Katalin Nagy: “Austria is a natural partner of Hungary,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after the V4 summit in Prague. The most important achievement of that meeting was that they were able to identify the areas on which the V4 and Austria agree, and the one issue on which they don’t agree. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Does this now mean that in these areas the V4’s ability to assert its interests could strengthen?
I welcome our listeners. Good morning. Your statement is an optimistic one, but we could express it like that. I looked forward to the summit with anticipation. Six months ago the Austrian government was dismantled in no ordinary fashion. There was a government of the Right, which consisted of the Austrian People’s Party – a member of the European People’s Party led by Chancellor Kurz – and a party to the right of it on the political spectrum, called the Freedom Party of Austria. There is no similar coalition anywhere else in Europe. I believe that this points to the future: the European centre Right will seek to form cooperation on a Christian basis with parties to the right of it. I saw Austria as the first swallow. But there the coalition was effectively obliterated by a secret service operation, in which the leader of the smaller coalition party was taken down. So a new election was held in Austria. And for around six months everyone eagerly waited to see how it would all end. At any rate, the Austrian people voted, and their opinion was not significantly different.
Yes, but after all the first swallow is not centre-right, but green.
Then it was replaced by another first swallow. One of the first swallows left, and a second – if I may put it that way – arrived. This was one we had never seen before: a centre-right governing party forming a coalition with a green party. The world is facing two major challenges: one is migration, and the other is climate change. So the composition of the Austrian government is a response to these two challenges. We don’t know how this will work out. This is why we were curious to hear the Chancellor’s opinion about what we can expect in the future. As neighbours and brothers-in-law, for us two things are the most important. The first is that there will be no change of any kind on the issue of immigration. The Austrians are anti-immigration, anti-migration, and are staunch supporters of border defence. In that department there is no compromise. Migrants trampled across them just as they trampled across Hungary – and unfortunately for Austria, many of them have stayed there. Over here we solved this problem, there they didn’t, and so many have stayed. And from earlier times there are also a few hundred thousand people with non-Christian roots who are now Austrian citizens. So they have their fair share of blessings. They are perfectly aware that there will be grave consequences for everyday life if these ratios continue to change. Therefore they’re openly opposed to migration. Furthermore, the influence of the Austrian economy will increase. Last year’s German economic data was released yesterday, or the day before yesterday. The German economy grew by just 0.6 per cent, while the Austrian economy grew by more than twice that. What happens in the markets to which we sell our products is not irrelevant to us. The German and Austrian governments’ response to slowdown in growth isn’t irrelevant either. Indeed I think growth in Germany this year will even come to a standstill. The Austrian chancellor, who is young and brave, is feisty in the pursuit of improving competitiveness, reducing tax, supporting businesses and creating jobs. This is his position, and this fully coincides with both the interests and positions of the V4. So this is the good news. It is bad news, however, that on the issue of nuclear energy the situation has not changed. The Austrians are committed opponents of nuclear energy, and attack every nuclear energy project in Europe. This is not only directed at us because of Paks: they also attack the Czechs, who are also their neighbours, and the Slovaks too. So on this issue we weren’t able to come to an arrangement. The Austrian chancellor told us in an honest and straightforward manner that in the years ahead this will not be an area of cooperation.
Do you think Chancellor Kurz is capable of playing the role of a bridge between Western Europe and Eastern Europe – or the eastern part of Central Europe?
My thoughts on this are perhaps secondary, but the Austrian people certainly believed that he is. He received an enormous amount of trust from the voters – indeed, after such a shocking event as the dismantling of the first Kurz government. He received that trust, and clearly the people have great faith in him. There is something in this. I remember that I was thirty-five when I first became prime minister. I’m not complaining about my current level of support or the trust I’ve received, but there’s something special about having such support at a very young age. It’s not only a question of political calculation, but also a question of goodwill: “He’s a young man, let him succeed – why shouldn’t he succeed?” This has shaken up politics in Austria, and given it forward impetus. So I believe that we can expect a great deal of good from Austria. This has not always been the case in history, but today it could be.
The vote in Strasbourg yesterday, at the plenary session of the European Parliament, was effectively about relations between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. It was surprising that now an even larger percentage of the MEPs there voted to rebuke Hungary and Poland over the imperfect state of the rule of law in these two countries.
Yesterday was an important day. There was also a huge debate within the European People’s Party. There’s nothing surprising about the fact that the European Parliament has a pro-immigration majority, as there is a pro-immigration majority there, and the Hungarian opposition is also part of it. The Socialists, Liberals and Greens vote against us because they hate us for our stance on immigration. And they’re not simply opposed to our position. I also sense that they look down on us, believing that we are in a backward condition in terms of humanity’s development, unable to see the blessings that come from letting huge numbers of Muslims into our world and the fantastic future that will emerge from intermingling these two things, the Christian and Muslim worlds. That’s how they see this, regarding us as backward for not acquiring this taste and failing to see its beauty. To tell you the truth, I can’t see any beauty in this; indeed I fear it. Accordingly, their approach to the Hungarian position is not rational, but emotional and ill-tempered. All right. Well, not really, but there’s nothing surprising about it. What is a little more unpleasant is that we had to engage in a major debate within the European People’s Party. And yesterday we were one centimetre away from leaving the People’s Party. The only reason we didn’t was because the French, the Spanish and the Italians clearly stood by us, saying that Hungary should be defended in the debate within the People’s Party. I also look at this whole People’s Party issue through the prism of the nation. A governing party belongs to a party family in Europe in order to have allies when its country – Hungary in this case – needs protection, help or support. But we have no place there if our allies betray us – as the majority of the People’s Party did yesterday. Nevertheless, we were given some hope that a change could be achieved when three major countries – after all, the Italians, the French and the Spanish are not just any nations – say that the Hungarians are right and that they must stand by Hungary. This is a diminishing hope, but still it exists. This morning we would no longer be members if things had turned out otherwise. In addition to the difference in our views on immigration, what is behind all this is the fact that the Soros network is extremely active in the European Parliament and in European politics. Let’s not forget that in the European elections it managed to install many MEPs in the European Parliament and also in the Commission, and there are also countries where it exerts a strong influence over governments. As a result its influence is also there in the Council of Ministers. To be honest, I’ve always found it strange that we don’t talk openly there about this issue: that the Soros network is clearly behind moves and networks like this. There are people who happen to be rich – this is the case here, and it’s not irrelevant that through speculation he obtained his money by ruining millions of people’s lives. There are rich people who want to buy political influence – and this is exactly what we have here: he buys MEPs, finances them, supports them and operates networks. So he buys influence in politics. Every political manual tells you that in our line of work such a person is referred to as an oligarch. George Soros is the world’s number one oligarch. What’s more, he directs his political activities through a covert – or at least partly covert – mafia-like network, and exerts influence on European politics. It is at this point that this network clashes with Hungary, because his network also wants a new, modern Europe comprising Christian and Muslim constituents: a Europe which – as they say – is beyond Christianity, and is beyond national sentiments. By contrast, Hungary says that we do have demographic problems, but we want Hungarian children, not migrants. So we oppose migration and support families. This results in an extremely fierce confrontation, the most intense and vehement debate on the European scene. We seem to be conducting this with our political parties; but in fact the two opponents are Soros’s European network and Hungary – and, of course, some other Central European countries such as Poland.
But why can’t you talk about this openly in Brussels?
Well, at some point we’ll have to solve this. Why don’t people tend to talk openly about things like this? There are things in all our lives which we talk about cautiously. This is probably because we regard our opponent as being stronger, and we’re afraid of them. Many people are afraid of George Soros. When Soros blows his whistle, in the Western European media sphere pens launch into action, and one politician or another is savaged in newspapers and the online media. Those who are able to endure this are tough guys. But we’ve already been through this – I’ve been through this eight times over: these journalists, fake NGOs and the Soros network have buried me eight times, and I’ve come back to life eight times. I’ve been cooked in every kind of marinade. So I’m not afraid of this, because I’m used to it. But those who have never been confronted by such an enormous force can only see a steamroller, and say that they don’t stand a chance against it. So they choose to stay silent
But this situation in the People’s Party cannot be sustained for much longer. What can we expect?
We’ll make one more attempt. I talked to Chancellor Kurz about this as well, given that he also belongs to the European People’s Party. And I’ll have a meeting with the Germans: the leader of the CDU and the Chancellor herself. I would also like to talk to the President of the European People’s Party: with Mr. Tusk – who of course is opposed to the Polish government, which complicates my situation. Although he’s Polish, he is against the Polish government. And then we’ll have to make a decision. What is certain is that things cannot continue like this. If the European People’s Party doesn’t stand by Hungary we’ll have to start a new European movement: a new European movement of a Christian democratic nature. Naturally we also have matters to deal with in Hungary, but the European arena is also important for us, and we must invest energy in it; starting a new European movement requires a fair amount of energy. But in that we will have allies.
Probably, but shouldn’t we be concerned about what MEPs from DK [the Hungarian party Democratic Coalition] keep telling us, at least twice a week? They say that if Fidesz severs its links with the People’s Party, then the country will be at a disadvantage, because we will lose funding.
On the contrary. Firstly it will be advantageous; because we only adopt decisions which are advantageous for Hungary. Secondly, interstate relations must never be confused with party relations. As Prime Minister I worked together with a German chancellor who was a social democrat, and I also see eye to eye with the French president, despite the fact that he belongs to a completely different party grouping. I could mention several more such examples. Confusing interstate relations with party relations is an inferior or shallow – shallow is perhaps the better word – approach to European politics. As regards the debate on the budget, Hungary has allies: not parties, but states. And we have strong arguments. And in the end we have a veto.
Domestic politics. Quite a stir has been created by reports that approximately twelve thousand prisoners in Hungary are claiming compensation from the Hungarian state. If we take a look at the sum, these claims amount to some ten billion forints. People don’t really understand how it is possible that people convicted of a crime can just sit back and relax in prison, and say “No problem, I can handle this for a while, then I’ll pick up my compensation when I get out.”
In this prison business the record holder is a thirty-three-year-old man – so we’re talking about a man of working-age – who was awarded eight million forints in compensation for eight and a half years in prison. This means that he was awarded one million forints for every year he spent in prison. This is completely absurd and unacceptable.
But what on what grounds? What did he ask for?
The level of compensation is one of the problems. The other is the number of cases. For our listeners’ information, prison is not a romantic place. Indeed it is a very hard place in which to live, and from time to time prisoners suffer treatment which may qualify as torture. International conventions prohibit torture in prison, which is right and which is why we’ve also signed them. But things can happen which fall into that category. Therefore when something like that happens we have a relatively simple mechanism, whereby the prisoner swiftly receives compensation or damages for the torture suffered: some money. Shrewd, well-known groups of lawyers realised, however, that the European regulations on torture are so loose and absurd that they can use them for profit. These are well-known circles of lawyers, and eventually we will also have to deal with them, because in effect they have taken many billions of forints from the state. Anyway, they cite these very loose European norms. Let me quote from a judgement which describes problems qualifying as torture. I will try to quote it to you verbatim: “The prison cell is not sunny enough.” The prison cell is not sunny enough! This is quite apart from the fact that in Hungary we try to ensure that prisoners support themselves: in Hungary we offer prisoners work opportunities, and they are required to work. Thus we can significantly reduce the costs which citizens pay for the maintenance of prisons. This means that in Hungary most prisoners, most convicts don’t spend their sentences locked up in a cell, but working. So they’re not tortured, they’re working. Now the number has risen to above ten thousand – I believe it may be at around twelve thousand – and the amount of compensation to be paid is more than ten billion forints. So the Government believes that we must put an end to this. This cannot continue. There is legislation which would compel us to pay damages, but in my opinion this is an abuse of the law. And if a government observes an abuse of the law, then payments must be suspended with immediate effect. This is what we will do, and we will ask Parliament to change this legislation.
So that means that the Hungarian parliament will have to change it?
Yes, yes, in the first instance. I can’t possibly support any abuse of the law. Whatever the regulations may say, as Prime Minister my duty is to make it clear that this is not a correct application of legislation, but an abuse, and that it must be prevented. Therefore we will not pay. Now, what will happen next – and this is how international norms come into our conversation – is that, on behalf of the prisoners, these fine lawyers will turn to European judicial forums and sue Hungary. From what I know of European judges, they also think it is a problem if prison cells are not sunny enough, and so we can look forward to some tough battles. But it’s still better to fight and stand up for our interests, and highlight the absurdity of a regulation, than to pay up like a fool and offend ten million people’s sense of justice. The Hungarian people are right when they say that they don’t work and pay taxes in order for prisoners to be financially rewarded for non-existent reasons – reasons that are not legitimate – just because a few lawyers are able to skilfully abuse the laws.
A court decision has ruled that today is the deadline for the payment of compensation to Roma schoolchildren who were taught in segregated classes at the primary school in the village of Gyöngyöspata – and to their parents. The latest news is that, rather than paying this compensation of almost a hundred million forints, the constituency’s Fidesz MP and the local council would like to be allowed to rectify this error in kind: to give these families, these young people, the opportunity to attend training courses. Do you think this is a good solution? How could this situation be resolved?
This is a case that has provoked strong emotional reactions. It’s important to be able to talk about it with calm and composure. That is what I’ll try to do. In order to talk calmly about something we have to choose an appropriate starting point. My starting point is the Hungarian people’s sense of justice. Ours is an interesting people. There are things which they accept without any problem: for instance, Hungarians fully accept, and even support, the idea that we should provide jobs instead of benefits. They accept that, using taxpayers’ forints, we should operate nursery schools and seek to integrate Roma children. They support the idea that they should be given free meals, and that they should have vocational education. So the Hungarian people are not racist and do not reject Roma people as a matter of course. They know that in the coming decades we will live together, and they’re looking for forms of cooperation and trying to help. But there is a boundary that a Hungarian will never cross, or believes cannot be crossed. That boundary is giving people money for nothing. And in this instance people have the impression that this is exactly what is happening. Giving something in return for something is fine. But giving money for nothing is something that the Hungarian people will never accept. This is what I have built government policy on. We’ve said that those who can’t find jobs – and there were many Roma among those people – should take part in public works projects. People should only receive family allowances if their children attend school. We’ve created sports opportunities for them, and we’ve launched integration programmes. So I believe that although this is a difficult and sensitive issue it is manageable – and that eventually it could even lead to something good. As I see it, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Roma have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by public works schemes and now have jobs in the private sector is something that non-Roma Hungarians can be proud of – and Roma citizens can be particularly proud of it. If you go to a construction site you can see large numbers of Roma workers there. This is something we can be proud of, and I think that this is an achievement.
Yes, but there was segregation there from 2004 onwards.
The trouble is that judgements like this destroy such debate. I wouldn’t go into whether there was segregation or if it was a failed integration attempt, because the court said something about it, and we should accept it. But we surely cannot solve a problem by giving money for nothing. We can solve the problem – and the Member of Parliament is right – if we offer assistance instead. Let us pay for their training, retraining if needed, and offer new courses. So this means offering them services rather than putting money in their hands, which – I repeat – is something that the Hungarian people will never accept. So I believe that in this case a regrettable court ruling was delivered. Furthermore, and this is what we always come back to, if we look at the people who started the lawsuit, we find Soros organisations everywhere. I think the whole thing is a provocation. An action like this torpedoes – or could torpedo – a process which is making good progress: the improvement of the state of Roma and non-Roma coexistence in Hungary, a policy that seeks to lift the Roma out of extreme poverty. As I’ve said, instead of seeking suitable ways of living together, it creates tensions in the lives of communities where people of different ethnic backgrounds live together. Let me repeat: we are ready to provide anything, but we cannot just give money.
It’s true that suing for compensation didn’t start right at the beginning…
Naturally, I don’t want to point the finger, but this didn’t start under our government. This is a practice that started during the term of a left-liberal government…
The decision was in 2004…
…and when – perhaps in 2013 – the state took over local government schools, we put an end to this situation. Not because we thought it was racist, but because we took the view that this was a form of integration that was not beneficial. Therefore we tried a different kind of integration approach – not only in Gyöngyöspata, but also elsewhere. That fact that we’re not doing this badly is perhaps confirmed by the facts. For instance, in recent years the number of Roma students in higher education – universities and colleges – has increased by 100 per cent. So we do have results. We’re talking about a problem here, but meanwhile I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that in recent years there have been positive changes in coexistence among Roma and non-Roma Hungarians. This is despite the fact that we naturally still have difficulties – and will have in the future.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.