Prime Minister, what are your impressions?
What have I seen? Hardship. I’ve seen hardship everywhere – only hardship. These are people in distress, most of whom – having left behind what they have – are somehow trying to escape the threat of armed conflict and war. The Hungarians are in an easier position, because they speak Hungarian and because they have contacts and acquaintances here. So they can find accommodation relatively quickly, and indeed most of them can also find work. I’ve spoken to a family who have already found a rented flat in Nyíregyháza, into which they can move with their five children. And they’re starting work tomorrow. But there are others who are at more of a disadvantage because they’re not Hungarian, so they don’t speak the language and don’t know exactly what they want to do: to stay or to move on. And then, in addition to the Hungarians and Ukrainians, there are various refugees from third countries, who were mostly students in Ukraine – some on scholarships – and who have had to cut short their studies. I met a lot of people coming from Kharkiv, coming from that university, including Indians, Nigerians and Chinese people. We’ve let them in, and in line with agreements with their embassies they can go home from Budapest. Those who decide that they don’t want to lose the benefit of their years of study can make an agreement with us, and if they want to they can continue at a university in Hungary to finish their studies. So we’re trying, and we’re helping in every way possible. At the moment we have accommodation, we have basic necessities, there will be job opportunities, there’s education, and we have interpreters. So under the circumstances things are going smoothly. But the key to resolving the situation and putting an end to the problem is not in Hungary – it’s over there. So we can only help those in distress, but we cannot solve the situation they’re in.
Endre Karácsony (ATV): Since the outbreak of the war, have you spoken to either the Ukrainian or Russian president, or are you planning to do so?
The Foreign Minister is in contact with the Russians, and he’s also maintaining contact with the Ukrainians. We’ve spoken to senior Ukrainian and Russian officials at ministerial level, but I personally haven’t spoken to anyone since the outbreak of the war.
Are you planning to?
As the need arises. This isn’t a question of personal pride: I speak when the need arises. When it’s necessary to speak, one must speak; when it’s necessary to act, one must act; when it’s necessary to negotiate, one must negotiate; and when it’s necessary to listen, one must listen.
Petra Gál (RTL): Prime Minister, on your visit to Moscow what did you say to Vladimir Putin, and what did the Russian president say to you about the military tensions? Were you surprised that Ukraine was invaded?
The reason we went to Moscow – the German chancellor, the French president and I – was to try to prevent what has happened. So each one of us went on a peace mission. We tried to secure avoidance of the war through negotiation between the Ukrainians and the Russians, but ultimately that is a matter for the two sides, and not for us. But I think we created the opportunity. We regret that in the end this opportunity was not followed by talks, but by war.
How realistic is the completion of Paks II [nuclear power plant extension]?
Completely. Paks II will be built.
Are you still planning to strengthen the military presence in the region?
If necessary. More will come.
Nick Thorpe (BBC): Prime Minister, Nick Thorpe, from the BBC.
Oh, Nick! Good to see you again!
We’re live on air on the BBC. Can I just ask you what is your message this morning to President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and what is your message to President Putin this morning?
I don’t have a message to anybody, I have a message only to those refugees who are here. So the Hungarians are here. Hungary is a good friend of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. If they need any help we are here, they can count on us. I don’t think that the leaders need any message and advice on my side; they’re big guys, and they know better than me what should be done. What the Hungarian wish is, it’s not an advice, not a message, just a wish from my heart: Peace please! Peace!
But you’ve condemned the Russian invasion already in words. But what more can Hungary do to help Ukraine – a neighbouring country?
So we try to provide all the chance for negotiations, because what is going on now is war. The war can be stopped only by negotiations and peace talks and ceasefire. But it does not depend on the European leaders or the Hungarian prime minister: it depends on the Russians and the Ukrainians; basically the Russians. So we try to facilitate all the negotiations on behalf of Hungary, we will provide them a chance to come to Budapest to negotiate for peace talks, whatever. So if they need us in order to make peace, Hungary is always available.
Prime Minister, you’re here today, you’re meeting people, this is a very different response than 2015, when your government took a very different approach to people crossing through Hungary. On the border with Serbia there’s still a razor fence, people are still trying to cross Hungary to safety. What do you make of that, why is that so?
Where are you from?
Oh! From an Irish, it’s difficult to understand.
Okay. Well try and tell me then, go on!
So you need some help, probably. You see Hungarians all around here. We are not living in the comfortable West, you know – in a safe, sea-defended area. We’re living in the midst of difficulties – not just now, but in the recent several hundreds of years as well. So we are able to make a difference: who is a migrant, they are coming from the South, stopped, fence; and who is a refugee. It’s two different words in the Hungarian language. Migrants: stop. Refugees can get all the help.
Are you concerned after the sanctions, the European sanctions against Russia? Are you concerned for Hungary’s relationship with Putin and Russia?
The only concern now is the war and peace. So we don’t think about how is the future and so on – it’s not time for that. The time now is for making peace. No war: peace.
Zsolt Z. Pintye (M1): Our Irish colleague referred to unity, and here one can see an unprecedented unity, with an incredible amount of food and other donations being offered by Hungarian citizens. But where can we put this? Has anyone thought about where we can store it? This is a very important question.
There’s a coordination system. There’s a National Security Operational Group, and we’re coordinating state action within that framework. Either fortunately or unfortunately, we have ministers who have been tested in crises. This is a major crisis, but there was one related to Crimea, and we’ve had flooding here in the past. I’ve just met some people with whom I worked on the flood protection barriers in 2001, when the floods arrived here. And Hungary has been tested along its southern border, when hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants surged into the country. So we’ve developed crisis management capabilities over the course of more than a decade. In such times experience is useful, because in turbulent times the most important virtue is composure. Anyone who lacks experience will panic, will become agitated, will speak incoherently, and will create even more problems than already exist. So calmness, composure, experience and routine. Fortunately, most of my ministers have seen one crisis or another, and so this coordination system is working well. We’ve been coordinating the work of the volunteers, and we have a system for this; so no donations will go to waste, we’re grouping everything, and it’s being distributed and delivered to the right places. Most people are being taken from here by people they know, or by Hungarians to other parts of Hungary; or people are coming here from elsewhere – from the Czech Republic, Poland and even Austria – to pick up their friends. Those without any contacts who stay with us will be placed in temporary accommodation here. If it turns out that they’re forced to stay in Hungary for a longer period, they can get food and accommodation in places that we’ve already designated as suitable for them in various parts of the country. But I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are starting work soon. So they already have jobs, they already have work contracts, their employers are already renting them accommodation, they’ll go there with their children and they’ll start work. Refugees will receive the same benefits as Hungarians who are out of work. So they’ll get everything that Hungarians get.
Ágota Papp (Hír TV): The Government has launched the “Bridge for Transcarpathia” aid campaign, and very many donations have already been collected. In the long term, how can you help – including with this aid campaign – those who need long-term assistance, whether that be accommodation or work? What will this look like in reality?
It looks like coordination has already started to ensure employment for those who are staying here in Hungary because they don’t want to or can’t go back or move on. We’ve begun organising this. We’ve contacted the largest employers and recruitment agencies, and we’re trying to give everyone the opportunity to establish their own livelihoods, if fate has decided that they’ll live with us and will need to settle down here in Hungary. This is a work-based country: we help everyone to work, and so those who stay here will have jobs. Fortunately the Hungarian economy is on the upswing, there’s a labour shortage in Hungary, and we need people who are willing to work.
You said that Paks II will definitely be built. Why and when?
On schedule. We hope that this will happen under the guidance of our government, as we’ve planned. Hungary needs Paks II, and the Hungarian people need it. Without Paks II our industry would be less competitive and families would have to pay higher utility bills. So there’s no reason for us to change our previous plan, and we have no such intention.
Prime Minister, you’ve come from Tarpa. How do you see the situation in settlements in the second line?
I know Tarpa well, because I had to go there during the floods. Fortunately I know some people there, because there’s a football academy secondary hub there, which we can now use to accommodate children and their parents. So all the infrastructure that’s been built in recent years is now coming in handy. The settlements in the second line of defence are also doing well. I’ve spoken to some of the mayors – and, of course, Mr Tilki was elected by the local people to maintain and operate coordination between the mayors of the first and second lines. So far we have no complaints. Bearing in mind the size of the problem, things are running smoothly.