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

Katalin Nagy: No neighbouring country has a vaccination rate close to the level of almost 52 per cent that we have here. Yesterday 150,000 Hungarians were vaccinated, but – to quote the poet Mihály Váci – this is “still not enough”. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Are there any more ideas about how to boost people’s appetite for vaccination?

Good morning, and welcome to our listeners. Indeed, yesterday we administered 25,000 first doses and 117,000 second doses. Today is a good day, because for the first time in a long while the number of COVID patients in hospital not requiring assisted ventilation has fallen to below one thousand. There are still 121 patients on ventilators. The number of active cases, people infected right now, has dropped below 100,000, but it’s still very high: 84,719 people are known to be infected. They can’t work, and their health is at risk. Some of them are even fighting for their lives. As for “appetite for vaccination”, this is a strange expression, because I don’t think it’s a question of appetite; I think that those who aren’t applying to be vaccinated aren’t avoiding vaccination because of a lack of appetite for it, but have something else in mind. So this is something serious. I think there’s a misconception here – or at least I feel that there may be a misunderstanding when I listen to many professors and doctors in person and in the media. Experts often talk about something called “herd immunity” – which is a term I don’t like, because we’re human beings, not sheep. But that’s neither here nor there, as that’s what the jargon is. There are 3 million adults in Hungary who still haven’t been vaccinated, and I’m afraid that there’s a perception among these people that they can “get away with it”. It seems that not enough stress is being given to the fact – another scientific fact which is also mentioned by scientists – that this is the kind of virus that won’t just go away. So it’s here to stay. Well, if it’s here to stay, it’s going to circulate among us, and sooner or later it’s going to find everybody. So I think there are a lot of people among these 3 million who think that as so many people have now been vaccinated, the threat of the pandemic is gradually receding. They think it will slowly disappear, and that when professors say that herd immunity is emerging, then this situation will save them. So they think that they can still get away with it, even if they’re not vaccinated. But if it’s true that this virus isn’t going away, then in my opinion this way of thinking is mistaken: the virus will find them out. It will find them out, to the very last person who hasn’t been immunised. So the only way that people can protect their own health and the health of their loved ones is to be vaccinated. I don’t want to use lotteries and gambling to coax people into getting vaccinated. We’re Hungarians, so we like to behave as serious grown-ups. Everyone must make a decision about how to come to terms with the fact that, if they’re not vaccinated, they and their loved ones could catch the virus at any time. So, even though the situation is improving, I urge everyone to be vaccinated. The numbers are looking good, but we’re not really talking about numbers, we’re talking about lives. Of course the organisation of the vaccination campaign is a huge challenge for the Government, our doctors, nurses, transport professionals, police and public administrators. The fact that in terms of first doses of the vaccine we’re achieving a better result than, say, the United States – even though they can produce the vaccine themselves – is significant, I think, because it gives us a sense of self-esteem and self-respect. We’ll be able to do the same as them from the end of 2022. In terms of the first and second doses, we’ve almost caught up with the United Kingdom. Today I’ll be able to talk about this in person with the British prime minister. The first dose has been given to 51.5 per cent of our population, compared with less than 50 per cent in the United States. So I think the work that our professionals have done is remarkable.

And there are the mutations. The experts say that you can always count on the emergence of a new one. So this is another reason why it’s important to build immunity in everyone.

Everyone was afraid of the Indian variant. I asked the minister and the health scientists how we’re doing with the Indian mutation. The expert position now is that the Indian mutation will be defeated by all the vaccines – without exception – that we have in Hungary: the four Western and two Eastern vaccines. I don’t think that there’s anywhere else in the world where you can choose which vaccine you want, and you can choose from not just two vaccines, but from several. So the vaccines that are available in Hungary give protection against this mutation that is known today and that people – for example in the United Kingdom – are most afraid of.

Following in the footsteps of the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association has now published the full documentation on the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, and they’ve described it as safe and effective. And yet there are countries in the European Union which are saying that they’re not sure that they’ll allow in foreign nationals who have received Eastern vaccines.

I think this is scaremongering. This will all change. For anyone who still has such an idea in their head, it will change. Look, I myself received the Chinese vaccine. I’m not crazy, and I haven’t been dropped on my head: I wouldn’t disqualify myself from travelling. So everyone can be sure that if they’ve received the Eastern vaccines they’ll be able to travel. Let’s not forget that the rest are lagging behind us. So now they’re not talking now about how it will be possible to travel – or if they’re talking about it, the poor souls are looking far into the future. For us this is now a daily possibility. We can already go to Slovenia without any problems, and we’re in negotiations with the Romanians. The Slovaks have accepted our vaccination certificates, maybe just in the past few days. Croatia is also opening up to us. So Hungary is concluding a succession of bilateral agreements which allow us free movement. This isn’t yet being talked about in the Western world. Over there they still have curfews, shops still have to be closed after a certain time in the evening, and masks must be worn outdoors. They don’t yet have immunity cards: they have all sorts of paper documents, but very few countries have the electronic and plastic cards that we have. So when we think about the situation in the West, we make assumptions based on ourselves, and we think they’re pretty much where we are. But that’s not the case. By the time they get to where we are now and start thinking about how to travel, all the vaccines that have been adopted by international organisations will also be accepted in the European Union. A rule is now being formulated, according to which there will be a common European card, perhaps sometime in July. Of course this will also be issued by the Member States themselves. So here it will be issued by Mr. Pintér’s ministry – the Ministry of Interior in Hungary – and it will be in an electronic version. And it will be compulsory to accept in one another’s countries the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. So one won’t be able to say, for example, that you can’t come to Hungary if you’ve been vaccinated with Astra. That couldn’t happen. So everything that’s been accepted in Europe must be accepted. At the same time, countries will have the option of accepting vaccines that haven’t been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Well, no country wants to shut itself off from tourists. This is why I’m optimistic, as someone who has been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine.

In many businesses, working from home is now seen as a thing of the past, and life is starting to return to how it was before the pandemic. This will take a little getting used to, but clearly we’ll soon manage that. Do you think the measures that were introduced in order to relaunch the economy have achieved the desired results?

Well, we’re now moving from defence to relaunching the economy. Of course those who aren’t involved in economic policy feel that this is less important. So perhaps I should say that when the pandemic was at its peak, the most important priority was the defence operation – not only in health care, but also in the economy: jobs had to be protected, people’s salaries had to be protected, and people’s ability to work had to be protected. But now the third wave has been conquered. I think that we’ve certainly floored it – although I see that there are debates about whether or not we’ve defeated it, whether or not it’s over. One thing is for sure: we’ve dragged it down to the ground, and now that’s where the fight is continuing. The virus is on the ground, and we’re on top of it. And I don’t think that it’s going to get back on its feet; but time will tell. So all this time we’ve been on the defensive. But now we don’t have to defend ourselves, we have to relaunch the economy, because we’ve been hit. It’s not only businesses that have been hit, but also us workers, who live from wages and salaries – of whom I am one. So we’ve been hit by this pandemic. Many of us have had to stay at home and work from there. People weren’t able to meet their co-workers, the nature of work changed, accountability changed, evaluation of people’s work changed. Some people lost their jobs and still haven’t been able to find new ones from home, because they needed to chase after work. And all this is before we’ve even started talking about children. So we’ve been overwhelmed. Now we have to relaunch the economy. Businesspeople also need to regain their entrepreneurial spirit. When you’re on the defensive, you’re not able to be entrepreneurial: you want to protect what you have. But when you need to start something up again, you must become entrepreneurial again, you must invest, look for opportunities and become mobile again. It’s not so easy, though, to go from total immobility to a new era of entrepreneurship. So there’s a transition from defending the economy to restarting the economy. The budget will serve this purpose. For this reason we now need to change it; because the second half of this year is no longer about defence, but about recovery. And the budget for 2022, which will soon be adopted by Parliament, is exclusively about relaunching the economy, creating jobs, raising wages, and supporting health care and higher education. In other words, it’s about relaunching life. It will be good. Assessments are usually made on a quarter-by-quarter basis, and the second quarter ends on 1 July; I think we’ll see what’s happened in the last three months when we get the second quarter figures. And as a year ago we were at a very low point, I’m sure that the three months up to 1 July will show encouraging results.

At the European Union summit held this week – it was a two-day meeting – why did talks have to continue until two in the morning? This topic – the topic of climate protection – surely can’t be that complex, can it?

This is one of the great mysteries, that I still haven’t managed to unravel. Thanks to the decision of the electorate, I’ve led this government for a very long time – for 10 years, or 11 years. We meet at least once every six months: usually once in normal times, and twice when there’s more work. And when there’s a crisis – as there is now – we meet three or four times in six months. And I’m surprised to see that over there in Brussels there are so many night owls that we start work at seven in the evening. You can be sure that it won’t finish before one, two or three in the morning. And also that we won’t get through the agenda; so we know we’re going to start again the next day at nine o’clock. One cynical interpretation is that this is a negotiating tactic, as we’re locked in, with the clock running down.

Wearing people down?

People are worn down. Everyone wants to get out, and that makes it easier to reach a compromise. There may be some truth in that. But there’s also a benign explanation: let’s not forget that, when a specific decision is expected at a meeting of European prime ministers, there are countries with constitutional systems like Germany’s, where the Chancellor must report to her parliament beforehand and must request a mandate to do certain things. So there are often summits before which Angela Merkel speaks to the German Bundestag in the early afternoon, and after that comes to start work with us. It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t by any means call it a good way of working. If we tried to introduce this in Hungary, the ministers would pretty quickly tell the Prime Minister to go to hell!

Again, there’s a big difference of opinion between the participants on how to achieve the climate target that was set earlier, isn’t there?

The map of Europe is very fragmented, because climate protection is important to everyone, but we’re starting from different positions: there are richer nations and poorer ones, and climate protection is very expensive. But since this is about our life, sooner or later we’ll have to pay the price. The question is how we share the burden and at what pace we go forward. Right now the bureaucrats in Brussels are thinking how bureaucrats think: using pencils, compasses and rulers to divide the European population into uniform units and have everyone bear roughly the same burden. Now we can’t bear the same burden as the Dutch, for example, who are many times richer than us, or the Germans. The idea of making people pay the price and cost of climate change – imposing taxes on petrol, fuel and housing according to how much carbon dioxide they emit – is an idea that seems natural in the West, where they can cope with it, because their prosperity still leaves them room for manoeuvre. But in Hungary we’ve been struggling for years to bring down our energy bills. So here we live differently. We’ll catch up with the West, but at the moment we cannot and do not want to make people pay taxes on heating, petrol or cars. So I think that the Brussels bureaucrats’ idea that we should spread climate protection like this and make everyone pay for it is an unacceptable one. So there are countries – all those in Central Europe, whose position is obviously determined by their financial situation – where we say that climate destruction is mostly carried out by large companies, which also make large profits in the process of such destruction. Why, then, should we make people pay for it? Why should we raise their taxes? Let the climate destroyers pay! From their payments let’s create the funding to transform our factories, our homes, our energy systems, and so on. These are two very different positions. This sounds friendly as we’re talking about it, but over there we’re in a fierce battle, because it’s about money. The question is, who’s going to pay for it? And I don’t want Hungarians to pay for it.

When will there be a decision on this issue?

Within a month to six weeks the European Commission will come out with twelve draft laws, and it will tell us how it envisages this climate protection issue. We’ll receive this, and then a debate will begin among the prime ministers on the basis of specific regulatory texts. This is where the Hungarian position will have to be well defended, and where the Central Europeans will have to unite. And then, if past experience in Europe is a guide, we’ll have the legislation in place one year, eighteen months or two years from now. If we reach an agreement, whether we succeed or not, we’ll still involve the European Parliament in this, and rules will be made which will then have to be introduced. So the next two or three years will also be about climate protection, and we’ll have to fight a war on household energy bills to protect the interests of Hungarian families.

This week is very busy from a diplomatic point of view, as after the two-day EU summit you played host to the leader of Spain’s Vox party on Thursday, yesterday; and from here you’re going to the airport, so that you can meet Boris Johnson in London. What did you talk about with the Spanish party leader, and what will you discuss in London?

Well, we talked about European affairs. There are two issues. Old issues had to be put on the back burner because of the defence operation, but they’re returning to the agenda now that the pandemic is gradually receding to a tolerable level. There are two such themes. One is climate protection. Well, I informed the Spanish party leader that Hungary can be considered a “climate champion”. If we look at the international data on carbon emissions, we see that 90 per cent of the energy produced here in Hungary will be carbon-free by 2030. This puts us very much ahead of the European field. My Spanish counterpart understood this battle on household energy bills and the need to stand up for people’s interests – even against the bureaucrats in Brussels. So that was fine. The second big issue is immigration, which is coming to the fore again. He’s Spanish, and he sees thousands of illegal immigrants coming into Europe from the south, from Morocco. I reminded him of the bad experience we had when we decided to build our border fence in 2015, when even the Spanish government shook its head and took the liberty of making some strong, unfriendly statements. And on the southern Spanish border today they have a fence three times as high as the one we have between Hungary and Serbia. But this is the leader of an anti-immigration party, so we’re on the same page. In Spain there’s an anti-immigration party which is opposed to immigration on Christian spiritual grounds and which, like us, sees the future in child support and family support. And they want to leave their country to their children rather than to immigrants. So we’re on the same page as a serious party, an emerging Spanish party. It’s a serious party that has strengthened the group of anti-immigrant countries and parties in Europe. That’s where we are on immigration. With Prime Minister Johnson the situation is different. Here we’re talking about a nuclear power that has left the European Union. This wasn’t good for us, and it still isn’t good for us. We’re suffering from Britain’s absence, because we agreed with the British on a great many things. There used to be a balanced situation in the European Union. Very often the Central Europeans and the British were able to take action against tax increases. We all want to reduce bureaucracy. The British have always stood up for national sovereignty, not wanting too much power to be transferred to Brussels. So when they left we were weakened. It’s harder for me at prime ministerial summits, now that the British aren’t there. Well, they didn’t leave Europe: they left the European Union. So they’re here. And now the question is about where their place in the world will be. They’re negotiating with everybody, and they’re shaping their bilateral relations. We also need to build British-Hungarian trade and economic cooperation. Of course the British agreement with the European Union is also our guideline, but within that today we’ll be looking for specific areas of cooperation. I have suggestions – and so does he – on the points on which Britain, the UK, and Hungary could develop close economic and political cooperation. As I see it, a major role in future Hungarian foreign policy will be played by British-Hungarian relations and our tradition of mutual respect. Both of us will make suggestions on where Britain, the UK, and Hungary could develop close economic and political cooperation. In my mind, British-Hungarian relations and traditional mutual respect will play a major role in future Hungarian foreign policy.

Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Őszöd – his speech of lies which he and the united Left would like to forget about – was delivered 15 years ago. Do you think that we, too, should forget that speech?

Well, we can hardly forget it. We have what we call “flashbacks”, in which you can remember an event in your life, however long ago it was, in a flash. There are unpleasant flashbacks and pleasant ones. For example, when Krisztina Egerszegi swam in the final at the Seoul Olympics, Vitray was commentating and we were shouting in the room. The memory is as vivid as if it were happening now. Similarly, I remember how riots broke out after the Őszöd speech. Immediately the first thing I had to do was lock up my son for his own safety: he was a teenager, and he wanted to go there with his friends. So these are very powerful experiences. And I remember the same strong experience when József Antall died, when they interrupted programming on the television. Or 16 June [1989], when we reburied Imre Nagy; I remember that quite well. So there are such flashback experiences, and the Őszöd speech is one of them. One always feels shocked, not by the fact that all this happened – because although it’s painful, such things happen in life; but by the fact that the person who caused all this to happen and who gave that speech is now just as much a part of Hungarian politics as if nothing had happened. It’s still a shocking experience. I don’t think there’s another country where and a prime minister could stay in politics after all that: saying that they’d lied to the people morning, noon and night, that they’d been boneheads, that they’d made a mess of things; then deprive people of a month’s salary, a month’s pension, dismantle the family support system, push the country into the arms of the IMF and mire it in debt. I’ve seen so many things, but this is such a shocking experience, even now, and even for me; and when I listened to excerpts of the speech again, it came back to me. I’ve thought about it from my own point of view, and it’s not just the fact that he’s here, that no one’s taken responsibility for this, no one’s apologised, and that he didn’t go home and leave politics. After all, there are so many other jobs open in this fine wide world: if you fall flat, it’s not worth staying in it for so long. But now I’m fighting against the same person: he’s the boss on the other side! So Gyurcsány’s the boss. I can’t put it any more simply or politely. And I also look at the City Hall here, where, one after another, people I know from the Gyurcsány government are emerging from behind the Mayor of Budapest. Well, in fact, his former ministers have gone into the City Hall, and the Gyurcsány government has almost been reunited in the Mayor of Budapest’s back office. All this after a speech like the one we’ve all been able to hear, bringing back to us the events of 15 years ago. Such things are unique to Hungarian politics, and now one doesn’t know exactly how to approach it all. I’m also grappling with the question of whether or not after 15 years it’s a closed book and whether or not we should now instead look forward. It was 15 years ago, but the same people are still here. And they want to govern again. It’s been 15 years, but there are people who had their eyes shot out, who were crippled, who were humiliated. Did they receive recompense? I’m afraid that perhaps not everyone has. So all these questions are still with us. The good thing about the Őszöd speech is that it was a long time ago.

Well, yes, but 16 to 18-year-olds today don’t know what happened back then. They don’t know that people’s eyes were shot out. And now with Children’s Day coming, one wonders what it would take for a young person to turn away from politics for life, or to feel that they have to take part in politics. 

I often hear that said, but I don’t agree with it. There’s no need to worry about young people. They can think for themselves. And if something interests them, they’ll pursue it. And if it doesn’t interest them, then it doesn’t matter – they’re still our children. So it’s no good thinking about young people as if they don’t remember this or that. And where are the parents? Well, it’s our job to tell them; because everyone has a father or mother who’s lived through all this, and if they want to, if they feel it’s important, they can share it with their children. Well, under the communist system we weren’t taught about 1956 in school; everyone kept quiet, but we knew everything, didn’t we? So I’m not worried about that. Young people can find out about anything if they’re interested in it – especially now, in this modern technological world. I’m more concerned about the toll that this lockdown has taken on our children. Children’s Day is coming up, and it will be better this year than it was last year. Finally children can get out, go to school and reintegrate into their communities. So – Őszöd or no Őszöd – I hope that our children and grandchildren will have a fine Children’s Day.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.