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

Katalin Nagy: – The President of the European Parliament has said that there must be agreement on the EU’s migration and refugee policy before next year’s elections to the European Parliament. We know that Parliament has again tabled or taken up the question of the so-called “humanitarian visa”. As can be seen in the media, a great deal of outrage has been caused by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees having distributed bank cards without names on them to tens of thousands of migrants. And we do not know what account they are drawing the money from. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. What do you think is the reason for this great hurry to reach an agreement?

Viktor Orbán: – Good morning to your listeners. This is a last minute panic – similar to what women would recognise as the male midlife crisis. This is probably something of that nature – when a mandate is coming to its end, or one can see the end of it coming over the horizon. At such a time the representatives, leaders and politicians who will soon lose their mandates want to bring to a conclusion those matters which are dear to their hearts. The most important question in the past five-year political cycle in Europe – because there the terms are of five years, and not four – has been the migration question. It’s absolutely clear that every European Union institution – the Parliament, the Commission and the governments of Member States – has been split into two camps: the pro-immigration and anti-immigration camps. Because of this division we haven’t been able to bring such debates to a conclusion, but have instead rejected them. For instance, one of these is the question of migrant quotas; and another has been the issue of the same level of financial support being offered to migrants as to Hungarian people. Therefore, wherever we have been able to, we have defended Hungarian interests and represented our standpoint. There will be elections in May, and as I see it the pro-immigration forces are making a final attempt at the end of this year – for example, there will be one more regular summit this year after the Brexit summit this Sunday dealing with the British question. And next spring I expect a smaller attack from the increasingly weak pro-immigration camp. The bank card affair has surprised even battle-hardened veterans such as me. I didn’t think it would be possible, due to the war against money laundering, in which the authorities continuously squeeze the throats of Europeans with rules against that practice: of course we cannot just withdraw money with a bank card which doesn’t bear the account holder’s name; and all these transactions are recorded together with names. In the meantime, somehow it seems that the European Commission is distributing bank cards without cardholders’ names on them to people whose identities and intentions are unknown to us. All that we can see is that they want to get into the European Union. And many among them will become terrorists and criminals after they arrive in Europe, so they endanger the security of Europeans. Bank cards which do not bear anyone’s name are being distributed to these people. One is entitled to ask why this is happening, and where the money is coming from. Is, perhaps, the EU providing the money – the money which we pay into it? So the whole affair is unclear and must be investigated.

– But they haven’t answered the questions yet.

– I’m working on that. Hungary has a number of different bodies and organisations, and I’m trying to gather information on what is happening. We’re bombarding the bureaucrats in Brussels with questions; Fidesz Members of the European Parliament are not satisfied with the current situation, and we want to uncover the background to all this. This is related to the issue of the migrant visa, which has already been voted down once in the European Parliament. This would mean that we would grant entry into the EU to those wanting to come in who claim that they are entitled to do so on humanitarian grounds. I see this as a completely undefined and unregulated area, which would mean opening the floodgates protecting the European continent, and being hit by the flood. The European Parliament has already voted this down once, but they want to put it back on the agenda again – and perhaps they already have. And they want to force it through: they want to force this migrant visa idea down our throats. I will repeat – I have already said this several times – that this strengthens my suspicions: we who are against immigration want procedures that are fair and just, we do not want mass immigration, and we definitely don’t want illegal immigration; but there are very many politicians, bureaucrats and elected leading politicians in Brussels who see immigration as being good, who want to support it, and who want to bring these people in. Both the bank card affair and the migrant visa affair show that they are transporting migrants into Europe, because there are people who think that it is in the interest of Europe – or at least of some European countries. And instead of being a means of defence, they see the European institutions as travel coordination agencies, providing money, legislative protection and visas to immigrants – including illegal immigrants. So this is a bad situation, and it is particularly unfavourable for Hungary. I don’t expect a qualitative change until after the elections to the European Parliament. After that, however, we would like to see a major change. And that is also what I would personally like to achieve.

– I’ll just mention a news item from yesterday about the humanitarian visa. On the island of Sardinia the Italian police have arrested thirty people from a Nigerian organised crime syndicate, the members of which have been engaged in the most lucrative criminal activities: people smuggling, prostitution and drug trafficking. Interestingly, it has emerged that these people had humanitarian residence permits enabling them to live in Sardinia.

– This is what I’m talking about. There’s a major debate in the European Union, related to humanity, philosophy and politics. It is about whether it is permitted to openly state the fact that among migrants there is a remarkably high number of criminals, and that therefore the admission of migrants endangers the security of Europeans. I’m a believer in speaking directly about these facts. But this is not permitted in the EU, and so I am shouted down whenever I represent this position, because there the prevailing opinion is that stating these facts portrays migrants in a bad light, creating the impression that every migrant is a potential criminal. Of course nobody thinks that, but because they think that this is the impression given they do not permit this kind of public dialogue. Therefore in most European countries the harshest censorship is imposed on you journalists and media outlets – indeed on social media also. When anyone in Western Europe talks about the link between migration and terrorism, or migration and crime, then the censorship mechanism is triggered immediately. Because saying these facts is not permitted. Incidentally, I think that this is counterproductive, because people are not donkeys, they are not fools, and they are precisely aware of these interrelationships. And when politicians forbid them to speak about obvious facts, sooner or later that will backfire.

– The recognition of these facts can be delayed, but in reality it cannot be disregarded. You’ve mentioned that there will be a European Union summit at the weekend, at which the heads of state and government will decide on the Brexit agreement. Does the Hungarian government consider the agreement acceptable? Won’t the rights of Hungarian workers over there be compromised?

– They won’t be compromised. The document I’ve received for the special summit of heads of state and government on Sunday is a text which is satisfactory from a Hungarian point of view, and it safeguards the interests of the Hungarians living and working in the United Kingdom. I hope that after the debate this aspect of the document will still be in place – I, at least, will do everything I can to ensure this. Perhaps I should just add that there are two countries where people are asked for their opinions on issues related to the European Union: Hungary and Britain. When we turned to the Hungarian people in the form of a consultation and a referendum, the answer we were given can be summed up more or less as this: “More national sovereignty and less Brussels; Brussels should only concern itself with those issues on which decisions truly need to be made above the level of the nation state; whatever the Hungarians – and nation states in general – can take care of should be left to us.” The British, however, went even further: they didn’t say that they wanted less Brussels and more nation; they said they should get out of Brussels. This is how Brexit came about. I might also mention that we even posted newspaper advertisements – for which we were reprimanded by the British election agency, which saw it as an intervention in British affairs. They may well have been right. We used a thoughtfully worded advertisement to try to persuade the British people to see the value in being members of a large international organisation alongside us, and to take this into consideration when making their decision. I believe that we Hungarians – and I personally – did everything we could to keep the British in the EU. I cannot say the same about Brussels. So in my view, Brussels leaders made major political mistakes which then led to Brexit.

– And the British also took the view that migration is not the solution to the continent’s problems.

– The two things are connected. Brussels was unable to keep migrants out of Europe, and they were unable to keep Britain in Europe.

– This week the former Macedonian prime minister was granted asylum in Hungary. The European Commission is expecting an explanation from the Government. What is there to explain? Why has the former prime minister been granted asylum in Hungary?

– Indeed. This affair has drawn a lot of public attention. Perhaps the most important thing is that Hungary has been a democracy for thirty years – if we count Hungarian democracy as only starting with the fall of communism. And this is not the first event of this kind: Hungary has some experience in how to handle cases like this. Past cases didn’t create quite such a stir, but we’ve received asylum requests from very high-ranking political leaders of other countries, whose cases were duly assessed by the Hungarian authorities. What is clearly important here is that we are talking about the former leader of a nearer country: a country that has a crucial role in relation to Hungarian foreign policy, and in relation to the issue of migration, because Macedonia is on the route of migrants flowing north from the Balkans. I know this man, as he was my counterpart for a long time. I worked together with him, and I have to say that without him it would have been much harder – if possible at all – for us to protect the Hungarian border. So he was the first politician from the Balkans to build a fence; he asked us for assistance, which we gave him, and he started building his fence and holding back the flow of migrants. Therefore we’ve always seen Macedonia – and him personally – as an ally of Hungary. Now, one treats one’s allies fairly. If they turn to us, they are entitled to fair treatment. We cannot grant anyone a status placing them above the law, because the law applies to everyone; but we can offer a fair procedure, and I am pleased that this is not the first time that the former leader of another state believes that they can receive fair treatment in Hungary. Another question related to this matter is why it is creating such a stir. First of all, it is interesting, and like any detective story it is exciting: leaving one’s country, travelling through other countries, entering another country. There is an exciting story attached to the whole episode. But there are also parties with opposing interests. Let us not forget that the organisations that are most vehemently criticising the Hungarian government over this case are all George Soros’s organisations. And because it was this former prime minister who took the toughest action against Soros-style networks in Macedonia – as he was against immigration – and engaged them in dispute on that matter, they keep track of his movements. It is interesting that it is the very same organisations and people speaking out on this matter who support immigration in Europe and Hungary. This means that there is complete overlap – both at organisational and personal levels – between pro-immigration forces and those attacking the outcome in the case of the former Macedonian prime minister. This case is interesting because it requires a nuanced legal approach: we or I can guarantee a fair procedure for anyone who submits an application in Hungary, but I cannot guarantee any particular final outcome; the procedure itself is not conducted by the Government, but by the relevant authority – and these are two distinct entities. The further the Government distances itself from these procedures, the better. So the Government has a single duty: to guarantee the framework for a fair procedure, and then to accept the decision of the Hungarian authorities. This is what has happened. To complicate things further, all sorts of criminal charges had been filed against the former Macedonian prime minister, and there have also been verdicts passed which might be said to be final and binding. I believe it is important that we – the members of the Hungarian government and I myself – refrain from evaluating these. Perhaps I should add that there are complicated political battles and games under way in Macedonia, and the judiciary forms part of these. I myself have no idea what is true and what is not, because it is almost impossible to decide. In situations like this it is best to keep oneself as far from such issues as possible, and to insist on solely taking into consideration the procedure followed by the Hungarian authorities. The Macedonian proceedings have no bearing on us: what we are interested in is whether or not the application submitted has solid legal foundations, whether the authorities conducted a fair procedure, and whether they complied with the law. Once they have adopted a decision we must respect it. All I can say is that we will guarantee the safety of persons who have been granted asylum in Hungary. This is true for everyone, including the former Macedonian prime minister.

– The Macedonians requested his extradition.

– There is also a legal procedure for that: the Hungarian authorities will evaluate that request, and will come to a conclusion.

– The Hungarian Standing Conference is held every November, as is the Diaspora Council. You attend these meetings every year. This year both organisations adopted resolutions at the end of their meetings, you discussed the most important results and tasks, and expressed concern over the plight of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Is there anything more that the Hungarian government can do to improve the bad relations that have developed between Ukraine and Hungary, and to improve the situation of the Hungarians living there?

– We have limited means at our disposal. Our intentions have always been good, and in situations like this good intentions are the most important thing: we have always given our all, and have tried to help Ukraine. We understand their difficult situation: not only do we accept their territorial integrity, but we also demand that Russia does the same. We are part of every European decision which can help them, and in addition Hungary has tried and continues to try to help people in Ukraine as much as it can, beyond its capacity to do so. Naturally we primarily seek to help those who are closer to us, in Transcarpathia, but there we don’t want to differentiate between Hungarians and other nationalities in Transcarpathia: we want to help everyone. When we provide health care, we provide it for everyone. When we provide education, we provide it not only for Hungarians, but also for Ukrainians. When we offer to build new roads to replace those which are now in such an appalling state of repair, those roads will also be used by Ukrainians. So we are driven not only by a feeling of national unity – that is also an important obligation, of course – but we want to help a hard-hit region in our neighbourhood. What we have done has been unselfish, and we have adopted a pro-Ukraine position; but in return for this pro-Ukraine position the response has been anti-Hungarian Ukrainian policy. In all honesty I don’t know how to handle this situation. Negotiations are in progress, which the Foreign Minister is in charge of. But despite the fact that there are repeated meetings, there have been no actual results. Ukraine is in a difficult position, and a presidential election will be held next year. Their country has a presidential system – and so is different from ours – and this presidential election will be very important. We don’t know what to do now, but we’ve contacted everyone – not at government level, but party level – who may stand a chance of winning the election. And we hope that with the next Ukrainian government and president it will be possible to restore pro-Hungarian policy, instead of anti-Hungarian policy. We are pursuing pro-Ukraine policy, and we ask them to pursue pro-Hungarian policy. Meanwhile we make no secret of the fact that Ukraine’s most important aspirations – to at some point enter the EU and NATO – can only be realised with the involvement and help of Hungary. Therefore pursuing anti-Hungarian policy in Ukraine is self-defeating, and I expect the next Ukrainian leadership to come to this conclusion.

– Does the fact that we’ve launched economic development programmes in a great many places help to improve relations with our other neighbours in the Carpathian Basin, or to maintain relations at the same high level? After all, there are some neighbours with whom we’ve never – or only rarely – had problems.

– Something is happening here, the significance of which we perhaps haven’t yet grasped, or which is not widely appreciated. If we try to understand what happened to us Hungarians over the past one hundred years we could say – with some exaggeration and lyricism – that we have been through one hundred years of Hungarian solitude. This was a period in which our neighbours were afraid of us – or rather disliked us. They tended not to seek cooperation, and when they did it was under pressure from the Soviet Union – as we were all conscripted into the communist bloc. But there was no true fraternity, there was no shared vision for our future, and we did not devise great plans together; that was in no way typical. Hungarians were seen more as a source of danger, and others kept their distance from us. Over the past few years I have personally invested a great deal of energy in changing this, and I’ve found partners beyond the borders who, like me, believe that this is not a natural state of affairs, that it should be changed, and that we should instead cooperate. Serbia is playing a prominent role in this. Our friendship with the Croatians goes back eight hundred years. After a long time, we have also managed to establish positive relations with the Slovaks – relations which stand on the foundations of mutual trust, and which focus on shared plans. In this context we should make positive mention of the name of the previous prime minister Robert Fico, to whom we are grateful, and also the incumbent Slovak prime minister Mr Pellegrini, who is a good partner in this. With the Romanians the situation is always more complicated and more difficult, but I also see some progress there. So this Hungarian solitude has come to an end. Everyone has realised that cooperating with us is not unnatural; in fact it makes sense, and is even worthwhile. Those who cooperate with the Hungarians benefit. I invest a lot of energy in keeping our promises and forging cooperation schemes which are not meddlesome, but which at the same time do not lead to us surrendering certain rights – in the area of minorities, for instance. And in general, we don’t want to launch ungenerous economic development programmes which only benefit us, but joint programmes which also benefit neighbouring states. Each forint spent on economic developments beyond the borders increases gross national product by two forints. In addition to state statistics, I always check the statistics – and these are not easy to compile – which also take into consideration the economic performance of the areas inhabited by Hungarians: the economic performance of Hungarian-populated territories beyond the state borders. This is in order to see how the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin – regardless of which state they are in – live, how high their economic output is and how they are able to raise their children. And as we think in terms of the nation, this has an impact on our decisions. As I see it, if there are joint economic development programmes between Romania and Hungary, between Serbia and Hungary, or between Croatia and Hungary, this is beneficial for Hungarians living in Hungary, for Hungarians living beyond the present-day state borders, and also for the non-Hungarian nationals of neighbouring states. So I look upon the economic development programme as one of the future’s most important programmes, and I would like to make it succeed.

– An agreement has been concluded between the capital city and the Government, resulting in the formation of the Council for Budapest Public Developments. The opposition claims that the Mayor of Budapest has surrendered his independence, while you have said that this is an enormous opportunity in terms of the capital’s development. Why is this agreement important?

– It is not for me to quarrel with the opposition in Budapest; I leave that to the Mayor, and it is a fine task. But not even the opposition should disregard the fundamental rules of human logic. A large part of the developments implemented in Budapest are financed from government funds. While up until now we have listened to the opinions of the people of Budapest and even attempted to take them into consideration, we have made the decisions ourselves. Now the Mayor has been able to bring this arrangement to an end, and ensure that joint decisions will be made on how government funding is spent. So I would like to draw the opposition’s attention to the fact that Budapest has now been given the right to make decisions about funds which are not its own, but which come from the central government budget. Therefore István Tarlós has not surrendered, but has acquired rights for the capital. For my part, on behalf of the Government I have surrendered certain rights, because I believe that recently a distinguished team has formed around István Tarlós, with whom it will be possible to conduct well-founded specialist debates and discussions, and together with whom we may be able to make decisions which are better than those which we would make on our own. And naturally we are a national, Christian and civic party, and Hungary’s past is important for us. We look upon Hungary’s past as a resource and seek to follow examples from the past. In earlier times there was a tried and tested solution called the Council of Public Works, within which the Government and the City of Budapest worked together in an arrangement similar to the agreement we’ve just signed. Now that the Hungarian economy is in full swing, I believe that the Council for Public Developments which we’ve set up – which is similar to the solution adopted by the great old Hungarians and follows their example – can work for Budapest in the future. I congratulate the people of Budapest. I would like people – families in particular – to regard this not only at the level of ambitious developments, but also in terms of improving their quality of life in Budapest within the shortest possible time.

– We will talk about the details later. Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.