Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Hír Televízió programme “Daily Update Extra”
28 March 2022

Ottó Gajdics: Good evening. This is Daily Update Extra. I’d like to welcome my guest Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. Good evening.

Good evening.

In Hungary, the majority of people breathed a sigh of relief when last weekend it was reported that common sense had prevailed, and that NATO had in effect copied the Hungarian position. But the frenzy isn’t subsiding or calming down, and so first of all I’d ask you to reassure our viewers: is this position, is this decision – that we won’t send troops or weapons to Ukraine – firm and sustainable in the long term?

The Hungarian position is firm. What’s more, the campaign has even been of benefit to this debate on the war; because the nature of campaigns is that they simplify and sharply define positions, and so we know exactly what one side thinks, what the other side thinks, and what a third side thinks. Well, it’s completely clear that in Hungary the national side says that this is a Russian-Ukrainian war. We, however, are Hungarians. We’re helping those in trouble, but at the same time we’re not taking a single step that could drag Hungary into trouble. We can’t help anyone while at the same time destroying ourselves – for example, by getting involved in a war that’s not our war, in which we have nothing to gain and everything to lose. So the national side’s position is clear. We shall remain on the side of peace: we shall not supply arms, we shall not send soldiers, and we shall not allow arms to pass through Hungary’s territory into Ukraine. The position of the Left is also clear: they’ve made it clear that they’re involved in this conflict. So they don’t see a conflict that’s a war between two other peoples, but a conflict in which they’re directly involved; and they believe that it would be right for Hungary to get involved in this conflict – if possible, sending troops, allowing the passage of arms shipments and sending weapons within the framework of NATO. So there’s a clear left-wing position. And there’s a NATO position: NATO says that of course each member country is independent, it’s up to the national governments to decide what they do; and the question is whether there’s something that we’ll do collectively, in which all NATO member countries will participate. And their answer is no, there will be no such action: as an alliance of nations NATO won’t send troops and won’t send weapons.

So your challenger – who talks in muddled contradictions – is speaking out against his own allies, first talking about following what NATO decides, but then when NATO makes its decision, continuing to parrot the approach you’ve just described – thus inflaming Hungarian public opinion.

The fact is that on the Left there’s a lack of knowledge – which we shouldn’t criticise, as they’ve been in opposition for a very long time. As it’s the national side that represents Hungary in NATO and not they who do so, they have little knowledge of how international organisations like NATO operate. So they have limited knowledge of exactly what kind of debates there are, and how the mechanism works. But there’s also another problem, which I describe as the problem of satisfying others. Just because the position in NATO is what we’ve said doesn’t mean that there are no debates within NATO. There are those in NATO who, contrary to the Hungarian position, constantly want to push NATO into this conflict. And, as I see it, the Hungarian left is more inclined to cooperate with those countries which would rather push NATO into this conflict – these are major countries, which the Left wants to satisfy. So I can’t reassure the Hungarian public with the thought that NATO’s position is irreversible, once and for all. Every time we meet, we review the situation, and there are always opinions expressed that NATO itself should be involved in this conflict. And there’s another camp, another group, a more European group, which argues against doing this under any circumstances. And every time we check how many of us are behind which position, so far there have always been more supporting the Hungarian camp’s position. So I don’t want to encourage false illusions among your viewers : the situation is difficult, it’s risky. What’s at stake in this election is the war. Because if the Left were to win the Hungarian election, the number of NATO countries that would push both NATO and Hungary into this conflict would increase. So if we want peace, only the national side can represent it in Hungary and in NATO.

The real leader of the Left, of the post-communist Left, has gone so far as to say that if we don’t adopt that position we’re lousy people.

This reminds me of my teenage years, when you read Wild West stories about Native Americans, and while you’re reading you’re always on someone’s side: either the “cowboys” or “the Indians”. But that world isn’t the world of politics. In politics there’s only a place for grown-ups with a mature outlook, who don’t identify with one actor or another in a conflict, but first of all clarify who we are and what our relationship is to the conflict. So these aren’t adventure novels, these are deadly serious situations: people are dying, countries are being blown apart, economies are collapsing. So we mustn’t try to imagine ourselves as one of the protagonists, but must make it clear that this is Hungary, and we are Hungarians. We have clear interests, and we also have responsibilities: we must always help those in need, and we’ll do our utmost to help them. If I take a look at European aid as a whole, we’re taking in the largest number of refugees as a proportion of our population. We’re providing for the largest number of people, and we’ve already provided for a number equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the Hungarian population. So we aren’t a lousy nation; we’re a great nation, that’s doing the right thing morally. But we can’t help the Ukrainians by blowing Hungary apart. It won’t help the Ukrainians if we turn off the taps controlling the flow of Russian gas and oil, and the Hungarian economy comes to a halt in three or four days. What’s more, we bear no responsibility for this war, because those on one side or the other who decided on this war didn’t consult us about it: we weren’t involved, and it wasn’t part of a joint decision that would have placed responsibility on Hungary. Therefore we must clearly define what’s in the interests of the Hungarians and Hungary. And we don’t bear any more responsibility than that which we’ve been living up to every day, and which we’ll continue to live up to.

And that’s no less than the preservation of peace.

Peace and security. First of all, we mustn’t get drawn into this conflict. This isn’t our war. The essence of this war is an old story: it has a historical basis, it has a very clear military-political basis, and it has a cultural basis. But that’s something that the parties involved will argue about with one another. We’ve never been part of that debate. We’ve never been involved in the debate about how many states the great Slavic sea to the east of us actually consists of, how many nations it comprises. We’ve never been involved in the debate about what kind of military-security agreement they conclude with one another: whether Russia gives Ukraine a security guarantee, whether Ukraine gives Russia a security guarantee, whether or not Ukraine can join NATO. That’s not a debate for us, it’s not a debate that we needed to be involved in or will need to be involved in: it’s a debate between two other countries. We have a clear position, however: the Hungarian interest is for there to be peace – and, in my view, this is also in the interests of the Ukrainians and the Russians. So when we advocate peace, when we say that instead of further warfare we need a ceasefire and that international negotiations should begin as soon as possible to resolve the situation, we’re of course acting in our own interests; but we’re advocating something that’s also good for Ukraine, for the Ukrainian people, for the Russians and for the Russian people. The other point is security. So there’s peace and then there’s security. We also have to maintain the security of the country – not only in military terms, but also in economic terms. Of course I’d like Hungary to have stronger external links – for example, if we had a coast, if we had seaports, and if we had the opportunity to transport energy, oil or gas to Hungary in huge tankers. But Hungary isn’t in that position. What we need comes to us through pipelines, and a pipeline has two ends: it starts from somewhere over there and it ends up here. So you can talk about it and make all sorts of splendid plans, but here and now the reality is that if it [energy] comes, it comes, and if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t. And we can’t substitute it from elsewhere. And if it doesn’t come, it won’t be a matter of the price of energy rising by three or four forints, but the Hungarian economy will simply grind to a halt – because there will be no oil and no gas. This is why I’m unshakably opposed – almost to the point of fighting – to the European position that wants to extend sanctions to gas and oil; because for Hungary this would have consequences that would be unmanageable.

Even during the Iraq war, people felt that the big boys in the playground – the world’s great powers – were actually instigating every conflict in the world, because energy had to be obtained from someone, and that was the focus, the key issue. And how strange that, on the sidelines of this war, a huge US-European gas supply contract has already been concluded. Yes, but as you say, it’s not at all certain that this will solve the dependency that the European Union suffers from. How do you think we can reduce dependency on Russian energy, and in what timeframe? Because there’s also a big debate on that.

We have a Hungarian response to this. So we’ve developed a response, whereby we’ll transform the structure of Hungarian energy production over the coming decade so that the majority of it will be nuclear, and most of the rest solar. And together these two sources will account for more than 90 per cent of our energy needs. This will be at a point in the foreseeable future; it needs work, it will cost a lot of money, but it’s possible, it can be done. So we have a national plan. Of course there will always be some energy coming from Russia. Our goal isn’t to have nothing from Russia, but not to be dependent on it: to always have something else and not to be at the mercy of it.

How can the voters of Hungary be shown that what the Opposition is proposing – immediately turning off the taps – is simply nonsense, and that what these people want is incomprehensible?

I think that Hungarians understand this very well. Among politicians there’s uncertainty over the electorate’s ability to grasp complex and complicated issues. My advice is always to remember that we too lived through a period in our lives when we weren’t politicians, and yet we were able to see things quite well; so it’s safe to assume that the public can do the same. This election match isn’t over, it hasn’t been decided yet, and here over the next six days we have to work. So now, as I travel around the country and campaign, because I travel around the country and talk to people, I have to say that Hungarians have a crystal-clear understanding of the complex geopolitical and economic context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Hungary’s relationship to it, and the role played by the Americans. So we shouldn’t be alarmed: this is not only a great people which helps those in trouble, but it’s a clever people that can see through the smoke and understand the essence of things. I’m not afraid that the Hungarian people will make the wrong decision this weekend through a lack of understanding of what’s at stake in the election: they understand that, they know that.

You’ve drawn attention to a phenomenon that, frankly, I didn’t think I’d have to think about in my lifetime. Our parents and grandparents told us a lot about the hunger that raged during the World War, and then the communists’ confiscations of agricultural produce in the 1950s. And now this threat has re-emerged. How exposed to this is Hungary?

The whole of Europe is exposed to it. Here’s a short but instructive story, which I hope your viewers will appreciate. When the Russians occupied Crimea, the European Union introduced the first sanctions. We never supported these, because we believe that sanctions solve nothing, and the example of Crimea shows that sanctions haven’t been effective. When this happened, Russia was still importing grain, needing to import grain from elsewhere. This was good business for us Hungarians, as we also supplied it to them. But after sanctions were imposed on the Russians, they developed their own grain industry, and today they’re one of the world’s biggest exporters. What I’m saying is that Russia and Ukraine are two countries that play an outstandingly prominent role in the world’s grain supply. And now there’s a serious chance that the production from both countries will be lost. This means that there will be shortages in other parts of the world. And then there will be famines, because without grain there will be famines. If you remember, the Arab Spring started out as a food riot – a food riot due to steep price rises. So there’s not only the possibility of a shortage of cereals and food in Europe, but also in other parts of the world. This could cause great problems that one wouldn’t otherwise think of. As far as we’re concerned, we’re threatened by the fact that, as Russian and Ukrainian capacity is lost, the price of grain will rise; and if a good price is offered to farmers, to producers in Hungary, they’ll probably sell their grain. And we could see foreigners siphoning our grain stocks out of Hungary at a high price, leaving none here, forcing us to import it at even higher prices – if we can get access to it at all. So we must now incorporate emergency circuit breaker mechanisms to prevent this situation from arising. Large countries – such as France, for example – are already thinking about food stamps, already setting up such systems. And it’s possible that this whole war, if it’s prolonged, bloody and painful, will have a knock-on effect on the European economy, with certain food products not being available in sufficient quantities.

And by a strange twist of fate, the post-communists I’ve already mentioned will accuse you of being a communist, because the state will be interfering in free trade in this way.

With their track record on ideological questions, what they say doesn’t count for too much. But I’d encourage restraint. So it wasn’t by chance that on the first day of the war I used the expression “strategic calm”. There are big issues here, there are major interrelationships, and the stakes are high. One mustn’t rush, one mustn’t speak incoherently; one needs to be quick and decisive, but one also needs to be prudent. What’s interesting here isn’t ideological debate and political discussion. There are serious issues here: will there be energy, will there be gas, will there be oil, will there be grain, will there be food? Do we need to send troops beyond our borders, or can we avoid this and maintain peace? So these are the high stakes now. And in such a time I think that the best currencies are restraint, calm, experience and the ability to rise above the political debates of the day.

Hír Televízió viewers regularly send us requests encouraging you to say much more about this administration’s great achievements over the past twelve years. But now there’s a more serious threat: in fact the real danger is that if this period of governance isn’t continued, then these achievements will be jeopardised. Let’s raise the stakes in the election.

But this is how the campaign started. So the campaign started with “The tomato’s red, not black, Hungary’s going forward, not back”. This is how the campaign started, with the people’s decision – the parliamentary election – being about whether Hungary should go back to where we were before 2010, to Gyurcsány’s period of left-wing governance, or maintain our results and continue the work we started. Before 2010 they took away the thirteenth month’s pension, they took away one month’s salary, they lured people into foreign currency debt traps, they abolished the family support system that we’d created, they restructured the previous system of housing support, and the average wage before 2010 was the same as the minimum wage now. So I think – and I thought – that we’ll have to convince people that we mustn’t go back to where we were: it was bad, and we shouldn’t want to go back there. That was before the war. And then the war came, and at that moment the stakes were raised. Life and death, war and peace, and security: these became the great questions.

By the way, now they’re trying to correct their stupidity by claiming that they won’t revoke any measures which are good, and they’ll do what the Fidesz government has done. You’re a seasoned politician. How much of a threat is this, or what can be done about it in the next six days?

Perhaps the most important thing is to be bold enough to say that, whether we like it or not, the result of this election isn’t a foregone conclusion. It’s not a shoo-in, and there’s everything to play for. In an election there are always unknown elements. The polls give analysis, but it’s still about millions of people going out and giving their opinion on a particular issue at a particular moment. There’s always a mystery in it that can’t be detected in opinion polls. No matter what the polls show, something can always happen there. This also has a biblical foundation: Jesus or Barabbas. So while the results of the past twelve years make it quite clear that only Fidesz can protect peace, security and the results achieved, one cannot expect common sense to predict how people vote. And it’s clear that the people who ruined the country before 2010 are the same people who are now standing to form a new government. Why should people vote for them? In three seconds we can give one another five great arguments why people shouldn’t. But, regardless of what we think, millions of people will go to the polls, and the result will be decided there. So this isn’t a foregone conclusion, and no election is ever a foregone conclusion. So people must vote. My first piece of advice is that absolutely no one should think twice about voting. The second thing is to make sure that you not only go to vote, but that you take along with you people like you: people who think like you and are on the same wavelength. Bring along your friends, family and colleagues. And if we all go, we’ll get the result – but only if we all go.

And there won’t just be a general election, but also a referendum: “A mother is a woman, a father is a man, and our children must be left alone.” It would be difficult to summarise it more succinctly than that; but I’d ask you to go a little further in persuading people that this is important, and not to listen to those who say that people should spoil their ballot papers.

I must say that, here too, I’ve had a lot of good experiences. At first I, too, thought that we were talking about a cultural phenomenon – the breaking up and restructuring of families, support for sex-change operations, sexual propaganda being pushed on children – which the Hungarian people wouldn’t regard as a serious issue. After all, the situation’s already serious in the West, but somehow – because of our common sense and our natural resistance – it’s only slowly gaining ground in Central Europe; and the other countries are holding the line, from the Croats right up to Poland. So I thought that we’d have to explain this to people, saying, “Look, this is a cultural phenomenon that’s causing untold destruction in Western Europe. And in Western Europe, when you send your child to school, you can’t be sure that on that very day some political activist with a confused identity won’t explain to him – to your child, who’s at an impressionable age – that he isn’t actually a boy, but could be a woman, that the decision is his, and so on.” So in Western Europe that’s part and parcel of the problems of families and parenting. And I thought that we’d need to show this to people, because they don’t know about it. But it turns out that they do. So Hungarians are well aware that there’s a form of insanity in the West, a gender insanity, which is corroding, shifting and trying to rearrange the most basic, secure, fixed points in life. They know that this trouble is on our doorstep, and this is why all analyses show that the turnout in the referendum will be high, and will far exceed all party boundaries. So what I see is that our traditional concept of family and way of life has a very high level of support, and here the Left-Right divide is almost completely irrelevant; because it’s simply a question of whether we want to continue to live our lives normally, or whether we want to go on an adventure in which, through our children, what we’ve always felt to be a secure point in our lives is subverted. And here again, my impressions are very good: people are taking a firm and confident stand, and they have strong opinions. It’s just a question of whether they’ll go to the polls and vote “no” on each of the four questions about gender madness.

Among ourselves, we tend to encourage one another by saying that if the result of this referendum is good, things will be much easier for you in Brussels – where, for example, the European Parliament has already adopted a decision allowing men to give birth. How much chance do we have of our way of thinking overcoming this madness?

This is the eleventh hour, so this ship has not yet sailed. The situation is very serious, but it hasn’t yet sailed. So on this issue I’m not just fighting for Hungary: I see similar battles over values taking place in other Central European countries. And there, too, people like us are winning. So I think that Central Europe can gain a foothold. This isn’t known about in Hungary, but the first such measure that was attacked in Brussels – back in 2010, 11 or 12 – was enacted in Lithuania. This battle has already taken place once, but since it was in a small country, we weren’t paying attention. But this shows that Central Europe senses this problem and wants to protect its children and its families. And I can see that there are also counterattacks beginning to develop in Western Europe, where there are also many families who now feel that their traditional way of life is being threatened. So if Central Europe holds out, it could trigger a change on this across the whole of Europe.

Peace, security, faith, the future of our children. It will be no ordinary Sunday.

I’ve never seen anything like this. As I’m about to turn sixty, I’d thought that politics had nothing new to show me: we were in opposition for sixteen years and we’ve been in government for sixteen years; there was red mud, floods, and even a financial crisis in 1999, when Yeltsin was replaced by Putin, so…

A pandemic…

… a pandemic. At most I thought that if there were troubles they would be recycled. But we’re going to have a situation in which a pandemic is behind us, a war is next to us, and a completely unstable, dangerous situation in Europe is ahead of us. Well, I didn’t expect this either. So even for old warhorses like me, the stakes in this election are immense: much bigger than I ever thought they’d be.

So we’ll go to the polls on Sunday and make our voices heard. Thank you very much for being here with us. Thank you very much for what you’ve said. I thank my viewers for their kind attention. You’ve been watching Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. Goodbye.