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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”

We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Good morning, and good morning to the listeners.

Literally a few hours ago you came back from Egypt, where you met both political and church leaders. This is especially interesting now, as the Islamic and Christian worlds are coming to a crossroads. Let us begin with this, something that experts have been talking about for some time: the clash of cultures. At your meeting with the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, I believe you discussed this matter: the encounter between Islam and Christianity. Was the Grand Imam critical? Didn’t he ask why people in Europe are not more open towards Muslim people?

First of all, it is important to establish that there are quite a few of us – perhaps the majority of us – who believe that the mere fact that there are different civilisations in the world is no reason for these civilisations to clash. This is particularly true of civilisations which believe in the existence of one God. So I think that with good intentions, if we have the will, if there is a clear political direction, and if we have the strength to enforce it, we can live in peace, side by side with the Muslim world; not mixed together, but side by side. And I believe that this is a position – a Christian position – which is greatly welcomed by Muslims. It is our conviction that no one affiliated with Christian civilisation can hold anti-Muslim views. We may object to a good many things, but these are not the Islamic faith itself. If that faith were not there, and if a civilisation had not been built on its foundations, we would see barbarism there: a chaotic world without rules. They now live in a world organised according to its own logic. Naturally we do not want to adopt Muslim rules in our own lives, however – we have our own principles for how to lead our lives. We respect their principles, and we expect them to respect ours. From this perspective, I had an enlightening meeting or audience with the Rector who – if there were Western categories to describe the Muslim world, but there aren’t – I could say is equal in authority to a Sunni pope. I invited him to visit Hungary.

Why did you use the word audience?

Because that is the term to use when a religious leader receives a prime minister.

I thought you meant there was some form of admonition involved.

Islam is a high civilisation. For instance, during the course of our meeting I learnt that the Sunni leader wrote his doctoral thesis on Avicenna’s Remarks and Admonitions. So we are talking about a high culture. The Muslim world cannot be equated with the flood of migrants, with those who broke down the border fence at Röszke or with that appalling man in Bicske who told a Hungarian woman that she should be pleased he did not rape her. Looking beyond the threat of terrorism and violence, one can see that there is a highly sophisticated Muslim culture, which leaders over there maintain, cultivate and pass on.

But did the religious leader share your view that we should live side by side, rather than mixed together, and that multi-culturalism should in effect be discarded?

I’ll repeat that a religious leader does not agree or disagree with a simple prime minister. He is above ordinary men. He states his view, he proclaims his position, but does not…

And what was his view?

…he does not wish to discuss these issues. His view is – and I agree with this – that Europe should make every effort to promote stability in Egypt, if it knows what is good for it. Syria was a country of fewer than thirty million people. It collapsed, and here in Europe we could hardly bear the consequences. Egypt is a country of ninety million. If it becomes unstable, and people start heading out, we shall not survive. So the Imam was right to say that, putting aside its usual European prejudices, the European Union should concentrate on making the government in Egypt – and the President at its head – successful. It should concentrate on ensuring that the Egyptian army remains strong and united, and on promoting existence of a force in Egypt which upholds the law and provides a living for the people. If we do not have these, we shall have to face another flood of people which could be three times as large as the one we have experienced so far. So instead the Imam concentrated on giving arguments as to why the European Union should put aside its criticisms and prejudices – it has quite a few – and lend its full support to the current political leadership in Egypt. This is what I did myself, because I agree with this political line. It also serves the best interests of Hungary and the European Union.

We shall talk about Brussels’ responsibility in this matter in a minute, but let me ask you – as you obviously came to some conclusion in your meeting with the Egyptian president: in a rather unstable region, and after a rather stormy recent past, does Egypt have the strength for the degree of stability which you were talking about?

The army is united, and it is behind the President. The President was elected in a properly-conducted election campaign. After that a constitution was adopted, and it was confirmed in a referendum. So the pillars of constitutional order are in place. What they need now is economic success. The population of Egypt is increasing by 2.6 million every year, and it now stands at 90 million. Providing livelihoods, food and acceptable living standards – or at least the potential for these – for this many people is a huge political task. So the Egyptian government needs to cope with issues which are several times more testing than the political tasks we are used to in Europe.

What was your conclusion after your talks with the political leaders of Egypt? Are the concerns reported earlier by Reuters and Die Welt – that the activities of Libyan people smugglers will shift to Egypt, which will be the next trouble spot – well-founded?

We Europeans should also reconsider our foreign policy. After all, we have intervened in three countries – and all three have collapsed. A state of chaos has ensued, and millions of refugees have set out. We intervened in Iraq, then in Syria and Libya. There is effectively no civilised central state in any of these countries which is able to maintain order, uphold the laws and protect us – Hungarians and Europeans – from the outflow of masses of illegal migrants. So we too, must revise our position.

Fine, but this is a difficult issue. Once again we have a catch-22 situation. You have just said that we must live side by side, and must not impose Europe’s Western rules upon people living in other regions. But this whole story began when attempts were made to ensure Western democracy was imported into those countries. In a certain sense we started it.

The truth is that now it is difficult to tell how it all began, because everyone is blaming everyone else. But I can tell you one thing for sure – which, of course, is my opinion, rather than the general view among European prime ministers. I think we can clearly see the failure of this madness, called the export of democracy, which we came up with, and in which, unbidden, we try to bring happiness to people whose thinking is rooted in civilisations and cultures different from European culture and different from the methods which are tried and tested here. The chaos in the Middle East and its painful consequences for Europe are, to my mind, proof that democracy cannot be exported – either by force of arms, or peacefully. Every nation must be allowed to build its own political and economic system in line with its own culture. And we must seek cooperation by making mutual efforts to maintain peace. This is a better foreign policy than that of trying to be wiser than everyone else because we say we know what true democracy is, because we know all about human rights, and others must understand this – even if they have a completely different outlook on the world. I think this approach has failed. And if we continue to persist in this, we will simply be repeatedly setting fire to our own house.

Now let us take a look at the other side. There is Operation Sophia, the mission of which it is to put an end to the activities of Libyan people smugglers. In Brussels it has already been suggested that the operation should be extended to Egypt, but it is said that Egypt is not really happy about this, because it would violate its sovereignty. But there is no point in even talking about this in practice, as the Greeks have vetoed extension of this operation. Where does our responsibility lie now?

I think that we have two options now. The big problem would be if we didn’t opt for either, but instead just went with the flow.

What are the two options?

One of them is to extend our full support to the Libyan government. There is a government in Libya…

But hasn’t the EU done that?

It hasn’t, because it is criticising, raising objections, stating its reservations and setting conditions. For instance, it strongly rejects the notion of arming the Libyan army. But without arming the Libyan army, there will be no one to maintain law and order in the country. In Europe it is not seen as a good solution, and that is undoubtedly true, but whether we like it or not I see no other solution there. So the Libyan army must be recognised, armed and reinforced, and we must cooperate with them so that they themselves protect Libya’s coastline facing the European Union; Libya is our neighbour across the sea. This is one of the options. The other option is to obtain authorisation under international law and to deploy European military forces on the shores of Libya where large refugee centres can be set up, and these should screen people who are heading for Europe. Furthermore, those who have already entered Europe illegally should be taken back to these centres. We Europeans must guarantee the security of these camps, and we must provide for the welfare of the people living in the camps. This will cost money, but this is a much smaller problem and a much smaller sacrifice than the consequences of millions of people coming to Europe in an uncontrolled flow. We should either stand on one foot or the other. The trouble is that the EU continually talks about these issues, but no decision is ever reached.

Let us just briefly return to Egypt, as you also met relatives of Coptic Christian men executed in Libya. Weren’t you taken to task – not you personally, but as an EU leader or as a prime minister in the European Union – for the fact that the European Union has said less about the persecution of Christians?

People were quite moved – partly because they rarely see a European prime minister, and partly because of their personal suffering. After all, these people have lost husbands, sons, fathers, who were guest workers in Libya, where they were executed for their faith. They were mostly blue-collar and agricultural workers: honest, hardworking people. As we know, there is a rule in Christianity: we must do good deeds, but we must not boast about them, we must not talk about them. While one can debate the expedience of this policy, the Hungarian government follows this line; we help a great many people, a great many Christian families – here in Hungary, in Europe, and over there in Africa, and in Asia as well. We are making financial sacrifices, and are also offering personalised help, but we do not publicise these deeds widely. I have always been repelled by the sort of Western behaviour which holds that you should do the good deed and then should boast about it. I think that we have our moral duties, and we must do what we must do. We Hungarians are a good-natured people, and this good-natured people does what it can for others, as far as its resources allow.

Let us come over to Europe. In Brussels it is a bit like the calm before the storm – whether on migration or other issues. The Slovak presidency: Slovakia will take over the EU presidency in July, next month. In other words, the Slovaks – who are challenging migrant resettlement quotas in the European Court – will, or should, oversee reform of the Dublin Regulation. So I believe this may be delayed for some time. What do you expect?

Well, tension is indeed rising. There is a tactical explanation for this. The British will soon vote on whether to stay in or leave the EU, and everyone is somewhat cautious: the balance is so fine that no one wants to risk a single decision, statement or interview which might tip it one way or the other. It is best to leave this to the British, and the EU is also more cautious now. On the other hand, there is a much bigger problem, which is not tactical, but which is a profound structural and strategic problem. European leaders have placed themselves in opposition to their peoples. However we may bluster, equivocate or manoeuvre, no matter how much George Soros keeps funding civil society organisations, and no matter how hard the Hungarian billionaire tries to use his money to buy himself into the media and set the tone, the truth is that the people are opposed to the asylum policy of Western governments – and they are opposed in increasing numbers and with increasing intensity. And as Europe is based on democracy, sooner or later this will lead to trouble. Everyone can sense the silence and tension before the storm. One has not seen the people change their position on an issue of such importance; the people will not change their view. European leaders now face the task of completely rethinking the policy they are pursuing, because the people will not accept it. An intense opposition will emerge between the elected leaders and the people, the consequences of which are hard to foresee at present. But one thing is sure: nothing good will come of it.

Not everyone in Europe is quite so tactful about Brexit. In fact, some European statements, the statements of Brussels leaders, are extremely ominous. They have said that…

Well, they obviously know what they are … we hope they know what they are doing. At any event, we Hungarians take the view that we are happy to share an alliance with the British people. This is in one sense an honour: it is a great nation, and a major force to be reckoned with. We ourselves are stronger if the British are in the European Union – there is no question of that. But we do not claim the right to tell the British people what to do because we have a particular standpoint. The British live their own lives, and they will decide based on their own standpoint. And whichever way they decide, we shall accept it. Naturally, I personally have a good relationship and a close alliance with Prime Minister Cameron.

We were talking about the calm before the storm in Europe, but in a certain sense this seems to be the case in Hungary as well. To what extent are you in control, for instance, of the refugee camps? On the one hand, procedures should be accelerated. Human rights organisations are rather critical on this point. At the same time, as you yourself referred to the Bicske incident, the Mayor of Bicske has said that he will ask the Government to close the reception centre in his town, because while up until last year the people of Bicske were very patient, they have reached a point which is beyond their tolerance threshold.

We have a plan for this. We would like to close the Bicske refugee centre, and we even have an action plan. This will take time, however. So the local people will have to live with this situation for some more time, but within the foreseeable future they will see that the time has come for the closure of the Bicske camp – just as it did in Southern Hungary and in Debrecen, where we also closed down camps. The situation is that we have strengthened several laws. This may be less spectacular than the construction of the fence, and may not have attracted quite as much attention, but we have adopted strict laws which mean that those who cross the border illegally are sent back over the border; and I could list quite a few other decisions. And as a result, the battle has resumed, as George Soros has announced that he is the opposition to the Hungarian government. He is the effective opposition. This is not something that we invented, we are not the ones saying it: he said this, it is his opinion. And today he is the one most opposed to the Hungarian government on the issue of immigration and migrants. He supports organisations – Hungarian individuals, Hungarian organisations and international organisations – which want to subdue the Hungarian government and which want to force us to back down. They want us to repeal our stringent laws, they want us to let the migrants in, to tear down the fence, and so on. And this is a battle, an intensifying conflict – not between the Hungarian opposition and the Hungarian government, but between George Soros, the self-proclaimed leader of the Hungarian opposition, and the Hungarian government.

This is something which many objected to after our last interview. If my sources are correct, because they immediately started talking about the Soros funds, the scholarships, you told János Lázár that, if necessary, you would repay the money. Was there such a request?

It is a rather communist way of thinking for someone to believe, having helped another person, that from then on they are owed a debt by that person, who must adopt their views out of gratitude. What kind of communist way of thinking is this? In a free country the idea itself is absurd.

Let us talk about domestic affairs. From here, you are going to a Cabinet meeting, a rather long one, where you will cover quite a few domestic matters. If my information is correct, there will be a variety of topics on the agenda, from the budget to education and health care. In which area do you have the most to do now?

We are coming to the end of the first half of the year. The reason Cabinet meeting will be so long, and seems to be so extensive, is that I am setting the target for the Government, and I expect my ministers to review all decisions on which they have started working over the past two years, decisions which may have been suspended, decisions which are agreed but unimplemented, and decisions which have been modified after disputes, despite our best intentions. I expect these to be resolved in the first half of our term in government. It is absolutely clear that we should not stretch pending matters from the first half of the term into the second half, as if they were pieces of chewing gum. This is a formidable task. Therefore there will be many Cabinet meetings over the next few weeks. All these decisions will be placed on the agenda one by one, and all issues which we have opened will be settled.

No wonder you are saying it will be a long Cabinet meeting, as there are quite a few issues which you have initiated, but which have not yet been completed. Which is the most important in your opinion?

That’s life. You know how it is – man proposes, God disposes. We had some fine ambitious plans which the Hungarian electorate approved of, and which they even helped to implement. And there were some decisions we made which were disputed by at least some of those concerned, and against which strikes were organised. We had to sit down, we had to talk, we had to reach compromises, and now we must incorporate them. This is a laborious, intricate task. It is not as spectacular as the great revolutionary charge, the new constitution after 2010 which changed the entire system, or the passage of the great legislative codes, but it is just as important. Because the great legislative codes are worthless if they are not sufficiently supported by a number of lower-level decrees and regulations.

But are you now talking about lower-level matters, or about transformation of the major systems such as health care or education, in which – as you mentioned – there have been protests?

We have transformed systems, but in some areas implementation has remained incomplete, because debates have emerged. We have transformed the education system. But in the meantime a long series of negotiations started. As part of those, we have reached all sorts of agreements. In light of these, we must amend our former decisions, and these agreements must be incorporated into various legal rules, government decrees and budget sections. This is a formidable task, but we are making progress, and let me repeat: we shall start the second half of our four-year term having resolved all outstanding questions, without exception.

There is another topic which, to some extent, brings us back to what we were discussing earlier. Many listeners have asked whether those planning to travel to France for the sporting events can do so without hesitation. Intelligence has been received from America that, on the one hand, at the world Catholic event being held in Poland, where there will also be many Hungarians…

Many thousands.

And intelligence has also been received on terrorist threats in France.

I cannot take on the responsibility of deciding what others should do. So I ask every Hungarian to consider their own situation. I will go, but my situation is perhaps not quite the same as that of the many Hungarians who will be standing in queues for hours. So I don’t think that my specific situation can be the basis for any advice. But I would say that people should thoroughly consider all the circumstances and make their own decisions. We shall provide them with every assistance. The most important thing is that I have instructed the Foreign Minister to reinforce our consular services during the European Football Championship. Hungarian diplomacy will be present in the fullest possible capacity, and will be at everyone’s disposal. Therefore, in any event, I would advise our fine Hungarian supporters to register on the website of the consular services before they leave. They should visit the website, where they will see whom they can contact, should there be any trouble or problems. And they should also register, to let us know that they are there. So the Hungarian Foreign Ministry is doing everything possible to manage and eliminate the terrorist threat. This is all we have been able to do at present.

But does the Hungarian government have intelligence similar to that from America, or related to the arrests made in Germany yesterday?

Even if we had not received intelligence from America, even if the arrests had not been made yesterday in Germany, we would have made exactly the same decisions, because security is not something you can measure precisely. If one feels that there is danger, one must do everything one can to minimise the risk. This is what we have been doing.

For the past half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.