Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on
Budapest, 15 December 2016

Fidesz forever?

Fidesz is a genuine self-made story. The Fidesz story is about ten, twenty, thirty guys appearing from somewhere: they rebel, as they’ve had enough of the world surrounding them, they turn their collars up, and they make their own story. Not only were we nobodies politically, but also geographically – in both ways we were from the backwoods. I was the first person in my family for who, if there was work to do in the garden and school homework, then the priority would be the homework. I started university in 1982, living in a hall of residence in the nearby town of Budaörs, only ever daring to get on a number 40 bus: I knew I was safe with that one. Then, of course, I realised that there is nothing you cannot learn. If your fellow students flaunt their cultural superiority, you need to read the ten books, or watch the twenty or thirty films you’ve missed out on, and then you’ll catch up with them. These are not real problems – they can all be learnt. What cannot be learnt is character. And there, in Fidesz, some strong characters found themselves together in a single community: people whose only support was themselves – and each other. This is why Fidesz is still more modern than any of its present-day rivals. Just when we are about to become rigid and inflexible, we are able to shake ourselves, to look around and see what is going on in the world, to read, to learn, and to show interest in what is new in the world. This maintains a certain state of intellectual excitement among us, but it all stems from character rather than education. And here there is some kind of affinity with the new US president-elect. He, too, shares this kind of self-made-man mentality.

Could Mr. Trump have sensed this affinity? Is this why he phoned you?

He sensed it. (Laughter)

How can one even picture it? What was this telephone conversion with Trump like?

I spoke to a true American. Trump is not a politician who overcomplicates, not one who worries about how to address people. There was a shared outlook. This is a rare thing in politics – especially with the president of a great power. After all, there is nothing created by man that cannot be changed. Hungary can be changed, Europe can be changed, and so can the United States. But the only type of person who stands a chance of changing a country is one who does not feel compelled to conform, who is a straight talker, who speaks their mind, and who talks sense. Changing the United States from the White House is an enormous task, one that is almost impossible, and one that most have not even attempted. Perhaps, this time around.

I’ve been in this line of business for thirty years, and I’ve seen a variety of political characters. Trump and his team don’t look like they’re about to sign up for a training course. The stage is being taken by self-made people who are successful in their own right, who do not begin sentences with “I know what’s-his-name too”, but with “What I did was this”. And what they’ve done has been on a large scale. I think that the comfortable, warm, socialist-liberal world in which “we all bleat in the same sheep-pen” has come to end, and instead of sentences in the first person plural, we shall more often hear sentences in the first person singular: “I think”, or “I learnt”, or “my experience is”, or “this is what I do.” We are on the threshold of an era of more charismatic, more adventurous politics.

It’s interesting that the same criticisms are levelled at Trump as at the Hungarian government: the same accusations, the same critical comments.

Around the end of the eighties a consensus emerged which almost everyone thought to be immutable. It rested on supposedly unshakeable pillars, such as: democracy can only be liberal; Russia can only be the enemy; the international organisations are always right, and not nations; the free market is always right, and not the state; and politicians must listen to ideology rather than the people. Now these pillars, which had seemed indestructible, are beginning to crumble: they can barely support the structure any longer. Those who stand atop these pillars perceive Trump in the same way they perceive us; but because America is bigger, Trump is more of a danger to them. Looking at the world from their point of view, however, there are a great many similarities – leaving aside the size of the countries.

Was America an enemy?

We had good, friendly relations with the American people, and we had good cooperation with US business actors. But some American politicians were indeed hostile: not only to us, but to the whole of Central Europe. They were incredibly hostile. Had we taken this to heart, we would have felt humiliated. They gave us a scrap of paper, and expected us to accept the terms they had written on it. They assumed that in Central Europe there are two types of leader: one who is corrupt, and another who is Putin’s man – or he could be both at the same time. And it is therefore their duty to restrain such leaders. In other words, in their behaviour they completely disregarded the principle of sovereignty, and chose the path of direct intervention. They wanted to promote yes-men: they would come, present their conditions, and there would be leaders here who would reply: “Yes, sir!”

This was the personal aspect of the hostile relationship, but there was also an ideology behind it, which, with noble simplicity, they call “soft power”. This is not just a theory, however, but also a devious plan of action. They want to enforce their own interests through NGOs, foundations, civil society organisations and the media; this was the goal, and they saw this as realisable through George Soros. Just take a look at the recent elections in Romania: apart from one or two idiotic cases, there were effectively no anti-Hungarian voices. The explanation is that the voters did not see the main threat as coming from the Hungarians, but from George Soros. The winners campaigned against the Soros system: they said that the true enemy is not the minority parties, but the NGOs and foundations sponsored by Soros.

According to Politico, next year will be the year of Soros.

It will not be his year, but it will be about him: those two things are not the same. What is the logical response to the situation that has developed? In every country efforts will be made to push Soros out. You can already see this in Europe at the moment. The sources of funding are being revealed, as are the secret service links, and which NGOs represent which interests. The coming year will be about displacing Soros and the forces he symbolises. So in that sense Politico’s prediction is accurate.

Angela Merkel, however, will run for the chancellorship for the fourth time. Seen from here, one could even describe this as funny. Does she have a sense of humour?

It’s hard to tell when a German is joking or being serious. One thing is certain: Merkel has not built her career on a sense of humour. She is a true power politician, who uses power shrewdly and deliberately. This is something we must admit – even though she terrified us on the asylum issue. It is no accident that her term in power is currently the longest in Europe. We should also add that traditionally the Germans are very strong – if only because they are everywhere. Therefore, whatever conflicts of interest emerge, smaller countries should position themselves relative to the Germans so that the latter have little to gain from exercising their power; in other words, that it should not be worth their while to exert their superior power. We should not forget that five years ago a dominant proportion of the Hungarian media was in German hands. When I took a view that was in conflict with the German view, the next day the German-owned press in Hungary launched an immediate counter-attack. Now this situation has changed. This is now a different world.

And when are we going to have a Volkswagen here?

The size of the domestic market is a major reason we have no world brands. Generally it is rather difficult to build a serious brand with a market of ten million.  I would not set that as a target. It is wonderful for there to be young people who try to think in such a way, because they just might manage something like that; but I think more in terms of powerful regional players. We have such powerful players: MOL, OTP and Richter. We would need four or five more of these. And it would really be something if we had eight to ten regionally powerful Hungarian multinationals, which could perhaps even extend their reach beyond the region. We have seen, for instance, how the Northern Italians and Bavarians have done this. When we recalculate the figures to match the size of our country, we find that if in Hungary we want economic structure and stability similar to Bavaria, we would need to have twelve thousand small and medium-sized businesses with export potential. We started at around two thousand, and our estimates show that now we stand at around six thousand. I think this is more promising than any spectacular brand-building efforts.

Let’s stay with Merkel for a little longer. She would ban the burka. Would you?

At the risk of sounding pompous, we should say that here we are facing a true paradox: the snake is biting its own tail. The liberal approach is contradicting itself, and I’m horrified by the sight of it. To say that someone can come to your country, and then to say what they can and cannot wear, seems to defy common sense. It would be more honest to say that they’re not welcome, that they must stay outside, because we can see what the consequences of letting them in would be. But if I let someone in – not in masses, but as a guest – I do not impose restrictions, but say that they are free: free to do what they like, as long as they observe the laws. According to this, if you want to wear a burka, you may do so: if you are my guest, you are free. But it is not good policy to let in masses of people, and then to take fright. I think that this is a desperate attempt to correct a serious error: a kind of rear-guard action.

What do you think about the fact that Huckleberry Finn has been banned in the state of Virginia? [The literary masterpiece was removed from the school curriculum in Virginia a few days earlier because the word “nigger” features frequently in it. There has been an ongoing debate in the United States for some years as to whether these words should be replaced in works of literature – the editor.]

But it is a famous anti-racist work! That is what I call a liberal aberration.

Have liberal aberrations come to an end, will they come to an end – or perhaps never?

Nothing ever disappears altogether. Everything comes back sooner or later in different forms and waves. To what degree this happens is the responsibility of those living in a given age. The ground gained by liberal aberrations depends on the response to them from those alive now. Everything depends on us. Everything can return if we want it to, and nothing returns if we do not want it to. This is our decision, above all.

With Brussels we also seem to be engaged in a dispute about whether or not we have the right to make our own decisions. Brussels wants to intervene in energy prices, it is applying double standards, and it is launching infringement procedures.

In Brussels the most important positions are held by liberal globalist forces which represent the status quo. They know about each other, they are unison, they know each other, and they have the same mind-set: Brussels is dominated by this type of interpersonal network. There our kind – Christian, national Europeans – are not dealt any of the cards. Their goals run counter to Hungarian interests. In their minds the goal is a United States of Europe, organised and ruled by them. This is not what we have in mind. Consequently the strong figures in Brussels who hold positions of overt or covert power are mostly in dispute with us, and they are our rivals – at times even our opponents. This is not a personal matter, but rather a structural one. This is the decisive issue: all the others are just a projection of this essential intellectual and interest-related conflict. To give you an example, Brussels wants to intervene in energy pricing: they want to ban reductions in household energy charges. We shall not let them do this. The direction the world is heading in is not one in which Brussels is able to dictate terms to the nation states. In Brussels they are still sitting back-to-front on the horse, and so they cannot see that those who oppose the will of the people are coming to grief, one by one. The European people insist on their nations: on the independence of their nations.

It’s as if there’s a rebellion against this status quo breaking out everywhere, isn’t it?

It is. I’m convinced that 2017 will be a year of rebellion. Whether or not this rebellion will be crushed is another matter. In Austria they’ve managed to delay it – for the time being. In Italy they couldn’t crush it, and in America they couldn’t crush it. There will be elections next year in Germany, the Netherlands and France. A great deal could happen. As for the underlying issues, there are two rebellions happening at once. On the one hand, there is a rebellion by the middle classes. The roots of this are in the world economy. In my opinion, in the United States we saw a rebellion of the middle classes, which is why the Clinton clan lost. Brexit was about this, too. And the latest analyses show that something similar is taking place in France: those who have been left behind, those left to fend for themselves, are seeking a way out; and this feeling of being left behind is being converted into votes. And there is also a national-type rebellion. Those who believe in a United States of Europe are right now stealthily eroding the sovereignty of individual nations on the issue of asylum. They are reallocating powers, to the detriment of the nation states. The nations are rebelling against this. This is a genuine battle for sovereignty. And all of this is intertwined with an intellectual rebellion against political correctness, enforced isolation and stigmatisation. This rebellion started in 2016, but it will increase in intensity next year. This is why I say that 2017 will be a year of rebellion.

As a government, how can you rebel? Isn’t this a contradiction?

It isn’t the Government that rebels, but the people, and we represent what the people want. This is in our political genome. We are a people of freedom fighters. There are plenty of tyrants abusing their power and seeking to use that power for oppression. Here we have large businesses which want extra profit – and this does not coincide with the Hungarian people’s interests. Here we have the European institutions, which want to take powers away from us. Here we have free trade agreements – which could, on the whole, even benefit us as well, but which in their details are damaging for us. We are not bothered by this anti-elite atmosphere: on the contrary! It’s natural that we should stand up to any kind of wise guy. And if we avoid becoming ossified in the armchairs of governance, we shall find common cause with the people.

Have all the victories and power gone to Fidesz’s head?

Fidesz is a mass people’s party, with tens of thousands of members. I don’t know what all of them think. Success is like alcohol: some people are affected by it more than others. If someone denies this they’re not telling the truth. But every politician should be able to handle this, or else the effect will be similar to that of alcohol: there comes the hard process of sobering up, the hangover and the headache – and you could easily find your bags outside the front door.

Is there corruption?

A tendency for iniquity is as old as Man, and so is corruption. We fight against corruption, just as we do against all crime. This will never disappear from the agenda. One tries to choose colleagues who can be trusted, and who one assumes will not yield to temptation. It is hard to prove corruption, but it is easier to accuse someone of corruption. It is virtually impossible to prove that an accusation is false, and that no corruption has taken place. To accuse someone without  evidence is defamation, which is just as much a crime as corruption itself. For forty years there was dictatorship in Hungary: ducking and diving, the search for loopholes, trickery and underhand dealing became a part of life. Another ugly inheritance from that period is the default position of envy: a mentality which declares that if someone is successful, they should be suspected of wrongdoing. This attitude can only degrade people, and it degrades the entire country. We should be glad of each other’s achievements, as this is what takes the country forward.

What motivates you, what is it that still keeps you going?

In other words, when does one feel hungriest? I will tell you: on the day after victory. This is when you are hit by the realisation that victory is not an end in itself. In the “twelfth round” the fight itself obscures all else, but the next day one realises that the goal was not victory. Victory is only a means to an end. If you are born Hungarian, sooner or later you learn that this has given you a task and a mission. In politics this can be easily translated. This is what I grew into. Being a Hungarian is a mission, a task, a job of work: to maintain, strengthen and carry forward a great, lonely, thousand-year-old civilisation, built on the Hungarian language and on the foundations of the Hungarian mentality, and surrounded by dissimilar nations. This is what I work for, this is what carries me forward: calmly, without stress or emotion, with a positive outlook on life, and with love.

Who is the toughest opponent?

Yourself – always. You must conquer the capacity for wrongdoing which is hidden within everyone: that it is better, for instance, to stay in bed in the morning than to get up. This is what I’ve learnt in my life. (Laughter) You are your own toughest opponent, and conquering yourself is the hardest thing – because there’s always more inside you to be brought out.

Who was your toughest political opponent?

Gyula Horn [a former socialist prime minister] was the toughest. May he rest in peace. Gyula Horn was synonymous with the tough socialist world which somehow outlived its own demise. He embodied everything that we sought to defeat, and that we wanted to leave behind. Horn was a tough opponent, even though I finally defeated him – which was something like the fourteen-year-old Krisztina Egerszegi powering through between the two strapping East German swimmers to win gold.

Who, for you, is the king?

“Kid” Puskás. That is settled: there’s no room for anyone else. The story of Ferenc Puskás is the greatest. And it is our story: a Hungarian story, through and through.

What will the country be like in ten years’ time?

We will be richer and stronger. There’s no need to overcomplicate this: it depends on us – on us Hungarians, and no one else. First of all it depends on how we perceive ourselves: whether we believe in Hungary and the strength of the Hungarian people; whether we believe in each other; whether we are happy for each other’s achievements, or are jealous and conspire against each other. If we believe in Hungary, in the Hungarian people and in each other, we will have a fine future ahead of us. We need a cohesive, strong nation, which stands up for itself, does not take “no” for an answer, does not kowtow to anyone, and goes all the way on the path that it has set out on. A great deal also depends on what we hand down to future generations. A country will always become what we raise our children to be. The country can become great again if we set them a good example, if we teach them not to seek the easier path, but to pursue their own – even when it appears to be more difficult. What is the message of America? Make Hungary great again!

The end of the year is approaching. Where does a prime minister party? What can you fit into your day?

For a long time I have been one of those people who are under continuous scrutiny and observation. What you call “party” is something I no longer have the pleasure of. But at home I can drink some wine and listen to a record by Tamás Cseh, and then everything falls into place. You wake up in the morning, and while you worked well into the night, you struggle to meet the challenge of being are able to set your children an example by waking up before them. And then we decide whether Anikó or I should take them to school. When that is done I get into the backseat of the car and read the sports news in Nemzeti Sport, so that I don’t miss out on the important events in the world. When I get to the office I check the news – I give myself half an hour for this – and then I either have breakfast or I don’t. Mostly I don’t. Then life begins: people come to see me, and issues emerge one after another, depending on the events of the day. Today, for instance, I’m going home from here, I’ll iron my trousers, and I’ll go to the end-of-year evening for Fidesz MPs, where I have to deliver a speech. As far as lunch is concerned, if I were a soldier would use the term “canteen” – but as that’s not the case, the correct term is “cafeteria”. I have my lunch brought up from the cafeteria in the Parliament Building. Yesterday I had an excellent dish of roast pork liver. In life any small pleasure is still a pleasure. One has to read something, of course, whilst eating, which is a bad habit. It’s not a middle class habit – not even plebeian – but there is so much work, and it doesn’t get done of its own accord. And then the work continues. If I’m lucky, I get to go to Felcsút to train for a while in the evening – but usually I’m not lucky, so I stay in the office until ten or eleven at night. The next day everything starts over again.

Who do you support?

The Prime Minister isn’t allowed to comment on football, but I’ll tell you: I support Felcsút, and I’ve established a football academy there. When I retire, I’ll go back there – to my opponents’ great joy and satisfaction. I have faith in the young. And they even rejuvenate you.

Do you have a favourite film?

There are some cult movies that you’ll remember: “Once Upon a Time in the West” was one of those. I also like Clint Eastwood films. We can put “Gran Torino” on the list, next to “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Flight”, with Denzel Washington. The children also help a great deal. They have favourite films, and watching them is compulsory. A great favourite is “Pride and Prejudice”. I must have seen it at least half a dozen times, and all my daughters watch it with tears in their eyes.