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

Katalin Nagy: The number of daily new coronavirus cases in Hungary was around this level in May. Yesterday morning thirty-three new coronavirus infections were diagnosed. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Will you be able to isolate the latest cluster in the town of Pápa and carry out comprehensive contact tracing in order to prevent the emergence of further clusters across the country?

Every day begins with hope. Good morning. I also trust that the Operational Group will be capable of doing that. Everyone should know that the Operational Group is working continuously, and I think that soon we’ll also see the special unit which we’ll deploy in situations like this. If a “superspreader” appears somewhere, and several people suddenly fall ill, then in addition to contact tracing we’ll also enforce isolation. So if we’re able to identify the geographic area at risk, then we will isolate it. We’ve set up a special unit to do this. I’ve asked the Interior Minister to ensure that this doesn’t remain our own little secret: the public should see for themselves who the members of this unit are, how many of them there are, what they look like and what methods they use. So when they appear somewhere, people shouldn’t panic, but realise that they’ve come to help. Just as before, I ask the country’s citizens to assist in the defence operation. There are clear rules which must be observed, such as the wearing of face masks on public transport, in shops, and so on, but it’s impossible to impose defensive measures on every single aspect of life: we ask everyone to keep at a distance of one and a half a metres from one another; but we can’t put a police officer with a measuring rule next to every Hungarian citizen to check whether they’re complying with the rule or request. So I ask everyone to help in the defence operation through their personal participation. Naturally it’s hard to mount defences without a government that functions normally and decisively. However the quality of a country’s defence operation is determined not by the Government’s activities, but fundamentally by a country’s level of intelligence: if it’s impossible to determine precise rules for every minute detail, then what’s important is what we call common sense. So if people are sensible and intelligent in understanding the situation, then, for instance, someone with a cough and a high temperature won’t mix with other people. These new infections – including the latest ones you’ve just mentioned, and the earlier ones in Mezőkövesd – happened when someone with a cough and a high temperature mixed with other people, despite realising that they had these symptoms. And they not only mixed with other people: they went to places where there were crowds of people. So I respectfully ask everyone, in the spirit of understanding and common sense, not to mix with others if they have a cough and a high temperature, because they will infect others. Without this involvement, without people’s voluntary involvement, no defence operation of any kind can succeed. This is why the national consultation is important: it lays the foundations for measures which people will more readily comply with, because they themselves have shown support for them.

Could you tell us whether this “super team” at the Interior Ministry has already been set up, or already started work?

Of course. I can tell you that they look fine. Sooner or later this team will be visible to the public. They have equipment that’s reminiscent of science-fiction movies. The public will see them soon. I’ve asked the Interior Minister not to hide this unit, but present it to the public as an integral part of our defence operation. They’ll be visible soon. I’ve also asked the minister to organise an exercise for this special unit before the end of August, which the media will be able to cover; and so people will also be able to see it.

Will there be further restrictions, or could some restrictions be reintroduced? Or is there no need for them as long as the number of active infections remains between five and six hundred?

Well, legislative responsibility lies with the Government, but let me once again underline that the very heart of the entire Hungarian Constitution, one of its most important chapters, is entitled “Freedom and Responsibility”. The Government will do its job, but I ask everyone to exercise their freedom responsibly. We can set a good example. Let’s take the fireworks display in Budapest, for instance. A strictly legal interpretation of the current restrictive regulations shows you that in law it would have been possible to stage the fireworks display. But we’ve decided not to do so, because we realise that if hundreds of thousands or a million people come together – even though they’re outdoors, forming a long line along the Danube banks – this poses a risk which we mustn’t take. So with its own decisions the Government is trying to set a good example in terms of freedom and responsibility. Now, further restrictions. We shouldn’t identify by name those countries with high or increasing infection rates; in a situation with deteriorating infection rates we ourselves wouldn’t be pleased if the world pointed its finger at us instead of showing solidarity. So I’d rather not mention the names of countries, but at the Wednesday Cabinet meeting we were compelled to move Spain from the “green” category of foreign countries to the yellow category. So the rise in the rate of infections there has meant that we’ve had to inform Hungarian citizens that the risks involved in travelling there have multiplied. This is the situation now, despite the fact that we love the Spanish and we admire their history, and that they’re a great nation with a great culture. I must also say a few words about the differences between neighbouring countries. Several weeks have gone by, enough time to come to stable conclusions, and I can tell you that if people do go abroad, they shouldn’t travel very far. Instead they should travel to neighbouring countries. And it’s good for them to know that Slovakia is safe, Austria is fine, Slovenia is safe and Croatia is safe. Regrettably, our other three neighbours aren’t. Therefore I’m asking everyone to bear this in mind when they select their holiday destinations. In this regard, I can say more than I could a week ago. We’re coming to the end of the first week of August. We have another two to three weeks left of the usual summer holiday period. If we may ask you to, please choose these four countries I’ve mentioned.

One reads a lot about the fact that research into a vaccine is going ahead at full speed. Has the Hungarian government ordered vaccines – and if so, from whom? In this regard can we expect the same sort of race as we did in the spring, when it centred on the procurement of protective equipment?

Well, that period in the spring was not a high point for the human race and civilisation. For crying out loud! All that slapping, pushing and shoving – let’s call it what it was – that took place as part of the competition at loading ramps and customs offices in various Asian airports. Of course let’s keep that in our memories as evidence, but on no account should we repeat it. So I trust that perhaps the whole of humanity will be more systematic when turning its attention to the second wave. We Hungarians ourselves believe that we’ll be more systematic when turning our attention to the second wave. We can’t complain much about our defence measures in the first wave, but it’s always possible to find some fault with something. When approaching the second wave we’ll have taken the steps in reform and correction of the healthcare system which can improve the prospects for a near-perfect defence operation. Now, the vaccine. What will happen? I don’t want to dishearten the Hungarian citizens listening to us now, but the vaccine is being developed in competition. So the situation is that it’s not being developed in one place in the world: it’s being worked on simultaneously by several countries and a number of large pharmaceutical companies and research institutes. On the one hand this is a good thing, because they motivate one another, don’t they? After all, it’s difficult to set a world record if you’re running alone. If you’re being pushed, if you’re being chased, you’ll complete the race sooner, and you’ll break the world record. So this is good. On the other hand, when a vaccine finally does emerge, they’ll argue about whether or not it’s good, or whether another one being finalised would be better. And then will it have side-effects? We can’t expect to receive a clear, calm evaluation of the vaccine. Therefore I’ve asked the Health Minister to provide Hungarian voters with a very measured, very calm, very precise and very professional expert opinion as soon as the first vaccine is released, so that we know where we stand with it. But unfortunately this is not a job for tomorrow, because as I see it this will take several more months. From time to time politicians voice their hopes. I’ve just seen that the US president has said that he hopes there will be a vaccine before the US presidential election at the beginning of November. No one can be certain about that, however. What one can do at times like this is place orders, so that one doesn’t need to besiege warehouses as we did for ventilators. So we’ve ordered almost five million vaccines. The European Union is attempting to coordinate Member States’ intended procurements, and Hungary has applied for around five million doses of the vaccine. So if there’s a vaccine, we will also have it.

In the early hours of Thursday morning around one hundred migrants attacked the Röszke border crossing point on the southern border. Yesterday the Chief Medical Officer visited the site and voiced her concerns about the enormous risk presented by large groups of undocumented people entering the country – even if they simply want to pass through on their way to somewhere else. Furthermore, examples from Italy show us the connection between the spread of the pandemic and migration. There’s the island of Lampedusa, or Malta, where two thirds of the people rescued from the sea – eighty, or however many – tested positive.

Here we must be careful to avoid unnecessary debates. There are these human rights activists whom I call loopy liberals – which offends them, but that doesn’t change things – and who in my opinion regularly part company with reality. But they’re right when they say that in every statement we make we must respect the dignity of others. And if we link migration with the virus, we might create the impression that every migrant is a bomb: a biological bomb that could infect us. This isn’t the case, because this isn’t true for every migrant – only for some. The problem is that we don’t know which ones. Therefore we must see every migrant entering the country illegally as a potential source of infection. I know that from a loopy liberal’s viewpoint this statement seems unfair or too severe, but from the viewpoint of Hungarians who could fall victim to such infection we must think according to the logic of self-preservation. Every migrant who wants to enter the country illegally and without being checked is not only breaking Hungarian law, but is also a biological and health threat to Hungary. This is a tough statement. I say it cautiously and with restraint, but this is the situation. This is why they cannot enter the country. We must prevent this at all costs, because not only will they disrupt public order by showing contempt for our laws and our culture of coexistence, but they will also pose a real threat of infection. In this regard – when most recently around one hundred migrants attacked the Hungarian fence and tried to get through – I asked the Interior Minister to prevent these attempts with any means necessary. Our laws are good, and they offer the police a wide range of means. Once before at Röszke we made it clear that this is not a country in which our police officers shrink at the sight of three TV cameras. Naturally many dislike Hungary being depicted in the world media as a country where police officers take tough action against migrants, but I tend to be pleased when I see such things. Many countries see this in a negative light and this isn’t good for Hungary, but safety is more important than any promotion or positive PR. So I’ve asked the police and the Interior Minister to ensure that police officers and soldiers take firm action – as they have done so far – in order to prevent all such attempts, because now they also pose risks to public health.

You’ve stressed – and have said so from the outset – that in order for the defence operation to succeed, we must cooperate, and we need everyone, every Hungarian. So far the national consultation has been completed by around 1.4 million people; this is the approximate number, around 1.4 million, and…


This is the latest number, then.

Yes, this is where we stood this morning.

The deadline is 15 August.

We’ve extended it. There’s some confusion now, given that half the country is on holiday and the other half is at home; and so it’s not easy to keep to deadlines. There is great interest because, when you think about it, in Hungary there are around eight million citizens over the age of eighteen, and so far 1.4 million of them have been prepared to complete the questionnaire either online or – the majority of them – on paper. When you think about all the work one has in a household – one can barely keep track of it – you need to realise that completing a questionnaire is low on one’s list of priorities. Even so, in such circumstances – the normal circumstances of life – 1.4 million people took the time to sit down and say, “Well all right, this is an important cause, and now that they’ve asked me I’ll say what I think.” So 1.4 million out of eight million is a very high number. So we believe that there is more interest, and there are some who haven’t yet stated their opinions, but will want to do so later. So we’ve extended the deadline to 31 August. I ask everyone to complete the questionnaire. You’ll see the news, or see for yourselves if you travel, that half the world – or more like all of it – is preparing for the pandemic’s second wave. No one knows for sure whether there will be one, but many people are preparing for a potential second wave. And there could be some justification for the sense of alarm. In fending off the second wave it will be crucial for us to be able to implement measures which people themselves want, agree with and support. Experiences are important, and experiences include the opinions people formed during the first wave. Share those opinions with us, so that we can mount a better defence.

The industrial production data for June has been released, and we can see that it’s higher than the previous month. While we haven’t yet reached the level of last June, this is undoubtedly a promising sign. At the same time we’ve also heard that, in addition to the economic protection measures, the Government would like to help those sectors which are being hardest hit by this pandemic. The Government is trying to help every sector – from tourism to, most recently, the music and festival industries. Last week you announced support of more than five billion forints, and to help these sectors the Government’s spokesperson has just announced further funding, in addition to this five billion. Why is this needed?

Every day I really do start by studying the latest numbers. First of all I check whether there are any further deaths. This is the most important number. While the number of infections is also important, the vast majority of those who contract the illness will recover. A death, however, is an irreparable loss. So every morning I check the success of our defence efforts by seeing whether we’ve lost any lives – and if so, how many. Therefore it’s very important for us to look out for one another. We must pay special attention to the elderly, because they are still the ones who are most at risk. A coronavirus infection is unpleasant, but younger people’s constitutions can overcome it. The elderly, however, could find themselves in danger. So I continue to ask that we all look out for one another – and in particular for our parents and grandparents. This is the first number I check every morning. The second is the number of infections, how much it’s risen by, whether there’s any geographical concentration, any clustering, and whether we’re required to make a decision about any immediate action: whether any immediate action is required, or the usual disease control protocol is enough. And the third number is the unemployment rate. Every other day the ministry headed by Mr. Palkovics sends me very detailed data about how we stand on this. Well now, understanding the Hungarian statistical system is almost impossible for a normal human being, and only people who have undergone mental training are able to decipher the data we receive. I’m not one of those people. In order to understand what the situation actually is, we employ specialists to compare the numbers derived from assessments based on eight to ten different indicators. So rather than bombarding you with these details, I’d just say that we – and this is at least true for me – must always concentrate on a single number: the number of people actually in employment. The number of people out of work, or how many have registered as unemployed are all figures which are highly dubious; because although someone applies for a job or is looking for a new job, they may well have something to live off, they may have some other job. So that information doesn’t help me much. What I look at is how many people are in work. And what I can say is that more people are in work today than were in work in January, but fewer than at the same time last year. As regards the number of people with jobs before the epidemic and now, I see a shortfall of around 30,000 to 35,000. The Government has pledged to create at least as many jobs as are destroyed by the virus. I’ve not been able to deliver on this promise yet. At one point this number – the difference between those in employment earlier and now – was well over one hundred thousand. But we’re making good progress, and we’re reducing this number. It currently stands at just over thirty thousand. Naturally we don’t know what will happen, but unless the sky falls in on us there’s a good chance that this difference will disappear during the autumn, and at some time around then we’ll be able to say that there are just as many people in work as there were a year earlier. Incidentally I’d like to add that I don’t want to stop there, because even a year ago – when more than 4.5 million people were in employment – my understanding was that in Hungary tens of thousands more people could be brought into the labour market. So I won’t be satisfied with just getting back to the level we were at: we want to go beyond that. Ten years ago, in 2010, I believe that we won the election – and this laid the foundations for my own credibility – because I pledged to create one million jobs. One million new jobs. In Hungary back then between 3.6 and 3.7 million people were in work. By comparison, over the course of eight or nine years we created more than 800,000 new jobs. To my knowledge this is a world record. In modern economic history very few countries have created so many jobs as a proportion of the population within such a period of time. So let us Hungarians be proud of this. I undertook to direct and lead the task of creating jobs, and with due modesty I can say that Hungary can be proud of being able to create this many jobs within just ten years. And as wages are continuously rising, Hungary is now a country in which ever more people believe that it’s worth being in work, and it’s worth building their lives and the security of their families on work rather than on welfare benefits. The problem was that under left-wing governments we were bankrupted by their encouragement and promotion of the concept that we should build our lives and the security of our families on benefits rather than work. We managed to break with this concept, and this is something great. I think that future governments in the coming fifteen to twenty years – whatever their composition – should preserve this. This fortitude, this spiritual dimension, this will to work, this industry and this faith in advancement can make an economy competitive in the world. And if our economy is competitive, we can offer a good standard of living to the people involved in the economy – in this case Hungarians. So I think it’s very important that also during the crisis we concentrate on jobs. If there’s work, there’s everything. This is a slight simplification, but it’s true.

When will musicians be told the details related to warehouse concerts? They’re very keen to find out.

Musicians are a hardworking element in the country, as every day I receive at least three proposals about what regulations we should ease, how to do so, and so on. I’m sympathetic to this, and indeed I was young once myself – in fact even now I’ll gladly listen to these young bands. Pop culture has become part of the modern world and our collective culture. So this is a valuable part of Hungarian culture, despite the fact that high culture tends to be contrasted with popular or mass culture; in my opinion this is unjustified, because it’s possible to develop this genre to fantastically high standards – as many do in Hungary. We were also young ourselves, and there were some great things here, like Omega and Szíriusz. And there are also some great things now. What’s more, I must say that – just as in high art, classical music or opera – truly great achievements come from creating something to the highest world standards in an international genre, while still infusing it with some Hungarian character. And popular music in general is an international cultural genre. The greatest figures in high art have always been capable of this, and so have the greatest names in popular music. So when I hear young bands today – whose names I can barely pronounce, because unlike LGT or Illés they choose names that one can barely pronounce – I sense something specifically Hungarian. I feel that this music couldn’t have been written in London, Paris or San Francisco. It was created here in Hungary. So we and I can be proud of the fact that there’s a popular genre in the world to which Hungarians are able to contribute something that no one else is capable of contributing. I simply want to say that when we talk about music or popular music we don’t just see an entertainment industry, but an important element in Hungarian culture. We have a programme – a popular music programme – that was developed by the head of the Petőfi Literary Museum. This involves a huge amount of money, and consists of several phases. We’ve brought forward some elements of it. As right now the emphasis is on crisis management, we will implement most of it in the medium term. But it’s important to rescue, to help this industry; and this is where the emphasis is. This involves festival organisers. We’ve now managed to find a financial solution for them which could see them through these hard times. There are the musicians who perform, and there are lots of people backstage behind them, creating the conditions for them to be heard by the audience. Now everyone has been given some kind of opportunity. This is like an ants’ nest – in a political sense also. As I’ve said, we’re talking about hardworking, intelligent, flexible people – and the same goes for their music, the genre they pursue. If the Government intervenes in the wrong place, then like an ants’ nest suddenly everyone will start protesting; and despite our enormous investment and support, everyone will be dissatisfied. So I’ve requested that we keep our distance when providing this support. So we’re reaching out to the producers and people from their sphere, and they’re the people who should decide exactly who can receive funding, how and under what circumstances. We’re talking about an important segment of Hungarian culture, and we shouldn’t lose everything that’s been built up by this artistic field over the past few decades.

We’re coming to the end of the interview. Will there be a few days of leave for the Government, and for you? Will you be able to spend some more time with your family? On Facebook we’ve seen that this week your fourth grandchild was born: a boy.

Naturally the Government can’t go on holiday, but I must let members of the Government – including myself – take some time off, because otherwise one would go insane. One reaches a point at which one feels that there’s sawdust where one’s brain should be. This damages the quality of one’s work. Members of the Government can go on holiday, in appropriate rotation, not for the sake of relaxation, but in order to return in a better working condition than when they left. Governance is an unforgiving line of work, because every decision is significant. Of course it would be better to run a government in a friendly club-like atmosphere, but that’s not possible. This is a government of civilian and civic bodies, but its culture is always dominated by the capacity for action, for rapid deployment, and for decision-making. So there’s an almost military atmosphere, in which I expect my ministers to be accessible, deployable and ready to make decisions at all hours of the day, in every circumstance. But for this they need to rest sometimes. I will grab a few days off, and I’d like to spend more time with my family. We always receive a huge number of congratulations after the birth of a grandchild, and we’re grateful for this. I know that many people are also praying for us, and I’m especially grateful for that. In certain respects this is a strange country, and Hungarians tend to be excited when a boy is born. I can’t quite comprehend this, because I have four daughters and one son, I’ve never made any distinctions among them, and the only differences I see among them are biological differences. I raised all my daughters to be able to stand on their own two feet. It’s wonderful for a woman to have a husband, to have a man by her side, but you can’t always rely on them. One can end up alone. And if I look at the sociology of Hungarian families, I see many examples of that. In these modern times girls must be raised to be able to stand on their own two feet and hold their own in competition with men. I’m not saying that every girl should be raised to be an Ilona Zrínyi, but it’s good for them not to be afraid of their own shadows. But all the same if a boy is born, people get excited – especially men, fathers and grandfathers. At such times everyone envisages a bright future for their child. Right now our grandson is only little. His name is János; today he is Johnny Corncob, but we hope that he’ll turn out to be John the Valiant.

We wish you the best of health. Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.