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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: We’re in the second wave of the coronavirus. Scientists say that in fact this second wave started in Spain, from where a mutation of the virus is rampantly infecting the entire continent, and now the whole world. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Now that there are further restrictions everywhere in Europe – including in our neighbouring countries – and there are even places where night-time curfews will be in place for at least two or three weeks, what kind of stricter measures can be expected here?

Good morning, and a very good morning to your listeners. Yesterday the prime ministers – the 27 prime ministers of the EU – held a meeting to discuss virology, and we spent yesterday evening and part of last night focusing on the defence operation against the virus. I can tell those who are interested that our situation is still a blessed one. It’s not easy – indeed it’s difficult. But when I look at countries that in the Hungarian mind or way of thinking are often ranked above us in terms of importance, and compare them to our country, I can say that with our situation here we are blessed. So the situation is much worse in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France and Austria. Europe is in engulfed in turmoil. Yesterday we made an attempt to coordinate the defence operation – partly, for example, and as you mentioned, by setting up a panel of scientific staff to exchange information in order to better understand where subsequent waves are coming from. Another aspect of this coordination effort is harmonisation of the system for crossing borders. At present this isn’t going well, because in this area there are some who are more lenient. We’re stricter: in Hungary we don’t really want to see more foreigners than is absolutely necessary; and we advise our compatriots not to go abroad, as now is not the time for travel. But we’re trying to develop some kind of uniform evaluation system, and we tried to clarify whether we can harmonize our test results: whether a test performed in one country can be accepted in other countries. We’re not keen on this, because everyone trusts their own system. That’s how I am too, but we’re working on it. And, most importantly, we talked about the vaccine: how we stand on that, and how to prepare for a time when there’s a vaccine. So this is how things look: everyone is doing something, and everyone is enacting restrictions. But I have to say that the strictness of the measures does not match the situation. So there are some who are enacting very strict measures, but meanwhile the situation continues to deteriorate. I believe in laying down some rules – which should be serious – and then following them. So I see the key to the situation not in increasing the number of rules, but in complying with the rules that have already been introduced. Of course we’ve also introduced some clarifying, stricter rules for premises in the hospitality industry, and for sporting and cultural events. In essence these make the wearing of face masks mandatory. I see the key to this as ensuring that people wear face masks. I know that it’s hard to make the transition to a lifestyle in which everyone needs to protect themselves. I think that for quite a long time now we – that is, the authorities – have been sympathetic and helpful; but now the situation and the rates of infection are forcing us to bring an end to the period of acclimatisation – to borrow a concept from kindergartens and crèches. So now that everyone has had to get used to the situation, this week we’ve adopted the necessary legislative decisions, and from Monday onwards we’ll be entering a new world in terms of controls. So up until now the situation has been that the police will help, explain, and request. Now from Monday people will have to be penalised; because people who don’t obey the rules, don’t wear face masks and don’t follow the regulations are not only putting their own health at risk, but also the health of others. The curve of infection is rising, and so the numbers will continue to be unfavourable. So the defence operation is a shared responsibility: everyone shares in it, and everyone must wear a face mask – you must and I must. Anyone who doesn’t wear one is irresponsible, and is endangering their neighbours, relatives, co-workers, and anyone they meet. So now, from Monday, the police have the right to shut down restaurants and shut down shops, to make recommendations, and to shut down sporting and cultural events. So if we find that those involved aren’t following the rules, we must use force to ensure compliance. The time for this has arrived. I truly hope that from Monday onwards we will see results. Compared with other countries I have to say that even now the situation is not bad in terms of the public’s disciplined compliance. So I don’t want to drag us down, because it wouldn’t be fair on Hungarians, and in comparison with the rest of Europe we’ve adapted quite well to the situation. But the situation will worsen, and what we’ve done so far isn’t enough: more is needed. Beyond this, the Government has a special responsibility, and that is to ensure that the healthcare system is prepared. The Government is bearing the burden of its responsibility, and will continue to bear that burden: it will fulfil the responsibility placed on it. There will be enough beds, there will be enough doses of vaccine, there are enough therapeutics, there are enough ventilators, and there are enough doctors and nurses – even though they need to be redeployed. At yesterday’s meeting I learnt that in terms of hospital beds we have something like the third highest capacity in all of Europe.

So you also talked about that in the meeting?

Everyone assessed the current situation, and the pressure on the healthcare system. I see that proportionally the Germans and the Austrians have more beds than we do, so we may be in third place; but as far as ventilators are concerned, we are in first place in Europe.

And are there enough doses of flu vaccine? Because 1.4 million are usually enough, and we don’t even use that many every autumn. But now the Chief Medical Officer has also drawn attention to the fact that everyone in the vulnerable group should receive the flu vaccine, because it will relieve the situation and they won’t fall ill with two diseases at the same time.

That’s right, and it’s no accident that we’ve made it free. So the Operational Group reasoned that the situation is known and we’re encouraging people to receive the flu vaccine, even making it free, and so we doubled our stocks of it. So we have twice as many flu vaccines as we usually have in “peacetime”: enough doses of vaccine for around 1.4 million people. This is being continuously delivered to GPs. This might not be enough, so we’ve ordered another 360,000, which I think might be enough. We also have a Hungarian-owned vaccine plant in Pilisborosjenő, which is internationally-recognized and of world renown. It also supplies NATO, and we can be proud of it. Something related to the future, but which is also important, is that we’re building a large new Hungarian vaccine factory in Debrecen. This will begin operations later, but will be up and running during the next epidemic. And we’re manufacturing a drug called remdesivir, which is used in hospitals to treat seriously ill patients. There’s also been an instruction from the Operational Group for the mass purchase of a medication called favipiravir, which we refer to among ourselves as “fapipa” [“wooden pipe”]. This is effective in the early stages. So this is how we’re doing. We’ve also acquired a sufficient number of test kits, so I consider the state of readiness to be as it should be.

But will doctors in the healthcare system also be able to cope with the pressure?

An entire country is placing its trust in them now, and there’s no doubt that our lives are in their hands. It has always been the case that our lives are in the hands of doctors and nurses, but that fact hasn’t been as obvious as it is now. I think they’re putting up an outstanding fight, so I salute them. I visit hospitals and check the situation in places which are important for the control of the pandemic. I have to say that of course everyone is tired, everyone has some kind of problem, a lot of people have had to be redeployed, and they’re not with their families. So there are many problems, and life isn’t easy – in fact it’s like life in the military. No one’s happy about it, but I see that our doctors know that if there’s a problem – and now there is a problem – there’s no appeal procedure: if you have to go, you have to go. They’re coming and going, they’re doing their job, and I can only speak of them with the highest appreciation. I think they will cope, and we will all cope. The time horizon makes it impossible for me to say for sure, but as I see it – and there’s a high probability of this, as was said yesterday – I’m counting on the first batch of vaccines coming to Hungary in late December or early January. We’re not talking about the flu vaccine now, we’re talking about the coronavirus vaccine. The European Union has contracts with seven manufacturers, and if each one succeeds in developing its own vaccine, we’ll have around 700 million doses of vaccine in the next six months, or in the first half of next year. This means that as early as around January we can expect to be vaccinating long-term patients and elderly patients who are most at risk, and then the pressure will ease. Large amounts of vaccine are likely to arrive in April; these will be European vaccines. So now, in fact, those in grave danger will have to hold out until January; and our doctors and the rest of us – the great majority – must wait until April. I’ve instructed the Operational Group to prepare a vaccination plan, so that as soon as the vaccine arrives – first the smaller amount, then the larger one – there will be no problems delivering it to people. Something needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees, so logistically it’s not easy either – but we’ll solve that too. And we’ve sent our people to China and Russia, because they’re slightly ahead in vaccine development, and we’re in negotiations with them. It’s clearly possible that we can create a situation in which at some time in the spring there won’t be one type of vaccine in Hungary, but two or three; and people who want to be vaccinated can choose which one to receive according to which one they trust. I’m not saying that initially there will be unlimited quantities of vaccine, but I’ll say it again: those in the greatest danger will have to endure two or three months, and then from April we’ll all rid ourselves of this whole pandemic. April will be the time when I can say that we’ll most likely be able to declare victory over the pandemic.

If only we were there already. You’ve said that there’s no time like this one of trouble in which to satisfy doctors’ need to be given an incentive to enable them to persevere to the last minute, in keeping with their profession: their wages need to be raised, and the legal conditions within which they work must be resolved. The Government has accepted a proposal from the Hungarian Medical Chamber, and legislation has been created. Now, interestingly, the Medical Chamber doesn’t like certain details. Do you think that the doctors will sign this particular agreement clarifying their legal status?

First of all, I’d like to thank the Chamber, which is a good partner. This doesn’t mean that we agree on everything, but that we can engage in fair and honest dialogue – and this is how we were able to pass the law. There’s usually a lot of truth in the points of view put forward by the Medical Chamber and doctors – for example, the law makes it clear that redeployment is possible, but they also want to see the details of this. We’re working on this: yesterday we had a very long discussion on healthcare; I foresee the government meeting this week, or rather next week, making new healthcare decisions; and it’s completely obvious that the rules for redeployment need to be humanised, doctors are right about that. So when, for example, there’s a pandemic, plague, leprosy…

…coronavirus…

… or coronavirus…so when there are such conditions – and who knows if there will be such conditions again – there’s a command system, and in that we don’t find it easy to impose humane limits on this; because one has to go to where one is needed. And when one needs redeployment for other reasons, and not in an emergency, there are justified requests for us to act in the most humane way possible: only for a shorter period of time, and if possible with no impact on families. So these are all perfectly legitimate, realistic demands, and it won’t be difficult to translate them into the language of legislation. The second issue we’re faced with is reconciling healthcare professionals’ employment in the state sector with their work in the private sector and on a part-time basis. Here, too, a way of life has developed which both doctors and the public have adapted to – one consequence of which is gratuity payments, incidentally. We’re now trying to impose order on a rather untidy, tangled situation, and we’ve managed to eliminate gratuity payments. And now there will be clear and unambiguous rules on how we can and must reconcile doctors’ private activities with the positions they hold or occupy in the public healthcare system. Here, too, their demands for having clear rules as soon as possible are legitimate. We’re working on these, and we’ll create them after the rules for general practitioners have been adopted. This Wednesday we’ll have to make decisions about the rules for redeployment, general practitioners and the hospital management system. Then we’ll look at the question of the regulation of secondary employment and work in private practice. But these discussions are taking place within reasonable boundaries.

It’s completely clear that this pandemic has rewritten our lives, and it was also clear to every government that their budgets would need to be redesigned somewhat – in our case we adopted ours early, as we always do, with Parliament approving it before the summer recess. Despite this, is there enough money left to enable the Government to finance the latest five-point home creation support package, or programme?

Mihály Varga must work a miracle – but that’s the usual fate of Hungarian finance ministers: there’s never been a situation in which there was more money than needed, so they’ve needed to create it somehow. But he has great predecessors: Járai and Matolcsy were finance ministers, and to my mind they’re wizards, who somehow always succeeded in ensuring that there was as much money as absolutely necessary. Although I see the economy returning to its earlier course, there is an economic downturn now. I see the employment figures, I see that growth will resume, and my eyes show me an optimistic scene; but financially this will not be easy – the management of it, so to speak. There is a crisis, but at the same time there will be no better time than now for these large-scale pay increases in the healthcare system. And here we’re not talking about minor changes: for example, a resident doctor – a recently-graduated resident – has been earning between 250,000 and 255,000 forints, and now they’ll reach the level of 687,000 forints in three steps. Or a doctor with, say, thirty – or more like forty – years’ experience, who has been earning 530,000 forints will now receive 2.38 million forints in three steps. We already started increasing nurses’ salaries in 2018, and now – from 1 November – we’re raising them again by 20 per cent. In 2022 we’ll raise them by a further 30 per cent. So I think the country is repaying a debt to its healthcare workers, and in addition to giving them moral support it’s trying to improve their working conditions. This is because the time for this has come – and when, if not now, will we be able to find the wherewithal to increase what are truly almost unbearably low salaries in health care? After all, we’re talking about people who have studied for seven or eight years, after which they have to take a rigorous professional examination. So this is coming together. And the family support system is also coming together. In times of crisis we are duty-bound to enact family support measures. In 2010 we were up to our necks in trouble, if I can put it that way. In that situation family support measures were among our first decisions, because the family is the alpha and omega of everything. Soon we will have defeated this virus, too; and then life will continue as normal – and in the normal order of life the basis of everything is the family. So families need support, more money is needed for this, the Finance Minister is aware of this and he will solve the problem.

In Nice yesterday there was a very serious terrorist attack, in which three people were killed by a fanatical knife-wielding Islamist who a few weeks ago travelled from Tunisia to Lampedusa, and made his way to France from there. The whole world stands aghast, unable to comprehend what’s going on. Do they really not understand what’s happening? How do you see this?

 It’s hard to look at things through the eyes of other people, so first let me look at them through my own. We Hungarians have experience of the Muslim world, which we lived with for 150 years. We know that world today as well, and we respect it where it belongs, in its own place. So we don’t want to create a table ranking the ways of life founded on various religious traditions. The future of Africans is in Africa, and the future of Hungarians is in Hungary. Once you let them in, you have to live with them. Coexistence means reciprocal adaptation, whether or not one likes it. If you don’t want to adapt, there’s just one thing you can do: refuse them entry. This is the view I represent. If in Hungary we want to avoid events like the one in Nice, we must not let them in. There are very few of them here in Hungary, and they’ve integrated well. The very few that there are live mostly in Budapest. We have no problem with them. They’re peaceful – I know several of them, and they’re peace-loving, well-balanced people. But we don’t want to let in more, and we especially don’t want to let in migrants. I don’t want to see situations like the one we see in France now. But if we let them in, that would be unavoidable. So I counsel the Hungarians to hold the line, to hold the line at all costs: not to allow rules from Brussels to be forced on us which compel us to let in people whom we don’t want to let in, to live with people whom we don’t want to live with – and then to attend funerals. I don’t want this. So those in Brussels can pressure us all they like, they can blackmail us all they like, they can bully us all they like: we shall not follow the path they are on, because that path, we believe, is not for us. It may be for them, although I’m increasingly doubtful about that; but it certainly isn’t for us. So we must hold the line, and we must speak clearly. Our situation isn’t easy, because not only are we being pressured by Brussels, but the Hungarian opposition is also pro-immigration. MEPs from the opposition parties who sit in the Parliament out there in Brussels are members of the pack who want Hungary to change its migration rules, among other things. As long as this government is in office I shall not consent to that: they shall not enter. I repeat: the future of African people is in Africa. We will help, we respect them, we will do everything we can to make their lives there in Africa better than they are now. But we shall not allow them to come to Hungary to find new lives here. Now that’s the first thing. This is how things look through Hungarian eyes. Now let’s try to see the world through Westerners’ eyes. This isn’t easy. The Italians had a fantastic interior minister called Salvini. This man prevented illegal immigration in Italy, and he maintained order. He was replaced, and now he’s in opposition. And now we see someone coming into Italy by boat, being issued with a deportation order, and then being allowed to go to Nice; and I don’t know how many people die as a result. So this is outrageous. It is also in our interest – in Hungarians’ interest – for there to be leaders in Western Europe who are anti-migration and who maintain order in their own countries; because now this man went to Nice, but he could have gone to Hungary, because we are in the Schengen Area. So we also have a stake in this, and a lot depends on whether or not Western European countries will finally protect their own citizens. If they don’t protect their own citizens, they can certainly endanger ours as well. So, looking at this from a Hungarian perspective, we need tough prime ministers and interior ministers in Western Europe. Anyway, I’m greatly perturbed. I remember when, as a student in 1984, I went to Western Europe for the first time on an Interrail ticket. In Hungary you could take $300 out of the communist system. You could sleep in railway stations or in parks – and not only for an hour or two. Well, I never felt afraid – not even in the Netherlands, where in Amsterdam I first saw such suspicious characters. But even there one had the feeling that one was safe. And it wasn’t that long ago – we were already in our prime. If our own children go to Western Europe now, we’re worried that they’re going somewhere which isn’t as safe as Hungary, and we feel we need to worry about what will happen to them. That’s not normal. And this is our Europe. We had a fantastic continent: it was safe, it was prosperous, it was culturally strong, it had traditions. And now we’re talking about an atrocity in Nice this week, which wasn’t the first in France – and certainly not in Western Europe, because the situation in Germany isn’t much better. So I’m incensed, to tell you honestly, at how we could have been so blind – or at how so many of us could have been so blind as to have simply disowned our continent.

Yes, they’re just talking about freedom of speech, but one simply needs to decide whether the right to freedom of speech extends to insulting the leader of another religion. Because this Islamist went into a church, slit the throat of a worshiper and cut off his head. That man definitely hadn’t drawn a caricature of either Muhammad or the leader of any other religion.

Yes, I think this is an incredibly important question about where we set limits on freedom of speech. But we shouldn’t just be discussing this when people are losing their lives. Because no matter how much someone is offended in relation to their personal religious feelings, and such offence can be brutal, we Hungarians know what it’s like when religious people have to regularly endure all kinds of direct insult…

But we don’t respond by knifing people.

Yes, and although this clearly happens, under no circumstances can it be an explanation or reason to kill the person who is ridiculing us. Mockery isn’t pleasant, but killing people is in an entirely different category. So we can talk about whether in Europe there are suitable arrangements for freedom of expression, and maybe there aren’t; but there’s certainly no reason to take the lives of innocent people in a church or anywhere else because of one’s feelings of outrage – even if that outrage itself is understandable. We must not allow ourselves to show understanding of this. Understanding and acceptance are only one step apart, and when it comes to human life, there is nothing to understand: human life is sacred, and it must not be taken away. You can be incensed, you can be angry, you can be offended, you can be a lot of things, but you mustn’t take another person’s life – unless, of course, that other person is attacking you and can be considered an invader, and you need to defend yourself. But that’s another story. When we live alongside one another in peace, there is no explanation, no excuse: taking another person’s life just because they don’t agree with you is a sin, an unforgivable sin

Tomorrow, Saturday 31 October, is an important day in our Christian and Protestant culture, a day of commemoration or celebration: Reformation Day. Are you celebrating it tomorrow?

Of course, I have a duty, which is also a celebration. Tomorrow we will dedicate a Calvinist church here near Budapest. This is always a fine event and a duty, but also a delight. I’ve learnt from Professor Nemeskürty to really appreciate the merits ​​of my own denomination – I’m Calvinist. Professor Nemeskürty – who, by the way, was a fundamentalist Catholic – wrote in a book and said everywhere that he considered Protestant traditions to be very important. This went beyond the depths of spiritual life and faith in God, because he said that there was a moment when the Reformation saved Hungarian national identity and consciousness. He said that it also saved the Hungarian language by translating the Bible into Hungarian. And I think that to this day this is the basis of our sovereignty. Of course we need an army, a government, a finance minister and a lot of things. But what we really need is a spiritual basis in which our sovereignty is rooted and from which it grows. And that spiritual basis is formed by our culture and our language. So the Professor said that we owe this to the Protestants. And I think that even our Catholic brethren can accept that, and this attitude that characterises us is also beneficial for the country. We say that the church must be constantly reformed, that it’s never good enough, there’s always work we must do, we must never sit back and say that things are good as they are or that we don’t always need to reform; because there are always problems, there’s always the opportunity to be better and perform better, and we can create more peaceful, calmer and happier living conditions for people. Beyond the question of faith in God – which is another matter, and I won’t talk about that here – the Protestant Church has for many centuries made this spiritual contribution to Hungarian culture. May we continue to do so in the future.

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