strategies. An enormous amount of experience has been accumulated in Central Europe in the course of a decade. Only today we decided that in February 2016, on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Visegrád cooperation, the Czechs will launch an initiative, as part of which the peoples of the continent can reconsider where Europe stands at present. Is this what we wanted? What are our problems, and in what direction could we proceed? Our goal is to create a vision as a result of this exercise in shared reflection. So the countries of Central Europe not only have ideas, but have a lot of experience, which will be summed up and made available to the whole of Europe for consideration.

Would you tell us something about these new concepts?

I would not expand on this wider debate, but we must obviously raise the subject of Brussels wanting to draw the management of the migrant crisis within its own competence, instead of allowing it to remain within national competence. Then we have the issue of the observance and enforcement of the laws. A very important topic could also be the idea that if someone fails to observe the Schengen Agreement – which constitutes the very essence of the European Union and guarantees the possibility of free movement – they should be forced to observe its terms, or be excluded from it altogether. Or I think it would be reasonable to return to the question of whether it was a correct decision to omit any reference in the European Treaty to our spiritual roots, our Christian foundations. It is worth opening a debate on these issues, and I have just now only mentioned a few topics from a wide range which will be explored as part of the dialogue on Europe over the next two years. I think that some great works will be in the making: essays, or even works of literature, and there will be some fine political debates. It will be exciting; not some Eurobabble, but genuine, full-blooded Central European reality.

At conferences the opinion has also been stated that many in Brussels say to Central European countries that “You receive money from us, so don’t try to interfere in what we’re doing”. Will this change now?

A former French president once made a highly insulting – but all the more revealing – statement about how they actually perceive us. In an important debate he happened to say that the Central Europeans missed a good opportunity to keep quiet. This shows a certain attitude, but I think that we have now come to the end of that era. We are repaying everything that we are receiving. If the economies of the Central European countries were not performing as well as they are at present, there would be no economic growth in the European Union: there would be recession. These countries practice effective integration into their economies of the funds placed at their disposal, they use the money they are given well; today we are the engine of the European economy. With this performance, we are repaying the funds which we are able to use. We are quits, we have nothing to call each other to account for.

And we have not even mentioned the dividends which have been withdrawn from our region in the past 20 years for the benefit of concerns based in Western Europe.

Indeed, among the beneficiaries of our advancement and integration foreign capital groups are represented in large numbers, and with large sums of money.

Many take the view that Poland will be the main force of Central European cohesion within the V4. Do you agree?

Poland has a special role which it is predestined to play – primarily on account of its size and economic weight. We are talking about a country of almost 40 million, with an enormous internal market. We Hungarians or Czechs must think about the world and the economy in different terms than the Poles, because we need exports; our own domestic markets do not give us quite the same self-assurance, economic reserves and security as does the market of the Poles. With 40 million people, one is capable of almost any miracle, even at a European level. So beyond doubt the Poles have a kind of primacy. Additionally, if we study the past 25 years, we can see that the Poles have hardly made any major mistakes. For instance, Poland’s growth was stunningly outstanding, even during the financial crisis. They did not slip into recession; they kept on growing continuously. Perhaps the Poles even have some special spiritual buoyancy as well which makes them successful. But I am not saying that it is only the size of a country which determines the centre of gravity in the debate to come, because when it comes to intellect, neither the Czechs, nor the Slovaks, nor the Hungarians are in need of assistance.

So you are saying that there is an ongoing attempt to debilitate the nation states; the elite of the EU has opened the floodgates to masses of refugees. Why would they do such a thing?

Europe is an extremely fertile continent intellectually. It always has been: it has been the source of a wide range of ideas, economic, political and social teachings. Of course, amidst such an array of fertile thoughts, not only useful ones tend to emerge, but also dangerous ones. There have been instances in Europe when this intellectual fertility brought dangerous and destructive theories to the surface, and there have been times when the people of Europe were not strong enough to control the destructive ideas which seized the continent. I think this is how Bolshevism – which is a Marxist ideology with roots in Germany – spread in a Europe which lacked the strength to protect itself. National Socialism also grew from the same European soil. The idea of a Europe without nations, the idea of a United States of Europe, the gradual weakening of nations, is also an insane and dangerous idea. The question is whether there is enough strength in the European people to protect themselves against these sick ideas. As far as I can see, based on the people’s reactions to the migration issue, this strength is there, dormant within the people, waiting to be reawakened. In my view – and I am not now speaking as a leader – we Europeans will be able to protect ourselves and the continent against the insane idea that the weakening of nations can make Europe stronger.

But there are many people – also here, in the Czech Republic – who believe that the only reasonable solution for Europe is a federation. With a federal budget, similar to that of the United States, any crisis could be resolved – be that Greece or the migrant flood. Is this not the right way?

This idea does exist, and it has its supporters. I do not share this idea, and we should not let it frighten us. For some time now a group of countries forming part of the eurozone has been trying to create a common budget and a common social policy, in addition to a common currency. We should wait and see what they come up with. It may well turn out that this is the right way, but it may equally turn out that we must not do this. In that case, we Central Europeans will not be required to join this. If we observe the situation carefully, if we analyse what the Member States in the eurozone are doing, we will be able to make our own sound decisions on whether or not we should join such a process.

Hungary was the first to build a fence to stop the migrant flow, for which you were strongly criticised by many. Today the situation is completely different: even Austria wants to build a fence. Was it difficult to decide that Hungary would build a fence?

The decision itself was not difficult at all. The ensuing campaign of revenge against us was, however, hard to endure and ward off. The decision itself was not hard to make, because one did not need to be a rocket scientist to arrive at it. I myself am not some outstanding expert, but I stand with both feet on the ground. I was born in a small village; over there ten people out of ten would have been able to say what we should do. Even the simplest people clearly knew that we must not let in masses, groups of people whose identities, intentions and origins are unknown; we must not allow these people to march into our lives without any controls. To grasp this, you do not have to be a politician, a state leader, or even a scholar. It was to be expected, however, that common sense does not enjoy majority support in Europe today, and that the European great powers would  fiercely criticise this decision, because it does not fit into the prevailing ideological line which claims that “borders are bad” and “security is secondary”. This is the trend in Europe today, and our decision went against this.

Hungary was also among the first to protest against the distribution of migrants based on quotas. Today it seems that more European states are against the quotas than for them. Why do you reject the idea?

Here, too, common sense can help us out. What are the quotas about? They are about the fact that someone wants to tell us whom we should live alongside. If we convert this into the realm of our personal lives, its absurdity is quite obvious. What would a citizen of Prague say if someone else decided that he must let someone into his home and must live together with that person? Or what would a Czech village community say if they were told: “And now we are going to tell you who will move in with you”? This is just as absurd on a national scale. As an outsider you cannot tell a national community that they must live alongside people whom they do not want to live with. These are big European issues which are not complicated, but which are difficult. It is difficult to state loud and clear, guided by common sense, that the dominant mentality of a great many European leaders today is not suitable for the organisation of life in Europe. And this is the fact we are facing at present.

Hungary has submitted its petition to the European Court contesting the EU decision on the distribution of migrants according to mandatory quotas. What do you expect of this?

The Slovaks and the Hungarians have filed their own petitions. Our position is that when the European Commission decided on the mandatory quotas, they violated the laws of the European Union. So it is not just that it was a decision that was bad in its content and unacceptable in principle, but the method of its adoption was in violation of existing community laws. It must therefore be annulled. The court will decide on this case; it will be a fine, exciting legal dispute. This procedure, and the arguments cited for and against, will be taught at universities for decades to come. Naturally, we hope and expect to win.

When is a decision expected to be reached? It could take years.

Only the Court can answer that question. At any rate we will be unable to take in anyone until this legal issue is resolved.

In the beginning, many people did not link the migrant crisis with the issue of security – more specifically, with the fact that there may be people among the refugees who are not coming to Europe with good intentions. What is the explanation for this?

This is an understandable mistake. Up to now security in Europe has appeared to be guaranteed:  as natural as drawing breath. In Europe it was simply not evident that we needed to improve security, that we had to protect our security, invest in it, be cautious about some decisions, and be aware that a kind heart and enthusiasm are not enough. Those who laboured under these shared illusions are learning the lesson now.

Recently reports have emerged that the eighth terrorist responsible for the attacks in Paris – whom the authorities are now looking for everywhere – was in Hungary this summer, and at Keleti Railway Station took on several migrants who had refused to register with the authorities. Additionally, two other Paris suicide bombers entered Europe via Greece.

It is terrible for a Hungarian to think how many terrorists may have transited our country before we curbed the flood of illegal mass migration.

A few days ago Donald Tusk suggested that it would be wise to isolate migrants for up to eighteen months until it is determined with full certainty who they are and where they have come from. Were you surprised by this idea?

President Tusk’s latest statement shows a new tone of voice, and I am pleased that such a tone can now also be heard in Brussels.

The Polish foreign minister has suggested that migrants should form an army, which would then free Syria. What is your opinion of this?

Here in Prague people could not see the migrants for themselves, but I did when they were crossing Hungary. As an eyewitness, I can say that, although the western media continually focused on women and children, this flood in fact more closely resembled an army: 70–80 per cent of them were young, strong men; they were potential soldiers. Certainly everyone could ask the same question as the Polish foreign minister. If the future of their homes is at stake in battles, where else should they be? But I shall be careful here, because this oversteps the boundary of politics: this is a question about life’s deepest layers, and I would not dare to express moral injunctions or expectations for those who live in the Middle East. They are the only people who are able to make judgments about the complex interrelations within their own lives.

Concerning the migrant issue, we often hear voices from among Western European academic circles, to the effect that Central Europeans’ reaction to the migrant issue is nationalist and xenophobic. Don’t you regard this opinion as offensive?

Apart from the fact that we hear a lot of silly things, and I could well take it as an offence, I would rather look at this thing from another angle. The breeding ground for these opinions is mostly frustration, because the countries being judged are all successful ones. They belong among the few European success stories: the example of the Czech Republic is a fantastic success story in itself. I will not say that here money grows on trees either, or that it is so easy to get by, but the growth the country has achieved, the position the Czech nation stands in now, and the opportunities ahead of it constitute a huge success. The same holds true for Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. No one would have ever predicted such a bright future for this group of countries. Thus this is not just about the fact that we here speak differently and our opinions differ on certain questions, but also that at the same time we are successful. I believe that to a great extent, this frustration can be observed behind the criticism aimed at us.

What do you think of the argument which says that migrants should be welcomed, since they make up for shortfalls in the workforce and they will provide pensions decades from now?

I have tried to read through and understand debates and analyses from the ’60s and ’70s: the period of earlier European migration waves. In my view, every single great migration period is characterised by a basic delusion. Host countries expected units of labour, but instead they got people. They are real people: they have souls, cultures and religions. We cannot only take their manpower into consideration, because it is the whole human being we get – together with their own cultural identities, the problems they have living with them, and with the fact that they do not at all consider European attitudes to life as a philosophy to be followed. They consider their own cultures to be more valuable, so they do not want to integrate, but organize their own parallel lives. This is what has happened everywhere; this is the phenomenon of parallel societies, experienced recently in Europe, in countries where there are a large number people who have arrived from elsewhere. Central Europe has not experienced this problem so far. The fact that here in Central Europe we do not have parallel subdivisions within our societies is not a disadvantage, but it will be one of the region’s biggest advantages, one of its biggest attractions and an all-important competitive advantage in the future. This is certainly not a politically correct thought, and therefore it cannot be said out loud. Following the publication of this interview I imagine I will be fiercely criticised for this sentence.

How do you see the future of those countries where the abovementioned parallel societies have already developed?

My stance on this phenomenon is not a critical one, but is based on the concept of sovereignty. Every country has the right to decide whether it wants to admit large numbers of people from ethnic groups which are different from the host country’s existing inhabitants; it may live alongside them whilst accepting all the consequences of the development of parallel societies. Such countries are free to make such a decision. If this is what the Germans decided when they admitted Turkish immigrants, so be it. When the French admitted large numbers of Arabs, it was their right to decide so. There is only one thing which they do not have the right to do: to expect us to do the same – because whether we want to do so or not is our sovereign decision. We Hungarians do not want this at all, and we have the right not to want to become just like those other countries. They must accept it, just as we accept their decisions. It is still, of course, true that Europe is our common home: the homeland of our homeland. This is why I am concerned that the proportion of non-European ethnic groups is continuously increasing. It only takes basic mathematics to figure out that, as a matter of course, traditional European societies will become minorities wherever they allow themselves to. We Hungarians shall not.

More and more European politicians state that Greece’s Schengen membership should be reconsidered in order for the European Union to have a clearly defined land border. Do you support this proposal?

I agree with the Czech and Slovak standpoint on this issue. I also believe that the Greeks should be given an ultimatum: they either comply with the Schengen rules or acknowledge that they have no place in the Schengen Area. The Greeks need to address this question, but we have to hold them accountable.

The other problem is Turkey. Angela Merkel was there before the elections and recently there was an EU-Turkey summit. Do you think we can expect a solution to the migrant crisis from Ankara?

We Europeans have been downgraded to the level of humble beggars; we are begging for our own safety from others. When negotiating questions like this, if we are not able to guarantee our own safety from our own resources we leave ourselves open to blackmail and exploitation. That is why we have suggested that we should use our power and financial resources to first build a defence line, along which we could ensure the safety of the continent; only after this should we sit down with our Turkish partners to talk about how we could do this better together. Unfortunately in the end this approach did not win a majority vote within the European Union. European great powers decided that even from this weak position it was still worth cooperating with Turkey. We did not veto their decision, because if the great powers believe they are right, the correct thing to do is to give them the opportunity to succeed. The negotiations are taking place now; we will see what the future brings.

What do you expect from the “Friends of Schengen” initiative which you also worked for?

The Czech Presidency of the Visegrád Group embraced this idea and is going ahead with it as its own initiative, and we are glad to be participants in it. There are four of us already, and I believe that some more countries will join. There are dialogues now at ambassadorial level. We will also give more substance to the “Friends of Schengen” initiative, as well including the issue of defence and civilian forces needed for border control, financial matters, legal cooperation, etc.

Recently Chancellor Merkel has had a plan on the humanitarian evacuation of asylum seekers from Turkey to Europe. Should this be viewed as a simple German gesture, or are there the makings of a new quota system here?

This is a shocking proposal. We have already witnessed an absurd and bizarre coalition, which has formed around the migrant issue. Human traffickers, human rights activists and pro-immigrant European politicians have established a unique coalition. They are not simply letting migrants in: they are transporting them here. So this is not about armies of migrants breaking into Europe, but it is about us sending trains, ships and buses to bring them here. Absurd! There is only one thought that is even more absurd: that we should go to Turkey and bring them here directly, to Europe. And it would be an absolute denial of the European spirit if those who seek to realise this nonsense  then sought to distribute these masses of people among those states which had not wanted any of this in the first place.

Back in August you already warned EU politicians that there will be no winter break in the migrant issue. It is December already and it seems that you were right: there are still thousands of asylum seekers arriving in the EU via the Balkan route. How do you see the upcoming year?

This is also about the fact that in politics experience comes before speculation. In light of the migration waves of previous years we said that pinning our hopes on the arrival of winter will be in vain, because it will not stop mass migration. In 2016 it is European leaders who will have the power to stop migration; it depends on us whether they – or we – will be able to do so, but I am afraid I am not able to provide any comfort on that today. So far we have failed. The only success has been where national leadership has been able to guarantee its own defence in defiance of the European mainstream. This is what the situation looks like in Hungary at the moment; this is what Slovenia and Macedonia are fighting for now. Thus I believe that for now national solutions are working; there is no common European solution.