Millions of people are leaving their homes in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia because of political tensions and civil wars, and in the hope of a better life. Many, including yourself, believe that the problem must be solved where it originates – meaning that people in distress should be given assistance in their own homelands. Why aren’t the world’s more affluent countries putting a lot more effort into this?
The phenomenon which we call mass population movement began much earlier than the refugee crisis, and is a much longer process than that crisis. If we look at the ethnic composition of large Western European cities we can see that radical changes have taken place. We see shocking figures for the proportions of native and non-native populations in Paris, Rome and other large cities. The people who have already arrived in Hungary come from about 80 different countries, and the most difficult stage of the process will be when Africa sets out for Europe. We are part of a long process in world history. Some world leaders believe that the right to a better life is something everyone is entitled to, but, in order to achieve this better life, no efforts need to be made in the homelands of people living in poverty; instead, they say, people can freely go to wherever such a life is available. If we allow space for this belief it will destroy Europe, its culture and its economic system – and it will not help those who come here. People who stay at home in those countries will also lose out. So what we must solve is not a refugee crisis, but a historic task related to how we Europeans, Hungarians and Christians relate to mass population movement. Of course the question of taking assistance to those countries instead of bringing the problems here is still valid – and this is not just true of the crisis in the Middle East. Many disagree, but of course hypocrisy has been a part of world politics for a long time.
Prime Minister, two years ago in Strasbourg and many times since you declared that you would like Hungary to stay Hungarian. Do you really believe that current developments are pointing to the elimination of nations in Europe?
Yes, this is a matter of life and death: we are talking about fundamental issues related to our very existence. If we look at the shifting ethnic balances and the difference in fertility rates between the indigenous population and those who have newly arrived, simple mathematics tell us how many years it will take before there are as many of them as of us, and when they will be in the majority. This is not the first time that this has happened in the course of human history.
But couldn’t we integrate the new arrivals somehow?
It takes a vivid imagination to believe that young Afghan men will marry into traditional German Christian families or Christians into Muslim families en masse. The best we can hope for is not integration but peaceful coexistence, and this is what we call a parallel society. If cultures are not too far apart then they can live side-by-side on the same territory for centuries, but the harsh reality is that the greater the cultural divide, the greater the chance of conflict and clashes.
Since you mentioned marriage, what changes could be brought by the mass settlement of Muslims in Hungary – a country with Christian roots? Will we have to retailor our legal system if, for instance, in the name of family reunification, a Muslim man brings four wives and ten children to Hungary? From a simple legal perspective, what will this situation bring?
Parallel societies mean parallel legal systems. Having more than one wife is illegal in Hungary, because it is regarded as bigamy or polygamy. In states with traditional Christian-based legal systems there are Arab families who may comply with the law on the surface, but who in reality live their private lives according to the culture and legal system of their country of origin. Personally I understand that they have greater trust in their own faith, ideals, customs and family arrangements than they do in ours. I regard freedom as important and I accept that people who are different from us have the right to live in a different way, but that doesn’t require them to come here. It is best for everyone to stay “under their own fig tree”. But once we have admitted someone and they have established an ever-growing community here, while our community is declining, then it will be just a matter of time before they introduce their own rules, according to which they live first as a minority legal system and then as a majority one, citing precisely their right to freedom and autonomy.
What about those Hungarians who have left for Germany or Great Britain in the hope of a better standard of living?
This doesn’t relate to them, because coexistence between our Central European citizens and their citizens is an essentially different problem. Brexit, of course, has shown that coexistence also causes difficulties there. One of the driving forces behind the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union was precisely the fact that many people from Central Europe went to the UK seeking work, and this angered local people. But Hungarians, Czechs and Poles come from essentially the same cultural background, so their coexistence does not lead to civilisational antagonism; although social and economic issues do arise, that is an entirely different dimension.
The various countries of Europe all follow different social and economic models, but despite this the European Union is striving to achieve unity on migration, which is causing tension. Where will this lead?
If someone begins to view themselves as the centre of an empire, then they can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the more spheres of competence they have, the stronger they are. They think that the more capable they are of centrally controlling the life of countries, the stronger the community of countries will be. But this is a mistake, because the building blocks of European culture are provided by nations which each have their own separate cultures, but which are suddenly deprived of the opportunity to have a say in their own fate. This leads to a weakening of these communities, and the balance of the equation becoming negative, despite the strengthening of the centre. This is why I believe that we should aspire to a European Union that is a community of strong nations.
The European Commission has already come to a decision: they want a mandatory quota, but why are they persisting with the distribution of migrants according to a quota when the majority of migrants have no desire to come to live in Hungary – or, for instance, Latvia, Romania or Slovakia?
Unless we chain them to an immoveable object, they will soon up sticks and go somewhere where they hope to enjoy a higher standard of living than they can have here.
But what, then, is the point of the quota?
There is a special perspective: the perspective of Germany, Austria and Sweden, and in general of the countries where trouble has already occurred. Huge masses of people arrived in these countries without any controls or identification, and coexistence is proving difficult. In such a situation, what can the politicians say? “There may be many of them now, but we will distribute them. We may have a major problem now, but it will be smaller if we distribute it.” From their perspective, this is the logic behind the distribution of immigrants.
Can you imagine a Hungary which bows to the will of the centre and admits the migrants?
I don’t want to imagine something like that. If I wanted to think about that I’d read “Eclipse of the Crescent Moon”.
A Protestant American news website recently wrote that Europe is divided: there is an elite, and there is another part that is standing by Europe’s Christian roots. They believe that the political battle on migration is a good opportunity for both sides, because the elite knows that the Muslims would never vote for a party with Christian roots – meaning that the more Muslims there are, the more that conservatives will be pushed out of power. But on the other hand, it is also a good opportunity for states with national roots to reinforce national consciousness. What do you think?
It includes some part-truths. The idea that people from Muslim communities find it extremely difficult to vote for a Christian political party is a logical one. This means they will either vote for the left, or parties on the right must redefine themselves so that Christian values are downplayed. This is the danger that is threatening the European right: if it wants to stay in the competition at all, it may be forced to take up a “central democratic” position, instead of a Christian democratic position. I regard this as a great loss, because we have had great leaders who entered the field of politics in the name of Christian values and did much good for the nations of Europe. The effect of Christianity on political culture and everyday life is never stable: it fluctuates. Here in Europe we happen to be living through a period of a relatively low tide, but the high tide will follow, and then the spiritual upturn will begin, provided there are still Christians. The current low tide doesn’t mean the end of Christian-inspired politics. The calculations of the left which envisage Muslims becoming future left-wing voters will run aground, as Muslims will establish their own parties as soon as their populations are high enough. We are already seeing the first signs of this: there was a party of this kind in Holland, and there has also been a list of Turkish candidates for elections in Vienna. Muslims would primarily like to find politicians from among their own ranks, and they will also want to elect their own people – not the old social democrats – to the European Parliament. Ultimately, the traditional left and right must both relinquish a significant portion of their political influence to a political force which is organised on the basis of a different culture. In the long term this will be a part of European democracy in countries which have allowed the existence of parallel societies. What we are fighting for now is to ensure that Hungary does not make the same mistake.
You say that there is a low tide because there are fewer and fewer Christians…
Not fewer worldwide.
Not worldwide, but certainly in Europe.
Christianity’s centre of gravity has shifted away from Europe. On the world’s other continents we find lives based on stronger beliefs than here in Europe.
And in such a situation how is it possible to build a country on Christian roots?
We were taught that if two or three people gather together in the name of Christ, then he is there in their midst. Accordingly it is almost inconceivable that Christianity could disappear, because there will always be at least two or three of us. As far as the state of our communities goes, I am not in good spirits either, but this does not lead me towards hopelessness; instead I do my best to try to understand the vibrant movement of the Christian spirit – which sometimes gains ground, then withdraws.
Why has the referendum become a party political issue? Will people vote according to their party affiliation or, as Reformed Church leaders have also urged, should everyone decide according to their own conscience?
I don’t think the referendum has become a party political issue; it’s simply that many people would like to turn it into that. Hungarian society has an extremely clear-headed majority that can differentiate between questions of fate, national issues and party political issues. And the fact that people want to turn everything into a party political issue is nothing new in Hungary.
We are approaching the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. On 14 October the Hungarian Reformed Church is holding a commemorative Synod in memory of 1956, to which you have also been invited. How do you view 1956 and, within it, the role of the churches?
We have the freedom fighters of 1956 to thank for communism being at least to some extent more tolerable here than it was in East Germany, Poland, Romania or Czechoslovakia. In Hungary the communists realised that there was a line which they could not cross, because if they did then they might not survive the attempt. Even the Russians needed a few days to spring into action, and during that time… The communists knew that they were exercising power in Hungary on the orders of a foreign power, but that they had to live with the people whom they were governing. They didn’t want a repeat of what happened in 1956. We must be grateful to the revolutionaries of 1956 because, thanks to their sacrifice, our lives became easier. The churches of Central Europe reacted to the dictatorship in different ways. In Hungary, representatives of the militant church on both the Catholic and Protestant side soon disappeared. A totally different church strategy developed than, for instance, in Poland. The Revolution of 1956 was also about the fact that, if they are allowed to, the church and the people will soon find each other. The anniversary is also an opportunity to remember the Christian and Protestant faithful who have been unjustly forgotten.
Please allow me to share a personal experience: When you spoke at the funeral of Imre Nagy, my grandfather was watching the television wide-eyed and turned to my grandmother: “Mum, go to the shop and buy flour, sugar, salt and lard; there’s going to be a war!” Looking back to 1989, how much of your dream of twenty-seven years ago has been realised?
If I may say so, the old gentleman wasn’t too far from the truth, because war could easily have broken out, and then it would have been good to have lard and sugar in the pantry. There are those who regret and those who are glad that the changes here in Hungary took place without casualties and a civil war. It is difficult to say whether a more revolutionary change leading to a civil war would have created more achievements after a period of twenty-seven years than what was eventually realised by the negotiated transition. My view is that we should thank God that nobody died as a result of these political changes. What bothers me more is that between 1990 and 2010 there were twenty confused years, which could have been smoother, simpler and more successful.
Why weren’t they more successful?
The starting point for the change was not good enough. The Hungary which came after 2010 has been more successful because by then we no longer had to dance while tied hand and foot like József Antall had to in his time, and a constitutional revolution was successfully realised.
Sociologist Elemér Hankiss wrote that the world saw the true face of Hungary in 1956, and then again during the fall of communism. Can the world see us now, do you think?
We are certainly the subject of attention – not like in 1956 or 1989, but in a way which involves much incomprehension. This is a result of Europe’s divided fate following the Second World War. In 2004 we joined the European Union and sewed the “severed limb” back in place. But the scars are still there. Under communism we didn’t let them turn us into Homo Sovieticus and eradicate our culture. When the Russians left we found Europe again, but the scars are still here, and now people in the Western half of the world look at us with incomprehension, because they cannot understand why we are clinging so hard to national independence, sovereignty and Christianity, and why we aren’t more sympathetic towards the foreigners who are arriving in large numbers. But in the meantime we know that we have struggled for decades to prevent them from changing us and depriving us of our national and cultural identity. What is in our souls, I believe, is much stronger and more important than that which drives our opponents.