Katalin Nagy: The Prime Minister has posted a photo on social media, which shows Viktor Orbán slicing a loaf of “new bread” the size of a small millstone. Good morning. How much did it weigh?
Good morning. I don’t know how many kilos it was, but it was big. It wasn’t a big challenge, though. When I was little – and when you’re little everything seems bigger – I always spent summers in Mezőtúr with my grandparents. Down there we always bought these enormous, three-kilogram loaves in the bakery, and slicing a loaf that size was always a spectacle. I’m not saying this is standard procedure from a health and safety point of view, but this is how it’s done at home: you’d lift the loaf on your shoulder, and then the oldest member of the family – almost always my grandfather – would slice it. It’s a nice custom. This poor 20 August has been through so many things: it’s been Constitution Day, the day of new bread, and the day marking the founding of the Hungarian state. Most of what’s irrelevant has fallen through the sieve of history, and the bad memories of its communist overtones has disappeared. What’s left is King Saint Stephen and the new bread, which symbolises life. I think that this 20 August, thirty years after the fall of communism, is now more or less as it should be. In terms of what we associate them with, 15 March and 23 October are simpler. After all, Saint Stephen lived a thousand years ago, that distance is big, and it’s difficult to bridge. The fireworks display, too, is a showy genre; it’s not easy to adapt it to a national holiday, to make it both spectacular and worthy of the occasion. A job like that is best left to artists, and yesterday artists clearly managed to elevate a showy spectacle – a fireworks display comparable to that – to an uplifting artistic performance inspiring a sense of national pride.
A year ago we couldn’t celebrate Saint Stephen’s Day properly. For the time being we’re free, but it seems – and experts also confirm this – that the fourth wave is coming. Does the Government need to do anything in connection with this?
Indeed, while yesterday was a time for joyous and carefree celebration, and festivities are continuing today – there will be fantastic concerts both in Szabadság tér and outside Budapest – everyone ought to know and prepare themselves for the fact that the fourth wave is knocking on our door. While it’s not knocking strongest and loudest on our door, but on the doors of our neighbours and Western European countries, just as last year it won’t bypass us and will arrive here too. So there will be a fourth wave; I’m preparing for it, and I suggest that everyone prepares for it, both in mind and in spirit. The Government has worked throughout the summer in order to prepare the country to deal with the fourth wave appropriately. The operational groups, including the defence operational group led by [Interior Minister] Sándor Pintér, have been in session continuously. We’ve organised vaccination at schools, meaning that we’ll be vaccinating children a day or two before the start of school and a day or two after: a total of four days. If necessary we’ll continue for longer. We’ve also started administering third doses, and currently over 170,000 people have had these. People are taking up this opportunity. I’ve been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine twice. I haven’t yet had a third dose, but perhaps I’m not old enough to need to worry too much. But perhaps older people should register for a third dose of the vaccine. We’re able to vaccinate everyone, as we have 8 million vaccines in storage, and so if someone registers they’ll definitely receive the vaccine within a week. Naturally the fourth wave isn’t a threat to those who have been vaccinated, but to those who haven’t. Hungary was the first country – or among the first – in Europe to have vaccinated more than 50 per cent of the adult population twice. And so now, on the threshold of the fourth wave, we have reliable – or at least broad-based – data on the effectiveness of vaccines. As far as we can see today, the latest data shows that among those who have been vaccinated, 1 in 500 become infected; and for them the progression of the disease is much less severe than for unvaccinated people who are infected with the virus. So we should have faith in vaccines, and I advise everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to make certain to have themselves vaccinated – because the fourth wave will find them. Many people keep hoping that they can get away with it, but I want to impress upon everyone that they won’t, and that the vaccine is effective against the virus. The vaccine saves lives, and only the vaccine saves lives. Wearing masks and social distancing won’t help. With more than a year of experience, we now know very well that only vaccines can protect us, only they can save lives.
The number of new infections is now above a hundred, and if I recall correctly it was around 123 yesterday, or the day before yesterday. When will the moment come when further restrictions need to be introduced – for instance, the wearing of face masks in places other than hospitals?
We’d like to avoid that, because face masks won’t help. It is the vaccine that helps. When we had to wear masks and tried to isolate infected people, the effectiveness of those measures was low, while the effectiveness of the vaccine is overwhelmingly high. So there’s no point in trying less effective methods; we must follow the right method, and that’s the vaccine. For this reason, from 1 September we’ll launch another major pro-vaccination campaign. I myself will send letters to people, in which I’ll ask them to persuade at least one other person in their immediate circle – in their families or workplaces – who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to receive the vaccine. If everyone convinces one other person, we’ll be able to reach a level of immunity in which the effects of the fourth wave are in no way comparable to those of the first, second and third waves.
The figure for economic growth in the second quarter was released this week. It’s outstanding: 17.9 per cent. Naturally the base was low, as one year ago the economy wasn’t on so firm a footing. How can this momentum be maintained?
The first thing that it’s important for me to mention – and this should make every Hungarian proud – is that economic growth isn’t something that just happens. It’s not like wheat or seeds that we sow and that will grow if we water them. The economy doesn’t grow of its own accord: it must be constantly boosted. And that requires work. I can say that today more people are in work than were in work before the pandemic. And I believe that it’s fair to say that not since the fall of communism – since the beginning of the nineties – have there been as many people in employment in Hungary as there are today. So this is the reason for our economic growth. The Government is also playing a part in this, because it must pursue economic policy that enables the economy to absorb and accommodate this many workers. We’ve been doing just that. And the Government can be satisfied with these figures, because Hungary has returned to a point at which the question is no longer what we should do about unemployment – in 2010, we inherited an unemployment rate of over 12 per cent from the Gyurcsány–Bajnai era – but whether we have enough workers. This is also the best situation for workers; because while it’s also important for their interests to be represented in the workplace, the best protection for every person making a living through their work is being in an economic environment where there’s a demand for workers that’s higher than the number of workers available. This also maximises working people’s bargaining positions in relation to their employers. We could also put it this way: the most effective way of protecting workers is an environment where employers are eager to snap up everyone they can lay their hands on who’s willing and able to work. Today the Hungarian economy is in such a condition. As yet we’re unable to say what the exact growth rate will eventually be. I truly hope that we’ll reach an annual rate of 5.5 per cent. This is important, because in that case we’ll be able to repay the taxes that have been paid by families raising children. It’s also important because I’d like to continue the reintroduction of the thirteenth month’s pension, to bring it back for pensioners. I think that the Gyurcsány–Bajnai governments committed a sin when they took the thirteenth month’s pension away from pensioners. I’d also like to deliver on our pledge that young working people under the age of 25 won’t be subject to income tax. So we have a great deal of work to do. And the higher the growth rate, the higher the pension increase – which is independent of the thirteenth month’s pension. At the end of every year we adjust pensions by the rate of inflation if necessary. Naturally the reverse isn’t true: we never take money away. But if inflation is higher, we always provide extra money, and this is also the situation now. And as economic growth is racing ahead at full speed, it will be possible to pay another pension premium, the sum of which depends on the rate of growth. As far as I can see at present, a sum of 50,000 to 56,000 forints is likely to be paid; but if growth is 7 per cent, the one-off sum that we’ll be able to give pensioners before the end of this year could be substantially higher than that. Anyway, everyone – including workers, pensioners and young people – have a vested interest in continued economic growth. And so we should root for Péter Szijjártó, the head of the operational group responsible for the relaunch of the economy.
Has every sector returned to its former level? Won’t you need to provide targeted assistance for certain sectors? Domestic tourism has performed wonderfully this summer; but tourism in the capital is still in trouble, isn’t it?
The figures look good, and if you travel round the country, you can see that life has resumed. Naturally it’s extremely difficult financially to make up for a lost year. As far as I can see, the hospitality and hotel industries are back in business, because prices have gone up, too. If they can’t recoup the revenue they lost last year within one year, they’ll recoup it within two years. So somehow they’ll get that money back. I’d like to ask everyone to exercise restraint when increasing prices, as we don’t want domestic tourism to be paralysed by prices that are higher than people’s ability to pay. If that happens, everyone will lose out. Business people will make intelligent calculations. Budapest is off colour, coughing and spluttering, and at the moment it still hasn’t got back into its stride. This isn’t something that Hungarians are responsible for, however: it’s due to the fact that catering and tourism in Budapest is fundamentally reliant on foreigners, and for the time being they haven’t dared to set out on holiday. There’s particular caution in the English-speaking countries, where people are more reluctant than they used to be to travel overseas to spend a few long weekends in Budapest. The Slavs, the Russians, are still reluctant to pack their bags. So Budapest, which has relied almost exclusively on international guests, is still only in a recovery stage. We hope that next year will be better, and at the same time we’re encouraging people in tourism and the hotel industry to try to build some of their business on Hungarians. After all, Budapest is the capital of the nation, and they should offer attractive packages so that people from the provinces come to Budapest for long weekends and are able to see their capital properly; because everyone’s been to Budapest, but very few people know it well. Even those of us who live here are pleasantly surprised on a weekly basis when by chance we turn down a side street or visit a less crowded, less familiar part of the city. This is a fantastic city, there’s so much to see, and it would be good if people from outside Budapest got to know it better: not only our public collections and museums, that are fantastic, but also our built heritage in hidden areas that we don’t learn about in school. So Hungarians, come to Budapest. And Hungarian hoteliers, please have faith in Hungarian customers and Hungarian guests, convert their sense of patriotism into business. Because Hungarians love their country, they’re proud of their capital, and if they receive a good offer, they’ll certainly come to Budapest.
Inflation is high. This isn’t a Hungarian phenomenon, but a global one, and yesterday we read in the papers that the price of oil has begun to fall on the world market. This always has an effect on inflation. Does the Government have any means at its disposal, or will the National Bank take its own action, enabling the market to straighten itself out?
This is a complicated operation. Indeed, about a year ago the price of oil began to increase, and then it doubled. It’s a heavy burden on the Hungarian economy when the price of oil – and consequently the price of gas, too – doubles, as we’re not one of those countries that stand to gain by it. Those who have such natural resources – countries which extract gas and oil – are now making an enormous amount of money from this. We’re on the other side of the trade: we buy these products, and now we must pay the price. This has a significant impact on inflation. It’s the National Bank’s duty to preserve the value of our currency, and at times like this they try to slow the rate of inflation via a complex mechanism – usually by raising interest rates. The National Bank is doing just that, and, as far as I can see, it’s showing determination. I think that together with the Czechs we were the first two countries to start a process of increasing the interest rate, which is a logical step in preserving the value of our currency. The National Bank is independent, but the Government pays close attention to what happens there, and while we support these measures of theirs, in the meantime we must also ensure that there’s access to cheap credit – especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Because if interest rates are raised, loans become more expensive. But in order to keep the economy running, you need credit; and the smaller you are, the more you need bridging loans. This is why the Hungarian government has launched cheap credit programmes for small and medium-sized businesses. This is being done with the assistance of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and with the aid of the Széchenyi Card system which, despite the interest rate increases, is making a large amount of cheap credit available to small and medium-sized businesses. This is key to economic growth. If the Government hadn’t been able to take care of this, our economic growth would also be much slower.
The situation in Afghanistan is alarming. We see reports of people fleeing. Are there any Hungarians who have yet to be rescued from there?
Yes, there are Hungarians there. If you’ll allow me, I wouldn’t like to say too much about this, as we also have soldiers out there who are dealing with the evacuation of the Hungarians still out there, and of the Afghans who cooperated with the Hungarians. These are military operations. We must carry them out with appropriate security measures; when it’s all over we’ll be able to tell you precisely what happened and how. In summary, there are Hungarian soldiers out there. We’re grateful to them for taking a significant risk, for their bravery and strength, and for having embarked on a mission to bring back the Hungarians who aren’t as brave and strong as our soldiers are, and to also evacuate the Afghans whose lives are – or may be – in danger because they cooperated with us over the past fifteen to twenty years. Anyway, the whole situation is alarming. People usually have faith in the great powers. They tend to believe that intelligence and knowledge are somehow proportionate to the size of a country. Take America, for instance. It’s a rather large country, and one would think that they have plenty of intelligence, plenty of information, plenty of analysis and accuracy to go with that size. In other words, one would think that if anyone has knowledge, the Americans surely do. At times like this, however, you realise that this isn’t the case. The size of a country doesn’t determine its level of intelligence, nor its knowledge or capacity to act. This whole operation in Afghanistan is fatally flawed. One’s never happy about something like this, but it was right that when America was attacked – when the twin towers were destroyed – NATO declared it to be an attack on the United States; and according to the NATO Treaty, at times like this everyone should consider that to be an attack on their own country, and the clause on collective defence takes effect. This was why we ourselves participated, in order to jointly protect the American people against such terrorist attacks, and to inflict military strikes on the part of the world – in and around Afghanistan at the time – which was the source of acts of terrorism and the training of terrorists. So far so good. One wasn’t happy about it, but it was understandable. And as a small country – or at least, compared with the large ones, our size isn’t significant – we might need such help at any time, as we would have needed it in the course of history; except back then we weren’t members of NATO. And so in 1956, say, the Americans built up our hopes, but didn’t come to our aid – despite the fact that on the streets of Budapest we were knee-deep in blood, with guns in our hands. So we’re keenly aware of the fact that NATO’s mutual defence guarantee is something of value, and that one day events may result in Hungary also needing it. Therefore we joined the Americans in the Afghanistan mission without hesitation. That’s when the problems began, because once we’d destroyed the nests of terrorism, the Americans thought it would be a good idea – and they regularly have such ideas – for the whole world to function like Western Europe, or even more like America. This is called “exporting democracy”. And, disregarding all cultural and historical specificities, the Americans tend to force their ideas about society – whether correct or simply thought to be correct – on peoples who don’t want them. This is called the export of democracy and democracy building. It almost always fails. In the past thirty years I can only recall failures, instances in which the export of democracy has failed. They’re trying to improve us, too. They have ideas about life – I could mention the migrant issue or the gender issue – which don’t match those of Hungarians, but they believe that they know what’s right, and they want to force them on us. And there’s also a harder version of this; because, at the end of the day, in our case this is a political debate within the Christian cultural sphere about how one should live one’s life. But to impose Western European democratic norms on the Islamic world or on an Islamic country – thinking that it’s only a question of them coming to the same realisation and understanding that they should also live like Americans – is a rather simplistic view of the world; indeed I could call it a primitive concept. So we embarked on this democracy building project, and it didn’t work. While democracy building didn’t work, what could have worked would have been the setting up of an Afghan government – regardless of the nature of the political system – with its own effective police and armed forces, functioning effectively from a pragmatic point of view, which in turn would have been able to protect its own country once we’d withdrawn from the region. And when the Americans announced their withdrawal – because what happened in NATO was that they simply announced it – there was no meeting. So we didn’t sit around the table, for them to tell us: “Dear Fellow members, prime ministers and foreign ministers of NATO member countries, how do you think we should handle this?” That’s not how it was. The Americans said: “We’re pulling out.” Then we said that we’d gone in together, so we’d come out together. We asked what would happen after our withdrawal. The Americans said that according to their intelligence, their analyses, the Afghan government was strong enough to resist Taliban pressure for 12 to 24 months, to maintain order for as long as a year or two; and this would then also give us a year or two in which to provide them with assistance in the post-withdrawal phase. It’s now been revealed that, as I’ve said, the size of a country isn’t in accord with the accuracy of its analyses; because the whole system that we tried to build over there collapsed – not in twelve months, but in around three days. And chaos ensued. This is what we’re experiencing now. I think it’s only fair for Hungary – but also for the other NATO member countries – to provide for the Afghans who cooperated with us while we were in their country, and whose lives are now in danger. This is because the new Afghan government is threatening reprisals; and, knowing this new Afghan government which has been in power in Afghanistan before, we should have no illusions about the future safety of the Afghan families that cooperated with the Americans and other NATO countries. The right and fair thing to do is to rescue them. We have a fixed list of these people. At times like this we carry out checks, as we don’t want to let in just anyone, and we must verify the facts about who cooperated with us and how. From such a distance this is no easy task, and they must be photographically identified when we evacuate them, because we only want to evacuate them, and not other people. So I think that this is a matter of honour. This is the simpler part of the work – more dangerous, but simpler. The more complex part is the migrant crisis, because the Afghans who cooperated with NATO member countries are not the only ones who will want to leave: there are many who are worried about their future, and so we can expect a wave of mass migration. In this regard we should pay close attention to the Turks: they’re the closest; they have experience on the ground; unlike the United States their vision isn’t clouded by an obsession with building democracy; and they’re fully aware of the real facts. Cooperating with the Turkish government is key. It’s in our interest for prospective migrants who want to leave Afghanistan to be kept in the region. We should take help there, rather than bring trouble here. This means that, in order to defend Hungary against the migrant crisis, we must revive our close relations and cooperation with Turkey and the countries lying on the Balkan migrant route. We have a fence, we have border guards, and so we’re able to defend ourselves. If the Germans or the Austrians again decide – as they did in 2015 – to pursue a kind of “Willkommenskultur” or pro-migration policy, we’re prepared to come to an agreement with them on providing safe passage for a few hundred thousand Afghans. If that’s what they want, they can take them into Austria or Germany through a corridor, in an organised manner. I’d advise them against this, but they’ve never asked for our advice, as they always know best about everything. So we can only share our experiences with them. And it’s absolutely certain that the only Afghans who will be allowed to enter the territory of Hungary are those who have cooperated with us and are entitled to our protection.
The German chancellor has said that it wouldn’t be good to see a repeat of the 2015 situation – meaning that Germany’s ideas are definitely different now. But the Commissioners of the European Union are again trying to reheat last year’s plans, that countries should take in migrants and there should be mandatory quotas. They’re talking about this again. So could we see renewed topicality for the question in the national consultation about who we should live with in our country and who should decide on that?
Indeed, those who leave Afghanistan and its region can only enter the European Union through Hungary. We don’t want that, so we’ll stop them; Hungarian border protection will work. The Germans sometimes say one thing, and sometimes another. And anyway, who’s the strongest player in Brussels? Perhaps it’s Germany. So I don’t believe that Brussels could pursue a migrant policy that isn’t supported by Germany. And today Brussels wants migrants – they’ve made that clear. So do the Americans: they say that the right to migration is a human right, and that therefore we must take in, on a mandatory basis, those who flee from the furthest corner of the world and want to come here – despite the fact that there are safe countries in the given region. This is the essence – or core at any rate – of the American and Brussels position, and also the German position, I think. In our view there is no such human right: migration is not a human right. As a legal instrument it can help to solve a given crisis situation. During the war in Yugoslavia, tens of thousands of people fled from Bosnia, people who weren’t safe in Yugoslavia. We took them in, helped them, and also helped them to return to their own country a few years later. When it comes to neighbours, unfortunates can only rely on good neighbours. But I think that bringing migrants here from Afghanistan flies in the face of common sense.
So it’s a topical question? The national consultation.
There will be a battle. We now have three major battles to fight in Brussels: one of them is this gender madness; the second is the issue of migration; and the third is about who should foot the bill for environmental degradation. Because they want to impose a tax on families’ properties and cars – a plan which the Hungarian government doesn’t support. These are the three battles: migration, gender and covering the costs of damage to the environment. These issues will be at the heart of European debates this autumn.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.