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Press statement by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after his talks with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić

Honourable President,

Thank you for inviting me here. First I would like to briefly say a few words about some specifics, and then I’d like to put a few questions into a European context.

Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to take part in these talks. We’ve discussed important issues. We have scored major achievements. While Hungarians strive to conduct themselves with modesty, in our country we have an important political saying: our own success is so important that we cannot allow it to be talked about by others. And since the structure of the modern media environment dictates that scandals are more exciting than outright success, our only option is to talk about our achievements ourselves. Therefore please allow me, too, to highlight a few facts with due modesty. The President has already spoken about railway cooperation, and even during the pandemic we implemented 16 major projects, including 13 in areas south of Vojvodina. Our gas pipelines have also been linked. I clearly remember that many years ago, when I had talks with the Honourable President about gas distribution, Hungary strove to fix fair prices at a time when Serbia was experiencing difficulties, and its only supply of gas was through pipelines coming from Hungary. We are in Central Europe, and so when someone does something that is good for us we tend to be suspicious, wondering what the ulterior motive might be. Let’s not forget that this used to be the baseline for relations among the region’s countries. The Honourable President himself said “Fine, but what’s in it for us?” I told him that at some point our roles would be reversed. I remember that he just waved his hand, saying “Of course”. And here we are now, a few years later, and the situation is reversed. This draws our attention to the fact that the countries of Central Europe must understand that their short-term interests are superseded by their long-term shared fate: “You’re there for us now, and we’ll be there for you in the future”. We must be fair to each other, because the winds of history can change at any time, and we will need our neighbours’ help. And if you haven’t treated your neighbour fairly, they won’t treat you fairly either. If the peoples of Central Europe fail to understand this, then we won’t be able to stabilise the region psychologically and spiritually. The stabilisation of the region is not simply a matter of economics, but of the coexistence of peoples: a matter of trust, and so of the spirit. I’m glad that this story about gas shows us the essence of all this – like an ocean within a drop of seawater.

If you will allow me, Dear President, I would like to say something about history. I’ve been in this line of business for thirty years, and so this is not the first time I’ve seen Serbia. I saw it for the first time as a Member of Parliament in 1990, and I know precisely how those thirty years have passed. And I also know how the past ten years have passed, and how the past seven years have passed. I also remember the numbers – and numbers don’t lie. Naturally, everyone is free to compose the curriculum vitae of their choice, but numbers don’t lie. If anyone looks at Serbia’s numbers for the past seven to eight years, they’ll see that a major success story is unfolding. National debt has fallen. I remember that while seven or eight years ago you were ranked fourth in the region in terms of income per head, now you are in first place. One can also see the development of this city and all the projects. And so if anyone with eyes to see looks objectively at Serbia, they can see exactly what’s happening. And in this they must also perceive the flow, the momentum of history: that here things are not happening by accident, but that there is an era of building, of strengthening and of expansion. When looking to the future, politicians often say that it should be seen as the captain of a ship does when standing on the bridge, looking ahead, trying to see what is coming. This is a flawed concept, because the future is not a fixed condition: it is not yet in existence. Instead, we should think about the future as we do when sitting in a rowing boat, with our backs to it: what the future holds can only be deduced from what we’ve already seen. Therefore in our profession the most important factor is historical experience. And I can tell you that when we talk about Serbia’s EU membership, I talk from the position of historical experience. I was in charge of the accession of Hungary between 1998 and 2002, and I remember that every country, as there were several of us, was striving to be the first to join. Everyone thought that there were equal opportunities, every country was equal, and everyone should be given a chance. But there was a moment when it emerged that while we were, of course, all equal, the key country was Poland : until Poland was admitted to the European Union, Central Europe as a whole would not be admitted to the EU ; and until Poland became a member of the EU, Central Europe would not stabilise. Every region has its key country. This does not infringe on the sensibilities of others, but there is always a key country. And we, too, had our own key country. This is why I stand very firmly for Serbia’s EU membership; because with this I stand for the integration of the entire Western Balkans region. As long as Serbia is not integrated, the Western Balkans will not be integrated either. Serbia is the key country. The EU must understand this. In fact, speaking in the language of numbers, I have to say that today the European Union has a greater interest in Serbia’s EU membership than Serbia has itself. This must be understood in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Berlin, in Paris, and in Brussels as well. We still have more work to do in order to make this clear. There is more work to do, as this state of affairs is not yet clear to everyone. Serbia is the key to the stabilisation and stability of the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The basis of Serbian-Hungarian cooperation is that both countries have faith in their own future. Every ambition stems from this. We see an opportunity before us because we take the view that we ourselves already have a better life than our parents did, and that – if we do our job honestly and to the best of our abilities – our children will have better lives than we do. This is our ambition: to ensure that our children have better lives than we do. And if anyone looks at Serbia or at Hungary, they will see that opportunity. Seven or eight years ago, for Serbia to become a key country and to undergo such growth was only a potential, only an opportunity. The numbers clearly show that Serbia is on a path that is worth following also in the interests of the next generation. And our children will have longer, finer and happier lives than the lives we have carved out for ourselves. This is our ambition. We think in terms of family, we think in terms of the nation; I cannot conceive of a higher ambition than that. In this respect, our two countries are spiritually very close to each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would now like to say a few words about the fact that, for a while, the pandemic overshadowed a dangerous phenomenon. Now that the pandemic is receding, however, this dangerous phenomenon is again knocking on our door. This dangerous phenomenon is mass migration. In the coming years, Serbian-Hungarian cooperation will again face an old, familiar problem: migration from territories to the east of us, migration from territories to the south and east of us. If you pay attention to news reports from Afghanistan, you will see that today hundreds or thousands are already leaving that country, due to a dramatic deterioration in the situation there. They can reach Turkey unhindered, and from there the Balkans are only a step away; and from there Hungary is only a step away. Without in any way wanting to intervene in a Serbian debate, I agree with Jadranka: I also think that Serbia is the southern part of Central Europe. In our minds the Balkans mean something else, but as this is the customary term, I will use it myself. So Hungary itself will not be safe without the stabilisation of the Western Balkans, without the region’s strength and capacity for defending itself against migration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, I’d like to repeat what I said earlier, and what you here in Serbia evidently know: you can count on Hungary. Hungary, too, is counting on Serbia. We’re there for you now, and you’ll be there for us in the future. Now Serbia’s EU membership is on the agenda, we can help you with that, we will give you every assistance with that. And we’re sure that if in the decades ahead we find ourselves faced with difficulties, Hungary will be able to count on your President, on Serbia and on the Serbian people.

Thank you for your attention.