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Interview with PM Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”

We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Good morning, and good morning to the listeners.

What else could we start with but the British referendum result? We knew that the result would be close, but it can be seen from the brief initial announcements and the market reaction that the news the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union has indeed been a shock. Did it shock you?

Well, politics is the art of the possible. The possibilities must be taken account of in the fullness of time. The people do not need to have a glowing opinion of the leaders of the European Union, but neither should we assume that they don’t have the sense to do their jobs. Over the past few months everyone in Europe has thoroughly thought through both scenarios – remain and leave.

Everyone said that, and clearly there was no alternative. Yes, we have prepared for the eventuality of Britain leaving, but looking at the market reaction it does not seem that they were very prepared for Brexit.

The market and politics are two distinct things. The market lives in the present and politics lives in the future.

So do you have an idea of what will happen over the coming weeks and years?

Of course. It is the duty and obligation of the prime minister of the day – whether in Hungary or elsewhere. But I think that it is important that we do not fall flat on our faces by tripping over our own feet. In an intellectual dimension that is what usually happens when a person answers questions in the wrong order. The question now is not what will be, but what is.

Why, what is there now?

First of all, I think that we must respect the decision of the British people, because every nation has the right to decide its own fate. Whether or not there is a European Union, this is a fundamental principle which stands above every modern political structure. This is the essence of European culture, European civilisation and European values. Every nation has the right to decide itself on its own fate, and that has happened. This is the first thing. The second thing is that we need to analyse what issues were decisive in this debate. This was not just a simple vote, but one which was worthy of the British people. After all, we are talking about one of the cradles of European political culture, and the motherland of parliamentarism. So in that country there was a very serious debate for months, in which all sorts of issues emerged. I am trying to get a clear picture of which topic was the decisive and most important one. As far as I can see, the most decisive question was that of immigration – or, I could say, the question of mass population movement. And the British people sought answers to questions, such as how they can resist this modern-day mass population movement, how they can resist immigration, migrants, and how they can maintain control over their own lives in the future. I believe that this was the decisive question. Here, too, there are conclusions to be drawn. As regards the implications of these conclusions for us – the countries staying within the European Union and Brussels itself – I think that now already we can say, before any subsequent lengthy analyses, that the only problem is that Brussels must listen to the voice of the people. This is the chief conclusion to be drawn from the decision.

That was going to be my next question: will the message that we have already heard in municipal, provincial and national elections in other Member States get through to those people it was intended for? Because everyone has made clear – and you yourself are talking about the same thing – that the main question is one of what has led to Britain leaving the European Union today. This is an important negative verdict on the leadership in Brussels.

I think that it is worth analysing these questions, but I repeat that I see the common-sense starting point to be that the decisive issue in the debate which took place in Britain was about how they can keep their island: how they can retain their identity; how they can protect themselves against migrants, against immigration; and whether they are satisfied with the policy and protection that the European Union offers in that area. I feel that they were not satisfied with it. Now let us take a step sideways. Why is Hungary in the European Union? Hungary is in the European Union because we believe in a strong Europe. But Europe is only strong if it is able – on questions of great significance such as immigration – to give answers which do not weaken it, but strengthen it. The European Union has failed to give such answers. Indeed it has given answers which have had the opposite effect: answers on the issues of immigration and mass population movement which, quite clearly, the majority of the British people did not see as decisions leading towards a strong Europe, but as decisions leading towards a weak Europe. It is in the area of these questions that I would look for the solution. But, with your permission, I must stop here – I won’t answer any further questions on this matter, because our life today will be entirely taken up by ongoing consultations among the twenty-eight prime ministers – or the remaining twenty-seven. The European institutions are already busy conducting meetings and talks, we shall be consulting all day long, and the Visegrád leaders will also consult separately, if not in person, by telephone. And there will be an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday, a meeting of the twenty-seven prime ministers – or to be more precise twenty-eight, because the British will still be there. I think that before that meeting it would be irresponsible of me to say anything more than I have already said.

Won’t you answer the question of whether there should be personal consequences on this matter – either in Brussels or in Britain?

That is a matter for the British people.

What about Brussels? This is also a slap in the face for Brussels. You yourself referred to this.

Let us not jump to conclusions.

Will this have consequences for Hungary, for Hungarian workers over there? What will happen to them?

A lengthy legal process will start now, and similarly it is not worth discussing this until we see the outlines of the process – until we see how long it will take, and what it will be about. The obvious solution here is, instead of its membership treaty, for Britain to enter into an agreement with the European Union which will make provision for all these outstanding issues.

The issue of immigration and migration was a central topic in the campaign – both in Britain and in the European Union. Hungary is preparing for a referendum, and if my information is correct, one of the main topics of today’s Cabinet meeting will be the fact that all obstacles to the autumn referendum have been effectively removed. But before we start talking about the situation in Hungary, let us talk a little about the European aspect of the matter. Will the current search for a solution, the search for answers, slow down against the background of the current situation?

I would not engage in that discussion right now, but I would just say that every nation must protect its own external borders – particularly if they coincide with the external borders of the European Union. Hungary is one such country, and so I would not complicate things, but would rather clarify the simple position that Europe – and Hungary within it – is strong enough to protect itself against any mass population movement. If we put our minds to it, we are able to protect ourselves against any illegal migration. We Hungarians want to protect ourselves, and we shall protect ourselves.

What will the outline be? Do you have any plans regarding the outline of the Hungarian referendum campaign? Will there be a campaign?

Naturally there will be a campaign, and there will be debates. After all, this is one of the most important questions for the future of the nation – if not the most important. There will be room for sensible, calm and lively discussions and debates, and perhaps even for reasonable campaigns. The obstacles have indeed been removed. One could say that the liberal-left wanted to frustrate the referendum. They used all legal means open to them and contested the relevant parliamentary decision. But they have failed. At the end of the day, we live in the 21st century, there is democracy, and I do not believe that any liberal-left political movement – whether national or international – could deprive the Hungarian people of their right to decide their own fate. This assertion has now been confirmed by the decisions of judicial bodies. In my opinion Hungarian democracy has sound foundations, and the people will decide what they want.

How do you foresee the next few months? Will the flow of migrants coming here intensify? What information do you have?

They cannot come here – only as far as the borders.

Into Europe.

Only as far as the borders.

The flow of migrants coming to Europe.

We should count on the flow continuing, because we have not eliminated the causes of this mass migration. The European Union has placed our proposal – my proposal, the Schengen 2.0 proposal – on its agenda, together with the Italians’ proposal. It will be discussed, and both the Italian and Hungarian proposals have been integrated into the relevant international documents, but these proposals have not yet been accepted, and no decision has been made yet. Our proposal is that we must not let anyone in: everyone must be stopped at the borders, all migrants must be gathered together in an area outside the European Union, and their asylum requests should be assessed and the relevant legal procedures should be conducted outside EU territory. If a decision along the lines of our proposal had already been adopted, the whole of Europe would be as safe as Hungary is. In other words, this would enable us to stop the mass population movement at the EU’s borders. But these decisions have not yet been adopted. This is why there are cracks in the European Union’s border protection regime. There are no cracks in Hungary: Hungary’s border protection stands on solid foundations.

As I have mentioned, the referendum, the autumn referendum, will also be on the agenda of today’s Cabinet meeting. What is the planned date for the referendum?

That decision falls within the remit of the President of the Republic. Naturally the time limits laid down in law determine the potential timetable, but we must wait for the President’s decision.

Let us talk about other domestic affairs – for instance, the transformation of savings banks. The Banking Association has made its voice heard on the matter, as has Sándor Demján, who last week said that, thanks to consultations with you, they have succeeded in preventing a parasitic group from sucking away cooperative banks’ assets. He also added that Zoltán Spéder was the spiritual father of the cooperative banking legislation, and the driving force behind it. Why did you lose faith in him?

In whom?

In Zoltán Spéder.

There is no personal faith or trust issue of any kind here.

Why did Sándor Demján talk about it?

You should put that question to him.

I’m only asking you because you had consultations.

Yes, we talked about the cooperative banks. I do not talk to anyone about third persons. It is not the Prime Minister’s duty to deal with personal or staff issues, unless they fall within his competence. But this is not the case here. So we deal with the issue – the issue is important and substantial. If a listener hears the words “bank owner” or “bank shareholder” in Hungary today, I think they tend to think of men in suits with hands not hardened by physical labour, men with elegant ties and probably expensive watches. They think about individuals who in no way resemble the people listening to the news about them: individuals who have nothing to do with the way they live. Savings banks are an interesting exception to this rule, as their owners are people like you and me: people who are not bankers or bank owners, but ordinary Hungarian citizens who do not have large amounts of money and other assets. You, too, may be the member of a cooperative bank, and as a result one of the owners; ad absurdum, even I could be one – but before this question provokes further debate, I should say that I am not. The cooperative banking system, the owners of the cooperative banking system, are ordinary citizens. This is why the Hungarian government has always treated this whole issue as a high priority. As is usually the case, amongst our people, too, there are better ones and there are those who are not so good. There have been abuses in this cooperative banking system as well. You yourself may remember the news reports on police investigations, banking supervisors and so on. A great many things happened. There were many who simply took advantage of the fact that in this system ordinary citizens can also be bank owners. And the extent of these troubles was such that the Government was forced to intervene. Several cooperatives had to be wound up, and all sorts of legal procedures had to be launched. The Government decided that this was an untenable situation, because it could destabilise the Hungarian financial system, and is also contrary to the best interests of the ordinary people who own the bank. Therefore we intervened, and launched a new cooperative banking concept. We reorganised the whole thing. This was a truly formidable task, and it also cost the people a lot of money. We allocated some 130–140 billion forints from the budget to invest in the reorganisation of the cooperative banking system. And I believe that we did a good job. I think that the reorganisation of the cooperative banking system is a classic achievement of sound professionalism, which deserves acknowledgement. The first phase of this work has already been concluded. Now the problem is that this whole process – which I think is a positive one – has been mixed together with another affair, the affair of the postal service and FHB Mortgage Bank. And this is where the name of the bank owner you mentioned comes into the picture. That other story has somehow been confused with the cooperative banking system, and this is what the Banking Association and Sándor Demján spoke up about. This is why I had to talk to them, and all sorts of doubts and concerns have emerged. In the past we have also seen legal proceedings, which have sought to clarify the facts. These have now intensified, and these doubts and concerns – which may, according to the president’s statement, perhaps amount to suspicions or charges – are being clarified at this point in time within a standard police investigation.

There is another case which is currently being looked into. Tamás Portik, who was convicted of the Prisztás murder, made a statement last Friday seeking to incriminate Antal Rogán, the Minister heading the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister. He said that he had to pay Mr. Rogán a bribe so that Árpád Habony’s aunt could acquire properties at a reduced price. Mr. Rogán denied these allegations, and reported Portik to the authorities for perjury. Have you asked Mr. Rogán about what happened?

I have not, of course.

Because you know what happened?

No – because I do not concern myself with criminals, and therefore if a criminal accuses a member of the Hungarian government of something, it does not even warrant a conversation with the Prime Minister.

But Máriusz Révész, for instance, said that he agrees that a criminal has said something and it can be called into question, but in his view there should be an investigation. What do you think?

This will be decided by the competent people. If my information is correct, there are ongoing legal procedures. But, as the Prime Minister of Hungary, I am not prepared to concern myself with the opinion of a criminal convicted of murder, or of any other crime.

So I think you consider this case closed.

I never even opened it.

Let us talk about the European Football Championship. Everyone, apart from a few sceptics, agrees that what Hungary has achieved is a historic success. There are different views, however, on the way forward, and what this achievement can be attributed to. To what do you think it can be attributed?

First of all, hats off to them, because this is a difficult sport. This is a sport for warriors, and a sport for elegant warriors at that – as there is no fist fighting involved. You need a big heart for this sport, a strong soul, a great deal of willpower and a lot of preparation. If you can stand your ground here you really are somebody. And if you can stand your ground here it is not a matter of luck, particularly not so many times in a row. Because not only have they had to stand their ground out there, but they also had to qualify in a play-off match, which is psychologically even more demanding. So hats off to them. The other thing is that we should also look beyond our heroes, our players, because they were all coached and educated by others, by youth squad coaches, and small clubs, There are some who come from tiny villages, and some who come from very underprivileged regions. They were all supported by someone. They were coached and supported by decent Hungarian people who saw their talent – or even if they didn’t see their talent, they thought it was right to look after children coming from such backgrounds. So behind this success there is the hard work of thousands of sports teachers, coaches, kit room attendants and cleaners working at clubs. And when we salute them now, we salute the players – but at the same time we also honour those who helped them get this far. I myself spent some thirty years in changing rooms, and I know only too well how many people have to work to keep a club going – including grandparents bringing their little ones to the training sessions. So we are talking about a great many people. This is a great achievement. And we should perhaps also mention that once you have fallen out of circulation in the world – and out of circulation in a sport which is so popular worldwide and is played by so many – and you want to get back in, you can only do so with systematic, hard work. You cannot step straight from the backwoods onto the world stage. We must pull ourselves out of the situation that we are in, we must work painstakingly for years, and we must improve the training of coaches, young talent and our clubs. We must do a great many things before we can start reaping the benefits. And of course in this instance we also need a German coach, who can bring together the virtue of regular, hard work and unquestionable Hungarian talent, and can create a specific blend which can then lead us to international success. At the same time it is very important that in our greatest moments of success we are at our most level-headed. The more successful you are, the more dispassionately and clearly you must see your own situation, or else you might find surprises lying in wait. So we must know who we are and where we stand, what work we have already completed and what work lies ahead of us. This is what I would remind ourselves of. And, of course, now that we are about to play the Belgians, the heart of every Hungarian has doubled in size or is suddenly accompanied by a second heart. This is because everyone is thinking: “Let me play the lion too”. But I would like to draw our attention to the virtue of level-headedness, and add that the reason we love football is that anything can happen. This is why it is worth supporting our team wholeheartedly – whatever the outcome is. Because the match is yet to take place, and in football anything can happen. It is well worth believing in this.

I don’t suppose you’ll make a prediction on the result.

No – but I’ll be there among the Hungarians, trying to blow the ball into the goal.

The Hungarian approach is, what you yourself mentioned, that in this situation everyone hopes Hungary will be champions. In the support and the celebrations we could clearly see that in essence everyone felt that the Hungarians are there and they are already winners, leaving aside the performances they have put in. You could clearly see this in the celebrations. Perhaps it has been decades since there were celebrations in Hungary quite as joyous as those that we saw in the streets of Budapest.

Well, we are all walking on air. This is called being on cloud nine. It has been like this for days now. The sensation is of one starting to feel that events stand outside both time and space. When I think back to the three clashes we have had in our campaign in France, it feels like they are still being played, that this is something endless, outside the limits of time and space. And as long as I live, I shall always think of it as something happening now, right there, in front of me. This is a great thing – this is the great thing about sport. This is why so many of us love not only football, but other sports as well – because here is our ice hockey team, and our swimmers are also giving good account of themselves. So there are other sports too: in gymnastics we can see signs of a comeback, and also perhaps in athletics. I have to say that we Hungarians are talented in sport, and we show talent in many different sports at once. For our children this is also a great motivation, a great driving force, a beautiful thing. Sport is a good thing, it teaches you noble things, and forms part of the beautiful side of life. The Government does not need to analyse this too much: it must treat sport as an issue of national interest, and must not allow sport to enter the sphere of party politics. We must give as many number people as possible the chance to take part in this wonderful experience to the best of their abilities and at their own levels. This is why sport must be seen as an issue of national interest, and I have never allowed sport to sink into the swamp of party political debates – even if many people would like to have seen that happen. Sport must be kept outside this and high above it, because, after all, the greatest thing about sport is that we always speak about it in the first person plural. So when Katinka wins a race, then we have won. She won, of course, but at the end of the day, we won too. And when Hungary qualifies for the next round at the top of our group, then we have qualified, and we have beaten the Austrians, and when we lose at some point, we will have lost. So here there is only “we” – which is what makes this so magnificent.

We could see that in the streets: the tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters. You have been listening to Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary.