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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good morning, Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: The Hungarian government’s information campaign has generated angry reactions in Brussels. “But where are the snows of yesteryear?” While earlier at a meeting of the European People’s Party Jean-Claude Juncker waited for the Hungarian prime minister to leave the room before raising the possibility of the expulsion of Fidesz, now the European People’s Party’s lead candidate Manfred Weber has said that there are three conditions which the Hungarian government must meet, or else Fidesz will be expelled. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. What’s your view on this “apologise or be expelled” style? Is this really what a dialogue of equal partners in Europe has come to?

Good morning to our listeners. These are all very important questions, but today is Women’s Day, so if you’ll allow me I’d first of all like to pay special tribute to Hungarian women. God bless you all on this day also. Thank you for everything done for us by you – including our mothers, daughters and granddaughters.

Thank you.

But now let’s also say a few words about these less important issues. Europe is undergoing a transformation. So everything happening today in the European political arena should be seen in the context of a transformation in European life – and therefore also in European politics – which is of a scale and depth that has not been seen for a long time. Migration and immigration have changed our lives. This is the most important issue for the future of Europe, and this has also become the most important issue for politics. Suddenly a new dividing line has replaced the traditional former divisions that you yourself know well, such as left, right, Christian democrat, socialist and liberal – and even Western European and Central European. These differences have been replaced. The new dividing line is between those who support immigration and migration and those who don’t. If we want to understand what is happening and why – for instance, to us in Europe – then this is the viewpoint we should adopt, because this is how we can understand things. And there is also a fault line within the European People’s Party. There are parties which want a Europe with a mixed population: they want to let in migrants – or even bring them in. There are some who believe that this will be beneficial for Europe. And there are others who want to preserve our Christian culture: they want to guard our borders, seeing this as being safe; and they don’t want mass migration – indeed they don’t want any kind of migration. We Hungarians, for example, are among the latter; and this is what I stand for, both at government level and in European party politics. What has happened is that those who support migration – pro-immigration politicians in the European People’s Party – have attacked us precisely for this reason, because our views on the most important issues are different from theirs. They are now seeking to transform the entire People’s Party into an international pro-immigration organisation. We want to prevent this. Fidesz and Hungary have found themselves at the centre of this story because our country was the first to prove that action can be taken against migration. This is simply a matter of will: migration – even on a scale of hundreds of thousands – can be stopped. There are means, there are fences, and there are borders: where there’s a will there’s a way. And this is why we’ve found ourselves at the centre of disputes. The frequency and intensity of the international attention that Hungary has received cannot be explained in terms of the size of its territory or population, its army, its GDP or its national resources. The situation, the current historic situation we are in now is a result of our country’s location on the highway of peoples, our open resistance to migration, and the open conflict we have entered into with Western European politicians of the Left who welcome migration. We have several options. Fidesz will decide whether we will continue within the European People’s Party or outside it. I have talks with many people every day, and perhaps we could also say a few words about that. But in this whole situation the deciding element is that our mandate – Hungary’s place in this dispute – has been defined by the Hungarian people. They say that Christian culture is an asset. This is what has kept us alive throughout the past thousand years. We have no reason to give ground on this, or to surrender it. Instead we must defend it. We do not want to become a mixed country. We do not want migration. We want to preserve security. And through our family policy we will be able to sustain Hungary’s biological future without migrants. This is a binding mandate, which I do not want to renege on. I agree with this view, but I also have a mandate for it. This in turn means – regardless of what the future may hold – that no form of compromise can be imagined in relation to migration and the defence of Christian culture. Everything else is open to discussion.

I suppose I’m not the only person who’s curious to know who you’re negotiating with. Who are all these people?

Recently the phones have been ringing off the hook, of course. Yesterday – or the day before yesterday – I spoke to Jean-Claude Juncker, then I spoke to Mr. Weber, and I spoke to important current and former heads of government, and former heads of state. So major negotiations are in progress. On Sunday we’re going to Poland, where the governing party is not a member of the European People’s Party. I would much prefer it if we could transform or reform the People’s Party so that there’s room in it for anti-immigration forces such as us; but if it turns out that we have to launch something new in Europe – and it may well be that this is how this dispute will end, with our place being not within the People’s Party but outside it – then clearly the first place for us to start talks will be in Poland. I will be in Poland on Sunday, where together with the Prime Minister I’ll attend an anniversary celebration of our NATO membership. And on 15 March the Polish prime minister will come to Hungary, to bring greetings to the Hungarians from the Polish people. He will deliver a speech on our national holiday on 15 March.

In your interview in Die Welt you mentioned a very important proposal which caught everyone’s attention – and which, interestingly, was the subject of a vote among German readers, with 81 per cent of them agreeing with the Hungarian prime minister. The proposal was for powers over migration and border defence to be taken back from the European Commission. This would be a very important step.

I was led to make this proposal by common sense. I’ve already tested the idea in private discussions. I wouldn’t even say that it was entirely my idea, but something that was revealed to me in the course of talks about the situation in Europe; for example, on several occasions I spoke at length about this issue with President Sarkozy, the former French president. So he is also behind this idea – as are others. The essence of the matter is this: first of all, we use the word “Europe”, but by this we mean three different things. First and foremost, there are all the Member States of the European Union: we’re all members of the European Union. Then there is the eurozone: the group of those countries which use a common European currency. We do not: we use our own forint. This is the second geographical circle. And the third group is Schengen. Within the EU there is a group comprising the members of a joint border protection system. We do not protect or use borders between our countries, but the outer borders of the area are external borders for us all. These are three different things, three configurations or groups of countries, and in life there’s no reason why the same rules should apply to all three groups. Now as regards migration, the situation is that four years have passed since 2015, and we can see that the body tasked with resolving this matter – the European Commission – has been unable to cope with it. It’s had four years to do that, and I don’t think there’s any point in carrying on with this experiment – because if four years haven’t been enough, then five, six or even seven years won’t be enough either. If border defence is not strengthened, migrants will continue to arrive at the current slower rate, and then if the flow starts intensifying again, and migrants arrive in masses, we’ll be just as defenceless as we were in 2015. Therefore I propose that we transfer this matter to a level at which it can be solved: let’s take those powers back from the Commission and return them to the sphere of national competence, with the nation states delegating their interior ministers to a joint council. Not all the members of the European Union should take part in it, but only those in the Schengen Area, as it is the external borders of the Schengen Area that need to be defended. We should transfer some of our rights as nation states to this council of interior ministers, to enable it to defend the borders, to adopt joint decisions, and to design rules for the management of migration. This matter would be better off in the hands of the interior ministers than in those of the Commission, as it is now. The Commission has not resolved the problem, and in any case the interior ministers are already always in dispute with the Commission. The interior ministers have always put forward more realistic proposals. If over the past three or four years powers related to migration had been vested in the interior ministers – the interior ministers of the Schengen Area – then I believe that today we would be much further forward, and Europe would be safer and better defended than it is today.

Commissioner for Migration Avramopoulos claims that the crisis is over, and so at the next EU summit the issue of migration will no longer be on the agenda. This is a rather interesting development, as it’s always been on the agenda in some form over the past three years.

There are two things we can say in response to this. First of all, migration is not like a spot on one’s face which will just go away, but a phenomenon in world history which is a manifestation of modern-day population movement. This problem did not emerge because some people suddenly fancied a short trip to Europe, but because there is enormous population growth outside Europe, and that Europe is undergoing dramatic population decline. Furthermore there are wars, there is climate change, and in some parts of the world the water needed for agriculture is continuously decreasing and it’s increasingly difficult to subsist. And the development levels in some parts of the world close to Europe are insufficient to sustain their increasing populations. So for migrants migration is not simply a question of exercising of free will. Quite simply, millions of them – and in time tens of millions of them – are seeking an alternative to staying in their homelands. Recently I was in Egypt, at the summit of the European Union and the Arab League, and I looked at the demographic data. Within a few years, in the Arab countries – just in the Arab world, not in sub-Saharan Africa, in the area south of the Sahel and the Arab world, but in the part of it closest to Europe – there will be a population explosion resulting in an overall population which exceeds that of the European Union. So Mr. Avramopoulos – together with others who view their own nations’ history over a time horizon of two days – misunderstands the situation. We’re facing a historical trend which sometimes manifests itself dramatically – for example at Röszke [the Hungarian border crossing], and in the invasion of Western Europe through Hungary in 2015–2016. At other times it may be felt less strongly. But it will never disappear, because the basic circumstances, the root of the problem and the mismatch between Europe and its surrounding regions in terms of the rate of population change will remain for the next fifteen to twenty years. This is also why I always tell Hungarians that naturally we should be concerned about terrorism, that crime is rising, that we don’t want to give up our Christian culture, and we don’t want to live in a society with a mixed culture. We are fine with what we have now. But we should continuously keep our wits about us, because – whether we like it or not – this historic challenge will define life for our generation and also for our children’s generation. It has become a permanent element in foreign policy, and also of Hungarian domestic security policy. We must take it very seriously, regardless of the two or three sunny years we may have during which there are no intense migration flows. At all times we must be aware that vast masses of people – masses numbering in the tens of millions – are preparing to flow into and occupy Europe: a continent which would offer them a living – or at any rate a standard of living that is much higher than that which they can hope for in their homelands. This is a historic challenge which we must not be blind to. Because if we’re blind to it, we’ll end up like those in the West, where first migrants arrived in smaller numbers and later in masses, to become citizens with voting rights. The European Left enjoys their trust, and it serves their demands. On the one hand the Left wants to take in further masses of migrants, and on the other hand it wants to obtain their votes. Thus we Europeans are gradually being pushed away from the focus of European attention and decision-making. Already we are not the only ones being represented: others also are, and step by step this will utterly transform our lives. This will not happen overnight. Of course the world of politics, newspapers and journalists pays attention to events of the moment, being interested in short-term issues. But this is a long-term historical process – and, as I’ve said, it endangers our security. But we must see beyond our fears, and we must not become prisoners of our fears. We must not restrict our horizon to a single year or be joyfully relieved to hear news of three terrorist attacks being thwarted; because we’re in the middle of a historic process which has become a part of our everyday life. Those who don’t take account of this and don’t respond, a government which claims that this is now a thing of the past, is committing a crime against its own people.

From July, four of the seven points in the family protection action plan – the support which the Hungarian government wants to offer families – will come into force and will be available. The international reaction to the family protection action plan has been interesting. Very many people think it sets an example that should be followed. Meanwhile critics haven’t been able to put forward sensible arguments against it, only utterly extraordinary objections such as – and it’s interesting that we’re discussing this on International Women’s Day – certain women saying that one shouldn’t give birth to children, because a child produces an enormous amount of carbon dioxide and methane gas. It’s difficult to decide whether such people are real flesh and blood women, or manufactured from plastic.

First of all we have to face the sad fact that today Europe is the continent of empty cradles. Many countries are suffering in this respect – almost every one. Of course the easy solution – as espoused by many Western Europeans – is one-for-one replacement: if they’re short of one Western European, they’ll bring in one migrant, and then the numbers will be in order. Hungarians thinks differently: they think that what we need is not numbers but children – if possible, Hungarian children. And the reality in Hungary is also rather sad: in 2010, for every 100 families, 123 children were born. As we’re talking about couples as parents, every 200 Hungarians will have 123 descendants. We call this population decline. We don’t want to create a mixed society made up of native Hungarians and migrants, and so this means that we must maintain ourselves using our own resources. A nation which is unable to do this on its own – which is unable to reproduce biologically – will rightly weaken and shrink, and sooner or later disappear from the great highway of peoples. Hungarians are lucky in that, if we ask the opinion of young people – and we do that regularly – they want more children than are being born at the moment. What’s the conclusion to be drawn from this by politicians like me? Obviously there’s some sort of obstacle in everyday life which diverts young people’s original intention. Everyone is the worse for this: children are not born, parents don’t have children and the joy of family life is reduced, and our entire national community suffers. I see it as my obligation – and this is how I try to run the Government – to identify those obstacles which result in young people not having the number of children that they previously intended to have, and to remove these obstacles from their path. And then young people can decide if they want to take advantage of these opportunities: those who want to will take advantage of them, and those who don’t want to won’t. I don’t suggest under any circumstances that there should be any kind of compulsion to force anyone to live in a way that they don’t want to. That is their business. We must offer opportunities: we must say to young people that Hungary is a family-friendly country. At the moment, however, this isn’t true: in people’s hearts and souls this is a family-friendly country, but in everyday practicalities – being able to provide for children; giving them the food they need; in the workplace, in restaurants; in the opportunities for telecommuting – there are huge deficiencies. Our behaviour towards women and families is not always chivalrous, and so a certain amount of change in our general culture would also be desirable, and far more gestures need to be made towards women, children and families. At the same time we must absolutely reject mockery, as some things in life are sacred, and I think that children and families belong in that category. They call for respect, not mockery. In Hungary we’ve not yet reached that stage: a lot of things have to happen for Hungary to become a family-friendly country, but that is what I want us to become. So this is not just about support, money, homes and cars, but also the development of the culture of a family-friendly country. Obviously this won’t happen overnight, but there are quite a lot of us – such as the Government and I – who are determined for it to happen; and sooner or later it will happen. In Hungary there will be a lot of children, children’s laughter, large families and peaceful times once more. All of us are hoping for this. Of the seven measures which I announced earlier, four will come into effect on 1 July; the fifth measure – increased provision of places in crèches – is an ongoing process; and two other measures – income tax exemption for mothers with four children and the option of childcare allowance for grandparents – will come into effect on 1 January 2020. Excuse me, but you asked about reactions from Western Europe. I don’t want to offend anyone, but one gets the impression that we are normal but not everyone else is. I really don’t want to insult them, but there are some approaches that I don’t regard as normal, for example: saying that it is unnatural for a woman to give birth; or – and this is something that I’ve read – that enough children are being born in Africa and they should be brought here, and we don’t need to go to all the efforts of creating a family-friendly Hungary; or that the environmental damage caused by a child from the moment of birth and in subsequent years is a more important issue than life itself. The way I live my life is that I think that we would like natural, normal things: the natural order of life is that you have a mother and a father, they bring you up, you learn many things in your family, you grow up and start your own family, and following generations teach their children in the way that they were taught themselves. So life has a natural, normal order. I’m trying to assist and protect this. The opinion of a small but noisy, provocative minority must of course be listened to with due respect, as everyone deserves respect. But in no way should it be seen as a normal: we should shake it off, just as a dog shakes itself dry.

It’s very beneficial that the Village Family Home Support Scheme is being launched at the same time as the Hungarian Village Programme. Is the purpose of this to increase the capacity of villages and the countryside to retain population levels? There’s a great need to prevent the disappearance of small settlements in Hungary, and across the whole of Europe.

Well, in addition to creating a family-friendly Hungary, this is another great mountain we’ve started climbing: saving and preserving the village way of life. Hungary now happens to have a government which has quite a few country boys in it, and I might already have told you that someone who’s born a villager stays a villager all their life: it’s not something you can escape from or shake off. And after a while you realise that you shouldn’t even want to shake it off, because you should be happy to have had the opportunity to grow up in such a special environment. This is also my story: I grew up in a settlement with a population of less than two thousand. That was where I got to know about life, that was where I went to school, that was where I was socialised, and I’m happy about all of that. So I feel a personal obligation to make sure that the possibility of the village way of life remains for Hungarian people, for young Hungarians and for Hungarian children. But we mustn’t bury our heads in the sand, because at present the quality of village life is unable to make this way of life a truly attractive one, and this is why people are abandoning it. People are not being disloyal to their places of birth, they’re not betraying them or escaping from them. They simply believe that they can create a higher standard of living for themselves in the town or the city than in the countryside. I’d prefer this not to be so, and the solution to it is to ensure that villages are able to offer people the same civilisational environment as cities do. For this we must stop the depopulation of our villages and start on their rehabilitation. We don’t have enough money to rehabilitate every single village at once: the Hungarian economy is doing well, but not that well. This is why we’ve selected those settlements where the rate of population decline is higher than the national average. These are the most endangered Hungarian villages, and there are around 2,100 of them. Let’s stick with the number of two thousand. So now we must develop around two thousand villages by enabling them to halt their population loss and retain their populations. This will require a great many things. We must resurface roads, and for this purpose we’ve set up a separate village road fund. Services such as public administration, education, health care, nurseries and crèches must be available in villages, just as they are in cities. We are working on this. The greatest advantage of villages is that there is plenty of space there, while in cities we tend to be short of space. The overwhelming advantage of living in a village is that people can have decent gardens and front yards, comfortable living space, and homes that are bigger than those available in cities. At present, however, this is not what we see in our villages: we see poor housing stock, abandoned houses, and entire streets crying out for rehabilitation. Therefore we’re introducing what we call the Village Family Home Support Scheme. In simple terms this means that families with children will be able to claim this as a form of housing support – partly as a loan and partly as a non-repayable grant – for the purchase of new homes. This will continue to be available in towns and cities, but people in these two thousand or so villages should also be able to access these funds in order to buy, extend, or refurbish existing properties. In the countryside a sum of more than ten million forints goes a long way towards improving one’s quality of life, and I see this as a breakthrough. There’s one specific regulation which still hasn’t been finalised, and so we still haven’t published the scheme in full: as Hungarians are a talented and ingenious people, we need to prepare a list of all the possible abuses, because we’ve seen things like this before and we need to find ways of preventing them. This is what the lawyers are working on now; the work will be completed within a few days, and then the entire legislative draft of the Family Home Support Scheme for young people in the countryside will be made public.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.