Jan Palička: What do you think the Czech Republic and Hungary have in common? What can we learn from each other? What should cooperation look like?
Viktor Orbán: We live in a community of destiny. Today we stand together against political pressure from the current imperial centre, from Brussels. In the past, whenever the empire of the age was able to turn Central Europeans against one another we were weakened; but when we stood together we asserted our interests. This experience is also decisive for the future: only by working together can we make Central Europe an independent geopolitical player. This is an existential question.
How do you see the current role of the Visegrád Four? Is there a future for this project, and do we need to build on it? Or would you rather say that it’s merely a thing of the past that has fulfilled its mission?
As I see it, this is the only enduring formation for the countries of the region that contributes to our upward path. This has been recognised by the political leaders of all countries, regardless of party-political affiliation. The governments of the V4 countries come from different party families. The strength of the alliance lies in its focus on the alignment of interests rather than on ideological differences. And this has already produced results: we’ve ensured that important decisions in Brussels cannot be taken without Central Europe, against the will of Central Europe. This has been experienced first-hand by Mr. Manfred Weber and Mr. Frans Timmermans, who wanted to gain positions for themselves by turning against Central Europe. There’s a Hungarian saying: “Nothing about us, without us”. We must make the Western countries of the European Union understand this. To do this we must show unity.
Many people are talking about the need to include Austria in the Visegrád Four. Do you think that would be right? Don’t you feel that this idea has something of the spirit of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy about it? Do you think it’s possible for this Central European bloc to be the driving force of the European Union?
Slovenia and Croatia – or even the non-EU country Serbia – are obvious partners for the V4. Austria could also be a partner, but to do so the Austrians would have to decide whether they envision their country’s future as an appendage of Germany or as a determinant member of a Central European powerhouse. This is a strategic question, and the decision is up to them. The current Austrian leadership, I believe, understands this dilemma; and so we can work well together in many areas. One example is the issue of migration, on which Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is pursuing a very rational policy.
Where do you see the place of Hungary and the Czech Republic in the European Union? What should our objective be, and how can we achieve it?
The UK has left the EU, in Germany there’s a transition of power, and the President of France is facing an election. The southern countries all have extremely high levels of debt, and face political uncertainty due to migration. But Central Europe is in good shape: our countries are enjoying very respectable economic growth year after year; our ability to assert our interests is growing; and we’re proud of our values and are confident. Those countries in Europe that ally with us are doing well, while those that don’t can easily sink into the Brussels sea of bureaucracy. No one now can offer a better deal.
This year both our countries are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the end of the socialist system. What do you think is the greatest threat to democracy today? Thanks to our historical experience of “actually existing socialism”, do we have an intellectual “brake” which protected us back then, and which could now prevent us from bringing it back in from the West – under the name of “progressivism” and the “woke” movement?
Our region is home to many veteran freedom-fighting politicians. I think of Prime Minister Janez Janša from Slovenia and Jarosław Kaczyński from Poland as such. That attitude also characterises Prime Minister Babiš – although he has combined this with the independent character of the self-made man from the business world. We can recognise a situation in which there’s an attempt to lead us by the nose. Today we see that Marxism is trying to return in a new form, in the guise of woke ideology, gender madness and political correctness – this time attacking us not from the East, but from the West. There isn’t only an epidemic of COVID, but also of wokeness. But we Central Europeans were vaccinated against the woke virus during four decades of communist oppression. We’re resisting attacks from a Brussels which suffers from an intolerance of freedom and which abuses its power.
Foreign public opinion sees Hungary as being in a peculiarly paradoxical situation: on the one hand, it’s seen as a European troublemaker; and on the other, it’s one of the countries that are most committed to the European Union. Unlike in the Czech Republic, leaving the European Union isn’t a topic for discussion, and support for EU membership is much stronger. Hungarians are proud of their nation, but also strongly “pan-European”. What do you think is the reason for this?
In recent years the European Union has been going in the wrong direction. We Hungarians feel that the structure of the EU is creaking and cracking. But we’ll stand there until the very last moment, and hold up the last beam. Our friends in Western Europe must also understand that the countries of Central Europe didn’t enter the EU with their hands above their heads, but are doing their utmost in the interest of the policies that their electorates have empowered their governments to pursue – whether or not Brussels likes it. National independence, the defence of our identity, support for families and the protection of children are principles that we will not compromise at anyone’s behest. An analysis discussed in the Polish parliament clearly shows that we are not receiving aid from the West, but that the countries of Western Europe are making money out of us and taking profits from our countries. And meanwhile we’re being lectured on European values. Hold on a minute!
What do you think the European Union should look like? Is it viable and sustainable in its current form? What do you think is the unifying factor that keeps the European Union going?
We want pragmatic, mutually beneficial economic cooperation that respects one another’s sovereignty. Instead, the Brussels institutions nowadays have been captured by neo-Marxist ideology, and there’s been one crisis after another. Meanwhile the conservative forces in the “old” Member States have withered away. Our task is to restore the balance: to return to the original idea of Europe, and to concentrate on well-functioning and rational areas of cooperation – such as economic and military cooperation. Let’s cut back the Brussels bureaucracy, let’s return powers to the Member States from the institutions that are playing politics and creating pointless tensions.
There are two elections in the European Union in the near future, and both are very important: the German federal elections in the autumn, and the French presidential election in 2022. In a year’s time there will certainly be a new German chancellor, and there may also be a new occupant in the Élysée Palace in Paris. What does this mean for Central Europe and for the European Union as a whole?
We’re seeing strange developments in the West. In Germany there’s an election result, but no winner yet. There are losers, who have paid the price for the political mistakes of recent years. Germany’s strategic dilemma is whether it wants a European Germany or a German Europe. Historical experience has shown that the latter leads nowhere. But Helmut Kohl showed that it’s possible to pursue a policy that’s good for Germany and good for Europe. That’s a recipe which we must reintroduce to our kitchen. France, too, must make a strategic choice – regardless of who sits in the Élysée. France cannot rely solely on the southern states, because they’re not strong enough – either economically or societally. The engine of development is in Central Europe. The French would do well to survey this region also.
What do you wish for the Czechs who will be voting in the October parliamentary elections? How do you think people can be encouraged to vote?
Prime Minister Babiš and I are old partners. He’s the most outspoken of all European politicians – even more so than me. That’s something about him that I respect. When migration needed to be stopped, we collectively took up the gauntlet thrown down by Brussels. Prime Minister Babiš is a guarantee of success.
What do you think about the “Green Deal”? Is this really the biggest European issue in the years ahead? How should we approach the issue in order to find potential in it? What do you think about electromobility? How do we build our energy system to be stable, and to meet new standards? But at the same time, won’t cars once again become the preserve of the rich and a luxury for the average citizen? And don’t you fear that energy prices will skyrocket again?
The challenge is twofold: we must protect the created environment without jeopardising people’s livelihoods. Hungary is doing well: over the past 31 years we’ve managed to increase our economic performance while reducing our harmful emissions. There are only 21 countries in the world like this. What we’re seeing is that Western politicians are taking an ideological approach to the issue, wanting to make ordinary citizens pay the price for fighting climate change, rather than putting the burden on the biggest polluters and the multinationals. We find this unacceptable. For us the fight against climate change is important, but we caution the EU against committing ritual suicide under the banner of the Green Deal. It would be good if this time the EU could avoid the sobering slap in the face that it’s received for mismanaging the migration crisis.