Katalin Nagy: We’ve arrived at the second phase in the operation for suppression of the pandemic and, at the recommendation of the Operational Group, the Government has decided on a slow, gradual easing of restrictions. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Hearing this news, one thinks of a concept from the Hungarian Reform Era: “considered progress”, which already back then was the hallmark of conservatives. How often will this decision be reviewed?
Good morning, and a very good morning to the listeners. Indeed, the most important expressions in the coming days will be “strict timetable” and “gradualism”. The most important thing in life is experience. Of course there are philosophical debates about this – whether experience or knowledge not gained through experience is more important; but whatever the debate, it is certain that in politics experience trumps everything else. So one can only be certain of one thing: that which one has lived through, experienced and is familiar with. And the piles of books that one may read or the lessons one attends at school and the exams one sits don’t match the importance of what one has grasped with one’s own hands, touched, and seen with one’s own eyes. And this is also true in this crisis: there is so much that one can read, with a whole library of literature already on what will happen, where the virus originated, where it will go, if it will ever go away or stay with us for all time, or whether it will be killed by the heat of summer. We’ve heard every possible version, and one needs to be incredibly canny to see the whole path ahead – in fact I don’t think one can see the whole path ahead. I regularly consult authoritative people: epidemiologists, doctors, and the people we call medical statisticians, who deal with the special characteristics of the spread of disease; and there are diverging opinions among those people as well. There are, however, always points of agreement; and we decision-makers must understand these shared opinions and compare them with our experiences. So there are three facts which together can form our starting point: the first is that this virus exists, it is a reality; the second is that we have no vaccine for it; and the third is that there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will spontaneously die off or disappear. Consequently we cannot abandon our defence operation; that is the starting point for everything. The second point is the way in which the virus affects people. And we see that people in different situations are affected in different ways. For example, 80 per cent of deaths have been in Budapest and Pest County. So I can clearly see that the most infected area is Budapest and its surroundings – which are on the way to becoming a megalopolis. We’ve also seen from our experiences that older people are far worse affected than young people. If these two facts are true and based on experience, then the next phase of the containment operation must align with them: there must be separate rules for older people, and our rules protecting elderly people must be maintained; and there must also be separate rules for our most infected megalopolis, which is Budapest and Pest County. Therefore the restrictions on free movement will remain in this area, in the centre of the country. In other areas, meanwhile, we’ve seen that the number of infections is lower and the number of deaths and the speed of spread are far lower; and for these areas we have already introduced new, more lenient rules – protective measures – to replace the restrictions on free movement. So after this – coming back to your question about how frequently I’m able to supplement or amend our decisions – the fact is that every day I start my work by consulting the leaders of the Operational Group, usually in person. And so every morning the Government is able to make new decisions at the highest level. But at the same time I don’t want to keep wrenching erratically on the tiller, otherwise we’d be in danger of keeling over. So calculability and plannability are more important than speed. It’s also true of the virus and the battle against the virus that safety is more important than speed; but if necessary we can take decisions within one hour. The advantage of this special legal order is not that it gives extraordinary powers, but that it gives the Government the possibility to act with extraordinary speed – and sometimes we must take advantage of this possibility. But, regularly and systematically reviewing experiences, we analyse the situation on a weekly basis and, as I see it, we should take new decisions every fortnight. Two weeks is the period over which our scientists, epidemiologists and doctors can assess the conclusions of one change or another, and can provide us with their recommendations.
The Chief Medical Officer has so often said that we need to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic, that we’ve learnt that this will be good for all of us. And it seems that we’ve been successful in this, as the number of infections is not rising as fast as we’ve seen in Italy, Spain or France. So when can we expect a slight relaxation of the rules here in the capital or in our larger cities? We’ve learnt that we must keep at a distance of one and a half or two metres from one another. This is the essence of it, isn’t it?
So we can announce with a certain measure of both pride and modesty that Hungary has won the first battle against the virus: it has not run amok, it has not caused wanton devastation; and we’ve managed to develop the widest range of methods for its suppression, thus gaining time and preparing the healthcare system for the containment effort. So although we are hoping for the best, we are preparing for the worst-case scenario. If now for any reason – whether that be internal or external – the pandemic were to strike in another great wave, then there’s no longer anywhere, any settlement or any person in Hungary that needs to worry that they might be left without medical care. We will find every Hungarian and every settlement, we will identify them and we can provide them with medical care – if necessary, the most intensive form of care, involving the use of ventilators. We have won the first battle. The question now is simply one of how we can relaunch life; because living like this – as the defence operation has demanded that we do – cannot be sustained over the long term, and if we can live more comfortably than this, then let’s do so. On this subject the other decisive experiential factor is Austria, which, in terms of the speed of infection, has somehow found itself in a situation in which developments are occurring two or three weeks earlier than their arrival here in Hungary. Accordingly the easing of regulations has happened first in Austria. So when in a meeting of the Operational Group I have to take a final decision on what new rules we should introduce, then in front of me I have the Austrian decisions and the experiences related to them, their numbers and their effects. And we can proceed – I can proceed – by building this experience into Hungarian decisions. This is of great assistance, as otherwise it would be like looking for something in dense fog or a darkened room. Because there is a country with experience which can be used. And indeed, as I see it, the Czechs also seem to have enacted measures which have outcomes and consequences which are useful for Hungary. If we manage to reduce the rate of fatalities in Budapest, then we will not hesitate to relaunch normal life for the residents of that city. I don’t want to lull either the citizens of Budapest or the rest of the country into the false belief that victory in the first battle has ended the war. This virus has not disappeared: we have simply gained time, and have prepared for our defence against its next attack. Nevertheless we are now thoroughly prepared for this. Of course I cannot swear a solemn oath on it, but the overwhelming majority of epidemiologists and doctors say that there has never been a global pandemic which has arrived in only one wave. So there will be a second wave. At the moment the popular consensus is that it will tend to slow down in the summer, as a result of the weather and the success of containment measures so far, but that around October or November we must count on there being a second wave. There’s a major debate over whether the second wave will be weaker or stronger than the current one, but I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this: there’s no one on earth who can say for sure. But at all events, now that the containment effort has been successful and we’ve prepared the healthcare system, we must count on having to maintain disease control readiness in parallel with the performance of normal medical services. And over the course of the summer we must be ready to draw the appropriate conclusions from the decisions we’ve taken to date, so that in October or November we can react more easily, rapidly and even more effectively to the second wave than we have done this time round.
Hungary is not only under attack from the virus, but also from a very well-orchestrated international offensive.
Yes, that is also a virus – but one of an intellectual nature.
You said earlier that the special legal order does not allow for extraordinary powers, but for extraordinary speed. And so it’s interesting that at the heart of these attacks is the claim that the Hungarian government – and the Hungarian prime minister in person – has received extraordinary powers, and that in Hungary a dictatorship is being built and Parliament has been suspended. It doesn’t seem to trouble anyone that none of this is true.
There are some who have been troubled by it, because I’ve seen them show shame when they’ve spoken about this – and I’ve even seen this among members of the Hungarian opposition. Again I’ll speak about experience, as I’ve observed parliamentary debates and have taken part in them over the past thirty years; and I can see when a Member of Parliament is speaking with a clear conscience and when someone is ashamed of themselves for having to perform the task given to them by their sponsors. I’ve seen Members of Parliament who’ve been ashamed of themselves when they’ve attacked the Government, and I understand why. So attacking a foreign country when it’s in trouble – when there’s a pandemic, for example, and it’s living through the resulting period of siege and all the accompanying circumstances – goes beyond the bounds of European civilisation and humanity. But it’s difficult to find words to describe the behaviour of someone who attacks their own country when everyone is preoccupied with the defence operation and how to save lives. When someone does this, when they stand up in Parliament and do this while at the same time retaining some element of decency, then one sees that the more decent opposition Members of Parliament feel ashamed. Well, this is only a domestic matter, but as regards the international situation I try to avoid giving the listeners the impression that I’m a proponent of conspiracy theories; but although I’m convinced that there are many things in the world that cannot be explained through conspiracy theories, this doesn’t mean that conspiracies don’t exist. I was sure that as one could see that the infection hubs of Italy, Spain and France weren’t able to contain this pandemic, and that we would be dealing with a Europe-wide pandemic, that financial advice would emerge from investors and speculators on how we should finance recovery from the crisis. And I was sure that we wouldn’t be hearing the sort of advice in which the beneficiaries would be us, because at times like this one tends to hear advice in which the beneficiaries are financial investors. And I would have been absolutely amazed if among these investors we didn’t find one of our country’s most gifted sons, George Soros. So I was sure that a financial plan would be unveiled – in exactly the same way as one was unveiled for migration. Leaving aside the question of who was responsible for its organisation, migration was set in motion, and immediately we saw the first Soros Plan, which declared that all we could do was let them in; and of course this would cost money, and of course “we financial investors” would gladly give this money to European countries: “Take it, this is the principal and this is the interest”. I was sure that the same thing would happen now: the pandemic appeared, and financial investors arrived with their marvellous ideas. These included one of our country’s most gifted sons with his Plan Number 2, the contents of which were the following: “Here is a ‘perpetual bond’, a perpetuity; and, dear Europeans, we will give you money without you needing to pay back the principal – it’s enough for you to pay the interest. But you won’t be the only ones paying it: so too will your children, your grandchildren and your descendants to the seventh generation.” So I was sure that this would happen. And I was also sure that, as the network of this fine Hungarian is a major influence on Europe, there would be very few countries which would tell him to hold his horses. But I was sure that we would say “Thank you, but we want no part of this, we’re not prepared to pay the price of this – you can demand it from others, but we definitely won’t pay it.” And I knew that in order to weaken the impact of Hungary’s arguments opposing the financial speculators’ plan, or to ensure that those arguments won’t be taken as seriously as they should be, there was only one option open to them: they had to pre-emptively attack the Hungarians and weaken the credibility of what they say. How can this be done in Europe? One has to say, “There you have it, by their fruits you shall know them: a dictatorship only produces dictatorial methods; let’s forget about them, what the Hungarians say isn’t important.” This was the plan: to shut us down – and to do something similar to the Poles, incidentally, because our two countries are the ones which are most likely to stand their ground on questions of national interests. And this is what’s happened. But there’s a problem, because you can do a lot of things in Europe – you can conduct a disinformation campaign, for example; but in the end if one enters into a debate, that debate can be placed on factual grounds. This is because everything in European culture has its legal description – and, for example, there’s a legal description of Hungary’s special legal order. Sooner or later one must read it, and those who are attacking us must say “Well, dear friends, let’s read it through line by line.” This has happened. And they’ve not found anything in it that runs counter to the civilisational traditions of the European Union, the usual procedures, the constitutional and legal approaches in such circumstances. In the normal course of events Hungary should be receiving letters of apology on an hourly – or at least a daily – basis. I’m not counting on receiving large numbers of them, but this doesn’t change the fact that on this issue also it has once again turned out that we were right.
Yes, but Věra Jourová, Vice-president of the European Commission, has twice said that, having read the Hungarian legislation – and it’s interesting that she did indeed stress that she has read it – there is nothing that runs counter to European Union law. But it seems as if certain sections of the European system of institutions – for example, liberal Members of the European Parliament – are brushing this aside.
This is because there is a life-and-death struggle over the potential liquidation of national governments’ sovereignty and nation states’ independence, over whether they can be drawn into a vast system of world governance driven by global financial interests and be rendered subservient. And we find the Soros-style network’s strongest bridgehead among liberal circles, with in Europe today the liberals being the strongest representatives of this concept and its realisation. Poor Kossuth and the Hungarian national liberals will be turning in their graves, because when they designed their political philosophy and system based on freedom, there was no suggestion that this could only be realised at the cost of Hungary’s or any other country’s sovereignty and independence. We now live in a world in which the liberals have discarded their ties to the nation, they’ve discarded national independence, they’ve discarded national sovereignty, and their goal is the creation of a system of global governance. And the strongest representatives of this sit in that fraction [in the European Parliament]. They’re not bothered in the slightest by facts; and as they’re at one end of an umbilical cord through which George Soros pumps vital fluids, the liberals will continue to do this throughout the whole of Europe for as long as the Soros network remains in existence.
It’s interesting that the attacks are not only coming from the West, but also from the East. I’m thinking about the statement by the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, which the RMDSZ [the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania] has also cited as an example of hate speech directed against Hungarians, and for which it is demanding an apology. What is your view on this?
I’ve met the President on a regular basis, because the system in Romania differs from that in Hungary: while at European Union summits Hungary is represented by the Prime Minister, Romania is represented by the President. And so we have the opportunity to meet each other in that context. I can’t say that I know the President, because he’s not a particularly talkative person, but I meet him regularly. And I can honestly say that I’ve seen him as someone worthy of respect, who when he speaks does so with authority and with words which are well-considered. We don’t agree on everything – indeed we’re very far from agreement on everything; but there are some things on which we agree, and on those one has always been able to count on him. He has stood his ground even in very difficult debates, and at times he has stood by certain principles even in the face of strong opposition – and at such times we’ve also stood by each other. So my relations and Hungary’s relations with the Romanian president are based on respect. We respect the Romanian president – indeed we respect Romania as a sovereign state, and we want our relations to rest on this foundation. This is why I received this news with incomprehension. I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, but I haven’t heard anything like this coming out of Romania, even during the worst, anti-democratic, troubled periods. So I have to say that I’ll wait a little for the situation to become clearer and for us to understand what has happened and whether these were simply bad utterances or the imprint of bad intentions emerging in bad utterances. But I recommend that we don’t change the policy that we’ve pursued to date. Of course we will take up the gauntlet if we’re forced to, but at the moment I advise us not to stoop to pick up that gauntlet. Our foreign minister has said what needed to be said. We don’t know if this was a provocation, a mishap, or the first move in a long-term Romanian national strategy. We’ll wait for it to become clear, and we’ll bend down to pick up the gauntlet if we absolutely have to. We would rather continue to strive for good neighbourly relations with Romania, we seek cooperation with them and we will accord respect to Romanians and the Romanian president. But we will not abandon our insistence on being accorded the same respect, and we will clearly state that we expect the same respect for Hungarians living in Romania as for Hungarians living in Hungary and for Hungarian statehood.
According to figures from the National Federation of Hungarian Building Contractors, the performance of the construction industry in the first four months of this year could be 95 per cent of the level for the same period last year. This proportion is better than the combined data for the European Union countries. And then we arrived at the present state of economy protection measures. This is very good news. Do you think that such good results can be achieved in other sectors?
In difficult times, when one is compelled to behave as if one is living in a bunker, then one is inclined to read a great deal of joy and hope into such small pieces of news, but I would caution against this. There will be such shards of encouraging news, but the larger picture is not encouraging. And here I would say that – while of course reading the analyses – we should fall back on our experience rather than on too much speculation. Over the past thirty years Hungary has had to live through many crises and, having been a Member of Parliament since 1990, I’ve seen all of these at close quarters. There have been periods which I’ve spent on the opposition benches, and other times when I was a government representative, and as prime minister I myself directed governmental efforts aimed at combating such problems. Therefore I have memories and experiences, and at the moment the most relevant experience available to us is that from the economic crisis of 2008–09 and the measures enacted to deal with it in 2010. Your entire day’s programming wouldn’t give me enough time to mention all the people who gave me such good advice back then and to describe who said what. I also remember what was said then by those who are again opposing the policy which we’re pursuing now. I know what it was like nine or ten years ago, and I can say that back then we – and I – selected the most important criterion as what one might call a guiding star, according to which all our other actions could be aligned. In a complicated situation the solution always lies in simplification. Of course oversimplification leads to errors, but the more complicated the situation, the more one should focus on the crucial specific point around which the entire situation hinges. It is through this that the greatest effect can be exerted over an economy which is floundering in crisis. And in 2010 this point was exactly the same as it is now in 2020: the issue of jobs and work. So now I’m focusing on the situation of jobs. Because – even if it’s not exactly the type of work one would like and it doesn’t pay as well as one would like – if there is work then one has a chance: if there is work, then there is the chance for one to have everything; but if there is no work, then one cannot have anything. So now I’m focusing – and I’m orchestrating these efforts, so I undertake this as a personal guarantee – on how we can protect jobs; and it’s no accident that I say – sometimes with a more belligerent tone and sometimes with a more intellectual one – that we shall create as many jobs as the number of jobs lost as a result of the virus. We have the instruments for this, we have the knowledge, and we have the experience. We have a system of unemployment benefit, which in more contemporary language one should call job-seeker’s support – but which in the final analysis is equivalent to unemployment benefit. We provide it so that the relevant people, who have lost their jobs, will have three months in which to find a job that’s acceptable to them. So this is job-seeker’s support. After three months, when this comes to an end, they will receive income support – which, between you and me, is not enough to live on. But in addition to income support – or instead of it – we offer them something else: paid training, for example. So if they’re willing to undergo some form of retraining, then we’ll pay them so that they can participate in it. This is good for everyone: they will have an income; and we get someone who, after having be retrained, is capable of more, and has skills which can be used in a wider range of situations than they had when they lost their job. And there is our public works system, in which we’re able to involve a huge number of people. There are our state companies, which are prepared to increase their number of employees for certain work. And finally let’s not forget that we have an army, and we welcome energetic young people: we will recruit them and give them one year’s training; and if they don’t find suitable work in manufacturing, then of course we’ll gladly accept them if they sign up to serve their homeland. So we have instruments with which we’ll be able to cope with this situation. This will be difficult. I don’t want to tell Hungarians that we’ll get up tomorrow morning, leave our homes and continue life where we left off. What’s more, I see that this crisis is affecting different sectors in different ways. So there will be people whose jobs are endangered and there will be those who are not at risk at all, because the factory where they’ve been working has resumed operations and production is continuing under the former conditions. There will be a wide variety of impacts. And there is a third factor that I am sure of, and it is that in defending against the pandemic – just as in the handling of every economic crisis – the key question is unity: between employers, workers, the Government, investors. All are actors in the financial sphere. We need everyone, so that we can assemble those economic policy elements which in the end will bring us back to an unemployment level of around 3 per cent – a condition which can be described as full employment, which we had before the crisis. So I’m striving to create this unity in the economy, and I will create it just as we managed, despite all the debate, to bring about unity in 2010. That unity even included the bankers, who bore the heaviest burdens, as we imposed a heavy bank tax on them; and we also imposed taxes on multinationals, and they too were willing to participate in the relaunch of the economy. Today we’re talking about a little more than that, because we not only need to relaunch the economy, but relaunch our lives – and our lives are more than simply the economy. This will be somewhat more difficult than in 2010 – but this task, too, can be completed by using the experiences gained back then.
Very briefly, at the end of our conversation: will you go to your mother to take her a bunch of flowers on Mother’s Day?
Going there wouldn’t be a problem, but how can I hand over the flowers, when the safe distance is one and a half metres? So this is where I have a difficulty. And indeed my grandmother is still alive, and recently she celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday. So I’m glad that I have someone to pay tribute to on Mother’s Day. And my wish for everyone is that they can find a way of making their mother feel that they have a son, and for every son to feel that they have a mother. So God bless mothers!
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.