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Exclusive interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on M1

Tünde Volf-Nagy: I welcome our viewers, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

Hello.

In 2022, in the heart of Europe, here in our immediate neighbourhood, there is war. Perhaps only our grandparents remember anything like this. And not since the Yugoslav Wars has a Hungarian government needed to formulate any kind of strategy in response to war. What should a responsible government do when war is being waged in a neighbouring country? 

Well, I remember such a situation. And I’m a grandfather. This is the third war during my terms as prime minister of Hungary. Those who are old enough may remember that war broke out the day after we joined NATO in 1999, when NATO decided to intervene in the conflict between Serbia and the Albanians. Back then there was also a risk that, with war in our neighbourhood, we could be drawn into it. Later, in 2015, the first Ukrainian-Russian war – which we call the Crimean conflict – also broke out in our neighbourhood, because Ukraine is our neighbour. And now the second Russian-Ukrainian war is taking place in our neighbourhood. So Hungary has no lack of experience when it comes to dealing with such a situation. In those previous situations the Hungarian position was the same as it is now. I represented it then, and it is still the Hungarian position, and so I represent it now: Hungary must stay out of this war, this armed conflict. It is on this that we must focus our efforts.

After the NATO summit you also said that we must not allow Hungary to be drawn into this war. For me this raises two questions. Firstly, how could we be drawn into such a war? Secondly, who should we prevent from drawing us into it? So in whose interest would it be for us to be involved in such a war?

The most important thing to consider is that when a war situation develops there will be confusion, and a situation which provokes agitated, precipitous, hasty action. It is very important for a country which is close to the war zone – and Hungary is a neighbouring country – not to let this happen on its territory. We call this “strategic calm”. This is what’s needed now. So we must beware of any ill-considered, hastily taken decisions, demands and initiatives which may sound popular, but which are rash and have consequences which have not been assessed. For example, the Left in Hungary has demanded that we send soldiers to the war zone; this lacks the virtue of strategic patience and strategic calm. There’s no need for that. Similarly, there’s no need to encourage Hungary to send weapons to that region, because we’re a neighbouring country, and those weapons might be used against Hungarian people; because there are Hungarians living in Transcarpathia, and soldiers are also being conscripted from there. In the Yugoslav situation – in that crisis and war – we likewise needed to pay heed to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Hungarians live there. So for Hungary everything points in the direction of staying out of this war.

Germany also believed – in line with its historical traditions – that it shouldn’t supply arms to Ukraine. Despite this, last night the German chancellor announced that his country will be delivering arms. A few minutes ago Italy announced that it’s supplying arms. Could the Hungarian position change to the one which has been called for again by the Left’s candidate for Prime Minister? And if it does, what consequences could that have?

The truth is that this debate is a hypothetical one: the Hungarian position cannot change, because we need all the weapons that we have. So at the moment we need all the weapons the Hungarian army is in possession of – for our deployment on the country’s eastern borders, and to be able to defend our borders if necessary. Hungary has embarked on a development programme for its armed forces. This is not the time to talk about the run-down state in which we found the Hungarian military industry and the Hungarian army when we took over control of it. The point is that a few years ago, feeling that in the next decade security would be the most important thing, we embarked on a large-scale development programme for the army and the military industry. We’re building the factories now, but the equipment hasn’t yet come off the conveyor belts. So at the moment Hungary couldn’t provide others with any military equipment at all, even if it wanted to – which it doesn’t.

But speaking of the development of the armed forces, there’s also been a lot of criticism of that programme. The main question which has been raised is about why we’re buying so much. Are we preparing for war? 

We’re preparing for peace, which is why we needed to launch development of our military industry. If you look back over the last twelve years, you’ll see that first there was the red mud disaster, then a flood, then the first Ukrainian-Russian war in Crimea, then immigration, then a pandemic, and now the second Russian-Ukrainian war. So deducing from this that the next decade will be about security isn’t rocket science. The next decade will be about who can create a safe environment for the everyday life of their own country, of their own people. We recognised this some years ago: not yesterday, but the day before yesterday – if I may put it like that. This is why we’ve initiated the necessary improvements. We started them at the right time. Perhaps we could have started them a little earlier, but, if you think back, there were so many problems here: from foreign currency loans to low wages and the difficult situation of pensioners. We didn’t have enough money to start everything at once, so we scheduled the work, and a few years ago we got round to launching the military developments. These were constantly and savagely attacked by the Left, but fortunately we didn’t give in and we continued with these developments. The Germans made these decisions yesterday. We had already made them some years earlier.

Yesterday morning I was listening to the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk, whose correspondent was reporting on Hungary’s friendly attitude towards refugees arriving here from Ukraine. Then in the next sentence they noted that this is a cynical attitude, because refugees from Afghanistan and Syria weren’t similarly received.

Again, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to distinguish between floods of people from distant Muslim worlds heading for Europe in the hope of a better life and aid for Ukrainians fleeing to Hungary because of the Ukrainian-Russian war. I think that anyone who cannot see this difference is also blind when it comes to international politics. So people coming from far away, coming through a number of safe third countries, must be looked after and helped there. But where are the poor Ukrainians to go? We’re their neighbours! So in such cases the rule is that all refugees who come from a neighbouring country must be helped, because there’s a war there. It doesn’t matter why, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame, and it doesn’t matter how it all happened: anyone fleeing from there must be helped. This is an elementary, human, Christian life instinct, and we act accordingly: people coming from Ukraine can be sure that they’ll be welcomed here by friends. Hungary is a friend of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian people; we will feed them, we will give them accommodation, and we will take care of their children. I met several such families yesterday when I was inspecting the eastern border. I saw the people coming across and I spoke to them. We will give them all the help they need.

In this matter the helpfulness of the Hungarians is exemplary. Help is being offered by the Government, by aid organisations, and also by ordinary members of the public. What do you think is the reason for this unity?

This is a good country. It’s a good country with good people.

[Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade] Péter Szijjártó has said that EU foreign ministers have adopted a strong, robust package of sanctions. Many people – including the German foreign minister and representatives of the German economy – doubt that in the short term this sanctions package will deter Russia from its intended course of action. In the press there’s been speculation that Hungary wanted to block the joint EU and NATO position on Russia. What’s the truth about this? 

Let’s talk about sanctions first. We’ve never hidden our doubts – or at least I’ve personally never hidden my doubts – over the beneficial effects of sanctions: I’ve never seen a country or a conflict that’s been diverted towards peace by sanctions. But this isn’t the time for intellectual arguments. So in Brussels I said that in general we’ve always taken a different view on sanctions, but that isn’t relevant now, because we need to talk about a specific situation. This is a war, and now isn’t the time to be clever, but to be united. So we’ll support whatever sanctions the EU countries agree on. Any news to the contrary is disinformation. We also need to be prepared for that, because wars in the modern world are also information wars – and this is why there’s disinformation. This is why I’ve asked the Foreign Minister and the relevant leaders within the Hungarian government to engage in the most frequent and active communication possible – and this is why I’m here with you. This is so that people can receive reliable information, and not be subjected to any form of disinformation campaign.

To be specific, there have been accusations that Hungary vetoed the suspension of the international interbank transfer system.

That’s a lie. It’s disinformation. More elegantly, it’s fake news; in plain language, it’s a lie.

How dangerous is this information and disinformation? It’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.

It’s no accident that information warfare has become part of modern warfare, so it matters. What I say to the Hungarian left – and what I also say to my international colleagues – is that in times such as these words have consequences, and in such situations words are almost equivalent to deeds. So we need to think carefully about who’s saying what, what they’re proposing and what they’re initiating. In terms of economic sanctions, for example, it’s not sensible to propose steps which would result in harming ourselves, to initiate sanctions which would end up with the cost of the war being paid by us Hungarians. This is why Paks II [nuclear reactor programme] and the energy question must be left out of the sanctions issue; otherwise we will pay the price of the war, and no one wants that.

According to the news, at the EU leaders’ conference there was a serious debate about what sanctions should be imposed on the energy sector. In the end, what and who finally decided that this be taken off the list?

There was no unanimity on this matter. We said that, of course, if this decision were taken, then Hungary wouldn’t be an obstacle to any such agreement. But we were very far from that, because extending sanctions to the sphere of energy would be just as damaging for a very large number of countries as it would be for Hungary. So there are many of us – there are many countries – that feel it would be unfair to end up having to pay for a war in which they had no part. This is why there’s no consensus, and for the time being there’s no danger of one.

This leads on to my next question, about something that I think should be clarified. Does this package of sanctions in any way affect security of supply, the recently concluded Hungarian-Russian agreements, and, of course, the reductions in household utility bills?

It doesn’t affect them, it won’t affect them, and it certainly won’t for as long as I am Prime Minister.

As you’ve just mentioned, you were on the border yesterday. What did you encounter there, what did you see?

It’s dispiriting. You know how it is: even though on the border at Beregsurány you can’t hear the terrifying sound of armed conflict, and shell fire can’t yet be heard, at the same time everyone knows that the front line is approaching Hungary. So the longer the war drags on, the greater is the risk that sooner or later targets in Transcarpathia will also be involved in the war, and that the war will come closer to us. In the coming week we need to remain very calm and composed, so that we can manage this situation well. At the same time, you see people who are suddenly driven from their natural environment; you see people pushing prams, bringing children, you see women arriving, you see the uncertainty on their faces, and you see their need for a kind word and for support. Fortunately our mayors, the parliamentary representative for the area Mr. Tilki, the police and the disaster relief services are acting in the way that representatives of a civilised, Christian country should act: they’re showing total, heartfelt dedication in helping those in distress.

Since 2015 Hungary has been defending the external borders of the European Union, at no little expense. Are there now signs of any kind of assistance or promise of assistance – financial assistance – from the EU, from Brussels?

We’re now in an absurd situation: when there was – and is – a refugee crisis in the South, with a massive influx of large numbers of Muslim refugees, Brussels hasn’t been providing any kind of financial aid. This is despite the fact that Hungary is not only defending itself with the fence, but is also defending Europe’s internal territories – especially German territory. But they’ve been unmoved by this, and haven’t given us any help. We’ve only been able to count on the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks and the Austrians. Of course, they couldn’t give us money, but at least they provided police and border guards. What we have now is a different situation, but once more it’s an absurd situation. There are countries that are located on the borders here: the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. And, of course, Poland and Hungary are constantly being subjected to all kinds of financial threats. So instead of being supported, instead of being helped to take care of the refugees from Ukraine, instead of being helped to strengthen our army and our disaster relief capability, instead of being helped to prepare for construction of a stronger defence line, instead of being given financial aid, we’re not getting anything. So I suggest that we shouldn’t rely on the Brusseleers, as history has taught us that we can only rely on ourselves. Leaving Brussels aside, what we must rely on is NATO. We need NATO, because if the threat comes close to Hungary’s borders, then despite all the efforts of the Hungarian army, it is only within the NATO alliance that we can provide Hungary with complete protection.

Do Hungarians have anything to fear?

This is a war. Anyone who says that in this war there’s no risk to Hungary is not telling the truth. The question is rather whether we can responsibly manage the risk inherent in this war situation. The question is whether, every day and every hour, we can make the right decisions that will reduce the risk and help us to stay out of this conflict. I spend every waking hour on this. Every hour we’re dealing with this issue. When a decision has to be made, we need to find the one that best serves Hungarian interests, because Hungary’s interests come first, Hungary before else. So we’re identifying the decisions we need to make in order to be able to stay out of this conflict, and – if we do end up staying out of it – to avoid imposing sanctions that in the end would result in us being made to foot the bill for the war. For this we will need heightened focus, concentration and hard work in the coming weeks.

Thank you very much.