Tünde Volf-Nagy: Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán is here in the studio. Good morning.
What decision has been made on the third dose of the vaccine?
We’ve adopted a number of decisions on the third dose. First of all, I’d like to say that there are varying opinions on whether or not a third dose is required. From what I can see, early this morning the WHO itself released a statement, which doesn’t come close to offering any degree of certainty. The Hungarian government doesn’t know of any opinions that state it would be harmful to administer a third dose. The debate is about how useful it would be. So there’s no reason to fear a third dose. And if there’s no reason to fear it, and receiving it increases people’s sense of security, then why should we deny them that possibility? Therefore the Government’s saying that we’ll make it possible to administer a third dose of the vaccine. If my observation of international events is correct, this isn’t yet the case anywhere else. But we’re also recommending that there should be four months between the second and third doses. This is what the experts say, but general practitioners and doctors administering the vaccine should be allowed to depart from this rule when necessary. Therefore, as has been the case up to now, everyone should contact their general practitioner or the vaccination point where they made an appointment and received their earlier doses. The doctor there will decide whether to give them the vaccine, even if it’s been less than four months since their second dose. If they say that you have to wait for those four months to pass, I ask everyone to wait patiently for that.
Will there be an order of priority for those receiving vaccinations?
Initially we’d like to organise this with the minimum of administrative burdens. So Hungarian nationals will receive the next dose where they received their earlier ones. They’ll need to ask for an appointment, but there won’t be an order of priority for vaccination according to which those of a certain age will be first, followed by another age group.
Is there enough vaccine for this?
Yes, there’s plenty.
Who will decide which one of the possible vaccines can be administered as the third dose?
The doctor will do that. We can’t take responsibility for that. On this question, too, there are competing theories – quite apart from the interests of the pharmaceutical companies. Clearly each one of those would like its own vaccine to be used for the third dose. According to one opinion, it’s good to combine different vaccines, while according to another it makes no difference. We can’t decide that. Politics can’t decide that. We’ll have to leave that to doctors, to the experts.
When will third doses be available?
From 1 August.
From 1 August. We’re now talking about a third dose, but around 3 million Hungarians haven’t even received their first dose. What’s more, thanks to the vaccination of others, these unvaccinated people are now able to move about freely, without the need for immunity certificates – so even that pressure for them to be vaccinated no longer exists. Is the Government planning any kind of coercive measures, or to make vaccination mandatory – as we’ve recently seen for healthcare workers in France and Italy?
As regards the general vaccination situation, Hungary can still be described as one of the safest countries – or perhaps the safest in terms of the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. Here a higher percentage of people have received the second dose – resulting in full immunity – than, say, in Britain or Germany. We’re not great believers in coercion. We made an exception in a single instance: we adopted a decision making the vaccine compulsory for healthcare workers. They treat patients, and in their environment various illnesses could combine with the coronavirus infection, and result in the loss of lives. At the same time, there are already other vaccines which are mandatory for healthcare workers anyway. We’ve now added one more to that list, and people will only be allowed to work in the healthcare system if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID.
I can confirm that the situation over here is much freer. I was recently in Berlin, where people can only enter shops or board a tram or bus if they’re wearing FFP2 face masks; and they can only eat in restaurants with test results or vaccination certificates. At the same time, over here, with the easing of every measure, after every match played to a full house, after every day of packed beaches and lidos in the heatwave, the alarm bells have been sounded, with people saying that trouble will follow. So far it seems that they haven’t been right. Why?
On this, too, there are two schools of thought. Some say that we must follow the path of isolation. Hungary itself followed that path before we had enough vaccines. But since we’ve had enough vaccines, we’ve pursued the path recommended by the other school of thought, according to which the vaccine saves lives. We’re able to protect people if they themselves want to be protected: if they have themselves vaccinated. If there are vaccines, lives are saved. What we’re now seeing is that, after a second dose of the vaccine, even if reinfection occurs its progression is much milder and poses a substantially lower threat to life. Earlier we were speaking about older people, and 85 per cent of older people – those over the age of 65 – have been vaccinated. So there are 15 per cent of elderly people who still haven’t been vaccinated. They’re the ones who are in danger. The Delta variant has just emerged. It’s aggressive, it’s tough, and it finds those who haven’t been vaccinated. So, given that this is the most aggressive variant to have emerged up to now, those who haven’t been vaccinated are more at risk today than at any time so far during the pandemic. The fact that others have been vaccinated is of no help whatsoever to those who haven’t been vaccinated : they’re still exposed to the same danger – or even greater danger – than at any time so far. For this reason, on Wednesday the Government decided that we’ll contact older citizens in person; we’ll involve general practitioners, residents and medical students in this effort. We want to contact every elderly person individually: every one of the 15 per cent of elderly Hungarians who still haven’t had themselves vaccinated. We’ll attempt to convince them to be vaccinated. If they accept this, they accept it; if they don’t accept it, they don’t. But we’d like to give them the chance to remove this risk to their lives.
Another age group in which the rate of vaccination is still relatively low is between 12 and 16. Is the Government planning to do anything to motivate them to be vaccinated?
We’ve made a decision on this, too. The vaccination of those aged 16 to 18 has made surprisingly good progress, with around 45 per cent of them having received the vaccine. Again I’d like to highlight that while we normally think that young people aren’t serious enough and don’t take life seriously enough, the vaccination statistics haven’t borne this out at all. Young people are serious, and 45 per cent of them have already had themselves vaccinated. We’ve also started vaccinating youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15, and the vaccination rate for them is somewhere around 13 to 14 per cent. We’d like this number to be higher. If I’m not mistaken, the school year will start at the beginning of September, on a Wednesday; and our plan is to organise vaccinations in every school on the preceding two days, on Monday and Tuesday. So before the start of the school year, every child can receive the vaccine – with their parents’ consent.
Were there any other decisions at the Operational Group meeting in connection with the third dose of the vaccine? This is what you started with, Prime Minister.
I’ve mentioned all of them.
Then let’s continue with the fact that some European countries – including Spain, for instance – are tightening the rules, because there the fourth wave has effectively started. What measures are you planning to implement to prevent people returning home from holiday triggering another wave of the pandemic, as unfortunately happened last year?
For the time being we haven’t implemented any measures restricting entry to the country. We advise all Hungarians – but this is only a recommendation, and we can’t require them to comply – to only travel abroad on holiday if they’ve received both doses of vaccine. Those who haven’t received both doses are respectfully asked – I’m personally asking them – not to travel abroad, because they’ll bring the virus back home. If people who have been vaccinated travel abroad, they obviously can’t reintroduce the virus – or at least the risk of them doing so will be much lower.
Could the Hungarian immunity certificate be reintroduced if the number of infections here starts rising again?
There are three categories of event for which the immunity certificate continues to be relevant: sports events with large crowds can only be attended by people with immunity certificates; the situation is the same for music and dance venues with attendances of more than five hundred; and large-scale concerts without seating provision – typically summer festivals – can also only be attended by people who have immunity certificates. So the Hungarian immunity certificate is still meaningful. We don’t know what the future will bring, but as I see it, past experience has shown that wherever a new wave has emerged on any continent, not a single country has managed to escape its effects. So if there’s a fourth wave in Europe, and it has already started in several countries, it will also reach Hungary. The question is how many unvaccinated people it will find.
As we’ve seen before, another political debate about the Chinese vaccine has started. The first attack was refuted by the WHO, when it confirmed that the Chinese vaccine is safe and effective. Now too, science is clear on the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, and research by Semmelweis University has provided ample proof of this. Do you think that people who create doubts in people’s minds in the middle of a pandemic consider the possible consequences of their actions? I’m also talking about direct consequences, such as pensioners being panicked into having tests costing them 15,000 or even 40,000 forints. Or people refusing to be vaccinated because they think that the vaccine isn’t effective.
In any crisis, every claim that creates an atmosphere of uncertainty is, generally speaking, a harmful one. We can find our way out of any problem, any crisis, by first understanding the situation, identifying a means for its management, and then taking action: focused, concerted action, in support of one another. This is the procedure for conquering any crisis – including the economic crisis, the migrant crisis, and the current virus crisis. Anything that undermines united, joint, mutually supportive and targeted action is harmful. This is especially true during a pandemic, as here we’re not talking about economic dreams, but about lives. The biggest threat is posed not by the handful of crazy – excuse the expression – or confused doctors with medical qualifications, or the fake doctors that appear on the internet from time to time. Every profession has its deranged representatives; I’m sure that there are even some unhinged prime ministers, so why shouldn’t we find some such cases among doctors? The real problem is when politicians who shape public opinion suddenly become experts on epidemiology, and start giving epidemiological advice on testing and vaccination, instead of doing the job that I myself am doing: listening to the advice of boards comprising serious experts, and then turning the advice and opinions of these experts into political decisions. When politicians morph into epidemiological experts, political considerations inevitably enter the equation, and from then the important thing is no longer human lives, but their own political interests. Now that is dangerous.
Yesterday the European Commission launched an infringement procedure related to Hungary’s child protection law. opinions vary on whether or not this has any significance. There are currently almost eighty such procedures in place against Germany, and yet absolutely no one talks about them. But the situation is totally different when it comes to Hungary or Poland. In connection with the European Commission’s correspondence or notice yesterday, Justice Minister Judit Varga has written that finally the cat’s been let out of the bag. What are the specific contents of the official notice sent yesterday?
Not just the cat, but it’s entire family – in fact a whole room full of them. I’ve read this splendid document that the Commission has sent to Hungary. I’ll try to talk about it with restraint. First of all, we’re confronted with an act of legal hooliganism. It’s a rampage. Both family law and education fall exclusively within national competence, and they have nothing to do with Brussels. Yet in this instance they want to launch a procedure against us. At the same time I find it disgraceful. The President of the Commission has used that word to describe the Hungarian legislation, but I have to say that it is the Commission’s position that is disgraceful. It’s perfectly obvious – and this is what Hungary’s Justice Minister has said – that they’re seeking amendment of our education legislation, and the purpose of their request is to force us to allow LGBTQ activists into our schools. Our position on this is that we won’t allow them among our children. The education of children on sexual matters is the responsibility of parents: children belong to their parents, and parents decide on their education. This is also confirmed by European documents, incidentally; this isn’t just the Hungarian standpoint, but it’s a passage, a text, a general directive in European documents on human rights. Education on sexual matters can be conducted in schools if parents agree with that; but no one except teachers and those approved of by school principals may be allowed in. What is now customary in Western Europe – and what they’re trying to make customary here, too – is that sexual propagandists are allowed into schools to deal with children. We don’t have this here in Hungary, but this is now customary in the West. In Hungary there’s been the odd case here and there, and the number of these began to increase, so it was high time to clarify the situation. So the European Commission’s position is disgraceful, an act of legal vandalism and legal hooliganism. The feeling we have is that they want to take our children away from us.
Earlier the European Parliament debated Hungary’s child protection legislation for four hours, which is somewhat unusual. You didn’t attend that debate. Some have said that you didn’t attend – and you did well not to – because the verdict had already been delivered before the hearing; others said that the reason was cowardice. Why didn’t you attend the debate?
I wasn’t invited. There was no invitation. I usually attend such a debate if I believe that it’s reached a crucial stage. In this case this hasn’t happened yet. There are much tougher and much more important moments in European politics ahead of us. We’re under enormous pressure. Fortunately this question features in the national consultation, for which the questionnaire has now been sent out to the public. I strongly urge everyone who cherishes their own children and the right to determine their own children’s education – and who believes it’s important for the Hungarian government to be able to protect the interests of Hungarian parents – to complete the national consultation and to give us their backing.
At the end of last year, Hungary and Poland scored a major success in preventing the issue of the rule of law being linked to the disbursement of EU funds. Six months have passed. Now they want to link the disbursement of recovery funds to the child protection legislation. How determined is the Hungarian government? Can it be forced to its knees in connection with this legislation?
First of all, let me say that this debate isn’t confined to Hungary alone – and in fact it’s not even confined to Hungary and Poland. There’s a very similar debate in Italy, another in Romania, and there was a similar major debate in Lithuania. On the latter the Commission even took action, but the Lithuanians protected their own interests. I don’t think that Hungary is any weaker, or in a poorer spiritual or physical state than Lithuania. If Lithuania succeeded in protecting its interests, I don’t see why we Hungarians shouldn’t. I’m entering this battle in the belief that we can succeed. But it will be a bloody battle. Let’s be under no illusions: we’ll hear everything that Hungarians regard as unfair, unjust and an abuse of power. All that will be brought into play. Double standards have become the norm in Europe – not only in the EU, but now in other organisations as well. Most recently we were hosts for the European football championship, where we saw a display of such double standards. Take a look at what happened in London. Considering that the Hungarians have been required to play three matches behind closed doors for almost no reason, if they wanted to adopt a proportionate and fair decision, Wembley Stadium should be demolished. Of course that won’t happen. So there, too, we see double standards. All I’m saying is that this bad practice harms the European Union. It harms cooperation between European nations. It’s contrary to the values and goals of the European Union. Tying any legal debate or dispute to money is unacceptable – especially when we’re talking about a debate over values. The sum in the recovery fund isn’t a gift: it’s something that the Hungarian people are entitled to, something that they’ve worked for; it’s the embodiment of a general policy of the European Union. So we shall receive that. There will be a debate beforehand and, as I’ve said, it will be a tough debate. But we shall receive that sum. Recovery, however, cannot wait, because rapid action is of the essence. If I’ve understood correctly, Brussels is asking for a two-month delay. We don’t have two months to wait for recovery. Therefore we’ll launch the programmes that we want to implement from these EU funds, even if the EU funds aren’t yet available. The Government has decided on this as well. We’ll start these programmes and the calls for proposals that are necessary for economic recovery, even if Brussels hasn’t yet given us the money. We’ll finance this from the budget, and at some point we’ll see the arrival of the sum that we’re entitled to from Brussels.
What’s more, it’s not only European Union institutions that are putting pressure on Hungary, but also NGOs – and UEFA, as you’ve mentioned. Even politicians from Member States are stating their positions. How big is the lobby behind all this?
Enormous. We don’t know the true structure of it, as for Hungarians this has mostly been hidden. We used to think that there were probably only a few people who would think it normal for such sexual propaganda to be allowed in schools, on television, in the print media and available in all sorts of publications, so that our children would be exposed to this danger. A window is now opening, and Hungarians are now able to look at life in Europe from a special angle. Who used to care about what went on in German schools? Yet now this is relevant, and I myself have begun to take an interest in what’s going on over there.
I could say something about that.
Alarming things. I don’t want to interfere in that, because German children belong to German parents, and if German parents have decided to raise their children in that way, that’s their affair. But they shouldn’t expect us to follow their example. And, just because they’re big, they definitely can’t abuse their power to force us to raise our children the way they raise theirs. These are Hungarian children, and we want to raise them the Hungarian way, as Hungarian parents see fit – not as happens in Holland or Germany. I’ve also started gathering information, surfing the net to see what’s going on. What’s happening in Western Europe can sometimes make one’s hair stand on end. These are things that we didn’t know about. After all, in the minds of Hungarians Western Europe is a balanced and safe part of the continent or group of countries that preserves its traditions, develops organically and protects its values. Now, when we look at Europe in terms of education on sexual matters, this isn’t the image that forms in our minds.
The European Commission hasn’t been able to launch a frontal attack on the child protection legislation. Instead it’s claiming that this law violates several EU regulations, including the Audiovisual and Media Services Directive, the e-Commerce Directive, and the principles of freedom in the provision of services and the free movement of goods. Is this debate still about the legislation itself at all? You’ve said, Prime Minister, that there will be a bloody battle and debate. Will it even be possible for opposing arguments to be brought into the debate, when it seems that all they’re doing is trying to find a legal loophole which will enable them to corner Hungary?
The language and framework of the debate are legal in their nature, but the essence is political. Brussels is quite simply abusing its power, and wants to force something on us that we don’t want. But this isn’t only about us. Even if it was only about us we wouldn’t find it easy to bear, just as we didn’t find the Soviet presence easy to bear. One doesn’t like one’s freedom being restricted. But here there’s something much more important at stake than our own freedom: this is about our children’s freedom, and about the freedom to have the right to educate our children. When it comes to Hungarians’ children, something moves us viscerally, and touches our deepest instincts. In Hungary children are sacred. We cannot allow sexual propagandists to rampage through our schools. And in bookshops we cannot allow children to have access to such books without any kind of warning, or for an unsuspecting parent to buy a book which doesn’t contain the warnings that it should, telling them that it features content that they should be aware of. It’s for the parent to decide. If a parent decides that they want their children to meet and to talk to rainbow activists every day, then they’ll arrange for that to happen. What will be will be, and – because parents are responsible for the upbringing of their own children – the state can’t intervene up until the point at which this causes the child very serious damage or problems. So if this is what a parent wants, then it’s not forbidden. But those who don’t want rainbow activists to educate their children on sexual matters have the right to ensure that this doesn’t happen to their children. The rights of these parents must be respected and must be guaranteed by the Hungarian state. Brussels disputes this. They have a notion about how to raise children, and in fact they question the precedence of the rights of parents. This is how, for instance, in Western Europe gender reassignment surgery is carried out on children without the consent of parents. Where are we headed? A minor decides to undergo gender reassignment surgery despite the fact that his or her parents don’t agree with it. In Hungary such a legal situation cannot arise.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.