Tímea Kisistók: – Good evening, welcome to you all. My guest is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who came to Hódmezővásárhely for the twenty-third event in the Modern Cities Programme. Welcome, Prime Minister.
– Good evening.
– After two years, more or less, we can say that we’ve come to the end of the programme. This is not entirely true, however, as implementation is still ahead of us. Twenty-three county-ranked cities, each with different priorities, but all with a common goal. I would be intrigued to find out what results this can bring in the long run.
– If you ask me about the goals, I can tell you that a well-known aspect of modern European development is that, while in the future villages and small and medium-sized settlements will survive, the leading role will be played by cities; in the context of Hungary, this means the county-ranked cities. So the development of cities is not only beneficial for the people who live there, but for everyone who is in some way connected to those cities – mostly through their jobs. We have sought to create industrial and economic power centres which benefit the people living there, while also positively affecting nearby settlements. This was our underlying concept. Our means of attaining this goal was based on the principle that it should be the local people who decide what is really needed by, say, Hódmezővásárhely or Győr, to mention the other corner of the country, and not Budapest – we have already seen more than enough of the latter. The local councils should convene, committees should be set up in cooperation with the Government, we should have consultations, and at the end of this process we should create a development programme which is both based on local people’s plans and endorsed by the Government. This is just what we have done, and this is the basis of the country’s large-scale development, which comprises twenty-three agreements.
– What are the amounts involved?
– We are talking about 3,400 billion forints. This figure is hard to comprehend for people who live off their monthly wages. Throwing about figures in the billions is more the preserve of fiscal specialists. If I were to add up the annual income tax payments of every Hungarian taxpayer, this sum is equivalent to Hungary’s entire income tax revenue for approximately three or three and a half years: this is the sum we are now going to spend on the development of these cities.
– What long-term benefits could this offer the country?
– In 2010 the people decided that we should finally bring an end to the chaos of the twenty years from 1990 until 2010, and begin a new era. Even at the time I saw that we would have to divide this new era into three distinct periods. In 2010, 2011 and the first half of 2012 the task was to save the country from financial disaster, to clear away the ruins that our predecessors had left behind, and to restore the country in general to a viable and operational state: to renew and to reorganise the country. During the second phase – which effectively extended from 2012 to 2016 – the goal was to increase economic growth to a range of between one and three per cent. These are large figures. One to three per cent may appear small, and in themselves these are not big numbers; but this means that our country is growing at least twice as fast as the whole of the European Union. And the third stage – which we are now approaching, or which we have now entered, having perhaps crossed the threshold – is about increasing the country’s growth to a range of between three and five per cent. The first quarter of this year was already about this: we had growth of 4.1 per cent. I think we can keep this up, and the third stage will also be successful. And then – God willing, and if the citizens place their trust in us again – we can talk about how to raise the country’s growth to a range above five per cent after 2020.
– We are in Hódmezővásárhely, and a few hours ago a cooperation agreement was signed with the city council’s leader. Is it possible to say what it contains? Naturally you know, but would you be willing to share it with us, and say what it means – not only for the city, but also for the surrounding settlements and the region?
– This agreement lays down principles. There are a few principles in life which the Hungarian people keep close to their hearts, and development programmes such as this are meant to serve these principles The first thing is that the Hungarian people do not like to live from charity and benefits: they prefer to maintain themselves and their families through honest hard work. So this plan contains a few items which serve investment aims here, so that even more people can have jobs – though in Hódmezővásárhely unemployment is below three per cent, which in international economic parlance is classified as “full employment”. So things are not going badly here at all. The other thing is that people should have decent wages. You perceive life as just and fair if you see that you’re receiving a decent wage for the work that you do: this is why we have wage increase programmes and this is why we want to bring investments here which can pay people progressively higher wages. The third thing that Hungarians like can be summed up in the phrase “My house is my castle”. Everyone wants a little territory of their own where they and their families can live undisturbed, in complete freedom and without any kind of interference – whether from other people or the authorities. The agreement therefore also contains elements which focus on improvement in the quality of life. It makes the city more welcoming and liveable – although I walked around this city today, and there are few more liveable places in Hungary. The agreement also contains some ambitious goals, because the Hungarian people also need to feel that they are not stagnating, but that the future holds something for them which makes it worth mobilising their resources and which is worth looking forward to, day after day. We are now working on a plan to create an affordable railway-like tram link between Hódmezővásárhely and Szeged, which doesn’t terminate at Szeged, but, as we have agreed today, should continue all the way to Szabadka. If we manage this, and if I’m able to win the agreement of the Serbs, this would mean that it would be possible to travel by tram from the centre of Szabadka to the centres of Szeged and Hódmezővásárhely. This would introduce a completely new dimension to the life of the region.
– Could you highlight another couple of items which could be implemented and could determine the future of the city and the region?
– The fourth such fundamental principle of life that is important for the Hungarian people is that we live for our families. The Hungarian people will live and die for their children. We are pursuing a family policy which does not support those who want to live off their families or those who want to live off their children, but those who want to live for their children. And this is why we are tying ever more benefits to work. The foundation of our family support system is an economic system based on work; but you also need schools, so that people can feel that all the great gates to the world are open to their children, because without qualifications you cannot succeed in passing through a single gate. We therefore agreed on the refurbishment of two secondary schools – I saw them and indeed they could do with some refurbishment; and we are also going to renovate the local vocational training centres. These include both student residences and vocational secondary schools. We’re going to build a library linked to this line of thought, which will be a little more than just a library: today such a facility is called a library and knowledge centre. I sincerely hope that it will be able to satisfy the intellectual needs of those living here. We also spoke about the implementation of tourism developments. We are going to build 117 kilometres of cycle paths which are specifically designed to serve tourism, rather than commuting.
– And you will also spend money on military training.
– We’re also going to establish a military school – yes, a secondary-level military school – and as we’re preparing for the reorganisation of agricultural education at university and college levels, we will somehow make some space in this department for Hódmezővásárhely as well, because in my view this is a city which is able to make a contribution to the performance of tertiary education in agriculture. And then we agreed that a link should also be created in another direction – towards Debrecen. We have big plans. At the moment we’re at the stage of construction plans or concept plans centred on construction of a dual carriageway from Hódmezővásárhely to Békéscsaba, and from Békéscsaba all the way to Debrecen. So we also have some big plans. We are now standing on our own two feet. Cities are doing fine, the quality of life for our children is also acceptable: parents are, in my opinion, happy to raise children in a city like Hódmezővásárhely. But we must then switch to a different level, and we must broaden the horizon of the world in which we live, just as was the case here fifty, a hundred – or more like one hundred and fifty – years ago. Here we have Vojvodina, here we have Southern Transylvania, here we have the county territories of Szeged–Csanád; we’ll need to keep these units in mind. At this point in time this vision may seem a little far-fetched, but this will be implemented in five to ten years, and Hódmezővásárhely will no longer be at the end of the country, but will form the centre of a large cultural area. It will – or could – become the esteemed city of an ancient, restored historical region.
– The motto of the Modern Cities Programme is that the key to the development of the countryside lies in provincial cities. Prime Minister, earlier you mentioned that the programme will have a continuation, and perhaps villages and smaller towns may also receive funding for future development.
– There is already funding for small towns and village-sized settlements, but this does not constitute a single concept – either intellectually, or in terms of coordination – in the way that the Modern Cities Programme of county-ranked cities does. We will also be able to successfully develop small and medium-sized towns through county assemblies. I am less concerned in that department: things are independently heading in the right direction there. There is, of course, no figure that could not be increased, there are no development funds which would be sufficient without being added to; but I’m more concerned about our village-sized settlements, settlements with a village way of life. We also have developments in villages, as things are actually happening through the county assemblies. If one travels around the country, as I do myself, one can see signs of progress and development – indeed even signs of increasing prosperity. But the future of the Hungarian village has not yet been decided. And I’m convinced that if we have no major, centrally-approved programme for improvement of quality of life in villages, the number of people looking for better prospects in cities will grow. Seeing Hungarian villages being abandoned would break my heart. I believe that the village form of life – I come from that background myself – is an extremely valuable one for the Hungarian national community: it is a valuable element in the Hungarian structure of settlements, and in villages there are certain values which have a better chance of survival than in big cities. Personal relationships – interpersonal relations in general – are different there. All of this results in a different culture, a different mentality – and I believe that this country needs the mentality of people who live in villages. I would not like to see villages abandoned, and neither would those who live there, but in order to stop this we must offer them prospects. We must launch a dedicated village housing construction programme, and a commuting programme. This is the area in which we have achieved the most: we have already done a great deal here. But in general we must make services available in villages. And likewise we should not forget about digitalisation: we must create – this is already under way – a widespread and fast internet system which enables people in any part of the country to jump right into the middle of things through the World Wide Web. I sincerely hope that we’ll manage not only to preserve Hungary’s structure of settlements, but also to provide the prospect of development for village-sized settlements.
– It has been seven years – almost to the day – since Fidesz-KDNP entered office under your premiership. You’ve already mentioned that the country’s economic policy set out in the right direction. Are you satisfied with this, bearing in mind that you took over a country with an enormous burden of debt? At the time you had no way of knowing the extent to which everything would be changed by what is, so to speak, an element of uncertainty: the migration situation. What are the plans for this in the short and long term?
– Indeed, I will soon come to the end of my eleventh year as prime minister, and begin my twelfth. Earlier I thought that I’d already seen everything in this line of work. This was complacency on my part; I need more humility, because something new can happen at any time. I have to admit that the attack, the siege launched against Hungary two years ago by legions illegally invading Europe was beyond one’s worst nightmares, and was even beyond my own imagination. I am someone who has continuously fought and worked – even under communism – for a Europe without borders, a Europe based on freedom of movement. Even in the resistance – the resistance movement against the communists – I never once lost the desire for free movement, for the dismantling of barbed wire fences, and for a free European sphere in general. I would never have thought that defence of the homeland, our country, the people and families living here would one day dictate that if we are to preserve our freedom in the westerly direction, we would be compelled to secure our southern borders against the legions besieging us. This was necessary: illegal migration needed to be stopped. No one helped us in this effort: it was Hungary’s task to declare that this enormous mass of people could be stopped; to declare that we have the will to act in this way. Then we needed to prove that it was also possible in reality. In addition to effecting the legislative border closure, we needed to build the border fence in order to prove to the world that we would not raise our hands in surrender and admit illegal migrants and the great dangers they bring: the threat of terrorism, deterioration in public security and clearly predictable social conflict. We needed to build it in order to prove that this can be stopped, it can be controlled, that we can again take control of our borders and can protect them. It is possible to protect not only settlements such as Hódmezővásárhely near the southern border and the people who live here, but the entire country; and if European leaders have the will – this is what we needed to prove – the whole of Europe could also be protected. In over ten years as prime minister, I think this is perhaps the most difficult challenge that needed to be faced. But I can say that the country has passed the test. This is not a personal matter – although of course I’m also involved, as I’m one of those who want to stop threats of this kind – but I believe that the country has passed the test. The people understood this within seconds, stated their opinion and stood up for it. No matter what George Soros and Brussels said, the Hungarian people were unwavering in their demand that we must protect our borders. They gave us the support we needed, and I am grateful to them for this. They granted us a range of legislative authority and provided the money through the budget, and we succeeded in building our border protection system. This is a formidable shared achievement for the community of Hungarians.
– Let that be the final word, Prime Minister. Thank you very much for the interview, and thank you for watching us. I wish you a good evening. Goodbye.