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

Katalin Nagy: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has come to the studio from a meeting of the Operational Group. Good morning. What are the latest figures?

Good morning. The Operational Group reviews the situation early every morning. While the current situation is important, I’m always more interested in what’s going to happen next, because I need to see when our healthcare system will reach its full capacity. At this point, according to our analysis I can tell you that on 21 November we’ll need 2,240 intensive care beds. An intensive care bed is one with a dedicated ventilator for seriously ill patients, for the critically ill. And the pandemic has not spared the Government either: Géza Szőcs, our poet laureate and one of my chief advisors, has passed away. May he rest in peace. So the situation is serious. Everyone has some experience of this now, and people are no longer only learning about the situation from newspapers: the pandemic has reached their families, co-workers or relatives. Some people recover easily, but let no one be deceived by the fact that the younger members of one’s family rapidly and easily overcome this disease: our situation, our friend Géza Szőcs, shows that it’s serious, and can be deadly. This is now an everyday experience in our immediate circles, in the Government’s circles. So on 21 November we’ll need these 2,240 intensive care beds, and on 10 December we’ll need up to 4,480 intensive care beds, along with the requisite number of doctors, nurses, medical assistants and so on. That, more or less, will be the limit of our capacity, because these figures for 10 December mean that there will be around 30,000 to 32,000 people in hospital, with 4,480 in intensive care. We can keep to this target, but today we adopted decisions to ensure that if the number of infections exceeds this number, then there will be designated locations where patients can be given appropriate medical care – other than in hospitals if necessary. These numbers mean that within days – or even just hours – a decision could be made about rescheduling elective surgery that can be postponed without risk, in order to free up as many hospital beds as possible. We’ve already done this once before – in the spring. This always provokes debates about how it should be done with no – or minimal – risk. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a medical decision: disease control experts will tell us which surgeries and interventions can or should be rescheduled. We’ve meticulously analysed the statistics related to deaths, and I see that the average age of those who have died is 76.1 years: the average age of those who have died is just over 76. This underlines – and I say this to young people over and over again – that young people shouldn’t think that their state of health is similar to that of their parents and grandparents; because a disease that they can shake off like a dog shaking off water – or overcome with minor symptoms – could take the lives of their parents or grandparents. So I implore every young person to think not only of themselves, but also of their parents and grandparents, as the average age of those who have died of the coronavirus is just over 76. And our parents and grandparents cannot be replaced. When they’re alive we take them for granted, but if one loses them, one realises what an irreplaceable loss it is. So I’d like to ask young people to exercise consideration, discipline and discretion. If we take a look at the distribution of settlements affected by the pandemic, in the report today I was confronted with the fact that there are 3,230 settlements in Hungary, of which only 700 are unaffected by the pandemic. It has already emerged everywhere else. We’ve had to close 98 nursery schools, and we’ve ordered breaks in seven schools, where there’s no teaching at all – either in person or online. So students in seven schools are now not being taught. There are 23 schools with online teaching: although the school buildings are closed, there’s online teaching. And we have 78 schools with a combination of in-person and online teaching. For as long as possible we’ll try to avoid closing schools.

The World Health Organization also recommends this.

Everyone recommends it. We regularly conduct surveys, and I try to follow the direction in which opinions are developing. We also held a national consultation. Everyone would like us to keep schools open for as long as possible, within the bounds of good sense. The winter break is seven weeks away, and we should hold out until then. This isn’t such an easy judgement. Yesterday I met professors again, and this morning I spoke to healthcare experts at the Operational Group’s meeting. If pupils are at school – and now I’m talking about secondary school pupils – they’re under some kind of supervision. Knowing them and thinking back to our own youth, if they’re not at school it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay at home. So we need to judge which poses the greater epidemiological risk: being at school under supervision, or telling them not to go and accepting the consequences – whatever they are. I’ll say it again: biology rules, and at this age young people are active. So this is a difficult dilemma, but experts are continuously assessing the situation and are making proposals for decisions. There’s another debate, about how we should talk about the pandemic. Even though this isn’t the exact phrase they use, ever more doctors I speak to say that we should try to alarm people in order to finally bring home to them the gravity of the situation. But I don’t want to alarm Hungarians. I have a different perception of Hungarians: there’s no need to alarm them; instead we must talk frankly and seriously. The situation is difficult, and in certain areas it is grave. At the same time, our prospects are good: we’re able to handle the situation, and – as I keep repeating over and over – our doctors and nurses are world-class and are performing heroically. When the pandemic struck in the spring we had nothing; and yet we were successful because we pulled together. Now in the autumn, when we have everything we need because we prepared thoroughly in the summer, if we pull together, observe the rules and support one another we will succeed again together – but only together. This is more or less the report I received from the Operational Group this morning.

Last week you said that Monday would see the dawning of a new order, because you were about to introduce further restrictions. Is there any evidence that the measures really have met expectations? Or do experts – either epidemiologists or healthcare experts – suggest that further restrictions are required?

We’re continuously weighing the possibility of introducing stricter measures. I think that the world has changed a great deal since Monday. Since the wearing of face masks was made general I can see that people have been observing the rules. I’m not saying that everyone is doing this, and neither am I saying that every institution is complying, but the percentage is better than I expected. The operators of shops and other institutions, entertainment premises and restaurants have understood that if they fail to observe the rules, we’ll have no choice but to close them down. And we won’t hesitate. We have sufficient police capacity. Checks are random, but continuous, and the minute we see that the rules are not being observed, we’ll close down the cinema, theatre, restaurant or any other establishment where that’s happening. But I repeat: as I see it, we must talk to each other frankly and seriously, and the people have understood this. In general there’s a certain laxness in the functioning of the Hungarian state: historically people have observed that what the state says doesn’t always need to be taken absolutely seriously. Now I’m asking everyone to set aside this bad Hungarian habit. We must now take it seriously. But as far as I can see, since Monday this other mentality, this other behavioural mode has increased exponentially. People are beginning to realise that these are indeed restrictions, a set of restrictions which have not only been officially announced and not only need to be taken seriously, but for which there is no alternative: they must be taken seriously. Either people observe them or they don’t; but if they don’t we shall close them down. Now there’s always deliberation about what restrictions there should be and how they should be implemented. There’s an unsophisticated approach – which although it’s tempting I’m trying to avoid – which frames the question in terms of health versus the economy. I don’t follow this approach of separating health from the economy, and I don’t want to fall into that trap. We are humans: humans have health and humans have economies. People must remain healthy, and if they fall ill they must be cured. In the meantime they must make a living: they must support their families, they must support their children, they must give them food. They must earn money and they must work. This isn’t the economy versus health care. We must look at people in the round and their lives as a whole. And we must adopt decisions accordingly – sometimes decisions on health, sometimes decisions of an economic nature. But what we concentrate on, what we focus on, what we always bear in mind is people in the round and their lives as a whole. There are no mathematical rules for this. In addition to cold, rational, professional opinions, our decisions are informed by knowledge of society and human nature, philosophical conviction, humanity and Christian culture. We must make people-centred decisions. We’re not only deciding about human lives, but our decisions as leaders are also decisions as people.

The Government submitted to Parliament its proposal for the special legal order, in relation to which it’s seeking authorisation for ninety days, for three months. Do you think that now that there’s a time limit – unlike the request in the spring – the Opposition will still oppose this?

Why has this happened? Over the past two weeks I’ve been closely following parliamentary debate on the possibility of imposing harder penalties on people who break the rules: who don’t wear face masks or maintain a safe distance from others. This debate has lasted for two weeks, despite the fact that we needed immediate authority to tighten restrictions and impose more serious penalties for non-compliance. The debate lasted for two weeks, and after two weeks the Opposition didn’t vote for increased restrictions. This is pointless. I’m one of the generation of freedom fighters, and for us Parliament is sacred. Once there was a communist parliament; that was no parliament, but just some kind of gathering. What we have now is the democratically elected representation of the people. For us this is sacred. I regard Parliament as preeminent; we live in a constitutional, parliamentary world. I’ve been a Member of Parliament for thirty years and, despite all its faults, I’ve learnt to respect the Hungarian parliament. But there are instances when we need rapid decisions, and the slowness of parliamentary procedures – especially when the Opposition not only refuses to help in defence operations against the pandemic, but actually hinders them – could have serious consequences. When the pandemic is spreading rapidly we need rapid decisions. Although Parliament will remain in session, loopy liberals across the world will of course again declare a dictatorship, claiming that we’ve closed it down. This is not true. Parliament will remain in session continuously and it will continuously debate the bills brought before it; but in parallel with parliamentary sittings the Government will have the authority to decide on issues which, in normal circumstances, could only be regulated through parliamentary legislation. This is the special legal order. We’ve requested that this last ninety days – but not because last time the Opposition said they wanted to see a time limit. Last time we didn’t specify a time limit because we didn’t know when the pandemic would come to an end. And if you don’t know when the problem will end, there’s no need to set a time limit on your special powers. Now we do know, however. I wouldn’t yet swear on it, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s ever more reassuring news about vaccines: about European vaccines, and we’re participating in all the European vaccine development programmes; there’s also promising news on Chinese, Russian and Israeli vaccines. So we can gauge the amount of time we need. This is why we say that the situation will be different in ninety days’ time, because one vaccine or another will be available in some quantity. If after ninety days we need to extend the special legal order, we’ll decide on it then. But as far as I can see now, with a fair wind, some luck and God’s help, this ninety-day period will be long enough. This is why we’re saying ninety days now.

Last week we spoke about the shocking terrorist attack in France. Now, a week on, there’s been another terrorist attack. This happened in Vienna on Monday. This is shocking because the Austrian capital is just 75 kilometres from Hegyeshalom..

And only just over 30 kilometres from Sopron, if I’m not mistaken. So now this is right next door to us, it’s happened to our neighbours. It’s not only in a neighbouring country, but in neighbouring villages or towns. Right now all our thoughts are focused on the pandemic, but in truth these are warning shots; these attacks are warning shots. They remind us that, alongside the pandemic, there are also other threats facing the people of Europe. The Government must now not only make decisions on, for example, making parking free or increasing the frequency of public transport services in peak periods, but at the same time also – as on the night of the terrorist attack – on the immediate deployment of Counter Terrorism Centre units at the border and, if necessary, conducting anti-terrorist operations or introducing a screening system. These are the times we live in now: the pandemic on one front, terrorists on another. This is what the Counter Terrorism Centre has just done now, and I’m grateful for them making themselves available and doing their job as swiftly as was possible. For me the experience was reassuring. So, in addition to the pandemic, we have this perennial threat. I’ve done everything I can wherever possible in Europe to tell people to finally open their eyes. The mentality and attitude to migration adopted by the leaders of many countries is suicidal. And I ask everyone, both in Hungary and abroad, to accept that from the viewpoint of Europe’s future immigration is not the solution, but is itself the source of the problem. Many people believe that immigration enables them to solve one problem or another: labour shortages, demographic decline or perhaps making their countries even more beautiful with rapturous diversity. While there are some who believe this, in fact immigration solves nothing, but will itself be the source of problems. Hungary doesn’t want to fall into that trap, and this is why we’re fighting. Most recently an infringement procedure was launched against us on the very issue that led to tragedy in Vienna, and earlier led to tragedy in France. What is this about? The Hungarian system doesn’t allow a migrant to enter Hungary, submit an asylum application here, and then after a while be allowed freedom of movement. This is what European regulations allow, and it’s what happens in other countries. Their regulations state that they cannot be detained. And that’s when they set out for other parts of Europe – and arrive, say, in Nice, as they did last time. The Hungarian system is that asylum applications can be submitted at our embassies in neighbouring countries. We assess them, and then tell them whether or not they can come. If they can’t, they can’t, and they won’t be allowed to enter. This is a better system. In Brusselese blather it’s referred to as “external hot spots”, where applicants must be kept outside until their applications are assessed; and they can only enter once we’ve granted them permission. This is how we can avoid having hundreds of thousands of migrants awaiting assessment of their immigration applications – which will either be granted or denied – and who in the meantime are free to move around Europe and may commit terrorist attacks. We want to prevent this at all costs. This is our rule. This was challenged by Brussels, by the Commission, by Brussels bureaucrats. And the Brussels bureaucrats’ attack has led to us now facing a court procedure. At some point there will be some kind of decision. At any rate, now we’re in a legal battle. We won’t change our practice; I believe we won’t. This is the situation regarding terrorism. Let us thank God that Hungary has a history which has been turbulent, but which has also taught us important lessons. This is a Christian country, even if a very large number of people have lost their direct, living faith in God, and even if they don’t belong to a Christian community, to a Protestant, Catholic or a Jewish community. In spite of this, the culture of this country is Christian. And we know full well that the mood of this culture doesn’t tolerate terrorism, doesn’t tolerate violence, and doesn’t allow anyone to take the lives of others. This is the culture that provides the framework for our lives. This is why we live in peace, and why we live in security for as long as we can. It is our duty, the Government’s duty, to maintain this peaceful and secure situation that only Christian culture can guarantee us. Therefore one reason we must protect Christian culture is to ensure our security. This is why it was written into the Constitution that the Government has a duty to protect Christian culture, and through it peace and security in the territory of Hungary. And on this we shall not give an inch.

This week the European Parliament came to a preliminary agreement with the German presidency [of the European Council] to after all link EU disbursements to rule of law criteria in the next seven-year budget and in the economic recovery package. What’s your opinion on that?

I think that in both Hungary and the rest of Europe all responsible politicians – and perhaps every single person – should be primarily focusing on the pandemic. This is not the season for political and ideological debates. They can be important, I don’t deny that, and they can also be exciting philosophically; but now is not the time for them. There is a crisis. The European economy has been turned upside down. It must be set back on its feet, and we must protect people against the pandemic. This is what matters today. Therefore I believe our duty is to channel these funds – from the economic crisis management package and the budget – as quickly as possible to the countries which are already on their knees, or at least in very serious difficulties. We’re primarily talking about the Southern countries. This affects Hungary less, because Hungary has at its disposal the funds, the financial resources, necessary for the functioning of the economy over the next two years. It is the Southern countries that are affected by the delay, by the time lost in unnecessary political debate. Therefore debates must be put aside for now, and money must be given to those who need it, so that they can help their economies and citizens out of the economic trouble and disaster they’re heading for.

Yes, but the “frugal” countries may use Hungary and Poland as scapegoats, and may tell Southern Member States that the reason they’re not receiving this direct financial assistance is that these two states aren’t willing to accept this criterion.

My answer is that we’ve become used to this. I’m past paying much attention to who says what about us and where. A debutante may well do so, but I’m past that. I’m not bothered by whatever is said about us by whoever – including journalists and politicians who eat out of George Soros’s hand. With all due respect, that’s not something I get anxious about or that I lose any sleep over. I do my job and that’s that – no matter what they say. Naturally Hungary is not a country that can be blackmailed. Despite what the term suggests, we know full well that the debate on the rule of law is not a legal debate, but a political one. And what still lies behind the political debates in Europe is the issue of migration. Four years ago Soros said – and even wrote it down so it’s there for everyone to read – that funds from the budget should be denied to countries which refuse to let in migrants. Full stop. It’s that simple. We won’t let migrants in. We will have access to the funds that we’re entitled to. The funds we need for the next two years are already available to us. At the same time the Southern states must be given assistance, and must be given money as quickly as possible.

A presidential election has been held in the United States. We don’t know the final result yet. Don’t you think it’s strange that in the land of the free, in America, thousands have cast votes on behalf of dead people?

Well, first of all, let’s give the United States the respect they deserve, and let’s avoid the mistake that they sometimes make when they criticise others – Hungary, for example. Although President Trump refrained from this, earlier Democratic administrations were known to do so, to see the United States as occupying a kind of moral high ground, and to speak to, speak at and speak about others from those heights. That has now come to an end: whoever the president turns out to be, after an election like this one I think we can forget about such pretensions. Let’s be serious. If the things that are happening over there now were happening in Hungary, I don’t know what our fate would be – a torrent would be unleashed on us. This is unbelievable. But we don’t want to criticise the United States, because it is their business. They’re electing their leader: the leader of the American people is elected by American citizens, and we have no say in that. There’s one thing we can do, and we’re doing that: we’re clearly stating our opinion on US-Hungarian relations. In this regard, President Trump is a president who is a friend of Hungary. Ever since I’ve been responsible for it, Hungarian foreign policy has been based on the need to gather friends from around the world. We’re not gathering enemies, and so we don’t criticise anyone. We don’t want to be either moral or political judges on any matter. Every country is sovereign: it will take care of its own affairs, which are fundamentally the business of its own people. I can say that since President Trump has led the United States, Hungarian-American relations have never been better. This was not the case earlier. Since 2015 – I believe the President took office in 2016, but I have data for 2015 – the volume of trade between the two countries has increased by 20 per cent. There are 1,700 US businesses operating in Hungary, and these 1,700 businesses provide jobs for more than 100,000 Hungarians. This is how many families they provide a living for. If we take a look at the fifty largest US companies in the world, forty of them are also present in Hungary. Ambassador Cornstein left a few days ago. He did an excellent job, with President Trump’s support, and gave a boost to US-Hungarian relations. This is what we should somehow preserve in the future, regardless of the outcome of the election. This is why I’ve always stood by President Trump. The result will be what it will be. It is the right of the American people to decide who governs the United States. Let me just say as an aside that who governs Hungary and how they do so is the business of Hungarians.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.